Motoring | Test Drives

First ride in Porsche 918 Spyder prototype

wheels bags a drive in a Porsche 918 Spyder prototype. It’s a drive from the passenger seat, sure, but Dejan Jovanovic isn’t complaining…

  • By Dejan Jovanovic, wheels magazine
  • Published: 17:34 February 21, 2013
  • Wheels

  • Image Credit: Dennis B. Mallari/ANM
  • The boot’s not exactly spacious, but it’s roomy enough for your weekly supply of Beluga Caviar.
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Seven minutes and 14 seconds… Meh, easy. I do that from a standing start.

Said the Porsche 918 Spyder…

We are talking of course about the yardstick of every automobile made since the world learned to pronounce Nordschleife. If your new minivan with twin electrically sliding doors and anti-dog hair carpeting can’t do a sub ten-minute lap of the ’Ring, you may as well set the factory on fire and call the insurance company.

Do ’Ring times matter? No. The Toyota 86 would probably be slower than a well-driven diesel Mercedes-Benz estate, but the Nürburgring Nordschleife simply provides us with a handy list of consistent data. Porsche’s upcoming super sportscar, the 918 Spyder, is already near the top of the list — even if they’re still putting finishing touches to it.

Its official time of 7:14 is just a warm-up act for the real hot-lap coming soon. “7:14 is not the final number, there is still some room there, maybe five or six seconds, maybe more,” says Björn Leiss, Porsche’s official driving instructor and wheels’ chauffeur for the day at Yas Marina.

We’re among the very few fortunate souls to have sat behind the wheel of a development 918 Spyder prototype. Albeit only while gripping the thickly padded rim and making vroom-vroom noises. Sure, the 918 Spyder does have a completely silent all-electric mode, but our imitation stems from the fact that we’re limited to the passenger seat once the car exits the pits of Yas Marina’s 2.4-km South Circuit.

Leiss doesn’t waste time, he’s eager to go. VVIPs and prospective 918 Spyder buyers are streaming through Gate 6 at Yas Island, slotting their G-Classes, Cayennes, and Land Cruisers in a neat row outside Porsche’s allotted garage for the day. They, too, waste no time, grabbing brochures and animatedly gesticulating at the 12 standard paint options. Their minds seem to be optioning-up some million-dollar cars already.

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As one such VVIP gets out of his 795 horsepower taxi-ride, he finds a quiet corner to leaf through the brochure.

I interrupt his contemplation: “So,  what do you think? Are you getting one?”

“I can’t decide,” he replies, “Maybe I get two — one yellow, one red…”

Million dollar hybrid super sportscars limited to just 918 examples sell themselves in this company. Specs like 0-100kph in under three seconds, a weight of under 1,600kg, carbon fibre everything, rear axle steering and active aerodynamics are just extras.
Before my turn out on the circuit, Leiss prepares me with a pep talk. “You’ll feel instant torque — the front electric motor is worth around 115bhp, and the rear one 130bhp, or about that. I’m really looking forward to driving the final model that revs up to 9,000rpm, but this development model is still rev limited to 6,000rpm. We have to drive them all the time and the cars have to last, so… The development always keeps going. If there’s something new Porsche discovers then it will make its way onto the final car.

“The performance is amazing. I really love the performance, and the centre of gravity. You steer and the car immediately follows your steering, without any understeer or oversteer, it just sucks itself down onto the road. The way it reacts and the way it behaves on the track is very, very similar to a racecar.”

We’re off, and during the first lap we can hold a normal conversation — top down, engine warming up.

Lap two and Leiss presses a button, the petrol engine dies, and the whispering electric motors are only disturbed by the roar of huge rubber rolling over a porous track surface. This is the hot-lap, and it’s taken in zero-emissions, electric-only mode. The Porsche 918 Spyder pulls fervently, and its transitions through the turns are violent, like a racecar’s, just like Leiss said. Your neck’s not prepared. By the time you flex your muscles you’re already through the corner anyway.

Besides Yas Marina’s kerbs rattling off underneath the wheels (non-production items) one by one, 2.4km is despatched in near silence and with consummate ease. Leiss works the wheel minimally, and narrates the car’s behaviour — basically it’s flat and grips everywhere.

Lap three and the 4.6-litre V8 bursts into life down the start/finish straight, spitting 580 horses towards the rear wheels. Honestly, the combined effort of internal combustion and electricity, as opposed to solely a bunch of positives and negatives, feels hardly any different to me. The 918 Spyder is brutally fast in any mode, and  you can have five of those including one labelled Hot Lap. That’ll be the commute to work, then…
“Europeans and Americans are used to this technology, so we want the customers here to see the car before it goes into production,” says Leiss.

There are some obvious things that are only for prototype purposes — lights, wheels, interior. But the information displays in the car are fully functional. There are plenty of cracks due to lots of use, but everything works. The switch console sitting behind the driver’s and passenger’s elbows is obviously an ergonomic disaster, so that will be changed too.

Porsche is currently running nine development cars with different focus areas: one might be an engine mule, the other a transmission development car, suspension, etc… Porsche can then test specific areas of the car at the same time and combine the positive results into a production model sooner rather than later. I don’t know what useful data they will take away from my perma-smile after the five laps are completed and Leiss pulls in.

Matthias Hoffsuemmer, Porsche’s lead race instructor, lets me out of the number 24 car and tells me the production models will make closer to 850bhp. Considering my experience was 3,000 shy of the red line I can hardly imagine how devastatingly fast a showroom fresh example will be.

These cars are more than 80 per cent complete. “The shape itself will not change,” says Hoffsuemmer, “just the finishing, engine cover, exhaust pipes… Mechanically, not much. Unless it’s something to improve it.

“I’ve driven all the cars, Porsches, and other cars as well. But I’ve never driven a super sportscar like a 918.

 “This is the next generation. It’s so easy to drive, everyone can drive it. You don’t need to be a professional racer to use it safely, or drive it quickly. We are still doing a lot of testing with the cars to decide which parts — if any — need to
be further improved in order to make the car absolutely perfect.”

Porsche’s marking down the official start of 918 Spyder production as September 18. Yes, that is 9/18. “I’m surprised Porsche didn’t go for 918 horsepower,” I quip to Hoffsuemmer.

“I’m sure that’s just an easy twist of a knob somewhere,” he replies.

Easy. The Porsche 918 Spyder’s maxim.

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