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Porsche 918 Spyder - The Right Stuff

Can a hybrid supercar be an inspirational steer? We drive the 918 Spyder hard to find out.

Date Published: 09 Dec 2013
Porsche 918 Spyder - The Right Stuff

Imagine the sensations in an Apollo moon-shot as it reaches for the heavens, but minus the ground shaking thunder of its Saturn V rocket launch stage, and you pretty much have an idea of how the 918 Spyder feels as it slingshots away from rest on battery power alone.

In this mode the Spyder is almost freakishly calm and composed, and this is certainly the best opportunity you will get to listen to the superlative Burmester audio system.

Porsche 918 Spyder - The Right StuffWith the V8 motor on full noise, the Spyder turns into a roaring tiger, the two big exhaust outlets just behind your head venting burned combustion gases like a pair of angry dragons.

In true supercar style, the naturally aspirated V8 is best heard when it is engaged with the roof panels off. Then, the soundtrack that reaches your ears is undiluted 100 Proof aural nirvana.

Porsche 918 Spyder - The Right StuffThe combination of intake, combustion and exhaust starts with a light thunder at low revs, and rises to a primal racecar-like scream as it closes on its sky-high 9,150rpm limit. In full battle cry, the restless sound waves that hammer your eardrums into submission are as full on and spine tingling as they come.

The presence of such polar opposite characters in one car is something that will take most owners some time to reconcile in their own minds. This is a car of huge contrasts, and if any driving machine can feel schizophrenic, this is surely it!

As tigers go, the Spyder is a tame one that will not turn around and bite you unless you are pre-possessed of the kind of talent bypass that attracts Darwin’s theory. The 918 Spyder’s dynamic abilities are pretty fool proof, but nothing is idiot proof.

Porsche 918 Spyder - The Right StuffAt the first bend here on the very fast Valencia Circuit, it is abundantly clear that, as with the new 991 GT3 and Turbo, the Active Rear steering makes a huge difference to the way the car turns in.

First and foremost, the system helps to disguise the Spyder’s weight on the fly. Thus, while it tips the scales at 1,625kg, a good 60kg more than the Turbo S, the messages received by the seat of your pants, or ‘poppometer’ as the German’s would say, subjectively indicate some 200kg less.

However, thanks to a fairly even weight distribution over each axle, with heavy bits like the 138kg battery pack positioned centrally on its flat-bottomed floorpan, the 918 Spyder has much lower polar moment of inertia than the 911.

Turn into a bend after coming off the brakes and the nose chases the apex like a bloodhound. Turn in under trail braking and the front-end grip is even better.

The latter is my normal style of track driving and I could really feel the latest generation Porsche-specific Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 working to the best of their ability. The result is driving characteristics much like a well set up racecar, albeit without the even more extreme mechanical grip of slick tyres.

Porsche say that the 918 Spyder can generate up to 1.8g lateral acceleration on its street-legal trackday rubber. As a reference point, the GT2 RS reached 1.4g on the previous generation Cup tyres.

Michelin’s Luc Schaffhauser was there, and we discussed the new tyres. “The Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres for the 918 Spyder and GT3 are Porsche specific, and are sized 265/35ZR20 and 325/30ZR21,” he explained.

The sticky rubber has a 6.0mm tread depth and an indication of the Spyder’s very slightly rear-biased 43/57 percent front/rear weight distribution comes from the tyre pressures of 2.3 bar all round for the racetrack.

Porsche 918 Spyder - The Right StuffThe big Michelins are wrapped around 9.5J x 20 and 12.5J x 21-inch alloy wheels, normally forged aluminium, but forged magnesium on Weissach package cars for a further saving of 14kg.

“We also now have an updated Pilot Super Sport tyre for the Carrera GT,” said Luc. “The new rubber compound and tread pattern makes the car much more progressive and user friendly.”

I learned that both these asymmetric tread tyre designs feature a similar internal structure featuring Kevlar and steel reinforcement. The bead of the tyre, which sits on the edge of the wheels, is stiffer than before. This supports the sidewalls better on initial turn-in, helping to make the move away from the straight-ahead more progressive.

Coupled to the Active Rear-steering system on the GT3 and Spyder, which has the effect of reducing slip angle at speed, the dynamic benefits of these two systems, developed in close partnership between Porsche and Michelin, can be clearly felt on a subjective level, and clearly measured objectively as well.

For Porsche, the 918 Spyder was their first real moon shot. With a bunch of new technologies to embrace, and in some cases even create, within a space of three short years to bring this super sportscar to production readiness.

To quote profession race driver David Donahue, “the 959 of the ‘80s was Porsche exploring technology, while the Carrera GT of just over a decade later exploited it.”

To this, I would add that the 918 Spyder does both while adding a few more brand new technologies into the mix. The result has undoubtedly raised the super sportscar bar a couple of notches.

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