Betcha didn’t know Germans love Easter Eggs.
Not latent cinematic surprises, nor traditional tie-dyed orbs. Rather, the faint snail trails of craftsmanship that otherwise would go unseen unless you spent hours poring over patent applications or chatting with dudes like Dr. Frank-Steffen Walliser, the bushy-haired brainiac and architect of the absolutely astonishing bit of automotive technology that is the Porsche 918 Spyder.
The 918 is, for all intents and purposes, the spiritual successor to the famous (and, thanks to the untimely demise of a certain Hollywood star, infamous) Carrera GT. And while it shares a more than a passing resemblance to the late, great supercar of a decade ago, the 918 inverts the Carrera GT’s analog embrace with electronic hardware and wiring jammed so tightly beneath its undulating bodywork that you couldn’t squeeze a deck of cards in there if you tried. In contrast, the 918 packs miles of wiring and no fewer than 50 electronic control units. Curiously, it combines two electric motors with a naturally-aspirated V8, suggesting German engineers haven’t traded every last ounce of emotion for inherently efficient—but arguably soulless—turbochargers. The 918 also serves as the meat in a numeric sandwich, flanked by the batshit crazy 917 race car and the just-unveiled 919 Hybrid LMP1 car; smack in the middle of that odd triumvirate of fearsome speed is a DOT-approved, airbag-equipped road car.
Given the magnitude of the 918’s engineering ambitions, you’d think its creators would have neither the time nor the motivation to shape a Porsche crest into an unseen portion of the carbon-fiber monocoque (with “Made in Flacht” carved into the thing, a nod to this specimen’s origins from Porsche’s Motorsports division). Or that they would bother lining up the carbon-fiber weave along a center seam like an Italian tailor would, a visual theme that extends to the custom-fitted luggage, a $19,900 option. But they’ve left those tidbits there for the observant (and/or obsessive-compulsive) as discreet reminders of the specialness of this low-slung $845,000 ride.
Plop into the 918’s cockpit and its compact proportion harkens to the Carrera GT, down to the prominent central buttress linking the aluminum galvanized carbon-fiber dashboard to a tiny armrest just ahead of the carbon-fiber bulkhead. Its black panel surface reveals backlit buttons for A/C and navi, a touchpad, and an infotainment screen that complements a nav screen in the curved contour to the right of three analog gauges.
For all the rampant approachability of today’s hypercars and the refinements infused from corporate parents like Audi (witness: the leather-lined comfort of the Lamborghini Aventador) and Fiat (consider the Ferrari F12berlinetta’s eerie drivability, in spite of its 730 horsepower V12), the 918 still feels somewhat challenging. There’s no rake adjustment on the seats, for instance, suggesting the insufferable sorts who will inevitably cannonball this baby at events like the Bull Run will be tilted at an uncomfortable forward angle as they break all manner of speed laws across numerous states.
Start off in E-Power mode by turning the small knurled steering wheel dial to “E”, and the Spyder scoots along with the requisite Jetsons-era whooshes and whines, rolling forward with a cloud of computing power enveloped in a silence that defies its visual muscularity. When relying solely on its 156 horsepower front and 129 horsepower rear electric motors, the 918 can hit 62 mph in 6.2 seconds and reach 93 mph. Total EV-only range is a claimed 19 miles (or 12 clicks, if you find the EPA more credible than Porsche). But mash the accelerator past its detent point—even in E-Power mode—and the 4.6-liter V8 punches on, roaring to life while adding 608 horsepower to the mix. The sonorous qualities of this V8—which happens to boast the highest specific output of any naturally aspirated automotive engine—offer a soulful yang to the electric motor’s efficient yin, especially as it’s climbing to a motorcycle-like peak operating speed of 9,150 rpm. The engine is so highly tuned that it actually produces more horsepower than the RS Spyder race mill on which it’s based. Nifty.
Twist the dial to “H,” and you’re in Hybrid mode. The electric motors work in tandem with the engine to power the wheels while conserving the liquid-cooled, 430-volt lithium-ion battery, which uses 312 individual cells to store 6.8 kilowatt hours of energy. Incidentally, Porsche’s home charger can load the battery in about 2½ hours if you’re keen on electric-only operation. There’s a palpable gain in acceleration offered in Hybrid mode, which is a visceral step up from the reasonably swift but unsupercar-like “E” setting.
Sport-Hybrid (“S”) keeps the gas-burning mill in an always-on status and drops the PDK (Porsche Doppelkupplung) shift times from 100 to 80 milliseconds, while sustaining up to 20 seconds of E-boost; Race-Hybrid (“R”) provides even more aggressive battery depletion and regen, enabling higher performance over multiple laps.
It’s here where things get saucier and the 918’s complicated innards make their intentions known, punching you into your seat with a good ol’ fashioned, no-nonsense, bullet-like ballistic force. Shifts happen virtually the instant you tap the petite carbon-fiber paddles mounted to the steering wheel, and power is transferred through the PDK with incredible speed and smoothness. The car’s edgier state of tune in Race-Hybrid mode makes it feel more alive; brake feedback becomes a tad less artificial than in E-Mode and more like its hydraulic antecedents, and laying on the accelerator summons a lurchy whoosh of old school internal combustion entwined with the assistive pull of electric power, peaking in a bout of V8-induced screaming—especially with the carbon roof panels removed, and the twin, thin-walled pipes spewing spent exhaust just aft of the open-air cabin.
In this mode, the charge equilibrium model is skewed towards diverting even more electrons towards turning those wheels. Like a jolt of amphetamines to the bloodstream, the 918 surges ahead on straights and feels antsier in the corners. Despite an oversweeping impression of stability and body control, the car’s underlying computer logic becomes further perceptible in this mode. There’s a noticeable tug at the steering wheel when the electric motor kicks in, and more of a potential to unstick itself from tarmac thanks to the outrageous amounts of torque being funneled to all four wheels—to the tune of 944 pound-feet, measured at the crankshaft in seventh gear. Though there’s an initial whisper of understeer, the 918 starts rotating under throttle, with a torque vectoring effect sorting out any hints of directional uncertainty. Lay further into the right pedal, and power diverts to the rear wheels and triggers a brief, but deliciously satisfying state of oversteer before neutrality once gain kicks in.
Selecting “Hot Lap,” the 918’s most aggressive mode, requires pressing the red button at the center of the knurled wheel. In return, the system goes for broke, squeezing the highest possible energy out of the batteries. It’s in this setting that the 918 realizes its boggling zero to 60 mph time of 2.5 seconds and top speed of 214 mph. It’s also how this roadster achieved its Nürburgring record lap for a production car at 6 minutes, 57 seconds, which lops 14 seconds off the previous record. The 6:57 time is a full 37 seconds (aka, a small eternity, in racetrack terms) quicker than the widowmaking Carrera GT. For what it’s worth, the 918 also earns 67 MPGe (ie, it draws 67 miles of distance from burning the energy equivalent stored in a gallon of gasoline, according to the EPA), and a combined EPA fuel economy rating of 22 MPG.
For a bit of mind-warping perspective, chasing Porsche factory driver Patrick Long in a 911 Turbo S at Circuit of the America’s 3.4 miles of epic tarmac makes the lesser 911—a phenomenal overachiever in its own right—seem like it’s struggling to get out of its own way. The $181,100 coupe might be able to hit 60 mph in 2.9 seconds and outcorner most road cars, but through the 918’s windshield, the whale-tailed ride slip-slides its way into corners and seems pokey on the straights, while the 918 corners flat and launches ahead like it’s powered by Jet-A-infused afterburners. For the record: the pro racer later revealed his frustration, through a third party, at not being able to shake us mortal journalists from his tail. Should’ve given the poor fellow a 918, guys.
Taking the Spyder on a driving loop through public roads requires even more mind-shifting reality adjustments. Though I won’t share the velocity I hit on a particular stretch of Texas highway where the posted speed limit is 85 mph, I will say that despite the 918’s ludicrous propensity for tearing up the road, the nearly million-dollar sled never feels like it’s in danger of turning on you like a pissed python. Outside of the track’s visual microclimate and in plain view of civilians, the Spyder sits impossibly low to the ground and makes passing traffic seem particularly banal. The ride is predictably firm, the seat slant verges on uncomfortable and the small add-on wind deflector at the top of the windscreen is noisy (it was developed to divert exhaust fumes away from the cabin during top-down driving). But there’s still a feeling of untouchable exclusivity in the 918, a distinct sense that you’re sitting behind the wheel of an unprecedented merging of electric and internal combustion forces—even if that steering wheel will be shared with the capable but considerably more mundane Macan SUV, and the seats (of which more than 400 examples were sacrificed to crash tests) will become reincarnated in a 911.
Some day, the 918 examples of Porsche’s range-topping Spyder will sell out, disperse across the planet, and eventually form yet another fleet of out-of-commission hypercars, just as this rarified pantheon is littered with former greats like the Ferrari Enzo, the McLaren F1, and the Lamborghini Countach. The car’s carefully engineered Easter eggs may get lost in the mix and go largely unnoticed by those 918 owners—or perhaps they’ll be savored by the few who care about such otherwise inconsequential details.
Though it remains to be seen whether history will be kind to the 918 Spyder, here and now, Porsche’s halo car stands as a striking monument to a moment in time when hundred year-old fuel burning technology merged with electric power to create a wave of flagship vehicles that changed all the rules. On those terms alone, the 918’s status as a legendary hypercar is all but ensured.