Production of the most anticipated Porsche starts at the company’s Stuttgart plant on Sept. 18, 2013 with only 918 units to be produced. Porsche will start selling the car for a starting price tag of $845,000 and the first customer cars will begin arriving in the United States near the end of 2013.
That’s quite a bit time. But before all that happens, Porsche decided to give a select few a first ride in a very early prototype for the 918 Spyder.
A ride in a 2014 Porsche 918 Spyder prototype, the only one in the world at a remote test track, a gaggle of Porsche engineers are at work, surrounded by all sorts of data-logging equipment. And there, in the middle of it all, is the 918.
The first ever Porsche 918 Spyder to run under its own means is nothing more than a rolling chassis pieced together so engineers can test its gasoline-electric hybrid drivetrain.
Partly covered in modified Porsche 911 body panels and flaunting outrageous exhaust pipes that sprout up from the engine bay at the rear (a feature we’re assured will be retained for production), it is a long way from the 918 Spyder concept that basked in the spotlight at the 2010 Geneva Auto Show.
“The production version will be very similar to the concept car in overall appearance,” Frank Walliser, chief engineer for the 918 program.
“There will be some changes, like these tailpipes. This is really just a systems mule that we’re using to sort the various gasoline-electric hybrid components and its electronics package before we begin construction of road-going prototypes back in Weissach (Porsche’s research and development center in Germany).”
As we know the Porsche 918 Spyder by now. Mere months after its unveiling, Porsche confirmed it would put the supercar into production as a successor to the celebrated Carrera GT, starting on September 18, 2013.
Just 918 examples are planned, each running down a dedicated line that is being established in a former paint shop at the car maker’s Zuffenhausen headquarters in Germany. It is the same factory that builds the latest Boxster and 911 — a holy grail to true Porsche fans, no less.
Waking Up the Engine
The Porsche engineers make some adjustments to the prototype’s electronics, which are housed in a makeshift aluminum box strapped to an area that will eventually be occupied by the production car’s rear spoiler. Walliser’s boss, Wolfgang Hatz, Porsche’s chief of research and development, slides down into the driver seat and twists a key in the left-hand-mounted ignition. Odd whirring sounds rise up from underneath before the gasoline engine catches and fills the garage with a deep pulsating blare of exhaust from those prominent tailpipes.
The centerpiece of the new Porsche is its mid-rear-mounted V8 gasoline engine, seated on traditional rubber mounts (rather than the hydraulic mounts used on the 911) within a carbon-fiber cradle that is attached to the back of the main tub by six prominent mounting points.
Similar to the 90-degree V8 used in the Porsche RS Spyder successfully campaigned in the American Le Mans series between 2005 and 2008, the engine has gained 1.2 liters of displacement, going from 3.4 liters in race trim up to 4.6 liters in this application.
Walliser describes the engine as “entirely new,” noting that it features an all-new crankcase, cylinder head design and low-reciprocating-mass internals, plus that radical exhaust system that sees two pipes exit just behind the integral carbon-fiber roll hoops. The point of this arrangement is to keep hot exhaust gases well away from the car’s heat-sensitive battery pack mounted down low directly behind the tub.
Let’s Talk About the Numbers
The revamped V8 has been tuned to rev to a dizzying 9,200 rpm (though in its current state of tune, it has a lower redline), and owing to its racing gene, Walliser promises it will deliver the same razor-sharp throttle response as the Carrera GT’s 5.7-liter V10. Porsche engineers tell us the V8 makes about 562 horsepower.
But the 2014 Porsche 918 Spyder is a hybrid, remember, so it also has a pair of synchronous electric motors — one mounted up front acting exclusively on the front wheels with 107 hp, and a second, 121-hp motor attached to the rear of the gasoline engine providing drive to the rear wheels. We’re told total system power will be in the neighborhood of 759 hp, with 568 pound-feet of torque.
Barely containing his delight at finally getting to show off the 918 Spyder to someone other than an engineer, Hatz gingerly guides the prototype out of the garage. After prodding the throttle a couple times to release some heat into the engine and its peripheries, he speeds off into the distance. We scramble back into the Multivan and catch up with the prototype at the end of an immense test track. The engineering team has spent the 10 days here at the track methodically running through the first systems test of the new car.
This car will offer five driving modes. There’s “e power” for all-electric operation, a “hybrid” mode that allows either electric or gasoline operation, followed by “sport hybrid,” which is the first of three performance-oriented gasoline-electric modes. Beyond that, “race hybrid” calls up even further levels of performance, while “hot lap” unleashes all the battery’s remaining power for short periods of what Walliser describes as overboost.
How Quick Is It?
Nothing is official just yet, but Porsche is aiming for a curb weight around 1,700 kg (3,747 pounds), with 0-62-mph acceleration in less than 3 seconds.
Officials also hint at a 0-124-mph time of less than 9 seconds and zero to 186 mph in less than 27 seconds — quicker than the Carrera GT. Top speed, achieved with the help of a series of active aerodynamic functions including diffuser elements behind the front wheels and a multistage rear wing that extends to a maximum height of 4.7 inches, is pegged at 202 mph
The 2014 Porsche 918 Spyder prototype rides on a unique chassis made almost entirely from cast-aluminum components. The suspension is a combination of double wishbones at the front and a multilink setup in back, but unlike the system on the Carrera GT, which used a racecarlike pushrod system attached to the unit-body, the 918 has conventional springs and dampers sited outboard near the center-lock-style wheels, which measure 20 inches up front and 21 inches in the rear and are wrapped in 265/35R20 and 325/35R21 Michelin Pilot Sport Cup rubber.
Computer simulations suggest the production car will be capable of generating up to a 1.4g on the skid pad (though that’s a maximum figure, rather than the average lateral acceleration we customarily report). He also drops a Nurburgring claim: Porsche is targeting 7 minutes, 22 seconds on the Nordschleife — still well short of the Dodge Viper’s 7:12, but moving nonetheless.
Even in early prototype form, the 2014 Porsche 918 Spyder is hugely impressive. There’s still a long way to go — another 18 months of intensive development, no less. But as our ride comes to an end, we’re struck by just how far Porsche’s engineering team has come during just 10 days of development work on the rolling chassis.
What have we seen so far?
evo’s Editorial Director and Founder Harry Metcalfe has a look at the future of the supercar.
From Top Gear: The performance headlines are this. Acceleration from 0-62mph in ‘less than three’ seconds. Zero to 125mph in a time that almost matches a Bugatti Veyron. And a Nürburgring lap time (so far verified only on Porsche’s supernaturally accurate simulators), of 7.22. That’s 10 seconds faster than the old Carrera GT, and 10 seconds.
From AutoWeek: As if that’s not enough, Porsche also says its new supercar will boast a combined city/highway fuel-consumption figure of more than 78.4 mpg (U.S.) on the current European cycle. By comparison, the Carrera GT returned just 13.2 mpg (U.S.) under the same test procedure.
From Wired: Porsche pulled a variant of the 4.6-liter V8 originally fitted to the three-time ALMS LMP2 Championship-winning RS Spyder. That engine put out a comparatively paltry 503 horsepower, but fitted to the 918, output is up to 570 hp. That figure is before you account for the 918′s two electric motors, and it’s also where the similarities to past supercars ends.