It’s an unusual way to promise a Porsche, fixing the production date two and a half years out. But that’s what Porsche did in March 2011, one year after the 918 Spyder concept’s Geneva debut. Production of 918 units is slated to begin on 9/18/2013. It would be a bold plan if the 918 was “just” a conventional supercar. It isn’t.
The 918 is Porsche’s most technologically ambitious road car to date, making the high-tech 1986 959 and the carbon-fiber 2004 Carrera GT look like a Toyota Hilux 4×4 and a shifter cart, respectively. The 918 Spyder is fiendishly complex — with liquid-cooled lithium-ion batteries, a pair of electric motors, an ex-racing V8, a dual-clutch PDK gearbox, selective all-wheel-drive, rear-wheel steering, active aerodynamics, and more.
It’s a new level of complexity for a two-seat Porsche, requiring more than 50 electronic controllers and pushing the projected curb weight beyond 3,700 pounds. One wonders what Dr. Ferry Porsche, a pragmatic man focused on production sports cars, might have made of the 918 — but it’s a good bet that his father, Professor Ferdinand Porsche, who loved exploratory engineering, would have approved.
Porsche appears to be making excellent progress with the 918 Spyder. It claims a combined power output of 770 hp, though some within the company say the production car may have more than 800 hp. Porsche says the Spyder will travel 78 miles on a gallon of gas on the European driving cycle. If your drive is short enough, you might not need gas: Electric-only range is promised to exceed 15 miles.
Of course, hypermiling your way to the supermarket isn’t the point. The 918’s stated goal is to eclipse the performance of the Carrera GT supercar. Porsche says that the 918 Spyder will be at least a full second faster to 62 mph — the CGT did it in 3.9 seconds — and able to lap the Nürburgring in less than 7 minutes and 22 seconds, some ten seconds faster than a CGT.
Such numbers seem feasible. Despite being roughly 700 pounds heavier than a Carrera GT, the 918 Spyder will boast 200 more horses, the instant torque that only electric motors can provide, all-wheel drive, and a PDK dual-clutch gearbox with Launch Control. That should make easy work of sub-three-second 0-60 mph runs, and Porsche says it’s after friendlier handling at the limit — something even Walter Röhrl admits would have helped him score a better time at the’ Ring in the CGT.
Project leader Dr. Frank Walliser has been clear from the start: Weight is the biggest challenge his team faces. He says the finalized production 918 Spyder will weigh no more than 3,750 pounds, and it’s clear his engineers are sweating as they try to offset its 700 pounds of hybrid gear.
Porsche says the 918 Spyder’s 4.6-liter V8 is just 25 pounds heavier than its 3.4-liter counterpart in the LMP2-class RS Spyder race car. For comparison, the Carrera GT’s V10 gained approximately 100 pounds in the transformation from its role in an aborted LMP1-class prototype.
Walliser credits lightweight bits like the titanium connecting rods, the plastic oil-extraction pumps, and the thin-walled crankcase which, like each cylinder head, is the result of low-pressure casting. The lightweight steel crankshaft maintains the RS Spyder’s “flat-plane,” 180° crankshaft to maximize volumetric efficiency at high engine speeds, critical with an engine that makes peak power at 9000 rpm. The alloy-steel exhaust system is “extremely thin-walled,” and the V8’s belt drives have been eliminated in favor of electric accessories.