What It's Like To Race In Porsche's $845,000 Hybrid HypercarS

(The Porsche 918 is still a prototype, but now some outsiders are getting rides. Bob Rouleau from Rennlist got a chance to ride in the car earlier in December. We're not jealous. At all. - Ed.)

I was fortunate to be invited to the 918 event at Barber Motorsports Park this past week. The Porsche 918 Spyder is still a prototype but many of the important elements are production ready. Note that a number of things I describe may be tweaked when the production car is finalized. We'll have a wait a while for true specifications to be finalized. So with that in mind here's what I learned.

What is the 918?

What It's Like To Race In Porsche's $845,000 Hybrid HypercarS

It's a supercar. It has already done the North Loop in 7:12 seconds from a standing start... in traffic! The car was not being driven by one of the factory hot shoes, rather the guy who tests tires. Speculation is that in the hands of Walter Rohrl we'll see 7:10. That's 20 seconds faster than the Carrera GT!

Beyond being just a Super (duper) car, the 918 is a showcase for Porsche's advanced hybrid technology. When we think of a hybrid, most think Prius and boring. Not this time.

With two electric motors having a combined 275 HP (limited to 245 HP) and 295 lbs/ft of torque and a 4.6 liter V8 derived from the RS Spyder the car has a combined 795 HP. Not a bad start.

One electric motor drives the front wheels, the other the rear in tandem with the V8. The result is all-wheel drive with a desired rear wheel bias. Leaving out an additional drive shaft and the usual center differential reduced weight and enhances the low center of gravity.

The electric motors provide maximum torque at zero RPM so acceleration off the line is breathtaking –- expect a 0-60 time of around 2.8 seconds. Over the rev range of the V8 the electric motors flatten the torque curve for great throttle response.

The technology doesn't end there. In certain modes, the hybrid system is akin to KERS on Formula One car. This is a certainly a by-product of the fabulous GT3 R hybrid race car. More about this in a little bit.

The 918 has a "Map" control on the steering wheel –- Ferrari owners will think of the "Manettino" on the 430 or 458. Unlike the Ferrari, this one has a Push to Pass button! Gotta love it, and I did.

What It's Like To Race In Porsche's $845,000 Hybrid HypercarS

In E-mode the car is all electric. It can cover 15 miles without using the gas engine. By the way, this isn't 15 miles of hyper-miling, the car will accelerate to 90 miles per hour on battery alone. I can tell you that acceleration in E-Mode is brisk! In the car, it sounds like you're riding in a turbine powered vehicle. Very cool, think Batmobile sounds.

The battery back is good for 202 Kilowatts and is capable of delivering that power for 160 seconds. That's a bit over 274 HP by the way. And 295 pound feet of torque is available from a dead stop.

The Modes

In Hybrid mode you get both the gas and the electric engine cooperating with a view to maximum efficiency without compromising every-day performance. This is the mode for street and highway driving. Believe it or not you might see something like 70 MPG! In a supercar? And no, that's not a typo.

In Sport Hybrid Mode the gas engine runs all the time for more enthusiastic driving, perhaps best left to race tracks.The battery is charged by regenerative braking as well as the V8.

Race Hybrid Mode (yeah!) the gas engine runs all the time, and continuously charges the battery pack. Throttle response is sharper and PDK shifts are faster.

Hot Lap Mode (yee hah!) here comes push to pass, yes there is a button in the center of the Map switch which gives you the full power of the gas and electric motors combined. Now you understand my prior reference to F1 style KERS!

Having said that, Hot Lap mode can drain the battery back in 160 seconds — which means you would have exceeded 200 MPH long before the battery pack was exhausted — heck you get to 60MPH from a standing start in less than 3 seconds, so you wonder what you do the rest of the time. While we didn't do enough laps to be sure, I suspect that we'd never fully exhaust the battery pack unless we needed push to pass an awful lot.

What It's Like To Race In Porsche's $845,000 Hybrid HypercarS

Consider that without using hot lap mode, we recharged the battery to 93 percent in just two laps! That's after having depleted the battery a bit by doing a fast lap in. Do you start to see the resemblance to F1 KERS? Batteries are charged by energy recovery under braking as well as by the gas engine.

Remember, there are few if any road racing circuits which permit full power for more than 50-60 percent of a lap.

Assuming that you drained the battery by using E-Mode (electric only), normal city or highway driving in Hybrid will recharge the battery in only 7 minutes!

While I'm praising Porsche's hybrid advances, know that the 918 is a plug-in. On a regular 120 volt wall outlet full charge takes 5.5 hours. With the optional rapid charger and 220 volt 30 AMP circuit (think electric stove or clothes dryer for example) it takes 2 hours.

Like those annoying commercials, BUT THAT'S NOT ALL. With a 50 AMP circuit it takes about 30 minutes! Now that's a fast charge which will take you to the office without using a drop of gas. FWIW, my Wolf cooktop uses a 220 Volt 50 AMP circuit so this is no big deal for an electrician. Speaking of which, Porsche dealers are certifying a list of electricians capable of installing the rapid chargers up to Porsche quality standards and they'll have 30 minute charging stations at their dealerships. Have a coffee and charge the car. Nice!

How is it on the track?

Sadly we weren't allowed to drive the 918, there are only two prototypes and very few people qualified by PAG to drive them. I rode with Daniel Eastman who will be familiar to anyone who has taken the PSDS course at Barber. As a PCA instructor I couldn't help noticing that Daniel is exceptionally smooth – but you'd expect that. The important thing is that I was totally comfortable in the passenger seat and could concentrate 100 percent on how the car behaved.

Our first lap was in E-mode – totally electric. I was surprised by the acceleration, this was not a Prius or a Chevy Volt! Notwithstanding a full and fast lap using only the battery we still had lots of power for a hot lap using every bit of gas and electric power. And, what a lap that was.

The 918 turns in as if on a mission from God. I watched Daniel's hands, this is no 911 (which does resist turn in a little). In fact he remarked that his first laps in the car had him early to the apex.

The car is amazingly stable -– it there was absolutely no sensation except cornering on rails. This, on both the hairpins and high speed corners.

The car has ideal weight distribution 57 percent in back and 43 in front, like an open wheeler. But, that isn't all. The 918 has 4-wheel steering, At low speeds (think hairpin) the rear wheels counter-steer to help turn-in. On high-speed corners they steer with the front wheels. The net result is to effectively shorten the wheelbase for slow corners and lengthen it for fast sweepers. I can testify that it works!

Body roll was nil. I wondered if it had active roll bars as offered on some other models. To my surprise it did not. The weight has been kept so low that the 918 corners flat without additional heavy components.

The battery pack is mounted dead bottom in the center of the chassis. The V8 engine weighs only 300 lbs. and produces 126 HP per liter –- a record for normally aspirated Porsche engines. With a dry sump it‘s also mounted low in the carbon fiber chassis. Note that the tub and the engine cradle are both carbon fiber.

The brakes are very powerful and considering that the two prototypes were lapping all day, their endurance is without question. I asked Daniel whether the transition from regenerative braking to conventional braking was noticeable. He said that it was subtle, but good drivers would notice it. The transition to conventional brakes only happens after you apply more than 24 lbs of pressure to the brake pedal. This is about 3 times more than on a Prius for instance. His opinion is that the transition was very smooth and a benefit since you can decide to use more progressing braking to recharge the battery more quickly before another banzai run. Very well done.

The hot lap was blindingly fast and this in spite of the fact the V8 was limited to only 6,000 RPM – production will be 9,000 with the power peak at 8,500.

Yet another benefit of the hybrid drive system is the torque from the synchronous AC motors. Combining the two results in much flatter torque curve, not only off the line but anywhere in the power band making the high revving gas engine even more responsive.

What It's Like To Race In Porsche's $845,000 Hybrid HypercarS

For a guy who isn't into hybrid cars I have to admit, I liked this system. A lot. Through advanced engineering Porsche has managed to give us a "green" car which uses it's "greenness" to actually enhance performance across the board. In sum, this is my kind of Hybrid and with about 70 MPG in normal driving, the kind of green I could live with!

The 918 is a Spyder with two carbon fiber removable roof panels which fit neatly in the front trunk. With the panels stored there is still room for a soft luggage bag or two. With the panels installed the trunk is similar to a 997 or 991. Not bad for a supercar.

Comparisons to the Carrera GT are inevitable. The 918 is a bit longer and a bit wider due to new safety standards which will be in place by the time deliveries start. It is also about 300 pounds heavier in spite of the increased use of carbon fiber. Again, safety stuff and the battery pack are the culprits. The curb weight is around 3,700 lbs. I've had seat time in the C-GT and there is no doubt that the 918 Spyder is much more stable and confidence inspiring. The Carrera GT is a bit nervous as you approach the limit whereas the 918 inspires confidence.

If you wonder why, consider that it has a lower center of gravity and active aerodynamics. And I don't mean just a wing that extrudes itself over 75 MPH like a 911. Rather the wing can and will adjust its angle depending on speed. Not only that but various flaps including a pair on the front end will open and or close to further increase downforce. In short the car has two aero modes. Low drag for normal driving with best economy and maximum downforce mode for very high speeds. From personal experience on Barber's "technical" (instructor term for scary) high speed 100 MPH plus corners, the car was planted. Period. I mean really planted in a way that even a GT3 cup is not. Oh, this, on street tires which are not the final spec and are expected to have more grip.

Options?

What It's Like To Race In Porsche's $845,000 Hybrid HypercarS

As you'd expect there are a lot of options. You can have your Spyder wrapped in Martini Racing colors or, a Strauss Racing motif. Stunning both, but sure to attract the attention of law enforcement. In addition to "paint to sample" colors, the 918 has two exclusive paint schemes in "Liquid Metal".

One is similar to Artic Silver and the other like my favorite Polar Silver, i.e., silver with a nuance of blue. The Liquid metal paint is unique in that the metal particles are aligned as opposed to being random as is typical. It's a ten part process with three iterations of buffing between various coats. It has a subtle 3D effect and it's stunning. Now for the bad news, it costs $63,000 (that is not a typo) extra. I asked, and yes it can be repaired if some idiot dings your door.

What It's Like To Race In Porsche's $845,000 Hybrid HypercarS

If you're one of the 918 buyers, that is Porsche will produce only that many and this is guaranteed by contract, you'll get the benefit of a personal VIP assistant who will inform and help you every step of the way up to and including visiting a Special Wishes Center to customize your car. There are three centers, one at the factory, one in New Jersey (NYC really) and one on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. A 918 buyer also gets first call on any new model Porsche offers in the future.

Speaking of future, the battery pack is attached with 4 bolts and can be easily removed and replaced. It has an eight-year warranty. If battery technology improves, Porsche will supply a compatible pack using the newer technology to ensure that the 918 is as future-proof as possible.

For track drivers an interesting option is the Weissach package. Some painted surfaces are left in polished carbon fiber to save weight, interior leather is swapped out for fire resistant fabric, and AC and the Burmester sound system is left out. Lightweight magnesium wheels reduce unsprung weight and 6 point harnesses come with the car. This trims the weight by 77 lbs. You can put back AC and the radio if you choose at no extra cost.

What didn't I like?

What It's Like To Race In Porsche's $845,000 Hybrid HypercarS

The color scheme for the 918 uses "acid green" – a fluorescent green color which I associate with kids and tricked out Hondas. Ugh. It's on the brake calipers and piping on the interior. I hope changing it for a more mature color is a no cost option.

The V8 engine doesn't sound much different from a Corvette or Boss Mustang. To be fair, we were stuck with a 6,000 RPM red line and perhaps it wails appropriately at higher RPM. Porsche is aware of this and promises that the exhaust note will be tuned for production cars. Let's face it the spine tingling sound of a C-GT V10 is a tough act to follow!

I also think that the front-lift option should be standard. Ferrari included it on the (cheaper) Enzo after all. Since the 918 is low the front lift kit is a requirement as far as I'm concerned. Speaking of low, getting in the car is a bit of a shock, you sit very low and it will take a bit of practice to enter and leave the car gracefully. On the other hand the lowness is one of the reasons the car's handling is so good.

Is it worth it?

That depends on your disposable income I suppose. It is an outstanding streetable uber-supercar which can blow by race cars with ease (check the ring time) or, sip fuel as you chose. All in all a technological tour de force!

(Hat Tip to Matty!)

Photo Credits: Bob Rouleau, Porsche


This story originally appeared on Rennlist on December 15, 2012, and was republished with permission.

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