For more than half a century, the 911 has been synonymous with Porsche, a factory established on ingenious engineering and racing success. During this period, Porsche has made other cars, some sitting below the 911, some positioned above. Today, we’ll talk about one of the latter, the Porsche 918 Spyder.
This generation-defining hypercar went head to head with two of its arch-rivals, the McLaren P1 and Ferrari LaFerrari, giving them a good run for their money. We’ll remind you what makes the 918 Spyder so special, where it connects with the icons of the past, and what it will take to create a worthy successor in the future.
Apart from developing and steadily upgrading the 911, Porsche has always experimented with other concepts, but until recently, none seemed to work as well as the quintessential car in their line-up. In the 1980s, that became an apparent issue, placing Porsche in danger of bankruptcy. Still, this era nested the Porsche 959, creating an über-911, a car that went beyond even the most extreme variants of the 911.
The 959 waited long for its spiritual successor – until 1996 to be exact. The 911 GT1 was even more extreme than the 959, but it still somehow relied on the 911s architecture. In 2003, Porsche made the first proper departure from the flat-6 hypercars.
The Carrera GT was something more than anyone would expect of Porsche. Construction-wise, it was closer to a Porsche race car than a road car, sporting a 5.7-liter V10 engine originally intended for Formula One and Le Mans racing. With blistering performance, high-tech construction, and stunning looks, the Carrera GT distinguished itself as one of the greatest cars of the mid-2000s.
With the 959, the 911 GT1 and the Carrera GT, Porsche concluded the fact that it could regularly bring celestial racing car technology to the streets, at least to selected clientele who’s looking for something more than a 911, or the 911 GT3, or the GT3 RS, or…anyway, you get the point.
Development of the Porsche 918 Spyder
The success of the Carrera GT carried over to the next project which started out not long after the production of the hypercar was wrapped up. At the 2010 Geneva Motor Show, Porsche unveiled the 918 Spyder Concept. The mid-engined hybrid supercar drew inspiration from Porsche’s strong racing roots, most notably the Porsche RS Spyder and the iconic 917.
More importantly, the 918 Spyder wasn’t just a design exercise, but a thoroughly tested functional prototype. It was capable of lapping the Nürburgring faster than the Carrera GT thanks to lucid engineering and a lethal combination of 500+ horsepower V8 and three electric motors adding 220 ponies more. Its top speed was 198 MPH and the 0-60 sprint took just 3.2 seconds.
With the 918, Porsche also showcased its intention to electrify its range and to do it in a way which enables sensational performance and optimal efficiency.
Unsurprisingly, the prospect of a new Porsche hypercar gained massive interest from the press, but more importantly from prospective customers as well. Six months from Geneva, Porsche announced that the 918 Spyder will go into limited production with the MSRP of $845,000.
The head of Porsche Motorsport Dr. Frank-Steffen Walliser and his team of engineers spent three full years perfecting the concept and offering it to the public in mere 918 pieces. Officially, the production project started on the 1st of October 2010, while the first car was assembled on the 18th of November 2013.
Most examples from this limited run went to the United States, while the rest scattered all over the planet, finding a home in the hands of the world’s most dedicated Porsche aficionados. By obtaining the Porsche 918 Spyder, these zealous enthusiasts got hold of a masterpiece of modern engineering, a valuable and a very usable automotive artifact.
Following extensive racing car know-how, Porsche created a rolling chassis that’s functionally independent from the bodywork. The chassis itself is constructed in carbon-reinforced polymers, contributing to low weight and structural rigidity.
It consists of a monocoque tub with an attached engine carrier unit and its construction enables low placement of the engine, granting much needed low center of gravity.
Body of the Porsche 918 Spyder
In a very German fashion, the 918 Spyder has restrained styling, especially compared to rhapsodic hypercars of similar vintage. Put alongside the curvaceous P1 or the bombastic LaFerrari, the Porsche might even look plain, but the clean and harmonious design is exactly the defining element of its character.
The Porsche 918 Spyder had an evocative design, borrowing highly from the Carrera GT, albeit in a modernized package. Alongside its spiritual predecessor, this hypercar proudly carries the Porsche DNA, making it an instantly recognizable offspring of a marque that gave us the 550 Spyder, 904, 917, 962 and the RS Spyder, just to name a few.
Just like the chassis, the independent body is constructed in carbon fiber reinforced plastic, extensively reducing weight. Similarly to the Carrera GT, the 918 Spyder was only offered as a Targa-top roadster.
The whole car weighs 3690.5 lb, more than its direct competitors, while the weight balance is slightly rear-biased at 53:47, offering a focused Porsche driving experience to the ones fortunate enough to lay their hands on its steering wheel.
Keeping the 918 Spyder firmly on the road, there are three sets of active aerodynamic aids working in accordance with the rest of the car for maximum efficiency and performance.
The system dubbed Porsche Active Aerodynamics works in three modes: Start, Speed and Performance, and it consists of three elements – the rear-mounted spoiler and wing, the underbody flaps and louver-like air intakes on the front bumper.
In Start mode, the PAA system is focused on reducing drag, closing the flaps and retracting the rear wing and the spoiler.
The Speed mode, the flaps remain closed while the spoiler extends and the wing slightly reduces its approach angle, helping the 918 Spyder to sprint to its top speed by ensuring aerodynamic stability and balance.
Finally, in the Performance mode, the rear wing sits at a steep angle, generating necessary downforce whereas the flaps open to channel air into the diffuser channels located in the underbody, creating a front-axle ground effect.
While the flaps and the wing carry on performance-related tasks, the active air intakes take care of the cooling. When the system needs additional air, the intakes open to grab more air and send it to the powertrain, but when the car drives at lower speeds, or in serene E-Power and Hybrid modes, they remain closed for minimum drag, resulting in increased efficiency.
Extended height of rear wing
Engine, Motors and Transmission
Even though it technically is a plug-in hybrid, to classify the Porsche 918 as one would be a massive understatement. With 887 bhp of combined power output, a 9150 RPM redline and up to 944 lb-ft of torque, it is the most powerful Porsche road car and the technology propelling it is as impressive as the numbers suggest.
Sitting underneath the sealed rear hood, the beating heart of the 918 Spyder is the 608 horsepower 4.7-liter V8 weighing just 298 lb. The engine is free of any belts and was built on the foundations of the 3.4-liter V8 powering the Porsche RS Spyder LMP2 prototype. It owes its featherweight rating and stellar performance figures to features like aluminum pumps and titanium connecting rods, dry sump lubrication with a separate oil tank, and a forged flat-plane crankshaft.
Besides looking extraordinary, the unique exhaust placement directly above the engine has its functional aspect borrowed from the racetracks. With that in mind, the exhaust manifolds are sitting between the cylinder banks, while the air intake gear is placed outboard. The rest of the lightweight Inconel exhaust system sits above the engine and ends with a beautiful pair of circular dual pipes peeking through behind the integrated roll-cage. The result is a glorious blaring sound of a naturally aspirated V8 with a unique Euro-exotic tone.
Porsche completely re-engineered the usual intake and exhaust layout to reduce the heat generated by the engine getting anywhere near the lithium-ion battery, avoiding any hazardous situations that could ensue. However, that wasn’t the only benefit of this system. First of all, this remarkably compact system reduced weight and back pressure, also improving aerodynamics thanks to a flat fully closed underbody. But, despite these tiny and big idiosyncrasies, there’s even more to the 918 Spyder than just the combustion unit and its associated machinery.
The first electric motor is placed behind the V8, running in parallel and providing additional 154 horsepower sent to the rear wheels via 7-speed PDK dual-clutch transmission.
Due to very low engine placement, the transmission unit had to be mounted upside down in another brilliant solution carried out by Porsche’s engineers.
The other electric unit delivers 129 horses to the front wheels, but unlike the mid-mounted motor, it runs on one gear and it decouples at 165 MPH to avoid over-revving, prompting the 918 Spyder to become rear-wheel drive.
The fascinating fact about this electric system is that it powers the hypercar between the gear shifts, allowing for maximum efficiency even during those milliseconds it takes the PDK to shift between gears.
The two electric motors are powered by a 6.8 kWh li-ion battery nested behind the passenger cell and can work independently from the V8, offering 286 horsepower combined, autonomy of 12 miles and max speed of 93 MPH while the 918 runs in E-Power mode.
Other modes include Hybrid, Sport, Racing and Hot Lap, with the last one using full power at the cost of draining all power reserves.
Although not sitting very high in priorities when it comes to a high six-figure 900-horsepower car, the fuel economy is unparalleled at 67 MPG. A few years back, this number would have been unimaginable, but the 918 Spyder was there to prove everyone otherwise.
Steering and Suspension
We’ve already established that the 918 Spyder has incredible straight line performance, but where it really excels is when put on a twisty road or a challenging track.
Apart from the active spoiler and dynamic flaps providing aerodynamic grip, the 918 Spyder owes its mechanical grip to double-wishbone front axle suspension and multilink rear axle with a complex adaptive electro-mechanical individual rear wheel steering.
The suspension is fitted with electronically controlled twin-tube gas-filled shocks on both axles, while Porsche Active Suspension Management keeps the whole system in control.
The driver feels in constant control due to electro-mechanical power steering designed to precisely direct the car and transfer the on-road sensations back to the driver’s hands.
Brakes, Wheels and Tires
Conquering the Nordschleife also demanded an efficient stopping system, so the 918 has 410 mm internally ventilated and perforated ceramic brake discs in front and 390 mm rear discs in the back.
The purpose of the brakes wasn’t just providing dime-stopping control, but also charging the battery via regenerative braking. The braking calipers painted in high impact green are there as a reminder that the 918 Spyder is about more than just power.
For the 918 Spyder, Porsche offered just one set of wheel dimensions. The front wheels measure 20 x 9.5 inches, while the rear set is 21 x 12.5 inches with 265/35 ZR 20 and 325/30 ZR 21 Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber respectively. The Weissach package retained the same wheel dimensions, albeit Porsche further reduced unsprung weight by using magnesium wheels.
When the Porsche 918 Spyder made its official Nordschleife run, it was equipped with something called the Weissach package. It was a set of weight-reducing features engineered to further refine the driving experience and shave off valuable seconds on the world’s most demanding proving ground.
Naturally, the prospective buyers expressed their desire to pay extra for this diet pack for the 918, paying a hefty sum for making the car lighter. Magnesium wheels were the single most effective change, reducing 30 lb off kerb weight, but various bits and pieces including unpainted panels made the 918 Spyder 90 lb lighter.
For added bragging rights, the Weissach package brought exclusive designs inspired by colors of the past like the white-on-red 917 LH Salzburg or a full-fledged Martini Racing livery.
When the F40 saw the light of day in 1987, it was instantly pitted against the Porsche 959. The rivalry between Teutonic and Italian prancing horses carried on with the 911 GT1 and the F50, followed by the Carrera GT and the Enzo.
By the time the 918 Spyder arrived, the excitement of the fourth round had reached record heights, but there was another adversary, the McLaren P1.
In sequential order, the 918 Spyder Weissach showed up first, lapping the Nürburgring Nordschleife in 6:57.00 flat. The P1 followed with a “sub-7 minute” time, but no official numbers were stated, presumably because it wasn’t quicker than the 918. In turn Ferrari just didn’t bother. Still, the rivalry stretched way beyond the times set on a famous track in Germany.
The highly publicized anticipation of the ultimate hypercar showdown coincided with the equally publicized Top Gear controversy, but all relevant media eventually did their take on this heated battle.
In the end, the conclusion was the same: the 918 Spyder was the most versatile and the most usable of the three, although every car was phenomenal in its own right.
In 2010, upon the 918 Spyder’s arrival as a concept, words ‘plug-in hybrid’ couldn’t be less associated with excitement, enthusiasm and power.
Three years later, Porsche changed the image of what a plug-in hybrid could be if engineered properly. The Porsche 918 Spyder was the perfect car for the moment and its influence will be felt in decades to come, especially when Porsche decides to come up with a successor.
Compared to the Carrera GT the 918 Spyder is space age technology. Its direct predecessor followed the decade-long mantra of increasing displacement and number of cylinders, whereas the 918 Spyder employed sensible thinking, becoming a pivotal point for Porsche.
As of 2020, the Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid has 690 horsepower and comes in Sport Turismo wagon form too, meaning that the 918 Spyder influenced the whole range of hybrids in Porsche’s range.
Electrification has become an essential part of Porsche’s identity and the groundbreaking full-electric Taycan has shown us that a car with no engine can feel like a Porsche, handle like a Porsche and be as fun as a Porsche should be. All of this is exactly thanks to the 918 Spyder.