‘Astonishing’. ‘Spine-tingling’. ‘Supernatural’. ‘Possibly the most complete hypercar there’s ever been’. These are just a few of the comments made by the world’s leading motoring writers after they drove the Porsche Spyder 918 for the first time, just before its launch in 2014. From its game changing, high-powered hybrid set-up to its exterior design, like its weight-saving Spyder roof set-up, it’s a car that has had a profound effect on the nature of Porsche sportscars and race cars ever since. Here’s seven reasons why the 918 Spyder made such a splash.
1. The dynamic performance of the Porsche 918 hybrid engine
Styling is always important at Porsche, but when it comes to the 918 Spyder, you really have to start with what’s under the bonnet – and what connects to both axles too. At launch, here was a true supercar that just happened to be a plug-in hybrid as well, combining a high-performance combustion engine with cutting-edge electric motors for extraordinary performance. The main power source is a 4.6-litre V8 that delivers around 578PS of power that was directly derived from the successful RS Spyder, which was good for engine speeds of up to 9,000rpm. Made almost exclusively of titanium and aluminium and weighing just 135kg, the engine in the 918 Spyder was described at the time by the man who led the project, Frank-Steffen Walliser, as “…the best engine we have ever done”.
On its own, the 918 would have been a highly accomplished performer, but it was much more than that. With twin electric motors – 115 kW electric motor on the rear axle and a 95 kW one on the front – the 918 Spyder could be powered at the rear axle both individually by the combustion engine or electric motor as well as jointly by both drives. What does that all mean when you press the accelerator pedal of this four-wheel drive supercar? A top speed of 345km/h and a scintillating 0-100km/h time of 2.6 seconds. Hybrid technology and electrification has come a long way since 2014, but it’s worth remembering that it wasn’t until the end of 2013 that Formula 1 had adopted hybrid engines for the first time. Here was a Porsche that used this game changing technology to stunning effect.
2. The powerful regenerative braking of the 918 Spyder
Just like the Formula One cars that, back then, had recently adopted hybrid technology for the first time, the 918 Spyder made use of what was called ‘active recuperation’ – in other words, harvesting energy during braking. For their new hybrid supercar, Porsche engineers developed a new generation of recuperation system that vastly improved existing capabilities. And there was plenty of braking power in the 918 Spyder, with its 410mm (front) and 390mm (rear) diameter Porsche Ceramic Composite Brakes (PCCB), and six-piston callipers, fitted as standard. Opt for the Weissach Package and magnesium wheels saved a further 41kg for peak performance levels.
3. How much does a 918 Spyder weigh?
The 918 Spyder is a model of lightweight design. Its two electric motors were comparatively heavy, so Porsche designers and engineers had to find ways to make weight savings. That meant a load-bearing structure comprising of a carbon fibre monocoque with carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) body on top and polyurethane panels front and rear. Critically, that helped keep the weight down to less than 1,674kg – and 1,634kg for the optional weight-saving Weissach Package. Drivetrain components and all other components that weighed more than 50kg were fitted as low down and as centrally as possible. The result? A very low centre of gravity – perfect for optimum driving dynamics.
4. The removeable roof of the 918 Spyder
A significant clue to another point of difference between the 918 Spyder and its contemporary supercar rivals is in its name. The ‘Spyder’ nomenclature and Porsche go back a long way. In 1953, the Porsche 550 Spyder – considered one of the most beautiful racing cars of all time – won its class at Le Mans. Rather than a regular fixed roof, the 918 Spyder has removable roof panels that can then be stored in the front luggage compartment. In doing so it transformed the 918 experience, allowing drivers to fully appreciate the contrast between electric running and the awesome power of the 4.6-litre V8 petrol engine. Fast forward to today and the name now lives on in the form of the formidable 718 Spyder.
5. How much is the Porsche 918 Spyder?
The 918 Spyder was a limited production model – just 918 (of course!) were made, and they sold out extremely quickly. The car was precision-built by hand by around 100 staff at a fabrication facility that was specially constructed for the purpose. Assembly alone took around 100 hours for each car. That level of attention and detail naturally costs. At the time of its launch in 2014, prices began at €768,026 in Germany, more if you plumped for the Weissach Package. Today? With less than 1,000 made available, you can naturally expect to pay seven figures plus for this modern-day Porsche icon – for example, a 2015 Porsche 918 Spyder with the Weissach Package sold in the US for $1.405m (€1.255m) in June 2019. Quite simply, with the 918 Spyder you’re owning a slice of automotive history.
6. What records did the 918 Spyder break?
Breaking the lap time around the Nürburgring Nordschleife is one of the true yardsticks for any sportscar. From the outset of the project, the team behind the 918 Spyder project knew that hybridisation gave them a good chance of breaking the Nürburgring lap time record. On 4 September 2013, three drivers – legendary former European Rally Champion Walter Röhrl, Porsche test driver Timo Kluck and Porsche factory driver Marc Lieb – donned their race suits and helmets and took to the track in a pair of 918 Spyder supercars sporting the Weissach Package. On the very first run they broke the record for a production car around the legendary circuit. This was a record that had stood for four years. It was down to Marc Lieb to post the fastest time of the day – 6m 57 seconds at an average speed of 179.5km/h. It was a figure that bested the previous record by a mammoth 14 seconds and was the first time that any production model by any manufacturer had lapped the Nordschleife in under seven minutes.
Other records tumbled to the 718 Spyder too, most notably in November 2014 when Christophe Tinseau – a driver and instructor at the Porsche Sport Driving School at Le Mans – broke the record for a production car on the Bugatti circuit at Le Mans with a time of 1m 42.627 seconds.
7. How did the 918 Spyder influence other Porsche models?
Production of the 918 Spyder may have ended in 2015, but such was the impact it had on Porsche – and the way that sportscars were thought of in general – that it continues to influence Porsche cars of today. Hybrid and fully electric engines are now fixtures across the company’s range. In the case of the latter, of course, there’s the Taycan models, which share plenty of the DNA of the 918 Spyder. You can see it in the remarkable electrified acceleration and perfectly balanced weight distribution, for example. The current 718 Spyder, meanwhile, not only shares the use of the Spyder name but also the top down, naturally aspirated thrills of its supercar predecessor. The 918 Spyder also has a direct influence on the 963 LMDh prototype, the all-new Porsche racing car that is participating in the FIA World Endurance Championship and North American IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championships from 2023.
When Stefan Moser, the head engineer responsible for the Porsche 963 powertrain, and his team began thinking about the engine for the project back in 2020, one leapt out at them. It means that the Porsche 963 you will see roaring around the world’s great racetracks this year is powered by a version of the 4.6-litre engine fitted in the 918 Spyder. The big difference is that the original highly efficient, naturally aspirated engine has been augmented by two turbochargers – although it retains 80 per cent of the components used in the 918 Spyder unit. The fact that such a powerful hybrid V8 had been used successfully before gave the 963 team the confidence that its new hybrid racecar could also harness the qualities of such a game changing engine.
We shall end, as we began, with the thoughts of a top motoring writer. When he got behind the wheel of the 918 Spyder for the first time, future Top Gear presenter Chris Harris was left in awe of its abilities.
“In race mode, with all the ESP switched off, the car is juggling torque from two motors and a petrol engine,” Harris said at the time, “and yet somehow the engineers have tuned all of these motors, four-wheel steering and four-wheel drive to allow you to drift. Above all else, the 918 is the most complicated and most impressive piece of car calibration ever achieved.”
There’s no doubt about it – the astonishing 918 Spyder changed what people thought a sports car could do, forever.