2015 Porsche 918 Spyder Review : track test

The Porsche 918 Spyder offers mind-blowing on-track performance and Prius-crushing fuel consumption in the same package

Surely there’s no better way to confirm the blistering quickness of the Porsche 918 Spyder than on a hot-lap at Phillip Island, riding shotgun with German race instructor Mattius Hoffsuemmer.

Hoffsuemmer has put in over 40,000 kilometres behind the wheel of the Spyder, testing it at many of the world’s most famous race circuits. It’s no surprise he’s supremely adept with Porsche’s ultimate super sports car.

But for those, like me, who have only ever seen the car as a static display – a few facts and figures are worth considering before we strap in.

The two-seater 918 Spyder is a mid-engine plug-in hybrid, road-legal supercar, powered by a naturally aspirated 4.6-litre V8 engine developing 447kW at 8700rpm (maximum engine speed is 9150rpm) and two electric motors delivering an additional 210kw, for a combined total of 652kW. Peak torque is between 917 and 1280Nm, depending on the gear.

A seven-speed dual-clutch (PDK) handles power to the rear axle, while the second electric motor has a mechanical effect on the front axle, so electric all-wheel drive is available almost at all times.

And performance is beyond ballistic.

The 918 Spyder can blast from 0-100 kilometres per hour in a staggering 2.6 seconds. It will hit 200km/h in an inconceivable 7.3 seconds. The quarter-mile sprint is all over in 10 seconds flat, or 9.9 seconds if you option the ‘Weissach Package’. Top speed is an autobahn-devouring 345km/h.

But it’s not just the Porsche’s appetite for sheer speed that impresses, even more convincing is the fact that on September 4 2013, a Porsche 918 Spyder fitted with the ‘Weissach Package’ set a new lap record at the infamous Nurburgring Nordschliefe, achieving a time of 6:57 minutes, making it the first series production car to break the 7 minute barrier – and all this from an emissions-green hybrid road car.

Despite such breathtaking performance, the Spyder is also fantastically fuel-efficient. Porsche claims CO2 emissions are a Prius-punishing 72 grams per kilometre, while fuel consumption is listed as 3.1 litres per 100kms – even in standard (non-Weissach) guise.

Thankfully though, we’re not here at Phillip Island to test those frugality claims. Rather, we’re here to get behind the wheel of one of the quickest road cars ever built and have a proper crack at it.

Prior to the hot lap with Matthias, I had my own moment of glory behind the wheel of the 918, but only after a couple of warm-up sessions in the hard-core 911 GT3 and the ballistic 911 Turbo – in an attempt to get accustomed to the mind-warping acceleration of this super-powered Porsche.

I’ve driven the GT3 at Queensland Raceway on a previous occasion and was mesmerised by its on-track performance - a proper racer for the road - though the fiercely fast Porsche 911 Turbo was a new experience, especially on the blindingly fast Phillip Island circuit.

Armed with a 3.8-litre flat-six engine developing 383kW and 710Nm (with overboost) of torque, the Turbo can accelerate from 0-100km/h in just 3.2 (with Sport Plus) seconds and 0-200km/h in an eye-watering 10.8 seconds. Make no mistake; this thing is brutally fast and a noticeable step-up from the purist GT3, at least far as sheer explosive pace goes.

With the junior Porsche sessions over, it’s time to get acquainted with the only 918 Spyder in the country (no pressure, then).

Thankfully, I’ve got Hoffseummer riding shotgun for what should be both a thrilling, if not daunting track experience – at least for me. Of course, he’s also here to make sure that any of this small group of journalists lucky enough to get a steer in the $1.5 million Spyder does so without incident.

The first surprise is that climbing in and out of the 918 is as easy as any other Porsche road car.

Our pace car is a full-blown 991 Porsche Carrerra Cup racer driven by former Carrera Cup champion Craig Baird – are they kidding?

The idea, as Hoffseummer explains it, is to start off in pure electric mode for a couple of corners before rotating through four of the five driving modes as we wind up the pace before a flying lap.

‘E’ for E-Power is the default setting when you turn the key on the left-hand side of the steering wheel. Even in electric mode this thing will still do 150km/h.

Once through turn two, it’s time to spin the rotary dial around to the ‘H’ for Hybrid, where the electric motors and combustion engine work alternately to achieve maximum efficiency and minimum fuel consumption – not what we’re really here for though.

Several corners later and Hoffseummer reaches over and clicks the dial around to the ‘S’ for Sport Hybrid mode and immediately the 4.6-litre V8 fires to life. It’s a free-revving engine that explodes with an ear-piercing cacophony from the two large exhaust tips either side of the engine cover. In this mode, the electric motors are providing boost and the pace is getting more serious.

The 918’s PDK transmission is astonishingly good. I’ve been dying to use the paddlshifters, but Hoffseummer smiles and says, “No need, just let the PDK do its thing, it’s much quicker than you.”

He’s spot-on, even in the hairpins the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox is making its own mind up when to downshift and upshift. As I’m thinking about it, transmission is doing it. It’s also brutally precise with the shifts, selecting the perfect ratio for maximum exit speed or stopping power.

No matter how hard you push, or how hard you brake, it’s always in precisely the right gear to deliver maximum propulsion or maximum deceleration. I’ve never driven anything quite like it.

I haven’t yet completed a full lap, but nonetheless it still feels like time to engage ‘R’ for Race Hybrid mode, which provides maximum performance and the most aggressive shift and throttle mapping. It’s good timing, as we are now in hot pursuit of the Carrera Cup Car as we turn onto the iconic Phillip Island straightaway.

In what seems like a slightly surreal moment, yours truly is within reach of passing the Cup car, and it’s as easy as keeping foot to throttle. I’m not sure how quick we are going, but you can bet it’s north of 250km/h. Given the current conditions, the 918 Spyder is capable of hitting 300km/h down here.

The 911 GT3 and Turbo are bona fide supercars, but already, they feel slow compared with the 918 Spyder, which takes ‘fast’ to a whole new planetary level.

Much is going through my mind right now, but less than minute or two ago I was feeling understandably intimidated as I stood beside the physically imposing 918. I wondered if I would be brave enough to do it some proper track justice. Now I’m feeling perfectly comfortable and ready to push well beyond my previous limits.

And that’s exactly the point. Its not just the outright pace of the 918 Spyder that blows your mind – it’s the combination of how fast this thing is around a racetrack and how easy it is to drive at racecar pace that impresses most.

The grip level and lateral stability of the 918 is uncanny in the way it allows the driver to carry such speed and confidence through the corners.

I wouldn’t say the steering is especially quick, but the car’s cat-like agility is also down to it’s rear-wheel steering system, similar to that used in the 911 GT3.

The brakes are simply bulletproof and never seem to fade – not even a millimetre of pedal travel – and brake pressure is wonderfully progressive, despite being regenerative at the same time.

It’s not a car you ever need to muscle, it responds much better to smooth finesse. Better still, you feel like you can drive it quicker and quicker as every metre of tarmac goes by. That said, with my second lap almost up there’s just enough time to back off, shift down and drive the car at around 5000rpm back to the pits – enough to fully recharge the battery.

While I was relatively pleased with my performance, the real test for the 918 Spyder is about to get under way, once I reluctantly swap seats with Matthias and he properly shows me what this thing can really do.

Gone is the Carrera Cup car – banished to pit lane. “It will only hold us up”, Hoffsuemmer says with a genuine smile. I’m also hoping to video this lap on my iPhone – well that’s my ill-fated plan. But, from the very the moment we get the green light, the 918 is in permanent blast-off mode.

The mind-blowing acceleration out of the pits and onto the Phillip Island straight is comparable only with my experience in the Bugatti Veyron – and it doesn’t let up. I’m not feeling that good and just holding my iPhone steady against the significant g-Forces is a real challenge.

You simply cannot believe this a Porsche road car on road tyres – albeit Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s – the car is quite literally super-glued to the tarmac and slingshots out of the corners at inconceivable speeds.

Perhaps even more astounding is that Hoffseummer doesn’t appear to be working that hard – he’s not even breaking a sweat. Focussed, yes, but at the same time, relaxed and clearly enjoying the car’s supernatural talent around a track.

Any preconceived negative notion you might have against the validity of hybrid-powered supercars is well and truly quashed from the moment you strap in to the 918 and leave pit lane.

It looks the business, especially with those top-mounted exhaust pipes, it is capable of extreme speeds (on and off the track), and uses next to no fuel in the city. No noise, either.

Porsche has built a futuristic super sports car for the here and now, a car that would satisfy anyone from the corporate highflyer to a Formula One race driver, and everyone in between.

The Porsche 918 Spyder is a limited edition supercar (only 918 will be produced) and is available in left-hand drive only. The cost is $1.5 million, but bear in mind that more than $300,000 goes directly to the Australian Government as Luxury Car Tax.