Sept. 16, 2013
Lean, green speed machine: A Porsche 918 Spyder plug-in hybrid, all four corners off the ground, strafing the Nurburgring less than two weeks ago to smash the lap record for a street car. (Note the license plate.) Porsche photo
The car game is being shaken, not just stirred, by a new gas-electric Porsche that delivers both shattering performance and grocery-getter fuel efficiency. No, you can’t afford one, but it’s another sign that the hybrid-car future seems to be brightening.
Presently, hybrids are split roughly 90/10 into economy and luxury cars. There’s a slew of everyday transportation like the Prius and C-Max, and then a few upscale gas-electrics, from the Volt to the $120,000 Lexus LS460h.
Nearly every high-end maker has slipped hybrid drive into one of its big sedans or SUVs. This shows green-ness and improves fuel efficiency slightly; usually it boosts the car’s performance too. Buyers don’t expect extra acceleration from a “fuel-saver” model, but the key is the electric motor that’s married to the gasoline plant. As everyone who’s used a Skilsaw knows, electric motors deliver power the instant the switch is triggered. No waiting! So while a hybrid’s gas or diesel engine is revving up to speed, its battery power is already propelling the car ahead.
Automotive engineers are on top of this. Hybrid racers from Audi and Toyota have already won at Le Mans and Sebring. Now the other sports-car benchmark, the Nürburgring in Germany, belongs to a hybrid car also.
The ‘Ring is where carmakers fight each other for bragging rights. The track is almost 13 hilly, winding miles long, and most street cars—or most street drivers, anyway—are hard pressed to lap it in less than 10 minutes. World-class machines such as Corvettes, Nissan GT-Rs, 458 Ferraris and M-series BMWs usually can’t break eight minutes without professionals at the wheel. But on the morning of September 4, Porsche hung up a 6:57 lap with its new 918 Spyder, a gas-electric hybrid with an extension cord—thereby eclipsing the ‘Ring record for street cars by 14 seconds, an eternity in racing.
Just imagine the cheeriness in the Porsche stand at the Frankfurt international auto show, where the 918 Spyder is making its public debut right now.
I wish I could say there’s a 918 in my driveway and that this is a first-hand report, but I have to crib from Porsche and the fortunate few (very, very few) who’ve driven a 918 to date:
The gas engine is a 4.6-liter, 608HP V-8. On the front axle there is an electric motor good for 127 horsepower; on the rear axle, another one tuned for 154 horsepower. There are 312 lithium-ion batteries and a computer inbetween. Total available power: 887 horses and 940 lb-ft. of torque. The rear wheels turn to help the fronts steer. The dual-clutch gearbox has seven forward speeds and there are five selectable driving modes. The carbon fiber-reinforced plastic body has two seats and a trunk, but stowing the removable roof panels fills it up.
On watts alone, the Nine-One-Eight can travel 20 miles, or hit 62 MPH in 7.9 seconds and reach 94 MPH. Push the throttle harder, and enter cardiac-arrest territory. Porsche claims 0 to 62 MPH in 2.8 seconds; 125 comes up in 7.9 seconds, 188 in 23 seconds, and top speed is 213-plus. The front-wheel drive disconnects at 146 MPH.
Sure, epic power equals epic speed. But here’s the rest of the story: While no one has yet put the car through the EPA/DOT mileage cycle, a 918 should deliver 25 to 35 MPG, and even a full-bore blast down the autobahn is likely to sink this only to about 20 MPG.
Porsche’s Nick Twork told me that the 918 “is a car that many can’t fully understand until they get the chance to experience it firsthand.” We should be so lucky. Porsche will sell no more than 918 918s at $845,000 (and up), so unless you count people like Porsche collector Jerry Seinfeld among your friends, you’re unlikely ever to see one outside a car show, much less “experience” it.
The first 918 Spyders will be delivered to customers early next year. Get your order in, if it’s not too late, and you also can have your hybrid performance cake, and eat the economy one too.