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Porsche 918 Spyder roars into view

We knew that the Porsche 918 Spyder was going to be shown in final production form here at Frankfurt. After all it goes into production next Wednesday, 18 September (9/18 in the German way of expressing dates. Geddit?) And we knew pretty much what that would look like, and the specs. But there was still a surprise. A rather significant and hugely memorable one.

The 918 has become the first production car to crack seven minutes around the Nürburgring Nordschleife, posting a best of 6 minutes 57 sec. You can see the video below. Turn up the sound and be convinced a hybrid doesn’t need to sound like a Hoover. Not when there’s a top-pipe flat-crank V8 naturally aspirated engine howling away behind the driver’s shoulders.

It was on road tyres. The car’s chief engineer Frank-Stefan Walliser told us they had a pair of cars. They were just regular late-stage production-ready prototypes. They drove to the track on the road, the team put new tyres on and the drivers, three in turn, headed out. They were told not to risk a crash, either. The only helping hand was that it was a flying lap, not a standing start.

In the end it was Marc Lieb who did the 6’57” time, though Walter Rohrl did a sub-seven minute time too. In fact they did a sequence in a four-second window, which must say something about the predictability of the car’s handling. It certainly rescued Top Gear when we drove a prototype, without much skill, in treacherous conditions… 

The 918 Spyder appeared at the show looking very gorgeous indeed, albeit in a more understated way than a McLaren P1 or LaFerrari. The curves are simple, but the details make it. Among them, those full-depth side intakes, like slashes in the body. And the four-pinprick headlights.

It’s not a vast car, though it is fractionally the widest car the company makes. All the main dimensions are within a hair of the Carrera GT, says Walliser, even though the 918 team found more driver and passenger space, and room for a hybrid battery, a front electric motor/KERS unit, another of those at the rear, a PDK instead of a manual box, and four-wheel steering. That said, he doesn’t mention that the Carrera GT had two more cylinders and pushrod suspension.

The numbers that result from all that densely-packed tech go like this. The 4.6-litre V8 makes 608bhp, or 132bhp per litre, and can rev to 9150. And it’s aided by an electric motor of 149bhp, which drives through the seven-speed PDK gearbox to the rear wheels. There’s an electric motor at the front of 129bhp. So all in, that’s 887bhp. And of course four-wheel drive, although the front motor is decoupled at big speed to stop it over-revving, but at those speeds traction isn’t an issue.

Apart from that lap time, it also claims some utterly ballistic straight-line numbers: 0-62 in 2.8 sec, 0-125 in 7.7, and a top speed of 216mph.

The electric drive helps as a sports car for two reasons. First, four-wheel traction. Second, it fills in the torque hole you’d otherwise have with such a frantically tuned NA engine. Without the electric help, they might have had to resort to turbos, and likely lose the noise and the throttle response.

And of course because it’s a plug-in hybrid, once charged up it can, at the twist of a mode dial, go for up to about 20 miles without running the engine at all. Useful when you don’t want to wake everyone up as you creep out of the city on the way to your early Sunday morning blast.

The plug-in function also means the 918 can cheat the official fuel figures. Because it does much of the test under pure-electric drive, it registers a frankly fantastical 85mpg. And because electricity doesn’t count for CO2 numbers, the 918 qualifies at just 79g/km. Of course you won’t see anything like that in proper sporty driving because you will soon have used up all your mains electric energy and will be relying entirely on petrol. But all plug-in cars get the same leg-up in the official tests, so you can’t blame Porsche for taking advantage.

There will be – you might have guessed this – 918 examples in the limited edition. And Porsche engineering chief Wolfgang Hatz told us there won’t be further derivatives. They aren’t all sold yet. But Walliser claims that once people drive it, they’ll get the urge to buy. His line is it’ll sell out in ‘a few months’ from now. Indeed, Hatz adds he personally sold two within 15 minutes of the official unveil.

Interested? It’s about £720,500 at today’s exchange rate for the lightweight ‘Weissach Pack’ version that broke the Ring record. And that’s the one everyone will have, naturally, even though the ‘standard’ car is about £100k less.

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