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Car Review

Porsche 918 Spyder review

£704,000
1010
Published: 06 Oct 2020
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Driving

What is it like to drive?

Among the hybrid this and the electric that, the newness and wonder of all the technology contained within the 918, the humble piston engine is rather at the edge of the picture. It shouldn’t be – it’s one of the most astonishing naturally aspirated road car engines ever to have pumped a cylinder.

Here’s the best way to appreciate it – and to get a grip on what it is that the 918 does, what it offers that neither McLaren or Ferrari can match. Get it into a high gear at low revs. Fifth is good. Now floor it. You’re unable to compute the initial acceleration because you’ve never felt anything like it – nothing else responds like this at 1,000rpm, turns your spine to mush. It’s the transition from steady state to sudden speed that’s so stark, so otherworldly, and your brain’s failure to associate this much force with such low revs. Welcome to the world of electric thrust.

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And now start to say goodbye to it. Because as the revs climb and the needle swings past 3,000rpm, you sense the handover process as the baton of acceleration is gradually passed from electric motor to naturally aspirated V8. There’s no let-up to the rate of gain, just this fabulous, fabulous thrust, all of it so perfectly aligned to your foot. And you’ve got so many revs to play with. And the V8 itself? Dig out the stats and compare it to the dazzling 4.5-litre in the back of the Ferrari 458 Speciale – the numbers are almost identical. And yes, the 918 sings just as tunefully. It has exhausts that jut out the top like airborne trumpets, what on earth did you expect?

What you get is a savage explosion of internally combusted violence, a piercing, strident clarity, it rasps and snorts and bellows and screams. Matching the race feel, the ride is flat and hard – not harsh, just utterly rigid in its control – and the grip just keeps building and building. But snap off the throttle and you need to have your wits about you. The 918 has aggressive lift-off oversteer. It’s tricky to balance and at 1,680kg (or 1,640kg if you have the £60,000 Weissach Package), there’s quite a bit of mass involved when it starts to move, no matter how low the centre of gravity is. Plus, as Walliser points out, you can’t second guess where the electric power is going – the system dictates that.

But otherwise the 918 behaves like a 911 GT3. I can’t help but be impressed with the way it changes direction, the adjustability of the chassis, the accuracy of the steering. It’s so stable, so secure, so sure of itself, so GT3-ish (again) in its mannerisms and capabilities, that I don’t doubt anyone could drive it blazingly fast in any conditions. It makes 875bhp manageable, and that requires genius.

Except for the brakes. And you will be needing the brakes. Not enough initial bite, then too grabby as you get into the meat of the travel. I suspect there are some imperfect algorithms in the regenerative system. Ha, a sentence that could have been lifted straight from a Star Trek script.

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But there’s an extra dimension to the Porsche experience. Pull stubby lever into D, and twist dial to select how power is fed about the place. I start on electric and it’s… strange. So quiet I can hear the brake discs skish-skish-skishing in the calipers. It’s just peculiar to twist the key in a hypercar (you still have to do that) and be greeted by nothing more than ‘Ready’ glowing on the dashboard. But that’s the 918 for you – it’s entirely unashamed of its desire to be as efficient as it is scaldingly fast. Over the first few miles I average 8.8L/100km (32.1mpg) and the most alarming thing is the suddenness with which the V8 cuts in. With little flywheel effect, it’s instant on, instant off, and the noise at low revs is guttural and chuntering.

So it’ll cruise as well. Not brilliantly as the seats are firm, the cabin free of padding and insulation and a certain amount of noise and vibration is transmitted back. But it’s easy to manage, straightforward to operate and hugely, hugely rewarding in a wide variety of different conditions. It’s a wonderfully complete all-rounder.

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