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918 Spyder roars like a million.

Byline: Jason H. Harper

2014 Porsche 918 Spyder (Weissach package)

Engines: 4.6-liter V-8 and two electrical motors for a total of 887 horsepower and 940 pound-feet of torque.

Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual.

Range and mileage: About 20 miles on electric power; mpg not yet rated.

Price as tested: $985,000 (estimated).

Best features: Boggling performance, ease of driving in all-electric mode.

Worst features: Hard to get into without looking foolish; price of options.

The 918 Spyder is Porsche's first supercar in about a decade, with devotees waiting for its release as feverishly as any Apple Inc. product. Imagine if the world's biggest technology company were releasing the iPad HyperFast and the iPhone SuperSexy at the same time, and you'd get the idea.

The 918's price can brush $1 million, four times that of any other new Porsche. Its hybrid technology hurls it to 60 miles per hour in 2.5 seconds. It ran Germany's infamous 13-plus-mile Nurburgring racetrack in record time, 6.57 minutes, faster than any production road car, ever.

While those facts border on hyperbole and certainly beg questions, what's it like to actually drive? Is it worth all that dough? I found out in December, one of only 100 or so journalists worldwide who got a chance to test a production model on public roads and a racetrack.

Prepare for the obvious: With 887 horsepower and 944 pound-feet of torque, the 918 is pretty quick. In hindsight, my test drive was a series of shutterlike moments, scenery fluttering by in discrete panels like a choppy 8-millimeter film. Hammer the accelerator and embark on a hallucinogenic trip, your mind flooding with wonder, fear, endorphins. It's the perception-warping speed of science fiction.

Porsche, a unit of Wolfsburg, Germany-based Volkswagen AG, says it wanted the 918 to showcase just how far technology has come since the release of its last supercar, the Carrera GT in 2003. The 918 is a hybrid, with two electric motors that individually power the rear and front wheels. They can power the car alone, so that it operates in all-electric mode, or in tandem with the ferocious 608-horsepower V-8 engine. It can fully recharge its own batteries while driving, using the gasoline engine and regenerative braking. Which means you plug it in every day, or never. Clever indeed.

The car is sexy. The proportions are perfect, the angles exaggerated, the racing heritage unmistakable. The fenders bulge provocatively, while the center of the hood is extremely low. The two-seater has roof panels that can be manually removed so it also serves as a convertible. The interior is fighter-jet compact.

The car starts in all-electric mode. Twist the key and the car turns on silently. Tip down a lever, engaging drive, pop off the e-brake button and roll quietly away.

Porsche says you can get about 20 miles of pure electric driving around town before the lithium-ion battery pack is depleted. It's pleasant to drive around city streets in electric mode, particularly with the top off. People stop and gawp at this slick piece of sculpture creeping silently around.

Engage the engine by putting it into "hybrid,'' "sport hybrid,'' or "race'' modes, and the Spyder's demeanor shifts savagely. The engine blasts on like a cannon.

On public roads, it's best to use the acceleration in short spurts and then slow back down immediately. Giggle-inducing fun, but it demands restraint and temperance.

The 918 uses all manner of technological wizardry, including rear-wheel steering and torque vectoring, to keep the car on target and out of trouble, and in the process make you feel like you're a Formula One driver.
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Author:Harper, Jason H.
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jan 26, 2014
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