…When Along Came A Spyder

Supercar enthusiasts the world over were given cause to smile last week when Porsche A.G.’s supervisory board approved production development of the 918 Spyder, a mid/rear-engine concept car featuring hybrid technology that debuted at the Geneva Motor Show last March.  Universally applauded for its drop-dead good looks, the 918 Spyder integrates visual cues from Porsche’s last supercar, the Carerra GT, but in a way that sheds volume for a sleeker, more tightly wrapped package.  From an exterior gaze, this car is to the Carrera GT as Ferrari’s current 458 Italia is to the outgoing F430…except with a twist.  That twist lies in Porsche’s electric propulsion technology, which in this car consists of a hybrid drivetrain that is apparently capable of either admirably efficient mileage (78 mpg) or enthralling performance (0 – 60 mph in 3.2 seconds, top speed of 198 mph).

Porsche’s entry into electric supercar production matches similar recent efforts by German competitors Audi and Mercedes-Benz, whose respective concept cars, the R8-based e-tron and SLS AMG E-Cell, are also poised to add respectability to the idea of an alternative power sports car.  All three companies would seem to be playing catch up to Tesla’s Roadster, which still leads the pack with an all-electric powerplant (free of a hybrid’s gas-guzzling internal combustion element) and a range of 245 miles per charge.  This last figure towers over the 918’s electric-only range, a paltry 16 miles.  Unlike the all-electric e-tron and E-Cell, however, the 918 isn’t really vying for Tesla’s market segment, as it is understood to be a hybrid.  Taking advantage of this distinction, the 918 features four different drive modes that offer varying degrees of electric motor integration, with commensurate  levels of fuel efficiency and inversely proportionate performance.  As a production approved hybrid sports car, the 918 may be more appropriately compared to the still-under-development Fisker Karma, although that car features four doors.  Thus it would appear that Porsche is the only manufacturer with immediate plans to produce a pure 2-seater, sports car hybrid.

In addition to offering a breathtaking body design that echoes elements of the original 917 racecar (to which its number designation may be a nod), the 918 Spyder features a new Porsche cockpit interface, including a wheel mounted selector for the various hybrid modes, three large display dials for gauges (one dedicated to energy management), and a center console touch screen that eliminates the need for copious buttons and switches.  The steering wheel also features the paddle controls of the company’s famously robust dual clutch PDK 7-speed transmission, as well as a new button that provides temporary overboost via the car’s electric systems, a feature that Porsche has dubbed E-boost.

Details regarding the 918 Spyder’s exact pricing and target volume are yet to be released, but it’s reasonable to expect similar numbers to the Carrera GT, which cost $440,000 and was produced in a quantity of roughly 1,270 examples between late 2003 and mid 2006.  While the Carrera GT was essentially derived from a racecar and as such featured a 605 horsepower 5.7 liter V-10, the 918’s green-friendly ethos understandably packs slightly less punch, with a V-8 that develops over 500 horsepower.  Still, Porsche claims the 918 can reach 60 mph in a mere 3.2 seconds, besting the venerable Carrera GT’s 3.6 second sprint by a healthy margin.