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A Convergence of Extremes:
The Porsche 918 Spyder

July 21, 2011 by Matt

Porsche 918 Spyder

Porsche’s 918 Spyder has been wowing audiences on the auto show circuit for a little over a year now. By all accounts, it’s a technological showcase, and represents Porsche’s vision of their future, much the same way the 959 did in the mid-’80s.

Porsche 918 Spyder

And as befits such a forward-looking car, crammed chock full of innovations, its vital statistics peg several different scales. It’s equipped with a 3.4l V8 engine supplemented by three electric motors which, when working together, deliver a whopping 718 hp to all four wheels. Sixty mph is dispatched in 3.2 seconds, and fuel economy is an incredibly miserly 78 mpg. Amazingly, Porsche managed to stuff all this kit, including batteries and supporting hardware, into a car weighing only around 3,300 lb. But even more amazing is the price: The automaker has committed to build a limited run for $845,000 a pop. That’s an order of magnitude more expensive than anything else in the manufacturer’s lineup, doubling even the price of the vaunted, range-topping Carrera GT from a few years ago.

I’ll let that stand. The car is primarily a declaration of Porsche’s capabilities, and as such, it’s irrelevant what the price is, as long as they produce more than a single example to be trundled from show to show. They only need to prove that it works, and that they can make more than just one.

Porsche 918 Spyder

From an aesthetic standpoint, it’s a knockout. I’d venture to say its lines surpass even the aforementioned Carrera GT’s, widely considered to be among the best-looking cars ever to exit the factory at Stuttgart. The fender flares and overall proportions update the classic James Dean 550 Spyder look, and the tension and visual interest provided by the interaction of the surfaces on the car’s flanks perfectly relieve what would otherwise be a boring swath of sheetmetal. It’s a beautiful car.

Porsche 918 Spyder

Even though, as mentioned above, the 918 Spyder is a statement, it doesn’t just speak to Porsche’s ability to crank out a world-beater at a singular point in time. It’s also their take on the future of performance cars in general, and as the automaker is something of an authority on the subject, their statements really deserve the consideration of every performance buff.

That said, my feelings about the mechanicals of the car are somewhat ambivalent. The larger part of me knows that alternative propulsion technologies have a long way to go before they can match the character and tactile feedback of a traditional internal combustion engine. That part of me also craves the simplicity of one engine, one transmission and one set of throttle bodies controlled by my right foot. I can get my mind around that arrangement; it’s a known quantity. On the other hand, I’m well aware that there were times people craved the simplicity of an L-head, or pushrods (and still do), or carburetors, or non-variable valve timing, and yet all their replacements have been integrated, over time, into the performance scene. And also, it does seem inevitable that our cars’ means of locomotion will diversify, and it takes time for the sound and feel of whatever’s new to work itself into the preferences of those of us who relish the subjectives of a car. Looking at the situation from that angle, the present really is a compelling period of automotive evolution to be living through, analogous to the early part of last century, when it seemed like every company had its own ideas about the best way to propel a vehicle. It’ll be interesting to see if Porsche’s vision sticks.

Filed under: Aesthetics, Alternative Propulsion, Car Industry, Porsche

2 Comments

  1. John D says:

    It reminds me of a Lotus Elise crossed with a Ferrari F40. I think it’s absolutely gorgeous. Beautiful curves and lines, but with a powerful, and even menacing presence. Perfect.

    I appreciate cutting edge technology, how it reaches beyond the mundane and typical to create something better. (Much like the 3rd gen RX7 did in the early 90s.) But I also appreciate the simplicity of tried and true engineering. Each has it’s place. Once these advances have trickled down and been integrated/simplified (as you mentioned) it will undoubtedly be worth it.

    • Matt says:

      The Elise + F40 comparison is a good one. If I had to pick a nit, though, I would say it does look a little, well, stubby for a supercar. I want to stretch it lengthways just a tad, more in line with the Carrera GT’s proportions.

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