If I could have a drive in any car in the world, the Porsche 918 Spyder would win. I’m incredibly curious about this car. If ever there was a cake-and-eat-it-too vehicle, this is it. The newly released specs are insane: combined electric and gas output of 770 horsepower, 570 of which is from a 4.6-liter V-8. Zero to 60: under three seconds. Top speed: 202 mph. Fuel economy: 78 mpg.
If all that seems to defy the laws of physics, that’s because it does. The 918 can’t do all those things at once, but its plug-in hybrid layout — a first for Porsche — enables it to have a split personality. Porsche said this week that the 918 is “on the road” and undertaking driving trials in Europe. There are plans to deliver cars by the end of next year, and only 918 will ever be built.
Here's what the 918 looks like in a video that also references the historical fact that Dr. Ferdinand Porsche's very first car was a hybrid -- with four hub motors, no less, in 1900:
I’m sure I will get to drive this car, but owning one isn’t even remotely possible. They’re estimated to cost a whopping $845,000, a price so staggering I can’t imagine it attached to anything other than a villa in the south of France. Actually, those are probably $5 million these days.
I have a soft spot, because just a few weeks ago I visited the factory in Leipzig where the 918 will be built. It was a fascinating place, spotlessly clean, with workers in red jumpsuits and white shirts making cars on the slowest-moving auto assembly line I've ever seen. The 918 will be slotted into an output (currently 500 cars a day) that includes the popular Cayenne and Panamera models.
But even if I had the money for a 918, would I lose my green card if I bought one? The grand jury would have to convene on that one. The car could be quite environmentally friendly if you drove it conservatively. There’s an estimated 15 miles of electric driving from the 6.8-kilowatt-hour battery pack, with a 93-mph top speed in zero-emission mode. But why would you spend that kind of money on a 770-hp car and drive it as if it was grandpa’s Oldsmobile? I guarantee when you’re screaming down the autobahn, you’re not achieving that virtuous 78 mpg.
I called Gary Fong of Porsche in the U.S., and he had no information on how many of these cars will be coming to the U.S., but it’s fair to say a third or more of that limited production will head here, because the U.S. is Porsche’s biggest market. Other likely destinations: the Middle East and, in Europe, Monaco and other tax havens.
According to Fong, a 918 buyer will be “someone interested in high-performance vehicles with the means to make a unique purchase and help redefine the supercar category.” Porsche has to meet federal fuel economy standards, he said, and that means losing weight (hence the carbon fiber-reinforced plastic monocoque construction) and using electric drive (hence that battery pack).
Fong thinks that Porsche drivers have weekday and weekend split personalities, tooling around in traffic to work and then letting go on weekends. He said he saw 31 mpg on his Cayenne. “Drive a 911 with a light foot and the system will adjust, he said. “Put your foot down and it takes off. That’s the beauty of it—the car will do both.”
Fong adds, “Other companies are doing this, too. Ferrari, for example.” Indeed, Ferrari has just said that its legendary Enzo model is out and a hybrid is in. The new model, tentatively known as the F70, will borrow technology from Formula One (Porsche does that, too) and put two electric motors together with a 12-cylinder gas engine. It’s supposed to be both more powerful than any other Ferrari and enjoy a 40 percent fuel economy improvement. Again, cake-and-eat-it-too. And, again, an insanely expensive limited edition, priced even higher than the Porsche (above $850,000).
Bloomberg reports that the Ferrari is “part of a wave of green supercars, as high-end automakers step up efforts to make their models environmentally palatable, while still maintaining or boosting performance.” Did mention that the much-anticipated new version of the Acura NSX will also offer hybrid power (with a V-6 engine)?
IHS Automotive estimates that hybrid supercars sales, less than 100 this year, could reach 2,100 or more in 2015. That’s cool, and a portent of things to come. We may not see the end of the V-12-powered supercar anytime soon (the Ferrari hybrid has one, after all) but it’s clear these perennial bottom-dwellers in the fuel economy sweepstakes are cleaning up their acts.