Sunday, 14 March 2010

The Porsche guide to green motoring

The Geneva Show is the biggest and the best of the international motor shows all the big manufacturers attend every year. The same orgy of one-upmanship occurred in March as it always seems to when Geneva comes round but this year, one manufacturer stole every headline going! When the wraps came off the Porsche 918 Spyder concept car and fell to the floor, jaws of all those in attendance went the same way.

The 918 Spyder is the ultimate expression of Porsche core brand values. It can be described as a 'halo' car which means it sits, deity-like, above every other Porsche. The idea being to generate desire in punters but offering more affordable [but hardly thrifty] Boxsters, 911s and Caymans to those who can't stretch to the £350,000+ it's likely to cost from showrooms.

As such, it follows on from 2001's Carrera GT rather than the 1970s Porsche 917 racer its name references. The 917 was the first ever Porsche to achieve an outright win at Le Mans and Porsche head of R&D, Wolfgang Durheimer freely admitted, the '918' name was hatched by marketing brains a mere week before the show.

It is worth pointing out though, that this new concept car has traces of Le Mans in its genome. Its 3.4-litre V8 is a derivative of the engine that powered an RS Spyder to an LMP2 class victory at Le Mans in 2008. Next to the Carrera GT's 5.0-litre V10 (also based on a race engine incidentally) it looks something like a retrograde step in performance. Parity between the two is brought back however, by a pair of electric motors, one powering the front wheels and the other powering the rear but each producing 109bhp.

Yes ladies and gentlemen, what you are looking at here is a Porsche hybrid! A petrol-electric, parallel hybrid and if that nomenclature conjures up images of Leornardo DiCaprio's fleet of Toyota Priuses in your head, you are not far off the mark.

The 918 Spyder employs a clever powertrain management system and a high-tech 7-speed 'Doppelkupplungsgetriebe ' (double-clutch gearbox) to achieve nearly 100mpg and CO2 emissions of just 70g/km. Contextualise this with 70mpg and 104g/km for the most fuel-efficient Ford Focus money can buy.

This parsimoniousness at the pumps appears at odds with its 'road racer' styling but the dial on the steering marked 'E-H-S-R' goes a long way towards justifying why these seemingly antagonistic qualities can sit next to each other in the 918 Spyder, as harmoniously as gin and tonic sit together in a highball glass.

When in 'H' (hybrid mode), the 918 Spyder can record these figures in the EU emissions and fuel economy tests but it performs better still, if the dial is twisted to 'E' (electric-only) mode. In this mode, the 918 is powered only by its lithium ion battery-pack and can travel 16 miles without recourse to so much as a drop of petrol.

In 'S' (sport) mode, system parameters are set with a bias more towards fun driving than economy. More power is sent to the rear wheels and presumably, this would allow you to carry out the sort of 'skids' you might be asked for by the director were you to unwittingly wander onto the Top Gear test track during filming.

The last position is 'R' and if the 918 Spyder had been around during 'This is Spinal Tap', it would have probably been marked '11' instead. It stands for 'Renn' or 'Race' and essentially means every adjustable setting in the Posrche is fixed in the position that facilitates the fastest possible lap times around a track.

Around the legendary Nurburgring circuit, the 918 Spyder will be capable of a lap time of "less than 7m30s" in this mode. Compare this with when the Australian car magazine 'Wheels' took a Bugatti Veyron around the Nurburgring, and only managed 7m40s.

This is all very tantalising but it has to be said, the 918 Spyder is just a concept car to gauge public interest. It is not a certainty for production though I'll leave you with this quote from a Porsche engineer who was at the show: “Porsche has never shown a [concept] car it didn’t go on to make”.

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