I can’t recall any car having such a high profile development cycle with journalists getting ride-alongs in test mules and photo shoots with preproduction cars in flashy livery. I also can’t figure out why anyone would want to buy this car.
Objectively, the 918’s performance is staggering thanks to a hybrid drivetrain capable of producing 770hp and 78 mpg. Unfortunately, these figures are mutually exclusive. You can’t use 770hp and return 78 mpg. Fuel efficiency and performance occupy opposite ends of the spectrum.
The 78 mpg rating is based on the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC), a standardized test used to determine a car’s mpg figure, and the 918’s hybrid system is designed to optimize engine output specifically for the demands of the NEDC test. This tactic, known as cycle beating, requires 918 to be ladened with over 500 lbs of batteries and electric motors so to spend as much time as possible in full electric mode while undergoing NEDC testing. Even worse, electric mode limits the car’s performance to a 90 mph top speed and approximately 200 hp. It’s a heavy price to pay for a mpg rating that owners will never see in the real world, let alone care about in the first place.
Porsche’s own GT3 R Hybrid, the car they developed specifically to race against conventional gasoline powered race cars, eschews batteries in favor of a flywheel storage system. The head of Porsche’s motorsport R&D stated, “for performance applications, a battery recharges too slowly” which doesn’t serve to bolster the 918’s credentials. If Porsche built the 918 with a flywheel system, I would be in full support. Unfortunately, we’re stuck with the book smart equivalent.
The 918 draws some striking parallels to the Bugatti Veyron, coincidentally one of the least fuel efficient cars on the road today. Like the 918, the Veyron was devised around a set of massive but pointless performance metrics and then painfully massaged into production. Fortunately, those performance goals (1,001 bhp and a 250+ mph top speed) were complimentary, and the Veyron is very good at going fast as a result. But it’s also completely useless, even by supercar standards. To my knowledge, not a single private owner has reached the car’s top speed, and even fewer would argue that its chassis and grip are on par with its straight line performance. It can break traction in a straight line in 4th gear with AWD!
I fear similar criticism for the 918 but for the opposite reason. While the Veyron was too focused on speed at the expense of all else, the 918 runs the risk of alienating everyone by being too much of compromise. Its contradictory performance goals spreading its real world performance too thin. No one is going to buy the 918 to limp around town in crippling electric mode just to get thumbs up from Chevy Volt drivers, and conversely, the same could be said for driving a 3,800 lb supercar with only 550 hp when the batteries are drained.
The sad truth is that the 918 is about creating brand recognition, not real world performance. Designed to hit as many buzzwords and performance metrics as possible, the car’s real target audience is everyone who doesn’t have to live with its glaring shortfalls and can just admire it from a distance. It’s a halo car, not a supercar.