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$845,000 Porsche uses less gas than a Prius

2015 Porsche 918 Spyder

Michael Bettencourt/The Globe and Mail

The Porsche 918 Spyder is the fastest production car around the Nürburgring. At close to a million dollars, it is by far the priciest road-going Porsche. And according to Porsche, this 887-hp track monster uses less fuel than a Toyota Prius.

Wait, what?

No doubt, Porsche's new mid-engine super sports car is also its fuel economy leader. The plug-in hybrid's all-wheel drive powertrain offers combined city and highway European fuel efficiency officially rated as 3.1-litre/100 km, or 3.0 for the 41-kg lighter Weissach performance model. Even if those numbers are not quite achievable in the real-world, that it manages to get anywhere near them is a huge technological feat for something this fast.

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In effect, the 918 Spyder combines the best from the green and performance worlds, creating a striking new definition of exotic sports car. It gloriously gathers up previously opposite extremes of hybrid-like fuel efficiency and world-beating acceleration.

Porsche has offered super sports cars for the past 40 years, all of them with varying ties to its ongoing motorsports efforts, starting with the 904 GTS in the 1960s, the 911 Turbo in the 1970s, the legendary all-wheel-drive 959 in the 1980s and, most recently, the Carrera GT. That latter mid-engine hyper-exotic has gained notoriety as the unfortunate last ride of Paul Walker, star of The Fast and the Furious movie franchise, when he was a passenger in a Carrera GT driven in regrettably similar fashion, by all reports, to the Hollywood antics portrayed in those movies, killing Walker and the driver.

Each of these cars featured more power and speed than the last, its owners happily burning more hydrocarbons at each throttle push to experience an increasing rush, to redline and the next corner. The 918 Spyder is indeed faster, but not only breaks that fuel consumption pattern, it brings fuel consumption levels down to the point where its hyper-sports car could conceivably use less fuel in real-world use than a regular V-6 mid-size sedan, judging by the 9.4 litres/100 km we achieved in a 50-km city/highway loop from the Circuito de la Comunidad Valenciana Ricardo Tormo to downtown Valencia.

Perusing the 918 Spyder's spec sheet produces numbers as eye-popping as a Rob Ford confession, but experiencing it in person – both on the track, and during a crowd-packing slow-speed drive through downtown Valencia – provided a clear view of the 918 Spyder's dual green and performance-monster personalities.

Open up the lightweight door, and our Weissach-package car offered up fire-resistant cloth lightweight seats, no interior carpeting, and no interior door handles, as per Porsche lightening tradition – though the strap used to open the door is leather, not mere fabric. There are two electric motors, one on the front axle that makes this an all-wheel-drive car, the other helping the V-8 engine provide power to the rear wheels. Those rear wheels receive about 80 per cent of this car's power, which explains the car's surprising willingness for tail-out shenanigans when pushing it on the track, before the car's electronics abruptly chop the fun if you push it too far.

It was track behaviour remarkably similar to the Ferrari 458 Speciale, a track-focused car designed strictly for better track lap times. Yet, for the first few corners on the track with the 918, all that could be heard was the rumble of the Michelin tires big enough to star in their own series – it's one thing to experience a plug-in hybrid's near silence for a few blocks in clogged traffic. It's different to be booting around the track in the same silence, although if you push the right pedal down far or fast enough, the V-8 will come online quickly for instant thrust.

Not only do these electric motors act as electronic superchargers on the track, recharging themselves under braking pressure and higher revs on our cool-down laps, the lithium-ion battery's 6.8 kWh capacity means there's 30 or so kilometres available in pure, silent electric driving. And it's those gas-free kilometres that make the 918's incredible fuel efficiency claims possible.

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This Porsche is notably less expensive than two similarly new archrivals from Ferrari and McLaren. Both of those cars start at more than a million dollars U.S. each, but price is not where supercars are judged.

Its 0-100 km time of 2.6 seconds puts it a miniscule but relevant 0.2 seconds ahead of the McLaren, plus its documented time of 6 minutes and 57 seconds around Nürburgring is a second faster than the P1's fastest time yet.

In the past, if you wanted fast, you paid for it at the pump, as exotic car owners happily did. Now, Porsche is saying that it doesn't have to be that way: performance and fuel-efficiency are possible together.

Tech Specs

2015 Porsche 918 Spyder

Type: Exotic mid-engine plug-in hybrid supercar

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Base price: $845,000 U.S.; as tested, (est.) $992,000 U.S.

Engine: 4.6-litre gas/electric hybrid V-8

Horsepower/torque: 887 hp/940 lb-ft

Transmission: Seven-speed PDK

Drive: All-wheel (with front-axle electric motor)

Observed fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.4 (officially 3.0 combined NEDC)

Alternatives: Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport, Ferrari LaFerrari, McLaren P1

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