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The Porsche 918 Spyder vs. the McLaren P1: Battle of the hybrid hypercars

Welcome to the two most incredible cars on the road today: the McLaren P1 and the Porsche 918 Spyder. Sure there are some other contenders, but the Bugatti Veyron is getting on in years and we still don’t know enough about the Ferrari LaFerrari to say what it’s really like; besides, it has a stupid name.

So that leaves us with the Porsche and the McLaren. And I am fine with that. Not only are these the absolute pinnacle of the engineers craft and art, they also show the future performance motoring.

With their hybrid drivetrains, the P1 and the 918 Spyder are the first of a generation of eco-hypercars. An era in which it’s not just the ultimate performance of the car that matters, but how efficiently it can get there.   

So just how much separates these two marvelous machines? Which one should you buy … a poster of?

So without further ado let’s look at these bad boys.2015 Porsche 918 Spyder 7

Performance

Really, this section alone could be an entire article. These cars are actually made of incredible performance figures. But for the sake of everyone who would like to finish this article in less time than it takes to read “War and Peace”, I will try and be concise.

Both the Brit and the Kraut will do 0-62 mph in 2.8 seconds, thanks to their insanely powerful hybrid drivetrains. The Porsche packs a 608-horsepower gasoline powered V8, but as the late night infomercials say: “Wait! That’s not all!” This Teutonic Titan also has 279 hp worth of electric power for a total of 887 hp.

If you think that’s impressive, the McLaren has done even better. Its combination of twin-turbo V8 and electric motors is good for 903 horsepower. I mean, really, how does Porsche think it can compete with just 887 measly horsepower?

McLaren P1 wheel CuThat difference in power shows up when the cars get up past  100 mph. The McLaren can get to 124 mph in just 6.8 seconds, more than a second faster than the Porsche. In hypercar terms, that might as well be a week.

It is not all about straight line speed. The 918 Spyder looks like it can do more than that on the track.

The 918 Spyder currently holds the production car lap record at Nurburgring, having made the nearly 13-mile loop in  just 6:57. That means it averaged around 110 mph … AVERAGED! That puts it almost a full minute faster than an Audi R8 V10.

As for the McLaren, it claims that the P1 has made it around the ‘Ring in less than seven minutes, but McLaren hasn’t actually announced a time. This makes me strongly suspect that McLaren couldn’t get around faster than the 918, because if it had, McLaren would be crowing about it. At the same time, Porsche wants to bring the 918 back to the ‘Ring because they believe that the Spyder can manage an even faster time.

It is nearly impossible to draw  line between these two cars, but, despite the lap record, I think that the edge has to go to the McLaren because of its significantly quicker high-end acceleration.

Environmental Cred

Ordinarily, talking about a super car’s environmental qualities would be like talking about a pornstar’s bowling skill: it’s beside the point. These cars are different, though. Twenty years ago, Lamborghinis used panda slurry as a fuel additive (or so I’ve heard). Today, though, car companies are increasingly conscious of their greenness.

Obviously both the Spyder and the P1 are hybrids. Impressively, though, both are actually plug-in hybrids that are capable of running entirely on their batteries alone. The McLaren can run solely on its batteries for about nine miles. Coincidentally enough, nine miles is more than enough range to get the P1 from the casinos to the harbor in Monte Carlo, which is the main journey that this car is likely to make most of its life. On top of that, McLaren claims that the P1 can manage 35 mpg – close to 20 more than you get in the pathetically slow BMW M3.

McLaren P1 wheel MS
Image used with permission by copyright holder

But if you are really a cheapskate billionaire, allow me to direct your attention back to the Porsche. The McLaren manages nine miles on batteries? The Porsche can do 18: more than enough to lap the ‘Ring at speeds of up to 93 mph.

Not only that, it in its normal driving mode, the 918 Spyder can get an astounding 85 mpg. Thats more than double the McLaren and more evidence that you might be able to go faster than the Germans – if you try really hard – but you can never out-do them in efficiency.

Speaking of which, this road-going 887 hp fighter jet puts out just  79 g/km of CO2, which is 20 percent better than most versions of the Toyota Prius. Remember, this is the same car that currently holds the lap record at the Nurburgring … incredible.

The clear edge goes to the Porsche.

Poster Cred

Which one of these cars you would rather have on a poster isn’t just important to you, it is surprisingly important for the companies themselves.

Low volume halo cars like the P1 and 918 Spyder typically cost so much money to develop and produce that the company actually loses money on each sale. For instance, Bugatti and its parent company Volkswagen lost nearly $2,000,000 on each Veyron sold. The point isn’t immediate profit, but to develop new technology and build interest in the brand.

With that in mind, how a car looks and the excitement it generates is just as important as the power it puts out.

Oddly, both of these cars have some problems in this area. Porsche and McLaren’s work is more about engineering mastery than the passion of a Zonda or the sheer excitement of a Koenigsegg. Still neither car is slouch on looks.

The McLaren looks like something straight out of a Michael Bay sci-fi movie. It looks cool, poised and calculated. Unfortunately, the interior of the car is just plain boring. Aside from all the carbon fiber there is literally nothing that would tell you that you are in one of the fastest cars on the planet. That might be fine for some people, but it is hardly exciting.

2015 Porsche 918 Spyder 6The Porsche on the other hand is a bit more stiring. In its racing colors especially, the 918 Spyder looks like it has a personality, whereas the McLaren just looks like it has a wind tunnel. One detail I like in particular are the two humps that rise up behind the seats. It’s very reminiscent of classic racecars and I really enjoy it.

The interior, too, is far better. The combination of gauge cluster and large touch screens is a nice combination of classic and futuristic. Personally, I think it’s great.

There is more to the Porsche’s thrill, however, than just the looks. The 918 Spyder is thrilling, not only on its own merits but because it offers hope. Porsches may be expensive, but mortals can afford them. And because of that, we can look at the 918 Spyder and know that we have an actual chance of enjoying the technology that makes it great.

The McLaren is more like the CERN particle accelerator: hugely impressive but lacking visceral excitement. You appreciate that car with your head, not your heart.

The edge goes to the Porsche.

Checkered flag

In a competition between these two cars, it’s very hard to call one a loser. Both of them are almost unbelievable machines. However, because I pitched this article, I have to choose … and I choose the Porsche.

It may not have quite the performance of the McLaren, but it gets its job done with a bit more flare. I still cannot get over the fact that a 211 mph hypercar gets better gas mileage on lower emissions than a Toyota Prius.

On top of that, this car is better looking and more exciting. I have huge respect for the McLaren, but I just don’t love it the way I do the Porsche.  

Editors' Recommendations

Peter Braun
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Peter is a freelance contributor to Digital Trends and almost a lawyer. He has loved thinking, writing and talking about cars…
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