Dallas racer Nick Boulle revs up two new six-figure supercars

by | Automotive, Design

RUSH JOBS

A nearly $300,000 British McLaren. A nearly $1 million German Porsche.
What do these road rockets feel like?
Speed racer NICK BOULLE — motorsports junkie, marketing whiz and de Boulle jewelry scion — buckles up (and gets down)

Porsche photographs by WILL GRAHAM | McLaren photographs by BEN GARRETT

PORSCHE 918 SPYDER

Before the turn of the decade, I considered myself a well-driven individual. I’ve manned cars that most fan boys lust for: Ferraris, McLarens, Lamborghinis, Challenge race cars, Indy Lights race cars and countless other exotic four-wheeled machines. I consider myself lucky. However, in the past several years, despite increasing restrictions on emissions and the like, automakers have redefined the limits of street-legal cars. A new breed of $1 million-plus hypercars is stealing headlines from already impressive supercars. I hadn’t had the opportunity to drive one of these engineering masterpieces, but that changed when a close friend threw me the keys to his Porsche 918 Spyder, base price $845,000.

Whether the 918 is whizzing past silently under its electric power or screaming past with both its electric and gas engines engaged in race mode, it makes you and everyone around you smile in amazement. Just seeing one is a pleasure most will never experience: Only 297 cars from a production run of 918 are destined for America, and all of them are spoken for. The first thing you realize as you squeeze into the 918’s carbon monocoque shell — the body and chassis are integrated — is how much technology has been pulled from the world of motorsports racing. You are nestled into a tight-fitting (albeit finely upholstered) carbon-fiber racing seat. The entire console and steering wheel have been designed to allow a driver to make adjustments as quickly and efficiently as possible. Whether you are switching from electric to hybrid mode, changing suspension settings or putting the car’s gearbox into sport mode, you barely have to move a millimeter.

Now, to the important part: How does the 918 drive? In true Porsche style, the experience is simultaneously effortless and rewarding. Around the tight corners of a racetrack, you do feel the 3,717-pound curb weight, but with the electric motors and the 4.6-liter V-8 at full throttle, the 918’s whopping 887 horsepower easily overcomes this. The 918’s steering is crisp at all times and adds weight as you add enthusiasm. The car goes as fast as you dare and gives you confidence to do so — as long as you give it the respect it deserves. Over the limit, electronics step in to keep the 918 going in the right direction, but they can only do so much when 100-plus mph comes so effortlessly. I wasn’t able to spend time running the car without the electronics on, but those wired watchdogs never impeded my drive or took away from the experience as I pushed said limits on the racetrack.

On the street, hybrid mode is engaged, the car’s suspension is supple and the throttle very forgiving. Like little devils on your shoulder, the car’s racing genes are always asking to be unleashed and used to full effect, but they’re never overpowering. Road bumps are easily navigated with the use of the front-axle lift system, which raises the nose so scraping all that carbon fiber is never an issue. Whether on the road or the racetrack, the 918 Spyder is awe-inspiring. The 210-mph beauty might not have the top speed of McLaren’s 217-mph P1 or Ferrari’s 217-mph LaFerrari, but neither of those cars claim CO2 emissions lower than a Toyota Prius. After some time away from the 918, I realized what the engineers at Porsche have created: The 918 Spyder is a hypercar that not only defines the limits of what is possible today, but also paves the way for a shift in focus from ultimate speed to ultimate speed and efficiency.

McLaren’s 650S Spider is much like its predecessor, the MP4-12C, in that both cars are built up from a carbon-fiber tub, mated to protruding engine and suspension units. Both cars have masses of power and extraordinary handling — and that is where the similarities end. In much the same way its Formula One race cars are developed, England-based McLaren has committed to advancing its road cars significantly each year. The MP4-12C was never a bad supercar and yet, somehow, McLaren’s 650S, starting around $280,000, has more of everything: power, brakes, even a more aerodynamically efficient exterior.

Jumping into the driver’s seat, the 650S already knows what I am thinking. The seat is moving me forward into the proper driving position as soon as I slam the upward-opening door down. The car has suspension settings that range from comfort mode to track-ready. Engine settings can be adjusted, too, to determine throttle response and power. After being guided through all the options by one of McLaren’s factory drivers, I am ready. Rolling onto the streets of Dallas, I’m surprised by the car’s relaxed stance: It hesitates slightly as you roll into the throttle from a stop and it also takes a moment to shift when it is not under load. But I quickly realize that McLaren’s latest hot rod is not slow off the line, nor is it hesitant: Instead, the car is asking for more from the driver. The 650S will respond almost immediately based on how you drive it, and the braver you are, the better the car becomes. This McLaren has so much finesse you could almost forget it is able to propel you from 0 to 62 mph in 3 seconds flat. In a total of 25.4 seconds, you could be cruising at a promised 204 mph, if you dare.

From a handling perspective, it would be difficult to find a car as capable over varying terrain. McLaren calls it Proactive Chassis Control: The car’s suspension adjusts each millisecond to maximize grip, based on the road’s condition and the driver’s input. Whether you need a race-ready track toy or a comfortable ride for your dinner date — it is quite smooth on a bumpy road — this convertible listens and delivers, based on how you treat it and on your chosen settings. Along with this, McLaren wisely decided to include a hydraulic power-steering unit. This mechanical connection to the car helps give it a soul that many modern drive-by-wire sports cars lack. The result is a vehicle that speaks clearly to its driver, when so many of today’s sports cars only whisper.

NICK BOULLE is the founder and CEO of digital marketing firm Wow!Birds. He has raced on amateur and professional circuits and is a driver coach, himself taking part in multiple car and kart races each year.