Hispano-Suiza is back, with a retro-tacular electric hypercar worthy of the badge
Hypercars are really converging on a particular look these days – a look dictated by the necessities of ultra-high speed driving. Function dictates form when you're talking about speeds over 400 km/h (250 mph), and while we're glad we live in a world where cars like the Koenigsegg Jesko can push the limits of engineering in search of magical numbers like 300 miles per hour, let's be honest. Nobody's going out and driving at those speeds.
So the door is open for some fresh, new design ideas. Or, perhaps, some really, really old ones. Hispano-Suiza (which translates as Spanish-Swiss) can trace its roots right back to the start of the 20th century, and this Barcelona-based company was responsible for some of the most stunning and iconic automobiles of the age when people still called them "automobiles."
The Spanish Civil War more or less put an end to the company's beautiful V12 luxury cars in 1938, when the Catalonian government decided to seize control of its factories and use them for aircraft engines and other war supplies. But old Hispano-Suiza cars are still in hot demand by collectors, inextricably linked with the sepia-tinted royalty that once drove them.
And now, it seems, the brand might be back. A new car, and a new effort to resurrect the marque, has just been unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show, with Miguel Suqué Mateu (great-grandson of the original founder Damian Mateu) at the helm. Where Koenigsegg made his latest car a tribute to his dad, Suqué Mateu decided to kick the new Hispano-Suiza company off with a shout-out to his mum.
Hence, the Carmen. The company is presenting this as the vanguard of a new "hyperlux" segment in the "cars for really rich people" market. Hypercar-adjacent performance, with exquisite luxury is the goal here, so let's see how they've done on the former.
Not bad! The Carmen will roll with a fully electric powertrain, boasting two motors for a rear-wheel-drive 750 kilowatts, or 1,019 horsepower. That's clearly enough to earn a hypercar sticker, and it's also enough to hurl the Carmen from 0-100 kmh (0-62 mph) in less than three seconds, much like a nicely specced Tesla. Top speed is electronically limited to 250 km/h (155 mph), which is a perfectly loopy speed to attempt in real-world driving and more than enough to reduce you to a lightly smoking set of dental records if you cock things up on the road.
The liquid-cooled battery is a T-shaped unit, running up the spine of the car and sprouting out sideways behind the seats much like the pack in the Pininfarina Battista. The Carmen's battery is designed around volume rather than capacity, taking up 560 liters of precisely-positioned space designed to help the car mimic the weight balance of a mid-rear engined supercar. Using current battery technology, it'll carry about 80 kilowatt-hours of energy. By 2020, when the car will hit the road, Hispano-Suiza expects it to roll with denser cells, giving it a 105 kilowatt-hour capacity and a range over 400 km (250 mi).
The Carmen will boast one of the most carbon-intensive auto bodies in history, with carbon composites used for "the vast proportion of vehicle structures." This begins with a carbon monocoque chassis, and extends to some unusual carbon crash structures as well as a carbon rear subframe.
The body panels are carbon, even if they've been painted to look like aluminum. The seats are carbon. The upholstery support panels are carbon, and they've even used composites in electrical insulation and sound and vibration damping. The result is an ultra-lightweight chassis that Hispano-Suiza claims is stiffer than that of any other hypercar. The whole car weighs in at just 1,690 kg (3,726 lb).
Suspension is double-wishbone at both ends, with adaptive damping and variable roll stiffness distribution. There's traction control, stability control and ABS braking – and it's worth noting the Carmen uses a brake-by-wire system that activates the regen braking for the first part of the pedal travel before troubling the whopping six-piston hydraulic brakes on their 380-mm carbon ceramic discs.
The interior looks highly snazzy, and fits with the luxury grand touring concept of the car, as much as you can expect to grand tour with an electric at this point. You enter via upward-opening scissor doors and nestle your booty into hand-trimmed, hand-sewn, electronically adjustable, heated leather and Alcantara seats. Breathe in, driver, and enjoy the pleasant pungency of your very own custom interior perfume. Personally, I'm going for Alpine Glade, like the spray in my toilet.
The steering wheel is retro deluxe, and the dash is wood veneer, but the clocks are digital on glass, and somehow it all kind of works together. There's a Swiss watch buried in the dash panel and LED mood lighting throughout. An art deco triangle for the gear selector sits by a 10.1-inch navigation touch screen with Bluetooth audio and a parking camera. The whole thing looks like it was designed by a futurist from the 50s or 60s.
And that certainly carries over to the exterior design, which is one of the most eye-catching efforts we've seen in years. The front looks familiar enough; since the motors and batteries are liquid-cooled, there's space for a radiator and a chunky front grille. The front hubcaps are the first indication things are gonna get weird, concentric art deco silver circles receding into a cone shape. An aggressive wheel arch gives a tip of the hat to the huge fenders of the 30s and 40s, and initiates a sharp, low line toward the back.
The cabin is relatively composed with its tinted glass, but when we move to the rear wheels with their aerodynamic covers, it starts looking like a space ship. The Carmen's rear proportions are Kardashianesque – a smooth roofline flanked by wing-like wheel arches tapers back to an abrupt halt. This is mirrored from beneath by a curvaceous set of rear diffusers, and these two silver lines sandwich a blacked-out inner layer with stark red tail lighting.
It's a peach. There's nothing on the road that looks even a little bit like it. I want to see it painted yellow and used in a gritty Dick Tracy reboot, where Dick Tracy is played by Scarlett Johannsen.
Hispano-Suiza has put this prototype together in just nine months, with a design and build team of just 25 people. After it leaves Geneva, it'll go back to Spain for testing and development at the Institute for Applied Automotive research, as well as the racetracks and mountain roads of the Iberian peninsula over the next six months. And then, hopefully, we'll get the good news that it's going into production for the lucky few who can afford its multi-million dollar pricetag.
Welcome back, Hispano-Suiza, we like your style.
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Kudos to the designer for a round steering wheel, though. What's with all the ovals and rounded-corner squares, these days!?
Pretty sure they got the grill from a Kia reject spare part department.