State of the Game: Supercars
Supercar, hypercar, megacar ... whatever you want to call today's fastest, most powerful, most technologically advanced cars, they're in the midst of a very exciting evolution. New technologies and performance benchmarks are making these super-toys of the few and wealthy techier, faster and more fun to drive. Join us as we delve into the state of the modern supercar.
End of an Era
A supercar like no other, the Bugatti Veyron absolutely defined the supercar market for the past decade, serving as the measuring stick for the entire segment. And that's exactly what it was designed to do. Volkswagen obtained the rights to the dormant French marque in 1998, and it immediately set out to design a supercar like the world had never seen before.
Volkswagen experimented with several different Bugatti-badged concept cars, including coupe and sedan models, before settling in on the Veyron design and launching it in 2005. The Veyron 16.4's 987-hp 8.0-liter quad-turbo W16 engine was rather insane compared to other supercars of the era, but it actually represented a cylinder downsizing from the W18 engines on the concept cars, extending back to the 555-hp Italdesign Giugiaro-penned 1998 EB 118.
The Veyron was the world's unofficial and official fastest production car for much of its time in production, trading places with a few other elite supercars, like the SSC Ultimate Aero TT. It also held accolades like the world's quickest-accelerating production car and world's fastest production convertible. Its world-record top speed needled in at 267.8 mph (431 km/h) in 2010 (in 1,183-hp Super Sport trim), and its 0-62 mph (100 km/h) accelaration time has long penned in at a blistering 2.5 seconds.
Bugatti released the very last Bugatti Veyron earlier this year, a special-edition Grand Sport Vitesse "La Finale" designed to commemorate the retirement of perhaps the greatest supercar of all time. Bugatti has not yet revealed the Veyron's successor, but it's expected to do so next year.
Rumor has long suggested the new Bugatti model will be called the Chiron, and the latest reports show that it could be a hybrid with close to 1,500 hp on tap. It looks like it will keep an 8.0-liter W16 configuration and may feature electric turbochargers and an electric motor. The world should find out for sure when the highly anticipated car debuts sometime in 2016, likely at a major European auto show like Geneva or Paris.
The Need for Speed Continues
Like the Veyron before it, the Bugatti Chiron is expected to hit the market with potential to blow the world speed record away. Its spec sheet may very well include a 288 mph (463.5 km/h) top speed, along with a 0-62 mph time in the low 2s. That's pushing 20 mph (32 km/h) over the current unofficial world speed record, which Hennessey notched at 270.49 mph (435.31 km/h) in February 2014, after an ultimately unsuccessful attempt at beating Bugatti by sneaking through the back door.
The Chiron should be an immediate contender for negating any Hennessey claim on the record and taking the official record over from the Veyron Super Sport, especially since Volkswagen has the Ehra-Lessien track real estate to set the scene. It's not the only upcoming supercar with an estimated top speed above 270 mph (435 km/h), though. Last August, Hennessey preempted any potential world's fastest claims by the Veyron successor when it previewed the successor to the Venom GT, the 1,400-hp Venom F5.
The new super-suped little Lotus from Texas isn't only more powerful than its predecessor; it's also more aerodynamic, with drag coefficient dropping from 0.44 to below 0.40. And while it's gained a bit of weight over the GT, it pulls away with a ever-so-slightly higher power-weight ratio. The "290 mph is within reach" scrawled atop Hennessey's Venom F5 press release sets up a rather nice potential head-to-head with the 288-mph Chiron. The Venom F5 is supposed to make its official debut this year.
For now, the world record race appears to be between Bugatti and Hennessey, but there are a couple of dark horses with the pedigree and paper estimates to make a run. The Agera R and One:1 have the power and predicted speed (273 mph/439 km/h) to bring the world record back to Koenigsegg, but Koenigsegg hasn't really made a move and has expressed issues with finding an appropriate piece of straight, empty road (Volkswagen doesn't let the competition use Ehra-Lessein). For now, Koenigsegg seems pretty content setting acceleration/deceleration records and releasing awesome new models, special editions and concept cars at the annual Geneva Motor Show.
Back in 2011, American supercar outfit SSC introduced the Tuatara, an otherworldly 1,350-bhp successor to the Ultimate Aero TT, the 1,183-hp SSC car that held a 256-mph speed record before Bugatti took it away in 2010. The Tuatara appeared to be moving along for a while, and was even engine-tested to 1,700 bhp in 2013. Then things went dark, and the car disappeared from the public eye as quickly as a child star going through an awkward, pimply puberty. It seems the "production" part of the production car speed record is proving more a problem than the "speed" part, as the car never showed up in 2013 or 2014, as originally scheduled.
SSC's website and social media have been silent since 2013, save for a few fairly urgent Facebook/Twitter job postings last November. The company did not respond to our email requesting up-to-date information about the status of its Tuatara plans. It's looking like we may never get to see if the Tuatara is up to the task of world-record speed, and if we do, it may just prove too little, too late.
Hybrid Bugatti or not, the age of the hybrid supercar is well underway. The partial and full electrification of supercars is no longer a bleeding edge phenomenon and traces back more than half a decade to the rapid surge of concept cars like the Audi e-tron, the BMW Vision EfficientDynamics, the Porsche 918 Spyder, the Jaguar C-X75 and the Mercedes SLS AMG E-Cell. And while it was the European luxury brands that started an all-out hybrid/electric supercar arms race, it was American start-up Tesla that first demonstrated just how fun and sporty an all-electric car could be way back in 2006.
All of those concept cars, save for the C-X75, ended up in at least limited production, with the Audi R8 e-tron being the latest to hit the scene. Not every one had the power or performance to be ranked a supercar, but each one helped to prove the performance potential of electric power. In turn, they paved the way for an extreme breed of electrified supercar.
Looking back, 2013 was a HUGE year for the hyper hybrid. Both the LaFerrari and McLaren P1 debuted at the Geneva Motor Show that year, and the production Porsche 918 Spyder debuted at the 2013 Frankfurt Motor Show. Each of those hybrid exotics features a unique gas-electric layout, but they all utilize electric power toward delivering some of the world's most powerful, quick performance on straightaways and curves.
At 887-hp, the Porsche 918 Spyder is the least powerful of the Big 3, but so far, it's been the most impressive on the asphalt. At the same time it was making its world debut in 2013, the young 918 joined the very elite sub-7-minute club when it lapped the Nürburgring in 6:57. Depending upon how your definition of "street-legal production car" applies to the open-top Radical SR8LM (a radical car, no matter how you classify it), the 918 can lay claim to being the fastest road car around the track. Either way, it's definitely the Nürburgring sub-7 that we'd most like to cruise the coast with.
Car & Driver added a big bullet point to the 918's resume last year, declaring the 2015 model the quickest road car in the world after accelerating it to 60 mph in a mere 2.2 seconds. Coupled with the car's Nürburgring prowess, that makes a very impressive combination of acceleration and on-track agility and speed. Sadly for 918 fans and potential buyers, Porsche recently completed production of the nine hundred and eighteen 918 models.
The 903-hp P1 and 949-hp LaFerrari haven't been lagging far behind. The P1 achieved a 2.6-second 0-60 mph time in testing, and the LaFerrari sits right between the 918 and P1 with a verified 2.4.
All three modern hyper hybrids enjoy seats up at the tippity top of world's quickest production cars, and two of them do it while improving the abysmal, world-worst fuel economy ratings that hypercars are notorious for. The Porsche 918 leads the way handily in that regard with a 67 mpg-e estimate from the US EPA. The McLaren P1's 18 mpg-e EPA estimate isn't nearly as impressive, but compare it to old school big-engined supercars like the Veyron (10 mpg) or Aston Martin DB9 (15 mpg), and it looks a bit more respectable. With no full, in-town all-electric drive mode, the LaFerrari stumbles in at 14 mpg.
Together, the 918, LaFerrari and P1 have served as the elite ruling class of ultra-premium hyper hybrids, but their kingdom is about to come under attack from a very powerful force. When Koenigsegg detailed its Regera hybrid at the Geneva Motor Show earlier this year, we called it the most insane piece of supercar engineering we'd ever covered. Four months later, we're happy to report that we weren't jet-lagged or enamored with Christian von Koenigsegg's Swedish accent (though it is pretty smooth). We reiterate: the Regera is the most insane piece of supercar engineering we've seen on the pages of Gizmag. Whether or not its driving characteristics prove acceptable to those willing to spend seven figures on a hypercar, the Regera's innovation and technology are quite exceptional.
Not only does the Regera pack an insane-by-any-standard 1,500 hp and 1,475 lb-ft of torque, but it manages to distribute it all to the rear wheels without a transmission, the first car we know of without any type of gearbox operating between ICE and wheels. Instead, it relies on the instant torque of the two axle-mounted electric motors to get acceleration started and a third motor working as a starter to get the 5.0-liter twin-turbo V8 up to speed. A hydraulic coupling slowly locks as the engine works its way into action, and a surge of 1,100-hp V8 power helps the already quick, virile electric drive in propelling the car forward.
With an estimated top speed just under 255 mph (410 km/h), the Regera won't be the car to bring a world speed record back to Sweden, but it could very well snag some acceleration records, assuming its gas-driven brother the One:1, which already earned itself 0-300-0 km/h bragging rights, doesn't beat it to the punch. Koenigsegg estimates a 0-186 mph (0-300 km/h) time of 12.3 seconds, very close to the 11.9 seconds the One:1 ran in the aforementioned 0-300-0. The 0-249 mph (0-400 km/h) lists at under 20 seconds, a touch quicker than the solid 20-second estimate for the One:1. The Regera's 0-62 mph time lists in at 2.8 seconds.
World records are impressive on paper, but we'd settle for just getting behind the wheel and experiencing what Christian von Koenigsegg describes as the feel of a massive 20-liter engine with the instant torque response of an ultra-powerful electric drive. We can't wait to see how the Regera shakes up the supercar world when Koenigsegg finishes development.
Hyper hybrids have risen to the highest echelon of supercar engineering, but the status of all-electric supercars is a bit murkier. There haven't been that many of them, and no matter how powerful, electric sports cars tend to have electronically limited top speeds that land right around 155 mph (250 km/h), leading to questions right out of the gate about their true status as "supercars," a group that usually exceeds 200 mph (322 km/h).
The 740-bhp Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Electric Drive was the first car to bring supercar power and performance to the electric vehicle segment, rolling to 62 mph in 3.9 seconds and setting a Nurburgring record for electrics. Since SLS AMG E-Drive production came to an end, there's been a real void in the electric hypercar market. Packing it's new "Ludicrous Mode" update, the Tesla Model S P85D and its 2.8-second 0-60 mph time makes an argument, but a 155-mph sedan just doesn't feel like the all-out electric supercar equivalent of a LaFerrari or McLaren P1.
One electric car that could socialize in elite circles with the McLarens and Koenigseggs of the world is the Rimac Concept One. Revealed by Croatian whiz kid Mate Rimac at the 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show, the Concept One is the world's fastest, most powerful electric sports car. With 1,088 hp on tap and claims of a 190-mph (306 km/h) top speed, 2.8-second 0-62 mph time and 370-mile (600-km) range, it was the pure, unfettered electric hypercar the world was waiting for. And the following year, when reservations opened, it seemed like it would actually become more than just a cool, vapory concept car.
Unfortunately, the Concept One never really materialized in a substantial way. The car kept a high profile throughout 2012 and 2013, making appearances in videos and at shows like Top Marques Monaco, but then it went virtually MIA. Rimac reportedly had some trouble putting financing together, and production got kicked back.
The latest word from the company is that it will build only eight Concept One models, a rather drastic slash from the original 88-model plan. Last October, it announced that it would deliver the second production Concept One sometime in the first half of this year. No word since, and no hands-on third-party testing of the car, no awesome head-to-head videos against cars like the P1 or 918, and no electric world speed records to add to the ones that Rimac earned with its electrified BMW prototype. There has been a stray headline here and there, but it's mostly just regurgitated numbers and information, not much else.
Lately, Rimac has seemed much more focused on racing and supplying electric technologies to third parties. It's been involved with the electrical underpinnings of supercars like the Volar-e and Koenigsegg Regera. On the racing side, the Concept One was used by the race director during the debut season of the FIA Formula E Championship series, which wrapped up last month.
Rimac also recently reworked the Concept One into the 1.1 MW (1,475-hp) Tajima Rimac E-Runner Concept One that racing legend Nobuhiro “Monster” Tajima raced up the 2015 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in 9:32.4. He came in second behind the all-electric eO PP03 piloted by Rhys Millen, but that time was second overall, not just in the electric division. It was a solid finish, especially considering Tajima pulled it out in spite of a brake failure. The eO PP03 was the first all-electric Pikes winner in history, and the E-Runner Concept One hung in there to make it an all-electric 1-2 punch.
Perhaps a little competition will prompt Rimac into refocusing attention on production. At the 2015 Top Marques Monaco show in April, previously unknown Finnish outfit Toroidion revealed the 1MW Concept, a fully electric hypercar even more powerful than the Concept One.
With a full megawatt (1,341 hp) of power on tap, the 1MW Concept has the potential to keep up with the quickest, most powerful cars in the world. But will it? We've seen the story of the ultra-powerful, world-beating electric concept car time and time again, and save for the Rimac (kind of) and Mercedes, they usually end up little more than historical footnotes or perpetual development projects. Remember the Lightning GT or SSC Ultimate Aero EV?
Bottom line, it may be the heyday of hyper hybrids, but electric supercars, promising as they may be, have a ways to go to earn that same kind of pedigree.
The Dawn of the Super SUV Age
The supercar is about to get much larger and more practical. Saying it a different way, the crossover is about to get much more super. After watching Porsche and other premium brands ride best-selling SUV models to the bank year after year, a number of prestigious sports nameplates are prepared to get in on the action.
Lamborghini became the latest member of the super-crossover game in May, confirming that it will indeed launch an SUV model. Lamborghini isn't exactly new to the sports utility vehicle market, having built the quite memorable LM002 back in the 80s. The new Lamborghini SUV will look nothing like that military-style off-road 4x4 and will instead follow the current market trend of smoother, car-like crossovers, its blood carrying no shortage of Raging Bull sports car DNA.
It's not yet clear exactly how "super" Lamborghini's production SUV will be, but the 2012 Urus concept was powered by a 600-hp V10, so the production version should definitely be a couple steps up the ladder from the average Macan or X5. Lamborghini plans to get it to market by 2018 and is already planning on it being a bestseller.
Lamborghini is not the only maker of pretty, fast coupes currently working to expand its design language into AWD hatchback form. Maserati has been busy preparing the Levante crossover, and Aston Martin quickly confirmed production plans for its DBX luxury GT crossover after a surprise preview at the 2015 Geneva Motor Show.
Based on the 2011 Kubang concept and recently published patent drawings, the Levante looks like it will be the typical five-door hatchback, but there's an opportunity for Aston Martin to do something entirely different. The DBX concept it showed in Geneva cracked the ruggedized hatchback mold, wearing a two-door 2+2 body with enough beef and lift to let you know it was designed for more than just road and track. It came across more like a pretty, smoothed over Local Motors Rally Fighter than a gussied up CR-V or Escape.
Hopefully, Aston will heed all the interest it says the DBX show car generated and design a true-to-concept production car, save for the electric powertrain, which seems impractical and unnecessary for this car. If small-volume exotic car makers must get into the crossover game, it'd be nice to see them do something like the DBX.
Onwards and Upwards
It's September, so we're approaching the home stretch of 2015, but that doesn't mean we can't expect at least a few more amazing production and concept supercar debuts. With earlier debuts like the Regera, DBX, 1MW Concept and Ford GT, 2015 has the potential to rival 2013 in terms of high-tech, cutting-edge exotic cars.
While you wait for upcoming events like the Frankfurt Motor Show, take some time to ogle all the genre-defining supercars of modern day in our photo gallery.
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