There are no precise criteria for what makes a car a ‘supercar’. Even harder to define is the difference between a supercar and a ‘hypercar’. The labels are tools more of marketing than of taxonomy. Essentially, they both refer to cars built purely for performance, with no compromises made for comfort, practicality or cost. Hypercars just take that approach to its extreme.
THE FIRST HYPERCAR
The first hypercar was probably the McLaren F1. Designed by Gordon Murray – the genius behind two championship-winning Brabham F1 cars in the 80s – and built by an outfit that had just won four World Championships in a row, when the McLaren F1 was launched back in 1992 it made an indelible mark on sports car history. Its top speed of 243mph made it the fastest production car in the world until Bugatti created its own hypercar, the Veyron, in 2005.
WHICH HYPERCAR IS THE FASTEST?
In the past few years, we’ve seen hybrid hypercars launched by Ferrari, Porsche and – in the form of the F1’s successor, the P1 – McLaren. All three can cover a quarter of a mile in less than 10 seconds, from a standing start. The Porsche 918 Spyder holds the production car record for acceleration: it can go from zero to 60mph in just 2.2 seconds.
HYPERCARS TO LOOK FORWARD TO
And this latest generation of hypercar will soon be joined by a trio of exciting new ones – all, like the first, with strong ties to the world of motor racing.
Chinese electric car start-up NextEV, which fields a team in the all-electric Formula E racing series, has recently unveiled its first hypercar. The Nio EP9 has an electric powertrain capable of generating 1 megawatt. That’s 1,360bhp, compared to the 986bhp LaFerrari.
The first fully electric hypercar doesn’t match its hybrid counterparts for absolute speed – it tops out at 195mph – but it can go from zero to 60 in 2.7 seconds, and in terms of overall performance it sits comfortably among the best. According to NextEV, the Nio has completed a lap of the Nürburgring’s prestigious 12.8-mile Nordschleife circuit in seven minutes and five seconds – just eight seconds slower than record held by the Porsche 918 Spyder.
Then there’s the Aston Martin AM-RB 001, expected in 2018. It’s the product of a collaboration between Aston Martin and the Red Bull Formula One team and has been jointly designed by Adrian Newey – creator of 11 championship-winning F1 cars – and Marek Reichman, the man behind many recent Aston Martins, including James Bond’s latest DB10.
The AM-RB 001 will be powered by a naturally-aspirated V12 engine, capable of around 1,000bhp, and Newey and Reichman are targeting a top speed of 250mph. Just 150 road-going versions will be produced, and all have been pre-ordered already, with the required deposit rumoured to be around £500,000. The total cost? More than £2 million each.
Red Bull isn’t the only F1 team joining McLaren and Ferrari in the hypercar business. World champions Mercedes are developing their own, which will feature exactly the same V6 hybrid engine that’s powered Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg to so many Grand Prix victories.
According to Tobias Moers, head of Mercedes’ high-performance division AMG, the current F1 engine is ‘the most efficient combustion engine on the planet’. Mercedes therefore intend their hypercar to combine ‘outstanding driving dynamics with ground-breaking efficiency’. They hope it’ll match the AM-RB 001’s 1,000bhp while also matching the Toyota Prius’ standard of 40% thermal efficiency, for an impressive combination of high speeds and low emissions.
COMBINING SPEED AND LOW EMISSIONS
25 years after the birth of the hypercar at McLaren, designers and manufacturers have lost none of their desire to produce faster and faster machines – as demonstrated by these three members of the new generation. Though ultimate performance remains the goal, NextEV’s electric hypercar and Mercedes’ ultra-efficient hybrid one show that manufacturers are beginning to combine the need for speed with the need to protect the planet.
And hypercars aren’t just about giving billionaires a new toy to play with. They’re also a chance for manufacturers to develop, refine and showcase their latest technology. You and I may never get behind the wheel of a Mercedes hypercar with an F1 engine in the back, but we’ll almost certainly see the benefits in the cars we do get to drive in the future.