Cars, supercars and hypercars: where to next?

There are two schools of thought around hypercars. A hypercar can be a supercar that is a step beyond what is currently available. The Bugatti Veyron, Ferrari Enzo and Koenigsegg CCR would be some of the very few that might fit. The other is one popularised by futurist Amory Lovins and his Rocky Mountain Institute: that a hypercar is made of ultralight plastics, has a low coefficient of drag (i.e. be very streamlined) and a hybrid propulsion system.

For me, the green description doesn’t do it — it’s dressing something up that’s inherently unexciting (except to anaemic PhDs in controlled lab tests). Hyper is more extreme than super. Hyper takes things to the radical edge for exhilaration and financial inaccessibility. When a child is hyperactive, they’re not conserving energy. After all, it is Greek for “over, beyond, above measure”, so this time I think it’s more aptly applied to insanely quick and expensive cars.

Now that we have hypercars, there is nowhere left to go. There are no superlatives that exceed ‘hyper’ in my book. Ultra doesn’t do it as every hair gel manufacturer uses it.

Which leads us to wonder if today’s hypercars might not be eclipsed or matched for much less money. Already, we have cars like the Ultima GTR720 that are faster than the Veyron in some tests. As manufacturers catch up with these performance measures, today’s hypercars become tomorrow’s supercars.

So what’s the next step? For cars to get significantly quicker, they will need the ability to bend the space-time continuum — what was once a kilometre is much shorter for the split second you traverse it. Anyway, it all sounds very cerebral so perhaps it’s time to revisit why these terms were coined.

Supercar is widely acknowledged as being first used about the Lamborghini Miura. The problem is with the definition is that performance-wise the Miura would probably no longer be called a supercar. Sure, it still looks pretty good even after 40 years, but a 5.5s dash to 100kph, and a measly 14s quarter mile is nothing these days. There are SUVs, family cars and even a pickup truck (Dodge Ram SRT10) that can match that.

There’s a fairly contentious set of parameters used by motoring journalists to roughly describe a supercar which are debated hotly over many a pint, and here’s my take:

  • It’s road legal
  • 0-100kph (62mph): < 4.5 seconds
  • 0-160kph (100mph): < 7 seconds
  • Top speed of over 320kph (200mph)
  • Standing quarter mile: < 13 seconds
  • A lap around Nürburgring in the low 8 minute range or less
  • Limited production run
  • Brakes that could halt an avalanche
  • A lateral grip that exceeds 1g.

A hypercar would be at the top of the range in most of these measures, and be inaccessible to all but the most wealthy. The Ultima GTR is not a hypercar in the extreme sense — it’s too cheap at less than $200,000. If you subscribe to Lovins’ theory a Toyota Prius is not a hypercar in the green sense as it’s not streamlined enough (and it barely does better than a diesel VW Polo).

But the most important element to defining a supercar is not achieving the extreme performance mentioned: not all supercars exceed all these factors. Brand is the deciding factor. Daihatsu could achieve all the above, but it may never be recognised as a supercar, just on the brand alone.

Of course, the bar has been significantly raised with the Caparo T1. Cornering, acceleration and braking that is significantly better than anything except an F1 car.

Whichever definition you subscribe to, with technology the way it is you probably won’t be driving a hypercar anytime in the near future¦unless you list your company on the NASDAQ.

Words Darren Cottingham

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