Last decade witnessed one of the greatest evolutionary steps in automotive history: technology and market dynamics created the perfect storm for the birth of the hypercar. There have always been companies and individuals who pushed the boundaries of what's possible, but the horsepower and high-performance craze somehow became fully embraced by the auto industry in the 2000s. And as vehicles at the upper end of the spectrum began reaching vertigo-inducing acceleration and speed, it forced the mid-tier sports cars to step up their game as well. Cars like the Bugatti Veyron, whose price and performance specs made it a highly unlikely production vehicle in the 90s, has become just one of many in a new breed of uber-expensive rocket ships. Let's take a look at the supercars whose tire-vaporizing performance has truly changed the game in last decade.
Audi R8 5.2 FSI V10
First introduced in 2008, the Audi R8 5.2 FSI V10 quickly became one of the classiest and most unassuming supercars on the market. Gorgeous sheet metal, stellar fit and finish and a ‘reasonable' price (about $146,000) made it an instant success. A strange quirk, carbon fiber side blades, did wonders for Audi branding and recognition. But one other factor sealed the deal.
Taming the wild beast that is the Lamborghini Gallardo, Audi repurposed the raging bull's 5.2-liter V10 along with some of its chassis, transmission and several other components for use in the R8. With 518 hp and 391 lb-ft of torque in a car that weighs only about 3,400 pounds, the Audi R8 V10 can sprint from 0 to 62 mph in just under 4 seconds and tops out at 197 miles per hour. There is nothing like having Lambo power in a luxury sports coupe.
The Ascari A10 is not a car with which most people are familiar, at least not here in the States. The brainchild of Dutch millionaire Klaas Zwart, Ascari Cars began producing the A10 in 2006 out of its digs in Banbury, England. When you combine a super lightweight, carbon-fiber chassis along with a BMW-sourced 625 hp engine, and you remove all of the sound damping material and toss out the AC and stereo, you are left with a car that weighs only 2,822 pounds and is ridiculously fast.
For $650,000 you get a hypercar that is hand-built and can hit 62 mph in just 2.8 seconds. With a top speed of 220 mph, the roll-cage and fire-suppression system are nice features, sure to make any owner feel safe and secure.
Pagani Zonda Cinque
I'm not sure what number of vehicles produced actually qualifies a car as mass-market, but with only five examples of the Pagani Zonda Cinque, this definitely personifies the term ‘limited edition', a trend that's become quite common in the 2000s. Resembling a futuristic luxury race car, the Zonda sports a Mercedes-Benz AMG-sourced 7.3-liter V12 engine with 678 hp on tap and 575 lb-ft of torque. With this power-plant the Zonda can reach 62 mph from a standstill in 3.4 seconds.
For $1.2 million, these numbers are impressive but don't blow your socks off. However, the Zonda is more than just what you see on its spec sheet. Pagani used tons of exotic and next-gen materials such as carbon-fiber and titanium blends as well as magnesium composites. And when you put this thing on the road, its race-derived aerodynamics allow it to ride on rails, creating up to 1.45 G's of cornering force.
Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren 722
The Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren got off to a strong start in 2003 and quickly became a serious contender in the luxury supercar market. By 2006, it had quickly risen to prominence, when its final variant, the 722 edition, dropped. Unfortunately, just afterwards, Mercedes and McLaren announced they would part ways to pursue separate projects, which just made demand that much greater. Looking like a vicious land shark, its metallic paint job, long nose, short trunk, large air intake gills and gull-wing doors gave the SLR 722 a truly unique look that created plenty of shock and awe.
With 640 hp and 600 lb-ft of torque, a top speed of 210 mph is possible with the journey from 0 to 62 mph completed in just 3.4 seconds. As a homage to Sterling Moss and his historic victory in a Mercedes 300 SLR sporting the number "722" back in 1955, the car delivered in spades.
Porsche Carrera GT
This car kind of just happened, and we're glad it did. Back in the late 90s, Porsche was preparing a Le Mans race car which went through various iterations, when the company decided to preview their development efforts as a concept car for the 2000 Geneva Motor Show to drum up some excitement. There was so much interest that they decided to make a street legal production version in low numbers. All told, roughly 1,500 cars were produced between 2004 and 2006, with MSRP listed at $440,000.
For this whopping sum you got a 5.7-liter V10 engine with 604 hp in a package that weighs only 3,000 pounds. Like muscle cars back in the 50s, the official specs are massaged away from what's truly possible. The Carrera GT and its pure carbon fiber monocoque and subframe sprint effortlessly from 0 to 62 mph in 3.5 seconds (as opposed to the official numbers which peg it at 3.9 seconds). The car sports massive carbon ceramic brakes, a monster radiator and a featherweight drivetrain and is for all intents and purposes, the perfect race car built for the road. And it's turned into a popular tuning platform with creations like the Gemballa Mirage GT Carbon Edition popping up many years after production was discontinued.
Leading the pack of raging bulls, the Reventon is one of the most powerful and expensive Lamborghinis ever produced. Reventon was a famous fighting bull who killed bull-fighter extraordinaire Felix Guzman back in 1943. It was reincarnated in 2007 with an angry angular body and a 6.5-liter V12 heart capable of 640 horsepower. Those specs allow the Lamborghini Reventon to reach a reported 210 mph and hit 0-62 mph in just 3.4 seconds.
The car has menacing B2 bomber-inspired styling with sharp angles, wings and fins seemingly everywhere. The fact that it's blacked out with tons o' carbon fiber only adds to its sinister mystique. Only 20 units were produced at $1.5 million apiece. With its special edition designation, far- out look and serious performance, Lamborghini has created an instant classic.
When you think of Sweden, you think of constitutional monarchies and amazing Alpine skiing-- not explosive automobiles. But don't tell that to one Christian von Koenigsegg who, back in 1994, had a vision to create a world class supercar. Over the next several years he and his small team unveiled various creations, all with the prefix CC and all kicking ass and taking names. In 2005, the CCR became the world's fastest production car when it was clocked at 241 mph. In 2006, the CCX entered the market as a more viable model, capable of meeting global auto regulations with regard to safety and emissions.
Always a forward thinker, Koenigsegg introduced a biofuel/flexfuel variation known as the CCXR. Running on E85, the Koenigsegg CCXR produces a ridiculous 1,018 horsepower. Currently it still holds the world record for power -to -weight ratio which is 2.9 lb/hp, and can reach 260 mph. And it's not just some insanely fast unwieldly monster to look at... Forbes added it to their list of top 10 all-time beautiful cars. For many people, the first time they heard the name Koenigsegg was when this 45 person company came very close to taking over SAAB. Even though the deal fell through, we definitely sleep better at night knowing that somewhere in Ängelholm, Sweden there are some engineering geniuses putting out unbelievable hypercars at a million dollars a pop.
Bugatti Veyron EB 16.4
Praise for the Veyron has been limitless and I don't want to beat a horse that's been dead, dug up, stuffed and then beat and buried again. We all know the numbers by now - 1,001 horsepower with a $1.5 million dollar price tag. With a top speed of 252 mph, it is currently the world's fastest production car. Basically, VW took a pair of very powerful V8 engines and mounted them in the shape of a W. The 16.4 in the naming convention relates to the 16 cylinders and four--yes four-- turbochargers. With a neck-snapping 922 pound-feet of torque, the Veyron can reach 60 mph from a stop in just 2.5 seconds, reaching a quarter mile in the low 10s. This is pretty phenomenal for a car that weighs 4,486 pounds.
With only 300 Veyrons earmarked for production (which began in 2005), seeing one on the street is still a true rarity. But you have to give Bugatti credit; with a single flagship model they have been creating lots of buzz by unleashing an endless supply of special editions such as the Pur Sang, Sang Blue and Fbg par Hermès with special price tags. The Bugatti Veyron was Autocar's Vehicle of the Decade and understandably so...
The Enzo is every man's dream car. Back in 2003, Ferrari took all of their best Formula 1 race technology and somehow mashed it into a street-legal car. Features such as "Silicon Carbide ceramic composite disc brakes" show on the specs sheet. Just for the sake of comparison, I think my current car's tear sheet just says "brakes." Anyway, you get the point that this car uses nothing but the best components and technology such as a lightning fast electro-hydraulic shift transmission. In fact, this car was the motivating factor behind the surge of the paddle shifters so common now on luxury sports cars.
Originally, only 349 units were to be sold at a cost of $643,330 each. Demand drummed up another batch of 50 and 1 special auction-bound version for good measure brought the total to an even 400. Still one of the most lusted after cars ever invented, the Enzo has a top nut of 218 mph and can hurl itself from 0-62 mph in just 3.14 seconds. Luckily, a new prototype supercar is in the works, the Ferrari 599XX.
Finally, we come down to numero uno. In this case, the winner is an unlikely but logical (at least to me) choice. When Nissan decided they wanted to take on the Porsche 911 Turbo, everyone's first thought was, "yeah, right." Then during development, industry insiders began to take note that Nissan was quickly making progress and just might actually pull it off. But when reports started coming out that the Nissan R35 GTR was kicking ass at Nurburgring, and that Nissan had truly created a Porsche-killer, there was a flood of interest. With a bi-turbo charged V6 engine capable of 474 hp and 434 lb-ft of torque and a rear mounted six-speed BorgWarner dual clutch semi-automatic transmission delivering power to an agile all-wheel drive train, the Nissan GTR found a recipe for success. Top speed is only 193 mph but 0 to 62 mph sprints have been recorded in the 3.2 second range. Not only that, but the GTR currently holds one of the fastest production car lap times on the Nürburgring circuit, a time so shocking that Porsche went out of their way to dispute it.
The design is not really awe-inspiring, the car is beefy and there is no automatic transmission option but, for almost half the cost of the Porsche 911 Turbo at $70,000, you get a true supercar that can hang with the big boys. And still staying under $100,000, you can get a performance upgrade kit from companies such as Switzer Performance, which takes horsepower at the wheel up to around 800, enough to smoke just about anything thrown at it...
Where we go from here will be determined by advances in technology, market demand and the emergence of creative minds and cunning entrepreneurs. Exotic materials such as carbon-fiber composites and aluminum space frames will become more commonplace as the price of raw goods and efficiency in processes improve. As we move closer to 2020 we will see a strong push towards hybrid power trains and emission-reducing technologies from traditional exotic manufacturers like Ferrari and Lamborghini, which seem farfetched now when we think of the Toyota Prius as our benchmark. We'll also see a slew of pure electric supercars such as the Tesla Roadster and Fisker Karma S.
The supercar market has had tremendous momentum coming out of 2009 with vehicles that are faster, lighter and more expensive exploding onto the scene to kick off this decade in style. It's always fun to try and predict the future, but we have some pretty stellar supercars right around the corner. The 2011 Lexus LFA ($500,000), the next generation mid-tier 2010 Ferrari 458 Italia and the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG will all be seen on city streets in the first few months of 2010. So, keep an eye out!