Boasting up to 2,000bhp with no fuel cap, a trio of new releases from Lotus, Pininfarina and Rimac are here for when your Ferrari just isn’t fast enough
Same old story. You wait ages for one 2,000bhp, all-electric hypercar to arrive, and then three come along at once. Three underdog brands with very different backstories, three cars that are almost impossible to resist comparing, each with startlingly similar statistics and almost identical price tags that sound more like government furlough bill
In Cambiano, the 1,900bhp Pininfarina Battista will become the most powerful Italian road-legal car ever — itself quite a record — and the first to be badged by the coachbuilder and design house behind some of the most beautiful sports cars of the 20th century (the Ferrari 250GT, Cisitalia 202 and Fiat 124 Spider among them), now launching as a carmaker in its own right.
In Norfolk, the £2.2m Lotus Evija is about to enter production as the most powerful road car in the world, in what is the latest comeback chapter for the British sports car maker that is impossible to introduce without using the word “plucky”.
And in Croatia, Rimac is the no-bullshit start-up-cum-electric-powerhouse that is finalising its ultra-technical C_Two hypercar, which has a top speed of 415kmph and promises 0–100kmph acceleration in the time it takes to read the words “faster than a motorbike”. For the record, 1.85 seconds.
Evija, Battista, C_Two; it’s always been an odd quirk of very fast cars that their model names should be easily interchangeable with fragrance brands from the Nineties. Perhaps not coincidentally, it was in 1992 that what many consider the first hypercar was unveiled: McLaren’s three-seater F1, a car so fast it was necessary to be a professional racing driver if you wanted to keep it out of a hedge, as Rowan Atkinson discovered on two occasions. One of Mr Bean’s repair bills came to £910,000, but then he sold his car at auction in 2015, for an estimated £8m. (They’re not laughing now etc.)
The F1 started the debate as to what actually constitutes a hypercar. And the requirements are severe: experimental design, generational jumps in power and major engineering advances, resulting in very limited numbers and often a rarefied status as highly-prized collectibles. If all hypercars are supercars, roughly the top one per cent of supercars are hypercars. Confused? Basically, they need to be ludicrous.
In 2005, the Bugatti Veyron achieved a level of ludicrousness few others ever have. At a time when many were struggling for 500bhp, the Veyron doubled it. The last hypercar shoot-out as we know it — all hybrids — came in 2013 when the now legendary trio of McLaren P1, Porsche 918 and Ferrari La Ferrari emerged.
These things seem to happen in threes. In recent years, we have seen established marques like Aston Martin with its Valkyrie and McLaren’s Senna vie with ambitious new specialists like Koenigsegg to be the fastest, lightest, most powerful and most likely to appear on 10-year-olds’ bedroom walls.
What does Rimac have that makes its cars so sought-after? “Balls.”
But the extremes to which these cars had gone were almost exhausted in the combustion engine or even hybrid technology. Only electric power offered the possibility of a new generational leap: to an almost mythical 2,000bhp. “There are no other technologies that would provide you with the kind of power that you get out of an electric motor,” says Automobili Pininfarina CEO, Per Svantesson. “So if electric motors belong anywhere, it’s in a hypercar.”
And where electric performance is concerned, Croatian start-up Rimac has become a world-leading specialist in a very short time. Mate Rimac was only 21 when he founded the company back in 2009, demonstrating what electric power could do by taking his modified 1984 BMW 3-Series to five FIA and Guinness World speed records. His company now employs over 700 people.
Its mission is not only to become the leader in electric hypercars but also the top supplier to the rest of the industry. Such is its know-how that Porsche now owns a 10 per cent stake, Hyundai and KIA have invested and the firm supplies key parts to Aston Martin’s Valkyrie and even its electric hypercar rival, the Pininfarina Battista.
The Rimac C_Two pure electric GT hypercar produces 1,914bhp, can reach 415kmph and costs around £2m
What do they have that makes them so sought-after? “Balls,” Rimac’s chief designer Adriano Mudri explains, “to tackle these sort of problems.” And, a little more specifically, battery packaging technology: “How we manage the battery cells, how they deliver the energy and how they keep a cool head and don’t deteriorate during usage.”
Rimac’s first car, Concept-One, was incredibly well-received for a car from such a small player, becoming officially the first electric hypercar on the scene back in 2013 and finding the spotlight four years later when Top Gear’s Richard Hammond skidded one off a bend, rolled 110m down a hill, and only narrowly escaped the resulting fireball. At the time only five of the £1m Rimacs existed. Thanks, Hamster.
The big plan was always for the C_Two, however, which had been due to debut at the cancelled Geneva Motor Show this year, and in which the last decade of work and know-how has been made manifest. “We couldn’t reuse any systems that we had on the Concept-One since our goals were so extreme,” says Mudri.
It’s like a comparison between an analogue watch and a smartwatch — it’s a completely different product.
With four independent electric motors, one per wheel, Mudri declares the car’s torque vectoring technology its masterstroke. From the motor in each wheel, power can be automatically applied and reduced where needed in order to maximise the car’s cornering abilities. “Our mathematicians and physicians do algorithms that enable you to really do the most extreme thing that you can do dynamically. It always brings you to the edge of what the tyre can give,” he says.
Traditional supercar proportions have been deliberately done away with, too, pushing the cabin back for better weight distribution as a starting point. Although “it still looks like it could eat a child,” Mudri says proudly, and a little sinisterly.
Perhaps most astonishing is the car’s “Driver Coach” feature. While other cars might offer autonomous driving functions for safety features like lane assist, the C_Two will employ nine cameras, distance-measuring lidar, six radar emitters and 12 ultrasonic sensors to literally take you around the track on its own to show you how it’s done. “It’ll be much better than the gaming experience because it will combine it with real world excitement,” Mudri says.
A brutalist and unapologetically futuristic interior will emphasise, if any is needed, that this car is very different. How does this £2m hypercar compare with a common or garden supercar? “It doesn’t,” he answers. “It’s like a comparison between an analogue watch and a smartwatch — it’s a completely different product.”
Is it annoying to Rimac that two other cars have come along at the same time? “We want to be the first on the market with our product,” says Mudri. “So competition is good. We don’t see it as a problem.”
Given Rimac is actually supplying components and infrastructure to one of these rivals (the Pininfarina Battista), you have to take him at his word. Around half the tech components on the two cars will be shared. Although Pininfarina is quick to point out this still leaves plenty of responsibility in its court for how the car drives, behaves and perhaps most importantly for them, looks.
It’s a relationship its CEO has described as “frenemies”. “I think it’s wonderful,” Svantesson says, of the competition, “that this segment of the market is turning electric.”
He describes Automobili Pininfarina, which was created in late 2017 when Indian car giant Mahindra saw the opportunity to create a new luxury marque, as “a new car brand with 90 years of history”, adding that he’s been “amazed” by the weight that the Pininfarina name carries around the world. Founder Battista “Pinin” Farina had always wanted to put his surname to a car brand and, 54 years after his death, Italy’s most powerful car will carry his first name as well.
The most powerful road-legal car ever designed and built in Italy, the all-electric 1,900bhp Pininfarina Battista hits 100kmph in under two seconds
It’s no surprise that design is where the team believes the Battista stands out. And it’s a team (including personnel from Porsche’s race programme, the Mercedes-AMG Project One and the Bugatti Veyron) that has been hastily assembled to deliver not just this opening statement but several new models, including three SUVs, over the next six years.
“Starting with an electric hypercar was a natural choice,” says head of design Luca Borgogno. “Firstly, creating a company that is sustainable was absolutely mandatory. And a hypercar to let the world know that Pininfarina exists.”
It’s being pitched as a hyper-GT, rather than a track-focused tearaway, so much work has been done on making the car as usable, comfortable and as relaxing to be in as a car with 2,000bhp can be. At nearly 2m tall, Borgogno says he “fits perfectly inside the beast.”
Unlike the C_Two, he has deliberately gone for more classic and familiar mid-engined supercar proportions. “Battista is a little bit of a mixture of the future and a tribute to the past,” adds Svantesson.
The Evija, on the other hand — Lotus’s first all-new car in 10 years — looks in a hurry to leave its recent past behind. With its distinctive Le Mans-inspired Venturi tunnels that allow you to see through the car, aerodynamics apparently influenced by jet fighters, dramatic rear light graphics and almost sculptural bodywork, this is quite a confident way to tell the world you’re back. After all, Lotus’s backstory contains more ups and downs than a funicular railway.
To actually produce the first all-British electric car, which will be the most powerful production car in the world, is a big statement of where we are going.
Chinese auto group Geely, also behind a resurgent Volvo among others, spotted Lotus’s latent potential in 2017 and the plan is for several real world sports cars to follow. We’ve heard big plans before from Lotus, but a new production facility at its Norfolk HQ and recruitment of over 200 engineers in the last 20 months provide tangible evidence.
The Evija’s engineering showcases many of Lotus’s historical strengths: chassis dynamics, aerodynamics, downforce and perhaps above all, weight reduction. Founder Colin Chapman’s mantra was “Simplify, then add lightness”, quite a hard thing to do with much heavier electric systems. At 1,620kg, it is significantly the lightest of the three and is the only one to officially boast that 2,000bhp figure, the other two flailing behind in the 1,900s.
It also takes a very different approach to how the electric power is set up. While the other two are “skateboards”, with the infrastructure flattened across the base of the car, Lotus has purposely chosen to stack the electric pack in the centre where a conventional engine would normally go in an attempt to give the car some of the more familiar pivoting potential and Lotus character.
While it lags behind its rivals in the traditional 0–100kmph acceleration, the time it takes to reach 300kmph is an astonishing sub-nine seconds. The other two are nearer 12; the Veyron does it in 16.
“Awareness of Lotus is very, very high; familiarity with Lotus is pretty low,” says its CEO Phil Popham. “Not enough people actually understand what we are today. So, to actually produce the first all-British electric car, which will be the most powerful production car in the world, is a big statement of where we are going.”
The £2.2m Lotus Evija, the first British all-electric car, features rear-body Venturi wind tunnel technology creating exceptional on-road downforce
The Evija will also address some, shall we say, historical issues around the overall quality and usability of Lotus cars: the finish, the experience, electronics, even just the process of getting in and out. This car after all puts Lotus in front of a very different customer, but not Popham himself, whose previous role was as CEO of luxury-performance yacht makers Sunseeker.
“The purchase experience for many is as exciting as the ownership experience,” he says. Lockdown hasn’t helped this wooing process but a virtual configurator developed by a CGI gaming company has helped buyers see their specced-out creations in hyper-real detail, right down to how sunshine might play off the bodywork differently in Los Angeles, Dubai or Shanghai.
With only 150 of each of the three hypercars being made, the investment potential makes the chances of ever seeing one on the street fairly remote. “Some of them will probably be hidden away in museums and so on,” admits Svantesson. “But hopefully, as many as possible will be out there on the road.”
As things stand, the Battista and C_Two will be delivered to first customers in early 2021, while customer reservations for the Evija’s 2020 production run had sold out by March. Each car has its own role to play, all have the objective of making the biggest splash, and the final opportunity of one-upmanship will come when the first wave of sweaty-palmed drivers gets a chance to press the start button.
Although traditional big players like Porsche and McLaren have shown little appetite or motivation to join them up to now, this could be just the beginning of the electric hypercar era. “Yeah, it will come,” says Adriano Mudri. “They will wait for us to establish it and then they will follow.”