2010 Paris Auto Show: The Future of the Supercar - Feature

If there were any doubt that supercars would survive in the face of tightening efficiency regulations and increasingly ecoconscious buyers—yes, at least some of the superrich give a damn—these cars should put it to rest. The five poster-worthy machines detailed here go above and beyond the usual supercar tropes of ludicrous speed and lust-worthy sheetmetal, featuring intensely high-tech powertrains, state-of-the-art materials and construction, or both. Not only are these technological advancements going to keep the supercar species alive, but many of the innovations will eventually trickle down to the cars we regular folks buy, too.

Lamborghini Sesto Elemento Concept

Rumors pegged Lambo’s Paris show car as its replacement for the lascivious Murciélago, but the radical Sesto Elemento—Italian for “sixth element,” i.e., carbon—showed up instead. Even more dramatic than the concept’s styling, though, is how far Lamborghini was able to push its use of carbon fiber. Using techniques learned through a University of Washington–based partnership, the superlight stuff forms not only every exterior panel but also major structural components like the front subframe, the passenger monocoque, and even the crumple zones. Nearly everything that wasn’t needed was deleted. There is no dash pad, and the seats are simply padding glued to seat shapes molded into the passenger cell. The weight savings are breathtaking. The concept is claimed to weigh 2200 pounds—some 1000 pounds lighter than the Gallardo—and its lessons will be applied not only to future Lambos but also throughout Lamborghini’s parent company, the Volkswagen Group.

Audi E-Tron Spyder Concept

This Spyder is a shining example of Audi’s commitment to building great-looking high-performance, alternatively powered cars. This is the fourth e-tron concept car Audi has shown, each with a different powertrain solution. This one has a diesel engine powering the rear wheels and electric motors spinning the fronts. It’s a plug-in hybrid, too, meaning you can charge the front-mounted battery pack from a wall socket. The first all-electric e-tron has already been confirmed for limited production, and the styling of the Spyder should make it to the streets wrapped around the R8’s upcoming baby brother, the R4, within a couple of years. This powertrain, or something similar, shouldn’t be too far behind.

Jaguar C-X75 Concept

We’ll do the traditional journalism thing here and put the most salient fact upfront: Jaguar isn’t putting this turbine-toting electric supercar into production. What the C-X75 does show, however (besides Jaguar’s ability to give itself a kick-ass 75th-anniversary present), is that the company means business when it says it’s looking into alternative-propulsion vehicles. Jaguar has been late to market with hybrids and electrics, but partnerships with British agencies—as is the case here—are seemingly jump-starting the development of such projects. At its most basic, the C-X75’s powertrain is similar to one you’ll see on the street soon in the Chevrolet Volt, in that the wheels are turned by battery-fed electricity, the replenishment of which can be handled by an onboard generator. But in place of the Volt’s one propulsive electric motor, the Jag has four—one for each wheel. And whereas the Volt’s generator is a conventional four-cylinder internal-combustion engine, the C-X75 delivers range-extending juice via a pair of onboard turbines. It’s all very cool, and thanks to that partnership with the British Technology Strategy Board, it could be closer to reality than it looks.

2014 Lotus Esprit

Lotus’s Esprit sits atop an entire fleet of sports cars the company introduced at the Paris auto show and, like the rest of that lineup, incorporates cutting-edge technology that blends eye-popping performance with greater efficiency. The Esprit and several of its future kin will offer a Formula 1–inspired KERS hybrid setup that provides a jolt of additional power at the flick of a finger. When a button is pressed, electricity regenerated through deceleration and stored in a battery pack is fed to an electric motor, the power from which is combined with that of the conventional engine. Despite the 612 hp on tap, Lotus predicts the Esprit’s CO2 emissions will be on par with the Volvo XC60 crossover’s. Although the Esprit’s estimated $110,000 sticker is big money, it’s reasonable by supercar standards, and it could portend a future in which enthusiasts could have it all—performance, style, and efficiency—without a self-defeating price. All Lotus has to do is survive long enough to build it.

2012 Porsche 918 Spyder

Yes, Porsche’s stunning 918 Spyder concept actually debuted at the Geneva auto show last March, but it remains an exemplar of the future of hyper-performance. We’ve gushed once or twice (or thrice) about the plug-in hybrid Porsche before. Actual production was confirmed in July, and if you need a French connection, Porsche announced this week that 918 examples will be built. The concept houses a mid-mounted 500-plus-hp, 3.4-liter V-8 with Le Mans racing lineage, as well as a total of three electric motors—two on the front axle and another integrated into the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox—good for another 218 hp. The car will be able to operate on electricity alone—this mode will make it the world’s only front-wheel-drive Porsche, at least until the 25-mile range is reached—or in parallel-hybrid form, more like a Toyota Prius, where the gas engine and the electric motors work in conjunction. It’s not yet confirmed that the production car will live up to the concept’s numerical estimates—most notably, the circa-200-mph max velocity or the incredible 78-mpg fuel-consumption figure on the European test cycle—but anything even close would be extremely impressive. All 270 or so U.S.-bound 918 Spyders are guaranteed to be spoken for before the first production example is screwed together, but those of us who don’t have the $600,000 asking price need only be patient. With any luck, the futurist tech developed for the 2012 918 Spyder will join anti-lock brakes and keyless entry as standard equipment on the 2022 Porsche Boxster.


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