The KTM X-Bow is the first car from the second largest motorcycle manufacturer in Europe. It is unashamedly sportsbike-inspired, which means the X-Bow is fast, light and nimble. Question is, can KTM X-Bow dethrone Caterham and Lotus - the established track day royalty?
So why has KTM jumped into the shark-infested waters of automobile production?
Good question, especially when you consider the rampant success of KTM’s motorcycle business. The answer, according to designer and KTM collaborator Gerald Kiska, is that fewer motorcycle licences are being issued in Europe so it was a ‘logical next step’ to build a car. This was back in the autumn of 2005 and remarkably, after joining forces with legendary Italian racing car manufacturer Dallara, the first X-Bow was shown at the Geneva show in early 2007.
Are you sure this is a car? It looks more a detached cockpit from a F-117 Nighthawk.
In the flesh, it goes beyond that – almost defying description. It has an aesthetic uncontaminated by modern automotive design thinking, and that makes it very special indeed.
Like a motorbike, the frame is part of the overall look. In this case, the ‘frame’ is a carbonfibre chassis – beautifully made and confidently unpainted. The suspension components are also visible and the ‘bodywork’ consists of four plastic (or optional carbonfibre) panels – just like a motorcycle fairing.
The engine, disappointingly, isn’t some kind of flux capacitor/warp drive device. A 2.0-litre turbocharged 237bhp TFSI motor from the VW Golf GTi nestles just behind the driver.
So, helmet on – how does it drive?
Hold up, let’s get settled in the cockpit first. The chassis appears to have been designed around a seated driver, which means there’s plenty of leg and elbow room – Caterhams are test-tubes in comparison. The seat is the chassis, so it’s fixed, but you adjust the pedals fore or aft and the steering wheel for reach and rake. The result? A perfect driving position for pretty much anyone.
The psychological effect of a great driving position shouldn’t be underestimated – especially in a car with such epic performance potential. The KTM makes the driver feel like he or she can instantly take it to the limit.
Enough! How does it drive?
Initial impressions are very good – but sadly we were only allowed a track drive. The X-Bow’s pedal action is slick and the steering nicely heavy – but the throttle response is vague and the gearlever throw is too long and imprecise. A click-click bike gearbox this isn’t (a DSG twin-clutch option is on its way).
Above 30mph the wind noise and buffeting makes the engine note inaudible, and with such power available you rely heavily on the shift light to tell you when to change gear. Unfortunately, the shift light is attached to an impossible-to-read LCD display on the centre stack.
Conversely, while the driver feels detached from the acceleration, the X-Bow decelerates with complete control, feedback and intimacy. The servo-less Brembos are superb, offering huge feel and massive retardation.
So how fast is the KTM X-Bow?
The acceleration figures (0-62mph in 3.92secs) suggest vivid, aggressive, eye-widening pace but while undoubtedly fast, the KTM’s overall slickness disguises its outright speed. It’s not thrilling, tyre-curdling, eardrum-bursting acceleration (like an R500), just a confident, smooth and forceful increase in forward momentum.
The handling is equally benign. At low speeds the X-Bow turns-in smoothly – if not with the hyperactivity of a Caterham – and remains balanced and neutral. At high speeds it’s a simple case of trusting the X-Bow’s immense aero – over 200kgs of downforce is created at 124mph.
Steering feedback is solid, heavy and rich and there’s plenty of warning of impending under or oversteer. To squeeze the best out of the X-Bow, you work with it rather than fling it around. It also forgives clumsy and imprecise driving…
Is there an air of disappointment in your review?
Yes. But there’s a big ‘but’. The X-Bow we drove was in full road spec - that’s standard road tyres, soft suspension and hedgehog-friendly ride height. It felt gluey on track; restricted by its settings. A KTM insider said a 10mm suspension drop, stiffer front damper settings and track-oriented semi-slicks would deliver a lap time five seconds quicker around the brilliant 3.3-mile Ascari track. That’s a huge amount of time.
More importantly, our friendly KTM-man-in-the-know said this would also provide a more incisive, direct and thrilling driving experience. Essentially, these tweaks would release the demon in the X-Bow.
The X-Bow is a fascinating car. From its carbon tub, time-defying modular construction and Space 1999-looks there’s a lot to like – and there’s a lot to come too. KTM promises a range of Power Parts (300bhp option, DSG, body tweaks) by the time production officially kicks off this August.
But we reserve judgement until we drive the car on the road. Out feeling is that the KTM will be the best of the bunch (Lotus 2-Eleven, Ariel Atom and Caterham R500) on twisty, bumpy B-roads but will lack the ultimate track thrills of the British contingent.