The term supercar seems to have first appeared in conjunction with the Ensign 6, a whopping 6.7-liter, high-performance beast similar to a Bentley Speed Six. An advertisement in the November 11, 1920, edition of the British newspaper The Times read thusly: “If you are interested in a supercar, you cannot afford to ignore the claims of the Ensign 6.” The Oxford Dictionary defines the term simply as “a high-performance sports car.”
But in an era where horsepower now commonly exceeds 500, and “high-performance” has a wider application than ever, supercar has slowly become a ubiquitous distinction without a difference, issued to plenty of undeserving sports cars. So how, exactly, do we definitively delineate a supercar from a regular sports car?
There are four main considerations for bestowing supercar honors: performance, price, design, and rareness. A supercar has to have eye-watering specs and tech, commonly distilled to horsepower north of 500 and a blistering 0–60 time. For price, cars less than six figures need not apply. Aesthetically, it must be worthy of a magazine centerfold or wall poster, so stunning no one judges you for staring endlessly. Lastly, a supercar has to be hard to obtain. That means a low-volume production run, a long, arduous wait list, with limited numbers demarcated for specific countries or regions of the world. Only in the overlap of those four sectors can a supercar exist.
Let’s look at two variants of Porsches. First, the Boxter S. It’s a comely sports car, but with low horsepower (315), ready availability, and a sticker price starting around $63,000, it’s absolutely disqualified from supercar strata. On the opposite side of the spectrum sits the Porsche 918. This $845,000 hybrid stunner has 874 horsepower, a scorching sprint to 60, and — since only 918 were created — is largely impossible to obtain. It’s lusted after the world over and is considered one of the pinnacles of automotive engineering. This is a supercar.
Take the Corvette Z06 and the Ferrari 488 GTB. Both are ridiculously fast, capable of hauling to 60 in three seconds or less. Both are ridiculously powerful, each with around 650 horsepower and nearly equal pound-feet of torque. Both are ridiculously well-styled, able to turn plenty of heads as they scream past. A drag race between the pair would yield very even results, yet only one is a supercar: the 488. The Ferrari costs more than $260,000 and, while the company is tight-lipped about production numbers, not many have been made. Chevy’s Z06 is a bargain at $93,000, and nearly 9,000 units were produced last year. It’s too cheap and too available.
A V-12, 700-plus horsepower, $500,000 Lamborghini Aventador SuperVeloce is definitely a supercar, especially when you factor in that only 600 examples exist. A tougher call is the Lamborghini Huracán, the “entry-level” bull with two fewer cylinders, 100 fewer horses, and $100,000 slimmer price tag. It nearly ticks all the boxes except rarity. There are more than 3,000 Huracáns, with more being produced each year. It’s too easy to get a Huracán, and thus it’s not a supercar. It’s just a high-end sports car.
At the tip of the turbo and supercharged pyramid is the crème de la crème of supercars, upon which a new label can be affixed: hypercar. Very few supercars are hypercars, but all hypercars are indeed supercars. Qualifiers for hypercar designation get a little more nebulous, but you’re talking about an even lower-volume production than a supercar — under 1,000 global examples — with a seven-figure sticker and insane performance specs. It also has to ratchet the technology up to an obscene level and be staggeringly beautiful. It’s a high bar, but a few cars have sailed over.
A Pagani Huayra would be a hypercar, given the 730 stallions coming from its mid-mounted Mercedes-AMG bi-turbo V-12, especially when you factor the one-of-a-kind active aero-kit technology and that $1.2 million price tag. The 1,200 horsepower Bugatti Veyron Super Sport falls neatly into the hypercar category, as does McLaren’s earth-shattering $1.15 million P1, Porsche’s 918, and Ferrari’s LaFerrari. These hypercars are the pinnacle against which all other supercars are measured, the ones discussed in the design and engineering headquarters of the world’s manufacturers when they’re at the drawing board.
The catch is the list, and these labels are constantly fluid. This isn’t a caste system that is rigidly cemented for all of eternity. The notion that 200 mph could be achieved in an easily attainable and affordable coupe like a 707-horsepower Dodge Hellcat wasn’t even a consideration 15 years ago. In the mid-’80s, the Lamborghini Countach was a hypercar. Then along came the Lamborghini Diablo, edging it one rung down. And by the time the Murcielagos and Aventadors arrived, the Countach barely even qualified as a supercar.
Since whatever is declared to be the most ludicrous and insane vehicle ever to roll off a production line is always destined to lose its status, a new moniker has emerged that makes “hypercar” the penultimate title. The Koenigsegg One:1 is named for its equal power-to-weight ratio, a carbon-fiber fever dream from Sweden that packs 1,341 horsepower, or the equivalent of one megawatt of power. It’s known as the world’s first (production) megacar.
And Koenigsegg bested itself with the introduction of the Regera, another megacar with even more power. A whopping 1,500 horses, to be exact. Makes all those super- and hypercars a little less special, doesn’t it? In a year or two, it’s likely we’ll have another new term to affix to our rare cars, and it will almost assuredly be thanks to Koenigsegg.