We’re in Dubai by happy coincidence, as Michelin arranged this drive as part of its launch of the new Super Sport tyre, so expect some gratuitous talk of just how sweetly those tyres handle shortly. But it’s kind of fitting, too, that our first drive of the $1.3 million Koenigsegg Agera, the car to take the fight to Bugatti and Pagani, takes place in this oasis of pure new money and nuclear-style power.
The first production car left the factory just last month with 898 bhp, courtesy a monstrous 5-litre V8 twin turbo engine contained within its 1290 kg, pre-impregnated carbon-fibre and Kevlar chassis. This is the prototype, armed with 800 bhp, but as the V8 fires into life and settles to a stuttering, angry idle, it seems like more than enough.
The Agera has only two real rivals, if we discount the SSC Ultimate Aero, and most do. It competes with the most exclusive variants of the Pagani Zonda and the all-conquering Bugatti Veyron. That’s about it, and when they collide, it’s like those weird Discovery Channel mock-ups of a shark fighting a crocodile. They have different strengths, and it would come down to who was most up for it on the day. The Swede is a different driving experience from the moment I nudge the starter button and the ceramic coated Inconel exhaust, similar to the Pagani’s system, lets out a throaty roar. But it need not back down from either one.
Design-wise, it sits between the two, more elegant than the brutal Veyron yet a more muscular experience than the detail-intense and slightly fussy Zonda. Visually, it takes that classic supercar shape and rounds off all the edges to create a big, bluff boxer of a car. There’s a smooth, curvaceous front end, powerful haunches and, when it’s in place, a low-slung double bubble roof that gives the car a real stealth fighter look – until the dihedral synchro helix door opens, swivels and pivots into position. Honestly, they’re the most pointless addition to a car since the roof scoop to nowhere, but they are seriously cool.
Christian is a designer at heart and loves these touches; in fact, he might not even have had time for cars if someone had taken his previous inventions seriously: a replacement for the Walkman that held music on a computer chip and glueless ‘click’ laminate flooring. He’s surprisingly sanguine about the iPod and, well, click laminate flooring, both of which went on to make billions in other people’s hands. Now he has several patents on the engineering side, including a response charge system in the turbo system to improve the throttle response, and he deserves more credit than he perhaps receives for innovation.
Perhaps the biggest criticism of this particular car is the visual similarity to the CC it replaces and, let’s be honest here, it’s serious evolution over revolution. For the record, it has a wider track, totally revised aerodynamics, a new interior and virtually every part has been examined and improved upon. Only the cognoscenti will spot the changes, but then with just 15 cars a year scheduled for production, they’re the only ones that matter.
It looks better with the roof on, but under the blazing Middle-Eastern sunshine, it’s only right to go al fresco, remove the hard top with a spanner and stow it under the front clamshell. This is a neat trick that even the Veyron cannot match; with the Grand Sport, you have to make a choice and leave the roof at home, taking a ridiculous emergency umbrella out with you to guard against rainstorms. The Koenigsegg doesn’t only fit the roof in that front end, it can even take golf clubs and wins the practicality war by a mile.
Venturi tunnels underneath the car and a rear diffuser ensure it is not adorned with excessive visible aero tricks on the surface. But even the wheels are designed to create a vortex at speed and reduce aero drag, and the car generates 300 kg of downforce at 250 kph – more if you opt for the robotised rear wing.
Inside, the neat, minimalist feel continues, with the trademark round centre console and an LCD screen that lends a futuristic feel, even if it’s hard to read in the blazing Dubai sunlight. There are neat touches even here, including the infinitely cool ‘Ghost Light’. This uses carbon nanotubes to hide interior lighting until the car is turned on, when the lights appear to shine through solid aluminium on that trademark telephone dial centre console. The ghost on the rear, by the way, is a tribute to the Swedish air force squadron that was based at Koenigsegg’s Angelholm HQ. And finally, it’s time to drive, and to confirm that the spirit of those fighter jets lives on in this insane creation.
I roll out of the near deserted pit-lane at the Autodrome and plant the throttle for the first time. The Agera, which is the Swedish verb ‘to act’, just goes mad. All that power ploughs through the rear wheels and sends the Koenigsegg scorching to 96 kph in 3.1 seconds, way faster than the Zonda. 200 kph falls in 8.9 seconds and the Agera will go from 0-200-0 in just 13.7 seconds, which will leave you with internal bleeding.
It won’t run out of steam until well beyond 392 kph, although the top speed isn’t fixed yet and the Veyron could have a sleepless night or two. But it’s not just the numbers, it’s the sheer violence of the turbo-powered delivery that mark this car apart. The engine might start out as a Ford, but by the time it leaves the Koenigsegg production line, if you can call it that, the powerplant has been reimagined into a violent, sadistic, crack-fuelled nightmare.
It’s an absolutely docile creature until the revs hit 3500 rpm, and then it bolts forward with a jolt and I’m at the next bend wondering how to scrub enough speed off without upsetting the balance. The in-between part, the straight, simply evaporates, like it was left on the cutting room floor. Then, on lift-off, as I prepare to hit the ceramic brakes and flick down two gears on the paddle-shift seven-speed, a fireball erupts from that cannon of a central exhaust and the whole car shimmies as the entire drivetrain convulses. I soon learn this is just the car doing its thing and there’s no reaction required, but there’s so much pent up aggression, so much kinetic energy releasing and rebuilding in the car that it’s borderline scary at first.
The Veyron is effortless, utterly controlled; the Agera is its antithesis and puffs and snorts its way to the top end of the rev range and back. It takes real muscle to force it into the bends, too; whereas the Zonda and Veyron can be trained on the apex with the fingertips, I’m using shoulder muscles with the Agera and fighting, willing the car to take the bend. That’s a legacy of grip and physical force, rather than weight. It can produce lateral cornering forces of 1.6g, thanks to epic levels of grip from the Michelin Pilot Super Sports and a set-up focused on the cornering speed, while the Veyron Super Sports will give 1.45g.
That means, theoretically, that the Agera will destroy almost anything on track if the driver can find the very limit of the grip without barreling through that fine line. A moron in a Veyron will kill a moron in an Agera, but a racer would have more than a shot. I jest, of course, about the tyres, but Koenigsegg himself waxes lyrical about the Super Sports. As grippy as Cup rubber in the dry and yet usable in the wet, the new Michelin is a game-changer and makes this thing feel like it’s running on race rubber.
I can still feel the car tugging to the outside of the circuit , understeering ever so slightly on a constant throttle. Of course, you can balance the rear slip angle with a delicate right foot or push straight through into lairy, sliding oversteer with a hefty application of throttle, with the traction control switched off. But then with a turbo powered car, it makes sense to make it nose heavy. When a tail happy car comes on boost mid-corner, in the wet, people die.
The brakes, meanwhile, are pin sharp ceramics mated to six piston callipers, and the car’s stability under heavy deceleration is a testament to the engineering throughout. The engine and gearbox combo can still snap it out of line, but over time I learn it’s an illusion, a character trait rather than an exposed ragged edge. It’s still a hardcore car and only a few special souls can truly appreciate its skills, but then Koenigsegg only sells 15 cars a year and only needs a few elite souls that truly ‘get it’.
Customers tend to be heads of states or self-made men on the lookout for something different, more extreme and more hardcore than they can find elsewhere. Indeed, our day is cut short when an Indian billionaire announces he is flying in for a test drive with about seven minutes notice. It will take him less than one minute behind the wheel to know this is a truly special car, one of today’s apex predators and a worthy foe for the Veyron or Zonda. Will it win? Well, that’s down to how good you are behind the wheel.