The Big Idea: Electric Cars Finally Arrive
While autonomous driving remains the overarching fascination of automotive future-think, today’s car headlines are dominated by another technology not long ago considered far-off, even fanciful: electric vehicles. Manufacturers across the world, from start-ups to the biggest names in the business, are showcasing EV technology in everything from SUVs to supercars. And given that battery-powered cars still account for just a flyspeck of the global market and widespread recharging infrastructure remains beyond the horizon, the speed at which EVs stole the spotlight feels abrupt. But, in fact, it’s the culmination of a story line that’s been unfolding for decades.
At the beginning of Bill Clinton’s second term, the hybrid-electric Toyota Prius was launched as a dinky, plodding, hyper-efficient commuter box for the eco-conscious. Today, an all-electric sports sedan from Porsche, the Taycan, not only sold out a year’s allocation before production began but actually lived up to the hype behind the wheel, with road-carving Porsche performance, luxury and real-world range. Even Ford, in a bid to stir greater mass appeal, is attaching its Mustang nameplate—that iconic symbol of red-blooded American muscle—to an all-electric crossover, the Mustang Mach-E, set to go on sale as a 2021 model. And while six or seven years ago high-performance hybrid-electrics like the Porsche 918, the McLaren P1 and LaFerrari were wild outliers, they paved some very exciting roads to the present day: Consider the plug-in hybrid Ferrari SF90 Stradale, with its three electric motors and V-8 engine combining to deliver nearly 1,000 hp, as well as the battle for electric-hypercar supremacy among the likes of the Pininfarina Battista, Lotus Evija, Tesla Roadster, Rimac C_Two and many more. With ludicrous immediate torque and sprints to 60 mph straining the two-second mark, it’s enough to get even petrolheads salivating.
But despite recent studies projecting that up to a third of vehicle sales will go to EVs by 2025, rumors of the internal-combustion engine’s demise are greatly exaggerated. If you find high-octane fuel and the music of a V-8—or V-12, or straight six—to be one of life’s great pleasures, you can rest assured they’ll be around for years to come. Just know there will be an increasing number of silent, emission-free competitors—and, if it comes to it, the electric car will almost certainly be faster off the line.
Supercar: Ferrari SF90 Stradale
Ferrari’s SF90 moniker commemorates the 90th anniversary of Scuderia Ferrari, originally founded by Enzo Ferrari in 1929 as Alfa Romeo’s racing team. But while the name harkens to the past, the SF90 Stradale offers a glimpse of what’s in store for the future of the supercar.
The SF90 isn’t just the most powerful non-limited- series production car the Prancing Horse marque has ever made; it uses an astonishing mix of technology to earn that title. A 769 hp, 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V-8 engine and three electric motors produce a staggering 986 hp and 590 ft lbs of torque, putting power down to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic gearbox and rocketing the car to 62 mph in just 2.5 seconds.
The curvaceous bodywork features a far-forward cockpit, which maximizes aerodynamic efficiency, reduces drag and recalls one of the automaker’s purest modern designs, the Ferrari 360 Modena from the early 2000s.
Beneath the Stradale’s carbon-fiber body is an alu- minum chassis developed to minimize weight, increase downforce and aggressively dissipate heat. With four drive modes, the sophisticated power train continuously delivers the optimum balance of power from the engine and motors, with the new steering wheel touch pad and buttons allowing the pilot to operate every critical function with only thumbs—just like in the marque’s multi-million-dollar F1 cars.
Daily Driver: Porsche Taycan Turbo S
When you think of a solid EV commuter, it’s usually a Toyota or a Tesla. Porsche invites you to bid auf Wiedersehen to those options in favor of the preposterous performance offered by its Taycan Turbo S. Sure, it’ll get you from A to B, but you’ll want to tear around the rest of the alphabet first.
Two synchronous electric motors draw juice from a 93 kwh battery pack nestled low in the chassis for improved handling. When the car uncorks all 750 hp and 775 ft lbs of torque available in launch-control mode, the 305 mm rear tires bite and help fire the 5,132-pound brute from a dead stop to 60 mph in 2.6 seconds, besting some track-focused supercars, such as the Ferrari 488 Pista, which covers the same ground in around 2.8 seconds.
The price paid for such eviscerating speed is diminished range. Porsche engineers chose not to throttle back available electricity as the battery drains, as occurs in a Tesla, and the EPA rates the range at a paltry 192 miles. But with a quick charge via high-amp cable, Porsche’s most powerful four-door model will be back to 80 percent juice in under 25 minutes, ready to attack the asphalt yet again.
Grand Tourer: McLaren GT
When Bruce McLaren was shown an engine with more than 600 hp in the early 1960s, the New Zealand race-car driver, designer and engineer said, “There’s never been anything like this. There’s no way we can use all this horsepower.” The same thoughts came to mind while winding around Southern California’s Angeles Crest Highway in one of the late racer’s most astonish- ing namesakes: the McLaren GT.
McLaren Automotive has given this 612 hp grand tourer its own category, and it’s clear why. Composed of a carbon-fiber monocoque chassis and aluminum body panels, the 3,384-pound model is as nimble as any in McLaren’s lighter Sport Series line, but with more power from its 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8. Plus, that muscle is balanced by Proactive Damping Control suspension and hydraulic steering, which help the GT absorb highway miles like a sedan rather than a supercar.
Then there are convenience and functionality. Most cars in the marque’s lineup, while sublimely sculpted and engineered, are as ergonomic and spacious as a game of Twister. But the GT offers room to breathe, plus 20.1 cubic feet of total luggage area, including accommodation for a set of golf clubs under the tailgate. A long-haul McLaren suitable for drives to bucket-list greens? Bruce never would have believed it.
Convertible: Lamborghini Huracán Evo Spyder
Today’s convertibles have closed the gap with their coupe siblings, diminished performance no longer being an unavoidable cost to kiss the sky. Even so, a new benchmark has been set with the Lamborghini Huracán Evo Spyder, the vehicle we named our 2020 Car of the Year in February.
The all-wheel-drive Evo, with its 640 hp naturally aspirated V-10 and top speed of 202 mph, is the automotive equivalent of Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit: When activated, the machine effortlessly enhances human abilities while simultaneously protecting its occupant.
The heart of this futuristic tech is the Lamborghini Dinamica Veicolo Integrata (LDVI), a super-processor that seemingly reads your mind. Every 20 milliseconds, the computer monitors pilot input and environment, fine-tuning systems such as four-wheel torque vectoring and all-wheel steering while also using that data to predict what the driver will do next. While on a serpentine road in Napa, for example, a sudden release of the throttle after hard acceleration triggered the active suspension and advanced traction control, readying the car for heavy braking—exactly the scenario that followed. Best of all, the system never makes it feel like you’re just along for the ride. Instead, you’re left with the visceral sensation of being a better, more effortless driver than you remember. When it came to selecting our favorite drop-top, this raging bull with a beautiful mind was a no-brainer.
Interior Design: Polestar Precept
Since the early 1900s, luxury automobiles have been defined in part by opulent interiors that referenced the grand drawing rooms found in the homes of their owners: glossy wood paneling, thick upholstered leather and carpeting—even crystal vases and Fabergé eggs. A century later, the mainstream view of automotive luxury has scarcely advanced beyond the era of spats and top hats.
But some marques are now employing nontraditional processes and materials to create cabins with considerable aesthetic allure. Polestar, the Swedish electric-car brand born from Volvo, envisions automobiles that leverage digital technology and sustainability while maintaining a clean form, a view elegantly brought to life with its spacious and uncluttered Precept concept.
Polestar’s interior-design language is expressed in vegan and mostly upcycled elements, including flax-based composites used for components traditionally made from petroleum-based plastics, which reduce interior weight by half and plastics by 80 percent. Leather seating has been replaced by 3-D-knitted seat covers made from recycled plastic bottles, while carpeting is woven from nylon reclaimed from discarded fishing nets. Even wine corks are repurposed for use inside seat bolsters and headrests. It’s a whole new perception of what luxury can be.
Sports Car: Porsche 911 Turbo S
Imagine the feeling of a roller coaster, that suspended moment before the first big drop. Now you have a sense of the new Porsche 911 Turbo S the moment before Launch Control is unleashed.
With the German marque’s eighth-generation 911, internally designated the 992, 60 mph comes in 2.6 seconds, a number somehow even harder to comprehend from inside the car than on paper. And as with every new Turbo, there’s room to be amazed not only by the car’s vicious, asphalt-tearing performance but by its easy, even coddling around-town manners—a Jekyll- and-Hyde duality that Porsche makes look simple. Naturally, the latest iteration gets more power, raised from 580 hp to 640, plus 590 ft lbs of torque, and a suite of active aero elements streamlining the car on its way to a top speed of 205 mph, then acting as an air brake on its way back down.
Just like at an amusement park, when the ride stops and blood returns to your limbs, you want to do it all over again.
Sedan: Bentley Flying Spur
Quick, capable luxury sedans are not as rare as you might think: Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz have offered fleet four-doors since “chauffeur” became a job description. The real challenge in this arena is offering a sense of glamour. Elevated performance and whispery isolation are quantifiable, but creating presence and a sense of occasion requires an alchemy of intangibles.
Bentley’s new Flying Spur excels on all fronts. A new, larger body expands its footprint and cabin volume, while a four-wheel steering system seems to shrink that bulk by enhancing low-speed agility. The multimedia system also finally joins the 21st century (the late, not-so-great interface it replaces seemed Pleistocene in comparison). The 626 hp 12-cylinder never wants for thrust or smoothness, and the car’s sophisticated air suspension is supple and controlled.
Beyond its empirical abilities are the toniest of trappings, from three-dimensional leather quilting to Bentley’s revolving display, which alternates between a digital touch screen, analog gauges and a wood veneer that blends into its surroundings.
This Flying Spur leapfrogs into next-level luxury, nudging closer to its painstakingly hand-built sibling, the Mulsanne. No wonder, since the range-topping Mulsanne was recently discontinued, leaving a spot at the top for the heir apparent.
Restomod: Canepa’s Reimagined Porsche 959
Initially developed as an FIA Group B rally car—though it never competed—the vaunted Porsche 959 was produced from 1986 through 1988, then again from ’92 to ’93. Today, racer, tuner and restorer Bruce Canepa continues to refine the all-wheel-drive supercar for a new millennium. His Northern California–based team has raised the bar on an already iconic model with engine, suspension and interior refinements that make this “reimagined” 959 the perfect balance between retro-rocket and modern grand tourer.
Internally referred to as the 959SC (Sport Canepa), the car keeps the original’s 911-derived three-pedal configuration, uncanny steering and rear-engine thrust. Otherwise, the entire body is taken down to the bare tub, with every component restored, rebuilt or upgraded.
That includes new camshafts, for increased low-end torque and mid-range power, race-proven transmission reinforcement and an augmented valve-train assembly for better stability at high RPMs. Then there’s the twin-turbo flat-six, bolstered to over 800 hp—up from Porsche’s stock 450 hp engine—which allows a sprint to 60 mph in just 2.5 seconds.
Canepa calls it “a road car with a race attitude,” and with an average of 4,300 man-hours invested in each example—of which only 50 will be made—the massive price tag suddenly seems entirely reasonable.
Executive Transport: Becker Lincoln Navigator L
Becker Automotive Design builds SUVs and vans that are the definition of a mobile office and far exceed the original automaker’s quality at that. New this year is the Becker Lincoln Navigator, which starts life as the Navigator L, the SUV’s longest variant. Becker tunes the independent rear suspension for maximum comfort and refits the entire rear compartment to client requirements, with jewellike custom switchgear and adjustable VIP seating that still passes stringent Department of Transportation safety requirements.
High-touch upgrades, including work tables and cabinetry, help create the type of environment typically reserved for private jets, with expanses of high-quality leather and the finest wood veneers, plus panoramic interior lighting—for which the back roof has been raised five inches—for a greater sense of space. A full infotainment suite is operated via touch control or voice command and displayed on a 43-inch screen built into the forward partition.
By design, the exterior of Becker’s Navigator is remarkably similar to that of the original, maintaining a discreet appearance that does not attract undue attention—a frequent request from the company’s many high-profile clients.
SUV: Aston Martin DBX
The dog pile of luxe sport-utility vehicles is sky-high, with everyone from stately British marques to storied Italian automakers taking enthusiastic swings at the genre. Aston Martin joins the fray late in the game but not without the predictable chorus of detractors pained that it ventured into the space at all. Sorry, purists, but Aston’s 11th-hour effort is worth the accolades.
Visually taut with no sign of unnecessary flourish, the DBX has a style in the spirit of the Vantage, which arrived in 2018 to signal a more function-focused approach by the brand. The DBX is likewise defined by capability instead of ornamentation, as the car proved on a desolate trail winding through the outskirts of Oman.
The DBX tackles challenging terrain with a three-chamber air-suspension system that incorporates a 48-volt active anti-roll bar, which uses up to 1,000 pounds of torque to counteract the vehicle’s inherent tendency to wallow. The underpinnings, which include a Mercedes-AMG-derived 542 hp twin-turbo V-8 and drivetrain (both tuned by Aston), deliver exceptional dynamics that defy the crossover’s proportions.
Though not as graceful as the rest of Aston’s sports- car lineup, the DBX manages to embrace the form’s utility with a fierce elegance that makes it stand apart from all challengers.
Concours Car: 1950 Abarth 205-A Berlinetta
Of all of the incredible automobiles competing in the world’s most prestigious concours, the Abarth 205 merits special attention as Best of Show at the Goodwood Cartier Style et Luxe Concours d’Elegance last July. The groundwork was laid in 2014, when a 1954 Ferrari 375 MM Scaglietti Coupe won the top honor at Pebble Beach; prevailing against a field of prewar cars, it became the first postwar entry to win there since 1968.
Riding that changing tide is this 1950 Abarth 205-A Berlinetta, one of eight nominees chosen from the most outstanding winners of the past year’s international concours circuit to compete for the Peninsula Classics Best of the Best award. Even examples from the most lust-worthy Italian marques of the period, such as Ferrari, Maserati and Alfa Romeo, a car from Carlo Abarth—adorned with his astrological symbol, the scorpion—was a rare sight. And on a racetrack, a Fiat-powered Abarth, like its venomous arachnid emblem, proved a dangerous foe even to the biggest names in racing.
Some Abarths wore exquisite bodies made by a variety of Italian carrozzerie. This example’s coachwork, an aluminum body designed by Giovanni Michelotti and hammered by Vignale, is a pure and perfectly proportioned expression of speed, with the low roofline and trio of ports in each front fender adding visual flair to a vehicle whose powerful stance is undiminished by its diminutive scale.
Lifetime Achievement Award: Gordon Murray
His automotive design career spans more than five decades, but still, according a Lifetime Achievement Award to Professor Gordon Murray feels like applauding an incredible aria before the high note hits. After all, Murray—named a Commander of the British Empire last year—remains one of the most respected voices in the industry. And he still knows how to take center stage, with stunningly inventive new work defined by his pillars of lightness, simplicity and innovation.
With a diploma in mechanical engineering, the wunderkind joined Brabham’s Formula 1 team at the age of 23, in 1969, eventually working his way to chief designer and the architect behind machines that won 22 Grand Prix contests and two Driver’s Championship titles for the marque. Taking his talents to McLaren next, Murray soon concentrated on street performance and penned the legendary F1, which began production in 1992.
“The McLaren F1 remains the most focused, lightweight driver’s car in the world,” Murray says. “I truly believe that no manufacturer has designed and built an equivalent since.”
Perhaps the only person capable of surpassing the F1 is the man who created it. Enter Gordon Murray Automotive, founded in 2017, and its latest project, the 2,160-pound T.50 coupe. At its heart is a 650 hp, 3.9-liter naturally aspirated Cosworth V-12 that redlines at 12,100 rpm, a number unmatched by any production model on the market. The vehicle, with its three-seat configuration (reminiscent of the F1’s iconic arrangement) and ground-effect fan, continues where his previous masterwork left off. Murray has said he wanted to build in the T.50 “the last great analog supercar.”
“We set out to celebrate 50 years of car design with our Type 50 Supercar,” he says. “In my opinion, it will be the true spiritual successor to the F1.” And to that we say: Bravo.
Automotive Restorer: Paul Russell and Company
An endeavor built on both art and science, the restoration of historically significant machines relies as much on masterful skill and good judgment as it does research and technical expertise. Few practitioners have as many years of experience as Paul Russell, whose shop in Essex, Mass., has turned out award-winning restorations since 1978.
With 49 Best in Show honors, including three at Pebble Beach and six at Villa d’Este, Russell recently raised the bar again with his work on a 1958 Ferrari 335 Sport (pictured above). When new, the Ferrari was displayed at the 1959 New York International Auto Show, then went on to race along the East Coast before a blown engine sidelined it in 1960. In February, after a meticulous restoration by Russell, the car took the Peninsula Classics Best of the Best Award, beating out all other Best in Show recipients from the most important concours events around the world last year, as selected by a team of 25 international collector-judges.
Russell believes that successful restorations “complete the circle” and insists that, “instead of making it ‘perfect,’ there should be an appreciation for authenticity.” In other words, as Russell says, “don’t lose the soul of the car.”
Sustainability: Tesla Battery Farm
Elon Musk, the man who made electric vehicles sexy—and therefore viable—with the Tesla Model S, believes the answer to sustainable energy comes down to batteries.
About three years ago, the freewheeling Musk made a bet with an investor that, using its Powerpack energy- storage devices, Tesla could develop a solution that would stabilize South Australia’s stressed power grid and save tens of millions of dollars.
The wager: If Tesla couldn’t install the 100-megawatt battery farm within 100 days, it would be free.
The project was completed in 63 days and resulted in the world’s largest lithium-ion battery system, the size of a football field, able to supply energy to some 30,000 households for about an hour. Tesla’s sustainable solution cost the investor about $50 million—and reduced network costs by roughly $76 million last year.
In July, Tesla announced its Megapack, with three megawatt-hours of storage, which could allow the company to construct a 250-megawatt plant in less than 90 days on only three acres. And we thought the Model 3 was a game changer.
Motorcycle Innovation: Damon Hypersport Premier
The high-tech Damon Hypersport prototype gave the motorcycle industry a jolt when it was unveiled at the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in January. Though production models won’t ship until next year, what we already know about the 200 hp, fully electric bike is fantastic: zero to 60 mph in less than 3 seconds, a three-hour charge time (via a 240-volt AC plug) and a range of more than 200 miles.
And deserving of its CES debut, the Hypersport is essentially a “smart” motorcycle, with the Canadian start-up’s patented CoPilot system (powered via Blackberry’s QNX technology) constantly scanning the rider’s environment in 360 degrees. Warnings are relayed via haptic pulses felt through the handlebars, plus visual cues from integrated LEDs on the windshield and the 1080p rearview camera.
Most incredible, though, is Damon’s innovative shape-shifting technology that allows on-the-fly changes to the bike’s fit and riding stance. At the press of a button, the windshield, handlebars, footrests and seat adjust in unison, automatically reconfiguring the Hypersport from full-on sportbike to sport tourer, or to a commuter motorcycle with the same riding position as a conventional naked bike. Basically, it’s a two-wheel Transformer.
Performance Motorcycle: Ducati Superleggera V4
Picking our favorite motorcycle each year is an enviable challenge. Do we go with a sportbike, a naked bike, maybe something from the booming adventure segment or a handcrafted custom? This year, Ducati made things easy when it debuted the Superleggera V4, the lightest, most powerful and technically advanced machine the Italian manufacturer has ever offered to the public.
The superbike’s 998 cc Desmosedici Stradale V-4 is the same 220 hp engine found in the Panigale V4 R, a model that speeds like a howling red bullet. Add optional titanium exhaust and racing kit to a Superleggera and output climbs to 234 hp while dry weight drops from 350.5 pounds to 335.5. In race trim, there’s 1.54 hp for every 2.2 pounds of bike, a staggering power-to-weight ratio made possible in part by the chassis, wheels and bodywork all being made from carbon fiber. Simply put, the model is nearly comparable to the million-dollar MotoGP missiles of a few years ago.
The Superleggera V4—limited to 500 examples—slots alongside the 750SS Green Frame from 1975, the 1994 916 and the 2003 Desmosedici GP03 MotoGP racer as the next milestone in Ducati engineering. Even at $100,000, that sounds like a steal.
Concept Car: Karma SC2
As late comedian Robin Williams used to observe: “Reality, what a concept.” It’s an oxymoron that materializes in the form of Karma Automotive’s all-electric SC2, the nexus between today’s advancements in mobility and tomorrow’s motoring experience. Debuted back in November, the seemingly silver-dipped dart owes much of its fluid aesthetic to Andreas Thurner, vice president of global design and architecture for the Southern California–based automaker.
“Our teams achieved a perfect harmony between design and engineering, where one enables the other discipline,” says Thurner. “The carbon monocoque, for example, is tailored to the cutting-edge power train. The overall shape communicates the outstanding capabilities.”
Those capabilities include harnessing a breathtaking 1,100 hp from its four-motor all-wheel-drive setup, and 10,500 ft lbs of total wheel torque. Those hyperbolic figures allow the hypercar to hit 60 mph from static in a mind-boggling 1.9 seconds, the same figure touted for Tesla’s new roadster. Complementing such prodigious output is a 120 kWh battery pack that provides a range of 325 miles. And covering distance is what this vehicle was cut out for.
“The weight distribution is perfectly balanced, by the inch, exactly between the wheels,” Thurner mentions. “And its push-rod operated racing suspension, carbon-ceramic brakes and precise torque vectoring make the SC2 an exceptional driver’s car. We envisioned the vehicle to be just as adept at navigating the tight curves and adrenaline-inducing straights of California’s mountain, canyon and coastal regions as it is suited to stun Hollywood’s elite along Rodeo Drive.”
The interior reflects this duality of purpose with the integration of carbon fiber, aniline leather, cashmere and innovative amenities that reinforce the theme of unconventional—but exclusive—performance, comfort, and technology, including the option of visually recording drive sessions for future reference.
“The SC2 showcases the capabilities of our in-house components and is a signpost for the future design language of Karma Automotive,” adds Thurner. How this prototype translates to production, however, still needs to be articulated.
Infotainment System: Mercedes-Benz MBUX
Options are nice, but too many can overwhelm. That’s why we find the Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) an ideal balance: it offers many ways to get the job done, but the variety won’t slow you down. Its three hardware interfaces—twin 12.3-inch, hi-res touchscreens; a center-console touchpad with haptic feedback; and multi-directional Touch-Control buttons and on the steering wheel—are intuitively configured and easy to use.
Then there’s the vastly improved voice control—no need to remember robotic commands, MBUX understands normal conversation with simple “Hey Mercedes” prompts. And the new Interior Assistant (currently available on the GLC, GLE, GLS and A-Class) employs a camera in the overhead console that recognize the driver’s and front passenger’s hand gestures, allowing a two-finger air swipe to bring up a favorite’s menu which you can stock with options like seat massage settings, your favorite satellite-radio station or directions Home.
The MBUX will memorize profiles to tailor personal settings for up to 7 different drivers. After a time, its artificial intelligence will even start learning more nuanced preferences, like how you listen to Howard Stern in Sport+ mode with navigation options displayed on the way to work, but prefer to wind down with chill techno tunes paired with cool blue lighting when homeward bound. How considerate is that?
Automotive Sound System: Naim for Bentley
Jump in any Bentley model with the optional Naim for Bentley sound system and it’s obvious that Naim’s sonic engineers didn’t just wow with specs, such as the 2,200-watt/21-channel amp and 20 speakers, but created a bespoke audio experience for each vehicle that rivals home systems.
Driving the new Bentley Continental GTC around Malibu, we find that, even with the top down, the soundwaves emanating from the gorgeous perforated metal speakers seem like they are coming from headphones—if headphones could massage your glutes. The latter sensation comes courtesy of shakers plucked from deluxe theater systems that have been placed under the front seats.
Naim also developed eight unique Digital Signal Processor (DSP) settings to optimize the sound dependent on seating position and preferences. The Driver mode, for example, attenuates higher frequencies and adjusts millisecond time delays. There’s even a Spoken Word mode for crisp podcast and audio book delivery.
Designed to react in real time with the car, Naim for Bentley boosts bass and volume subtly at ignition, as velocity increases and even as the engine’s own soundtrack changes. And when we raise the convertible’s roof, the surrounding laminated acoustic glass transforms the luxury GT into a mobile version of the Hollywood Bowl.