The trouble with defining a hypercar

The word ‘supercar’ was first used in 1920 in an advertisement for the Ensign Six (a high-performance Bentley Speed Six rival) published in The Times. It wasn’t until the mid-1960s when CAR magazine’s L. J. K. Setright used the term to describe the Lamborghini Miura did the word gain popularity. So what is it that makes a car ‘super’ and not merely a sports car?

Image 1
While the Ensign Six may have carried the ‘supercar’ name first, it was the magnificent Miura that first officially used the appellation. (Image source: & Wikipedia Commons)

The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘supercar’ as a high-performance sports car. Jeremy Clarkson’s definition is a little more in-depth: “Supercars are supposed to run over Arthur Scargill and then run over him again for good measure. They are designed to melt ice caps, kill the poor, poison the water table, destroy the ozone layer, decimate indigenous wildlife, recapture the Falkland Islands and turn the entire third world into a huge uninhabitable desert, all that before they nicked all the oil in the world.”

All that blabber basically means a supercar needs to be performance oriented above all, ignoring other aspects like comfort or the emissions.

Clarkson’s quotes have become legendary, whether he’s talking about politics, biology or cars, it is almost always quirky, inappropriate, and funny (Image source: YouTube screenshot)

Noah Joseph, European Editor at Autoblog, was quoted by Complex saying, “It’s a car that’s singularly focused on performance with little regard towards other factors like accommodation or cost. It doesn’t need to be manufactured by an exotic automaker, but usually is. It similarly doesn’t need to be a two-door coupe or convertible, but tends to be.”

The deputy editor at Jalopnik, Travis Okulski commented, “I think of a supercar as a maximum performance, mid-engined, high tech car that is the ultimate expression of a brand’s ethos.”

Image 2
Growing up in the 1990s, these were the supercars we idolised and that adorned our walls as posters. Clockwise from the top: the McLaren F1, Ferrari’s F40, Lamborghini’s Diablo, and Jaguar’s XJ220. (Image source: McLaren press site & Wikipeda Commons)

For most car guys, numbers help mark the difference between a sports car and a supercar. A supercar needs to tick all the following boxes:

  1. Reach speeds of over 200mph (320kmph),
  2. A 0-60mph (100kmph) time of under 4 seconds,
  3. Have two seats,
  4. Handle like it’s on rails,
  5. Possess the looks and the price tag to match,
  6. Be poster or desktop image worthy.
Image 3
These are the supercars of the present that are drool-worthy and fast as a bat out of hell. Clockwise from the top: The Lamborghini Huracan, Ferrari’s 488 GTB, the McLaren 675LT, and Audi’s R8 V10 Plus. (Image source: Lamborghini press site, McLaren press site, Audi press site & Wikipedia Commons)

However, the above criteria are still vague. The Porsche 911 Turbo and the Jaguar F-Type tick these boxes but most enthusiasts agree they aren’t supercars. Cars like Porsche’s 918 Spyder, McLaren’s P1, and the Ferrari LaFerrari do qualify as supercars but are termed as hypercars as well. So where does the line between supercar and hypercar lie?

Some automobile journalists make the distinction by saying that the crème de la crème in a manufacturer’s line-up can be considered hypercars. These models usually boast the latest technology, the most insane speeds, the most exotic looks, and are the most expensive cars in the manufacturer’s range. Clarkson once again sums it up in his usual manner, “Hypercars are made to pull G-forces, while supercars are made to pull G-strings.”

Image 4
Labeled as ‘hypercars’, their engines produce about 1000bhp, are ridiculously expensive, and have a very limited number produced. Clockwise from the top: McLaren P1, Koenigsegg One:1, Ferrari LaFerrari, Porsche’s 918 Spyder. (Image source: McLaren press site, Koenigsegg press site, Porsche press site & Wikipedia Commons)

The McLaren F1 is considered the world’s first hypercar. It was a technological masterpiece in its time and was the world record holder for the highest top speed for a decade. Yet its rivals of the time are considered ‘mere’ supercars, even though they were the pinnacle of each of the car maker’s line-up.

In conclusion, I agree with Okulski’s thoughts on the matter, “I think Hypercar is a bullshit term made up because we’re calling way too many things supercars these days and we suddenly needed another word to differentiate real supercars from sports cars.”

Image 5
Recent years have seen the inclusion of so many new high performance cars that make yesteryear’s supercars seem slow. Clockwose from the top: Lykan Hypersport, Bugatti Veyron Super Sport, Pagani Huayra, Lamborghini Reventon. (Image source: Lamborghini press site & Wikipedia Commons)

For a slightly out-dated but very informative history of supercars, check out


6 thoughts on “The trouble with defining a hypercar

  1. I tend to agree with your conclusion too. There’s just no foxed definition of the term and everybody seems to be using it randomly so whether or not a car is classed as a supercar is just based on whim.

    Liked by 1 person

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