Agree to Disagree: On the Nomenclature of Sportscars


Whether you refer to yourself as a gearhead, petrolhead, or motorphile, we all love cars. However, their nomenclature is a serious topic of debate. Next to the age-old ‘saloon versus sedan, coupe versus coupé” business, the most contested of name arguments is the categorization of the cars as sportscars or supercars. These two terms are familiar with anyone who likes cars. Most dictionaries describe them loosely as being fast or expensive cars, a definition about as strong as a Subway napkin. Sometimes it is best to describe the categorization with existing automobiles that are undisputedly supercars, such as mid-engined cars like the Ferrari 458, Lamborghini Gallardo, Audi R8, and Ford GT. Also clearly making the list are cars like the Porsche GT2 and Carrera GT, but also front-engined models such as Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, SLR and Lexus LF-A.

It is difficult to create a solid boundary line for what is or isn’t a supercar without going on a car-by-car basis, but there are some generally used criteria for attempting to distinguish the categorization. High performance is a universally accepted quality of supercars. However, the degree of performance necessary to earn the title of a supercar is not as widely agreed upon. Is it a specific metric, such as breaking four seconds to 60 miles an hour from a standstill or hitting 180 miles per hour top speed? Or do a car’s capabilities simply need to be around a certain area? Price is the next quality people look at to aid them in their car-categorization troubles. A true supercar should be very expensive, correct? But by that principle, a base Bentley Continental GT, starting at a smidge under $200,000, should be labeled as one, although no one in their right mind would call such a lavish, luxury-oriented automobile a supercar. Contrarily, a thoroughbred supercar like the Ariel Atom starts at about $55,000. So it seems that price cannot be used as a measuring stick. Supercars are always exotic, so rarity must be the determining factor if not price and speed. This would therefore exclude cars like the BMW M3, Mercedes C63 AMG and Audi RS models. Consequently, where would the Corvette ZR1 lie, with a price of $112,000+ and top speed of 205mph?

To complicate things further, the performance capabilities (and subsequently prices) of street-legal production cars has increased so drastically to warrant the use of a new term: hypercar. This term was first used to describe the Bugatti Veyron 16.4, a $1.3 million dollar, 1001 horsepower-toting machine capable of a then-record-breaking 253 miles per hour. It’s astounding performance and price necessitated a new word because it was so above the “average” run-on-the-mill supercar. Soon after, other similar cars would follow suit and earn the label of hypercar due to their unbelievable rarity, prices and performance. A few examples are:

However, even in the realm of other-worldly cars there is still debate. Many disagree on where the boundary starts for what makes a super- versus hypercar. An automobile frequently stuck in the middle of this is the Lamborghini Aventador. With a mid-engine V12 producing 691 horses, a price tag dangerously close to $400,000, a top speed of 217 mph and arguably one of the most attractive body shapes of any car on the market today, the evidence is there. The Aventador sits in a lonely position in the exotic performance car market, however, as there is a large gap between it and the next notable or comparable cars in terms of price or performance, so it is hard to determine if this big Italian is a supercar or hypercar.

The discussion on the dividing line between these automotive terms will most likely continue as long as automakers continue to push the boundaries of what their cars are capable of. As an auto enthusiast myself, trying to determine whether a car’s top speed of 220mph makes it belong in the supercar or hypercar class doesn’t sounds like such a bad problem to have. The fact of the matter is that cars like thisexist for us to enjoy, and I think that’s something we can all agree on.

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