What's the Difference: Sports Cars, Supercars, Hypercars
To the uninitiated, all vehicles that look “sporty” are typically lumped into a group we often refer to as “sports cars”. That’s almost like referring to chicken, duck and turkey as “chicken”. Not cool.
While it’s obvious to even car-illiterates that a Honda Civic is different from a Lamborghini or Ferrari, things get muddy in the upper echelons of car performance, and we often use terms like “sports car” interchangeably with “supercar” or “hypercar”, when they are different types of cars.
Amongst all the metrics we can use to define a performance car, there is, of course, one measure that supersedes everything that serves to categorise a vehicle: how fast it can go. Speed is the thing that segregates sports cars, supercars and hypercars in the performance car pyramid. Sports cars occupy the bottom of this hierarchy, followed by supercars, and hypercars at the top.
However, other factors serve to classify a car, and this is where things get more subjective. In an era where 500 horsepower is common, other factors are considered before bestowing a sports car with a higher title—performance, design, price, rarity, and feel or sensation.
To put it broadly, sports cars are the everyday driver’s car—tactile, agile and poised—made to gratify the driver and make daily driving fun, without feeling like you need a race track to exploit its performance. A sports car uses rear- and four-wheel drive, or even front-wheel drive in cheaper models, and can have its engine mounted anywhere. They are relatively inexpensive with approachable entry-level offerings, starting with the Mazda MX-5 (pictured) at 181 horsepower, and stretches up to “supercar killers” like the 500 horsepower Porsche 991.2 GT3, or the 565 horsepower Nissan GT-R.
Moving up a tier, supercars typically have specs and technology that trump sports cars, with a horsepower north of 500 and a 0-100km/h time under 4 seconds. With the drama and prestige comes a significant bump in cost—they are priced at a slimmer percentile of affordability; cars less than six figures (USD) are automatically disqualified from this category. In terms of rarity, a supercar is usually a low-volume production with a long waitlist, and only limited numbers demarcated for specific countries or regions of the world. An example of this is the Ferrari 488 GTB and the Corvette Z06. While they are equals in terms of specs, performance and design, the Ferrari is priced at $260,000 with limited production numbers, and Chevy’s Z06 is significantly more affordable at $93,000, with over 9000 units produced in a year. The former is a supercar, the latter, a sports car.
Supercars are harder to handle than sports cars, and are usually focused on performance which makes them less usable for daily driving. Most supercars are mid-engined, although there are some like the Dodge Viper that are front-engined. Almost all supercars use DSG or paddle shifts to enhance its performance as manual shifting is too slow, and are either rear or four-wheel drive vehicles.
Examples of supercars are the McLaren 720S (pictured), which straddles the line between supercar and hypercar because of its sheer performance, the Lamborghini Aventador SuperVeloce with only 600 units in existence, and the Aston Martin Vantage.
At the pinnacle of these turbo-charged, impossibly powerful vehicles are the top 1% of supercars—the crème de la crème—unto which a new category is born: hypercars.
In this category, the limits of physics and engineering are pushed to its maximum. With horsepowers approaching and exceeding 1000, hypercars come with an alarmingly frantic, unhinged performance that can only be tamed by the delicate touch of a professional. The meters that qualify a car for hypercar designation are a little amorphous, but generally speaking, hypercars are even rarer than supercars with very limited productions, priced well over $1 million, showcase new-age technological advances, and be the kind of beautiful that takes your breath away. The feel and sensation of driving a hypercar is incomparably intimidating; it is said that when you step out of a hypercar, you’re just happy to be alive.
Hypercars are the yardstick against which all supercars are measured. Examples of these state-of-the-art vehicles are the $1.4 mil Ferrari LaFerrari (pictured), which boasts 950 units of horsepower, and gets from 0-100km/h in a blistering 2.4 seconds; the Pagani Huayra with its active aero-kit technology, and the McLaren P1 with only 375 units in production.
With automotive engineering constantly evolving, these labels are far from permanent, and will eventually become dated as hypercar performance technology starts trickling down and makes appearances on supercars. The Lamborghini Murcielago edged out the Diablo, which was a hypercar in its time, but slides down a rung on the ladder each time a new Aventador is unveiled. Qualifications for each status are appropriately stringent to enable progress—what is exceptional today is on its way to being mainstream in a few short years.