As we drop down from the impressive Limhamn Bridge that links Denmark to Sweden, there’s a gaggle of Swedish border police waiting for us. It’s eight o’clock in the morning, minus two outside and there’s a howling arctic wind hitting our left side that’s strong enough to rock the car, so I can understand if the guard requesting me to stop isn’t in the best of moods. I lower my window.
‘Nationality?’ he demands. ‘UK,’ I answer.
‘Where are you travelling to?’ he asks. ‘Koenigsegg,’ I say, before realising I should have said Angelholm, Koenigsegg’s home town. But my mistake seems to have lifted the tension and brings a smile to the border guard’s face.
‘Ah, are you going there to buy a car?’ he asks.
‘No, but I’m going to try one,’ I reply.
‘You’re going to have a great day, then,’ he chuckles and waves us through, completely forgetting to check our passports in the process.
That sums up just how far Koenigsegg has come over the past few years. Until recently you needed to be a proper petrolhead to know of the company’s existence, but thanks to YouTube and the like, everyone now knows Koenigsegg, even grumpy Swedish border guards.
The purpose of my visit today is to discover just how far Koenigsegg has come by driving an example of its first car, a 2003, 655bhp CC8S, back-to-back with its latest, the 1140bhp Agera R. But before that I want to find out more about where the company is heading next. As we arrive at the factory, Christian von Koenigsegg himself comes out to greet us and quickly ushers us inside to his warm office, where the questions can begin.
What is the hypercar market like today?
‘Supercars are becoming increasingly more extreme and the market has grown more global. When we started selling the CC8S, the US was the world’s biggest market. Now it has been replaced by China, which accounts for 40 per cent of our turnover. In the last few months it looks like the US is coming back.’
Has Chinese demand changed your cars in any way?
‘Yes, they are becoming more flamboyant. The Chinese like the engineering and love the way they can customise our cars to their own taste. They use their cars differently to Europeans, though. They tend to drive in town a lot and then take them to the racetrack. Our dealer in China organises seven trackdays a year and the customers all bring their cars.’
What do you think about the new hybrid supercars, like the Porsche 918?
‘I don’t particularly like the philosophy, which is basically to have everything at the expense of complexity and weight. With our ‘free valve’ technology [computer-controlled pneumatic valves, so no camshafts and infinitely variable cam timing] we are developing a better solution, which we are calling Pneubrid, or Airbrid.
‘Rather than producing electricity through brake regeneration, our technology allows us to turn the engine into an air pump under braking. This air pressurises a 40-litre carbonfibre air tank at up to 20bar. We then release this air for extra performance by either adding boost to the engine or by powering the car in the city without using any fuel [by using the engine as an air pump in reverse]. This size of tank is enough to power the car for up to two kilometres.
‘I really like Airbrid because air is free and doesn’t wear out, making it a much better solution than using heavy batteries.’
How far away are you from using this technology in your cars?
‘I don’t see any point in implementing it for the next two to three years, but we are working with a bus company and they will use it first.’
Will it lead you to downsize your engines?
‘I don’t think so because customers are always asking for more power! Free valve allows us to introduce cylinder shut-off in the future too, so we will downsize that way.’
Are you still sticking to your ‘evolution, not revolution’ philosophy?
‘Yes, we will continue to hone and advance our existing car because this is a much better method than throwing it all away and starting from scratch.’
How about pricing?
‘The Agera costs $ 1.2million [c£750k], rising to $ 1.45million [c£900k, both plus local taxes] for the Agera R and we intend to keep production at around 12-14 cars a year.’
What about second-hand cars?
‘To help residuals [which are only really bad in the UK] I have introduced a factory certification scheme with a two-year factory warranty for pre-owned cars we sell direct from the factory. This is proving very successful and you will be driving one of these cars today, the CC8S.’
And now for the drive…
Keen to get behind the wheel, we decide to break off and move over to the main production facility housed in another building, just a short walk away. As we step through the factory door we find several Ageras in-build on the production line. Next to them is the matt silver development Agera and a vivid orange CCXR, which looks spectacular, but everything is being shaded by the Agera R pouting under the spotlight in the handover area.
Resplendent in vivid purple metallic paintwork with lashings of gold and sitting on carbon wheels (standard on the Agera R), the real shock comes when you pop the door open, because all the interior fittings have been finished in 24-carat gold. That the car’s owner resides in China comes as no surprise but the fact he’s kindly given me permission to drive his new £1.2million baby before he’s even seen it certainly does.
Mechanics are busy applying bits of protective tape to any vulnerable areas of bodywork before we venture out onto the local roads. I’ve asked Christian von Koenigsegg to take us to some of his favourite roads, so he is going to lead the way in a lovely 2003 (right-hand-drive) example of the very first version of the Koenigsegg, the CC8S. The border guard was right: this has all the makings of a truly great day.
To open any Koenigsegg’s door you press a button hidden away in the air scoop and, as you do, an internal solenoid clicks, the window lowers and the trademark ‘dihedral synchro-helix’ door tumbles open. It’s a great party trick, but the next stage of cabin entry isn’t quite so elegant because trying to clamber my rickety frame over the fat sill and through the smallish hole left by the open door is tricky. It’s not as bad as squeezing into a Lotus Exige, but if you’re over six feet tall then it demands a certain degree of dexterity and forward planning.
Once you’re in, though, everything is fine. There’s plenty of space to stretch out your legs and headroom isn’t a problem either, and thanks to the myriad of adjustments available (pedals, steering wheel and seats are all fully adjustable and tailored to the original owner’s exact requirements before collection) I’ve soon got a near-perfect driving position sorted.
You wake the engine by applying the brakes and pressing the starter button in the middle of the centre console. The twin-turbo 5-litre V8 rumbles into life in an instant and fills the workshop with the sound of rampant energy. The dash display springs into life at the same time. Revs are shown as a semi-circular blue ribbon running around the outside of the speedo dial, while in the middle there’s a digital readout of your speed and the gear selected in the seven-speed twin-clutch gearbox. A flick of the right-hand paddle hiding behind the tiny steering wheel brings first gear into play and I gently ease the car off its display plinth and out to where Christian is waiting in the CC8S.
Parked side by side, it’s astonishing how different the CC8S looks to the Agera R. Ten years of development separates these two Koenigseggs and, boy, does it show. When the CC8S was born in 2002, one of the main goals was to have a good top speed, so a huge amount of development work took place in Volvo’s wind tunnel to reduce drag as much as possible. In the end, they got it down to Cd 0.297, which is remarkably low for this type of car.
In 2004 Koenigsegg instigated a major redesign of the car in order to meet the latest global passenger crash regulations. A new engine was also needed to meet Euro V emissions standards, as the existing 4.7-litre V8 couldn’t be made to work. The result was the launch of the CCX in 2006, which marked a major turning point for Koenigsegg because this car could be sold in the US. Powered by an all-new alloy 4.7-litre twin-supercharged V8, the car’s styling was quite different with a much higher nose profile and greater overhangs than the first-gen CC8S and CCR models – something that I hadn’t really picked up on until now.
Christian jumps back into the CC8S and I follow in the Agera R. The early car looks great from behind; there’s a complex aluminium web cradling the gearbox that you only notice when you’re sat as low as I am in the Agera. I love the wraparound windscreen of the car I’m driving too. It’s like viewing the world in widescreen, although it’s not so clever when you get to a roundabout because the chunky A-pillar and exterior mirror combine to give you a serious blind spot that you could hide a double-decker bus in. The view through the postcard-sized rear window isn’t too special either, giving you a good look at the top of the rear spoiler and a glimpse of what might be following you.
Still, this side of a Veyron they won’t be behind you for very long because this is a monumentally quick car. As we’re running on regular 95 RON fuel today, the in-house twin-turbo 5-litre V8 behind me is kicking out a mere 960bhp and 811lb ft of torque (rather than the headline-grabbing 1140bhp and 885lb ft on E85 ethanol) but that’s plenty of horsepower to be getting on with thank you very much, especially in a car that weighs just 1330kg dry.
When the opportunity arises to really get those twin-turbos spinning and the revs start to spool round the dial, the performance is insane (0-200mph is dispatched in 17.68sec, as verified by the Guinness Book of Records), while the soundtrack is a hard-edged V8 howl. But what’s surprising is that all this monstrous power feels pretty manageable too. The engine is bolted directly to the rear of the carbon passenger cell, yet there are no nasty vibrations coming through (unlike in a Ferrari F50). The result is that the cabin is a busy place to be but not in a harsh way, and the wealth of information coming from the engine, steering and chassis makes you feel like you’re right at the mechanical heart of the car and better able to read what’s going on around you than you can be in more ‘insulated’ cars.
Another surprise is the ride quality. Before arriving in Sweden, I’d been running around in a Lamborghini Gallardo (see Driven), and compared to that car on country roads, the Agera R feels like a flipping limo. There’s something very clever going on here in the suspension department and while I know legendary chassis guru Loris Bicocchi has been a regular consultant to Koenigsegg for many years, for a car running fixed dampers, the ride quality is exemplary. The new all-carbon wheels (weighing just 5.9kg at the front and 6.5kg at the rear) and needle-bearing bushes throughout the suspension must play a significant part in making this possible, but brilliant ride quality is the last thing I was expecting to discover in such an extreme car as this Agera R.
The Agera has a unique seven-speed Cima dual-clutch transmission and it seems to be pretty well-sorted too, allowing the car to pull away without any dramas and slotting gears home as quickly as you’d hope. Yes, there’s a bit of a thump on full-bore upchanges but that’s more to do with the fact there’s so much torque to handle, rather than any deficiency in the gearbox department. Describing this ’box as a twin-clutcher is a slight misnomer, though. Technically that’s correct but there’s only one (dry) clutch handling the power between the engine and the gearbox; the other clutch is a (much smaller, wet) clutch-brake inside the gearbox that engages on upshifts to slow the input shaft. This helps to speed up the gearchange by allowing the selected gears to synchro quicker. All good geeky stuff.
We’ve been driving along a brilliantly flowing road through a forest for a while now when, out of nowhere, a lake appears. Christian indicates to pull over as it’s time to swap cars. After the Agera, the CC8S seems incredibly airy. Christian explains nearly everything is different on the older car; the windscreen is taller for starters, even though the roofline is two inches lower than on the Agera. The door flips open and, inside, the seats are clearly far more raked. Settling down into the driver’s seat feels almost the same as sitting in a reclined deckchair – much like in a Lamborghini Countach – but it was deliberately designed this way to enable that extra-low roofline (just 42 inches off the ground). As a result, the CC8S instantly feels more ‘racy’.
The simple Stack instrument display reinforces that race-car feel but it’s the ugly single radio slot and the speaker grilles on the extremities of the dash that give away this was Koenigsegg’s first go at cabin design. Still, at least there’s an aluminium gearlever – which controls a six-speed sequential gearbox – sprouting up from the centre of the car for you to play with. But first, you have to know your way around Koenigsegg’s bizarre telephone dial in the centre console in order to start the engine. Pressing the buttons at six o’clock and five o’clock at the same time powers up the ignition system, then pressing the six o’clock and seven o’clock buttons together engages the starter. All very strange but it works, and the 655bhp 4.7-litre V8 (boosted by a single belt-driven, centrifugal supercharger) comes to life.
As soon as it does, there’s that same connected feel filtering through the cabin. The throttle is super sensitive and it’s a struggle to pull away smoothly, but once on the move it all starts to flow quite nicely. The ride quality is still there but the steering weighting is very different: it’s super sensitive either side of straight-ahead and reminds me of TVRs of old. Christian later tells me they had to soften it off in the CCX because it was too quick to handle at very high speeds.
The other big difference is the way the engine delivers its performance. In the Agera R there is good torque available at any revs and a nuclear explosion of the stuff from 4500rpm onwards, but in the CC8S it builds gradually in a much more linear fashion. It’s still pretty healthy, though, peaking at 553lb ft at 5000rpm, but that’s a world away from the 885lb ft peak in the Agera R. The result is I’m using full throttle for way longer in between shifting through the gears with the cool-to-touch lever, which swings through a smaller arc than the extended looks lead you to expect.
I’m enjoying the older car more than I expected. Yes, it’s a fair bit slower than the crazed Agera R but the chassis still feels nicely sorted and with a claimed standing quarter-mile of 10sec at 135mph, it doesn’t exactly hang about. Weighing just 1175kg dry, it’s a remarkable 155kg lighter than the Agera R. I’m glad to discover that the blind spot created by the A-pillar and the exterior mirror is much less of a problem too. Once I’m used to the slightly peculiar driving position, threading this car through the building traffic becomes a cinch.
We stop again and I grab the chance to drive the Agera R one last time. The way this car feels so together from the moment it fires up is impressive. It feels solidly built too, and apart from the poor visibility out of the side windows, it’s a very easy car to jump into and drive away. Until, that is, you light the blue touchpaper, because from that moment on you need every nerve in your body to be set to fighter mode. Delivering close on 1000bhp through one pair of driven wheels is always going to be exciting, but combine it with a kerb weight some 515kg lighter than a Veyron and it’s mind-blowing.
Christian has one last surprise for me. Just as I think we’re heading down a back route to the factory, a deserted runway opens up before me. Well, it would be rude not to… Second, third, fourth are devoured whole as the Agera R digs in and goes for it. This much power is hopelessly addictive and even in a giant open space like this, it feels impossibly fast. Only when you brake do you start to realise just how quickly you’re travelling. Anyone into superbikes will know the feeling where the speed builds so fast, you think the speedo must be telling porkies – until it becomes time to stop. Well, that’s exactly what an Agera R feels like on re-heat.
It’s been an intriguing day. First, the CC8S has a charm of its own, more delicate in appearance and in the way it delivers its power but still formidably fast, if not quite as thoroughly sorted as the newer car. That’s not to damn the CC8S; it’s more to do with how far the Agera R has taken things. See through the bling on the car featured here and there’s a remarkable supercar hiding underneath. Christian von Koenigsegg has always said his intention was to continually evolve his car, just as Porsche has done with the 911. It seems to be working. Drive these two cars back-to-back and, while the family genes shine through, the newer car feels far more modern.
I do wonder how the Agera R would fare up against the Pagani Huayra or a Bugatti Veyron. They’re all supremely talented supercars but I reckon picking the winner would be much harder than you would expect. The Koenigsegg is quicker than the Pagani and could even match the mighty Bugatti. The Agera’s engine is easier to modulate than those in the other two, but the Huayra counters by having a softer, friendlier edge to its handling balance. There’s only one way to find out which is the best for sure, though. To be continued…