This is China. Seat of ancient civilisation. Dominant global superpower. Home to 13 billion people and, for one week only, us
AWARDS 2010 .' TOPGEAR.COM 1119
Welcome to TopGear's biggest, most spectacular and potentially unlawful Awards shoot ever. At the gates of the Forbidden City armed with our favourite cars of the past 12 months, we have come in search of answers. Answers to big questions. First, what are these gristly, tentacled things we're eating? Secondly and even more importantly what was the greatest car from the Chinese Year of the Tiger? Over the next 57 pages, you will find the answers...
Hypercarofthe Year Koenigsegg Agera
TopGear Awards 20I0
II HF. MESSAGE ARRIVES AT DAWN:
(^■l ^H the Agera has landed. Koenigseggs I^H 91 Obhp, 250mph warhead is on Chinese soil... but we have no idea where. Really. Shipping an ultra-rare hypercar into one of the world's most bureaucratic, secretive nations isn't a case of phoning Parcelforce and arranging a mutually convenient delivery time. The rest of our Awards cars have been deposited safely at TopGear's temporary Beijing HQ, but the Agera has entered the country under the radar. /\11 we have is the name of a road, somewhere on the scrubby outskirts of the city. We plug it into Google Maps. "I/joks like a... military base," says boss Turner.
It is a military base. A big one. Thirty miles later, and we are parked up at the security checkpoint of a barbed-wire-fringed airbase, as Huan - editor of TopGear's China edition and our unofficial fixer - conducts a frenzied Mandarin conversation with a pair of jackbooced, gun-laden guards. Boss Turner, photographer Joe and I sit silently in the car, looking as innocuous and diplomatic as it's possible to look when attempting to gain illicit entry to a major military facility. The guards wave us through. Christ, what have we got ourselves into? Past the barbed wire, we trundle down a mile-long runway lined with dozens and dozens of Soviet-era fighter jets - MiG 15s mainly, relics of Chinas involvement in the Korean War, on the side of the baddies - and heavy artillery.
And there it is, the Agera, squatting at the end of the runway between rhe jets and the guns, ready to spark off the first Sino-Swedish war. A surface-to-surface missile. An Agera. The Agera. The only one in the world. In China.
The Agera's keeper, a giant Viking called Bard, emerges from a hut by die side of the runway. We have no idea how long he has been there. We are fairly sure he has no idea how long he has been there. He ambles over, grinning broadly. "F.r, guys," he grins, patting his pockets cheerily. "I forgot the keys."
Honestly. An Agera, the Agera, has made it over 4,000 miles from Sweden to China without suffering a scratch. And the man entrusted with its safe passage has forgotten the keys. If ever a single moment encapsulated TopGears ambitious but rubbish' approach to life, here it is. As Bard scurries off
- insomuch as a six-foot-five Viking is capable of scurrying
- to find another set or fashion a new key from riveted Cold War aluminium or something, we take a moment to look over Sweden's latest weapon of mass destruction.
It looks lethal: all slipper)' functionality and huge diffuser and looming menace. Hunkered down alongside the fleet of MiGs, it shares the same singularity of purpose: a tiny cockpit bolted to a big engine, and bugger-all else.
And what an engine. Low down in the Agera's chassis, right behind the driver's back, is a twin-turbo V8 of Koenigseggs own construction, firing out a devastating 91 Obhp through the fat rear tyres. Veyron power, half the driven wheels. Right now, Koenigsegg reckons this late pre-prod version will devour 60mph in under three seconds and top out somewhere north of 250mph. Potentially far enough north of 250mph to snatch the production speed record from the Veyron Super Sport. This is, quite simply, one of the most devastating road cars ever built. The Koenigsegg CCX - the car that nearly assassinated the Stig before the addition of the patented fbpGear w'mg -developed 805bhp. This car has 105bhp more.
A flash of light, and the Agera's windows slide down a fraction. The scissor-style doors hinge gracefully forward in randem. Bard, it seems, has located the keys. Or gor his hands on some Tool of Ultimate Power from within die military base. Either way, we're in.
THE FLEET OF MiGS, THE AGERA SHARES THE SAM SINGULARITY OF PURPOSE"
OF V8 sin
12-'. / TOPGEAR.COM AWARDS 2010
Over the carbon sills and into the grey-blue interior. Koenigsegg's own display-screens churn out delicious LED data. Hit the starter button, and die Agera fires with a wail, waves of sonic V8 shrapnel reverberating off the surrounding military metalwork. It is the sound of a race car, all mechanical chatter and clatter, a coarse contrast with the plush, futuristic surroundings of the cabin. Clunk the left-hand paddle to shift the sequential box into first gear, squeeze the throttle, and the Agera pulls away with the civility of a hot hatch. 1 press the accelerator hard and have a demi-second to register one clear, naive thought. "910bhp? This doesn't feel like 910bhp. What the hell was all th—" Then the V8 grabs 3,000rpm and the twin turbos lire, and the Agera takes off like a fighter jet on full afterburner. It is savage, physically shocking acceleration that leaves me mute, gurning, as die numbers on the digital display spool up quicker than Japan's national debt. Second engages with a thump and still the acceleration is fearsome. Third, and the jets lining the runway fuse into a grey blur. If the fat tyres let go now, several dozen MiG 15s will be decommissioned in the most emphatic manner possible. I slam on the brakes, and some divine being hauls back the Agera on a mighty chain. Wode rian!
Last month, I drove the Zonda Tricolore. the latest and greatest of the current generation of Paganis. Koenigsegg regards die similarly youthful Italian firm as its closest rival, but the Zonda and the Agera are as different as chalk and, say, Mickey Rourke widi toothache and a severe hangover,
"THE KOENIGSEGG DETONATES LIKE 21 3,000LB BOMB. BUT ^ ft SOON BECOMES APPARENT THAT THE AGEllA IS MORE THAN A SIMPLE WARHEAD"
126 / TOPGEAR.COM AWARDS 2010
Where the Zonda releases its 670bhp in a smooth, even flow, die naturally aspirated Merc V12 pulling through the revs without surprises, the Agera detonates like a 3,0001b bomb. The first half-dozen times it wallops its power down onto die runway, I am physically unable to keep pressing down with my right Foot, to unleash the full power.
But, as 1 start to acclimatise to the magnitude of the experience, it becomes apparent the Agera is more than a simple warhead. The steering, oddly light at low speeds, is quick and intuitive at pace, imbuing the Agera with surprising nimbleness for a two-metre wide hypercar. The chassis set-up couldn't ever be described as forgiving, but the near-race-spec suspension soaks up the hideous cracks in the runway concrete with astonishing ease. No, the Agera can't match the Zonda -or, indeed, the Veyron - for the sheer ease and usability of its power. It doesn't try to: the Koenigsegg experience is far more visceral than that. But it is also much more sophisticated than its fission-spec powertrain initially suggests.
Our gentle test runs attract the attention of the military. As 1 spin the Agera at the end of the runway, I spot a squadron of uniformed Chinese marching towards us, blocking any progress. This probably won't end well. Ever experienced that prickly sensation of squirming in the drivers seat as a policeman walks from his car towards yours? Multiply that sensation by half a million, and that's the feeling you get as a crack team of Chinese soldiers bear down on a hypercar. On their airbase. I debate, for a second, the wisdom of either a) slamming the Agera into reverse and attempting to outrun them backwards or b) charging straight at them. Noticing they have many guns, I plump for option c): sitting still and smiling like a simpleton.
The lead officer makes his way to the driver's door and gestures me from the car. I pop the door and attempt to exit in a dignified, diplomatic manner. The Agera's side sills are a solid foot across, rendering a dignified, diplomatic exit impossible. I wriggle for a while like an asphyxiated fish and eventually deposit my limbs in a crumpled heap by his feet. The officer steps over me and slides into the driver's seat. As he blips the throttle, I regret not removing the keys. It seems very likely that the world's only Agera is shortly to disappear into a Chinese military compound, never to be seen again. Given the lax attitude of the Chinese towards intellectual property laws, this will inevitably result in a familiar-looking but crudely built 'Konsigeggs Agura' hitting showrooms early next year.
The lead officer is pressing buttons now, twiddling the Agera's bespoke knobs with interest. I glance over at photographer Joe, who shrugs. I cross my fingers the officer doesn't know how to operate a flappy-paddle gearbox. Do planes have flappy-paddle gearboxes? I'm fairly sure planes don't have flappy-paddle gearboxes. After a couple more minutes of pressing, clicking and failing to engage any gear, he harrumphs and extricates himself from the car with rather more elegance than 1 managed. He gestures to his squad, who follow him oft down the runway in quicktime. When you have your pick of a few hundred jets, maybe a 250mph Agera looks a bit boring.
Still, it's a clear sign that we've outstayed our welcome - if, indeed, we were ever welcome in the first place. We probably weren't. First gear, and this time, my right foot is flat to the floor. The Agera bucks for a second and launches with the scream of a thousand pissed-oft banshees.
We blast past the security checkpoint and down a dust)' lane lined with thousands of corn cobs drying in the sun. Onto die packed, open roads of Beijing, where rickshaws dawdle past teetering bicycles and the phrase 'lane discipline' has yet to be translated. Beijing, in a million-quid, one-in-a-million hypercar. Welcome to the start of TopGear's incredible journey...□
E BOARDROOM OF CITROEN nusr be a very happy place right tfV
J^ now, lots of hand-clasping and pointy-fingered greetings, maybe a couple of subtle high-fives when nobody's looking. For the first time in years, the product planners, engineers and designers have a proper solid-gold hit, a car that embodies everything that Citroen always promised, but so rarely managed to deliver. Citroen has the DS3, and things are looking up.
Yes, yes, we've all been relentlessly battered with the corporate spiel that back in die day Citroen led the way in technological innovation coupled with sophisticated, seductive styling inspired by absinthe, sex and chocolate croissants - but most of the people who remember those iconic cars are unfortunately now quite dead. To anyone under 35, Citroen has been the flag-bearer for cheap lease-deals, bargain-bucket prices and chav desperation. The company turned on a commercial lathe that shaved a little of its credibility with each passing year. It's not been pretty, Irankly, watching Citroen become rubbish.
Of course, rays of hope did weakly twinkle for Citroen's return to modernity, but cars like the C6 occupy such painfully rarefied niches that it's impossible to peg any kind of commercial success on something that sold only to French government officials with domestic leasing arrangements. The C4, however, was better. The C5 a car that you would seriously consider against the German competition. But now Citroen has stepped up its game. The world has seen the DS3. And the world is pleased.
This is the first Citroen in a long time that you buy because you want it, rather than because it was the only car you could afford. A car that has tempted buyers from price brackets above as well as below, a hatchback that beats the Mini, and trumps the Fiat 500 -a statement unbelievable a couple of years ago.
The marketing is part of the strategy, obviously. Happily marching down a path trod firm by the Mini and 500, the DS3 offers downsizers somewhere to discreetly put their cash, a place to get some of the big-car feel distilled in a small-car package. It sits at die apex of luxury and practicality (both in the physical and financial senses), and is underpinned by the most important ingredient - it's fashionable.
Indeed, the DS3 manages a neat trick of vehicular androgeny, a stylish but essentially blank-faced canvas, until a buyer decides how their car will look. The basic DS3 is neither a 'boy's car' nor a girl's car' - it chameleons very-much depending on the spec choice - somediing, incidentally, a Mini always managed quire well and something the Fiat 500 always had to cope with by intimating irony.
The hardware might come from relatively humble beginnings (the C3 begets the basic engineering of die DS3), but it's packaged in such a way that it loses its generic nature, convoluted into something more interesting. Engines are perky and fizzy - even the diesels feel sparky in a DS3 - and sacrifices arc made in pursuit of spiritual and mental happiness. Pure practical vision is sacrificed for interesting windowlines; absolute practicality is blunted, just to give us something interesting to look at.
It's all part of the game plan, to engage emotions. People endlessly compare new fashion hardware to Apple products. But when you consider what that represents: clear, stylish functional design that's both reassuringly expensive and jauntily fashionable, you have Citroen's tipping point displayed before you. And in the same way that people will pay exorbitant prices for apps and add-ons to the basic structure, they'll do the same for a car.
People will pay to be the same but different. You offer the acceptable face of hip urban tribalism, then you immediately offer them a carpaccio of individualism so thinly sliced and premium-priced that cliey think they diought of it themselves. The market thanks you for overcharging for a roof sticker. The DS3 is that car. Contrasting roofs, wheels, option packs, graphics, interior treatments; very few DS3s will leave the production line the same. And that makes people excited, because it allows them to be an individual who's also one of the crowd.
On the inside, interior plastics are not ludicrously soft-touch throughout, nor is the design religiously ergonomic or painfully thoroughly equipped. But the car works hard, dioughtfully and intuitively. It spends its effort so wisely in your company that you appreciate how Citroen really has gone through with a masterplan for the DS3, rather than ending up with a car built by a committee of conflicting agendas. Most cars feel like they've been edited down from something else. The DS3 does not.
But the real reason TopGear loves the DS3 I so much is that it isn't just a fashion accessory.
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