It may feel like a mobile sauna in the UAE heat but the KTM X-bow is pure rock'n'roll on wheels.
2009 KTM X-Bow
There I was sitting in a coffee shop with the photographer, dripping with perspiration, hair a-fluster, knocking back water, while we wait for the recovery truck to tow away our broken KTM X-Bow. It started off perfectly well. Sunglasses on and four-point racing harnesses buckled us into to the X-Bow's (pronounced Crossbow) minimalist padded Recaro seating. On Dubai's heat-singed five-lane blacktops, the exhilaration of open-air driving soon became tenuously weighed against the realisation of being low enough to be lost from the mirrors of most other vehicles.
Twenty minutes in and that elemental exhilaration had waned even further as the wind of a thousand hairdryers thundered past our ears and forced our attempts at conversation back down our throats, drying our eyes out with every blink. High summer, I decide, is not the best time to take KTM's track-day sports car and enfant terrible out for a spin. Apparently, fate agreed. Just two hours in and we rolled to a halt on an access road. It was a minor fault - a connection from the clutch pedal to the clutch master cylinder has sheared. Turns out it was an issue that has been sorted out on later versions. I returned home, deflated, to await the call to say it's repaired and ready to roll again.
In the meantime, I prepare a list: sunblock (which should come as standard in a dash-mounted orange and black dispenser), goggles, earplugs, beanie, and intercom. It all seems a bit of a palaver. But that's what happens when you take a car designed for the GT4 track series and homologate it for public roads. Molly-coddling extras like a windscreen to deflect the abrasive desert gusts, or air conditioning so you arrive at your destination without needing to wring yourself out, or electronic driving aids such as anti-lock brakes or traction control all add weight and are detrimental when trying to get from A to B as quickly as possible, says KTM. The company has a point.
The X-Bow is 21st-century nuts and bolts engineering. Essentially, the Gerald Kiska-designed high-speed objet d'art is a lightweight carbon fibre tub in front of a 171kg Audi 2.0L TFSI engine, a 60kg gearbox and race spectriangular inboard wishbone suspension, all mounted to a carbon composite monocoque chassis developed by Dallara, the Italian motorsport expert. So the pedigree is extremely strong, and so are the stats: with a smooth underbody, front splitter and aerodynamic rear engine cowling and spoiler, the X-Bow produces an astounding 193kg of downforce at 200km/h - compare that to the Lamborghini LP640's measly 70kg. Then there's the 1.5 lateral G on road tyres and 1.8 G on race rubber, which knocks the socks off the Porsche 911 GT3. Plus 310Nm of torque from 2,000rpm to 5,500rpm, which is the X-Bow's real strength.
The X-Bow was repaired, and the new plan was to head out at dusk, adorned in goggles and beanie, alone. There's something very Mad Max about the X-Bow: it's the ultimate stealthy street machine. You can imagine flicking a switch to see the body panels sliding to reveal a laser-guided missile launcher - except, of course, that it would completely spoil the joyous 37:63 front to rear balance, which allows you to play with the positioning of the tail around corners just through the throttle. As it is, you see the adjustable pushrod dampers working away on the front suspension to even out the city's highways as well as relaxing when the front end lifts slightly as you floor the pedal and take the X-Bow from zero to 100kph in a blink over four seconds.
Even though you have just a 2.0L engine behind you, the power-to-weight ratio and that boost from the turbo means that you fly through the clunky but solid six-speed gearbox punctuated by the delightful "pishhh" of the turbo between each change. The car is so light that almost any gearing would work well, but this set-up is ideal. Off the line, a short-shift through first and second lets you use that 310Nm of torque at the lower end of the rev range from third through to sixth to propel you out of turns.
But the X-Bow also makes you work for your fun. There is no power steering or speed-sensitive weighting, so while turning the wheels for parking gives you an upper body workout, anything over 100kph and the slightest movement makes the car twitchy - great for a race car but not necessarily in evening traffic in Abu Dhabi. That said, on unrestricted twisting roads the unadulterated contact you have with the front wheels makes for a potent adrenaline rush.
The brake pedal will also surprise you. Forget servo-assistance, ABS, EBD and all the other electronic gubbins found in your average saloon. However, once you get used to the solid pedal, and get some heat into the drilled Brembo discs and pads, there is a confidence and reliability in the simple mechanics between the force of your right foot and the impressive controlled deceleration of this little bullet.
It takes a motorbike manufacturer to take the no-nonsense approach to producing something like the X-Bow. Even the interior has the sparse functionality of a two-wheeler. So what do you get? A detachable and adjustable race steering wheel with indicator buttons, light controls and a mode button to scroll through data in the orange-backlit LCD pod mounted above the gear stick.There are also adjustable pedals for the perfect driving position.
But for interior refinement, that's about it, apart from swathes of cool-looking carbon fibre and the occasional orange flourish that echoes the floating panels, skirts and intakes that surround the passenger tub. It all adds up to one of the most unique sports cars in the world. A state-of-the-art, competitive, circuit-ready street car. Heads turn and phone cameras pan as you drive by in a blur of orange and black. Cars pull over and passers-by want to be seen in or next to it. It might be a high-speed sauna but the X-Bow is pure automotive rock 'n' roll.
Sadly, KTM has halted production on the X-Bow because of slow sales. They've not got an excess inventory of these - if you can't get your hands on one here, you'll have to take a trip to Europe. For some, it may be worth it. email@example.com