Martyn Raybould

Martyn Raybould

KTM-XBOW: A Carbon Fibre 21st Century race car for the road

Take a sector leading engineering giant in KTM, manufacturer of probably the Worlds most endurable, globe trotting motorcycle and give them a task! Build a truly 21st Century car, but make it go like a Bugatti Veyron..

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The X-Bow from an article by John Barber for Evo magazine

The X-Bow or ‘crossbow’ is quite unlike any other small sports car because it is built around a carbonfibre tub. It’s a beautifully finished tub too, the ordered weave on show beneath a clear matt lacquer, while its curves and angles have been designed and developed by renowned race chassis experts Dallara. Adding to the cachet and Italian feel are brakes by Brembo, seats, such as they are, by Recaro, and ride and handling refined by Dallara and Loris Bicocchi, the chassis ace whose credits include the Bugatti Veyron, Pagani Zonda and Koenigsegg.

We have already been advised that the X‑Bow has no power steering, no brake servo, no anti-lock, no traction control and no stability control system, but the first challenge is getting in, because it also has no doors. Happily there isn’t a sticker advising ‘no step’ on the wide, fragile-looking running boards between the wheels (they will support 200kg), so with the steering wheel removed (quick release is an option) you can swing a leg over, find the floor, get your other leg over and then slide down into cockpit.

The seats are fixed, the backrests of the rubberised Recaros set into recesses in the tub. Tug a lever on the floor and the complete pedal assembly slides into place. Pull on a helmet, buckle up the four-point harness and thumb the starter button in the centre console. We’re not heading straight out onto the track, however; KTM has devised a short loop on the access roads around the back of the pits to give us at the very least a hint of its on-road demeanour.

It’s not much, yet it’s surprisingly revealing, suggesting that the ride quality will be very good and demonstrating that engine vibrations are extremely well isolated from the tub and that the engine is without temperament. It also shows that the whole car exudes a sense of high quality in the feel and action of its controls and is shot through with a feeling of integrity. It’s what you’d expect to feel if there was an Audi or Porsche badge on its nose.

I find the seat comfortable and supportive but the driving position a fraction higher set than expected, yet the right-front wheel on this left-hand-drive car is still just out of view. The X-Bow feels wide too, but you get used to this quickly.

Onto the track and the weight and rate of the steering is spot-on, the brakes are good – not too heavy and with lots of feel and bite – and the clutch and throttle make a pleasingly consistent trio down in the footwell. There’s decent shove from the Audi engine too, but not much else once you’ve got going. Apparently the exhaust volume comes in just below the maximum permitted by EU regs, but inside a helmet, with wind-buffeting kicking in early, it seems virtually silent. There’s nothing through the tub either, so once you’ve figured out which way the circuit goes, you’re driving it on the shift light in the centrally mounted instrument pod.

Happily, the chassis is impressive and challenging enough to make this seem almost irrelevant. In pure road-going spec it feels very poised and exploitable. What’s most striking is that while most mid-engined lightweights have sensitive and often light steering, the front-end of the X-Bow seems planted, weighty and positive, even though at 37/63 front/rear its weight distribution is little different.

The X-Bow is remarkably friendly, too. It’s playfully oversteery in the slower corners, giving you the option of backing off and gathering up or keeping it nailed and riding it out, and there seems to be a built-in calmness in most scenarios that gives you time to react. There is mid-engined attitude in there; steer sharply in a left-right flick and the pendulum effect can build up to momentum oversteer, but once you get to know the car, you can manage this so that you exit the sequence dealing with just as much attitude as you’re happy with. On these road tyres the X-Bow proves wonderfully progressive and calm under braking too – lock a wheel and it’s quickly rolling again if you ease the pedal pressure.

Although we’ve yet to drive the road set-up on the road or see what a track set-up can do for the X-Bow, what is clear is that KTM’s first car exudes quality; it feels like a lightweight sports car developed by a big-name car maker with a huge budget. It’s not perfect, though. I predict that the first thing most owners will do is ditch the stock exhaust for something a bit louder and fruitier. The gearshift could be tighter and more positive too, and until the windscreen that is in development arrives, it won’t have the useability of a Caterham.

Here in the UK, it’s not the bargain it was some time ago ago, either. Back then it was set to cost less than £35K, putting it in competition with cars like the new Caterham R500 and the supercharged 300bhp Ariel Atom, but there has been a big shift in the euro/£ exchange rate since then. The list price is around £43,099, and that’s before you add must-haves like clear-coat carbonfibre, a limited-slip diff and the removable steering wheel.

Even so, the X-Bow remains a hugely attractive and desirable car, and I have an inkling it might just be brilliant on British B-roads.

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