For lightweight, open-cockpit thrills, this KTM knows how to hustle
“She said, ‘Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side. …’”
—Lou Reed, 1972
What does Ol’ Lou singing tales of gender-bending ’70s Manhattan have to do with me telling you about a genre-bending racetrack performance car?
To get straight to the point: Compared to the KTM X-Bow (say “crossbow”), your prized supercar languishing in the garage is morbidly obese. That’s right. Porsche GT Whatever, Ferrari Speciale Blah Blah, McLaren Anything, you name it. Fatsos. Porkers. The KTM is the 1,400-pound (635-kg) not-elephant in the room. No offense—KTM most definitely has entered automobilia’s wild side.
Sure, your porcine supercar has 500, 600, even 700 horsepower. And that’s just thrilling when you’re rocketing straight ahead; the power can overcome that extra load, for the most part. But when you turn or stop? There’s just no denying Sir Isaac’s Second Law of Motion. The greater the mass, the greater the force needed to move it. Or as the glass-half-full kind of guy that I am: The less the mass, the less the force required to move it.
In the high-performance automotive world, adding lightness just makes everything better, especially when it comes to changing directions. Corners. Twisties. My reasons for living. And if you’re reading this, you’re attracted to such things, too. You want to turn that wheel and feel those g-forces tug at you.
Your favorite supercars weigh well over 3,000 pounds (1,360 kg). Now consider the relative freedom from the surly bonds of earth every time you charge into your favorite bend. But let’s go one step further: Let’s remove the cockpit. No windshield, no top. The wind/speed factor. Like my beloved motorcycles, the sensuality cranks up another notch but without the looming risk of road rash pain and injury. Just keeps getting better, you gotta agree. You’re walking on the wild side now, kiddo.
The X-Bow is constructed on a complete carbon monocoque tub that wraps clear up to shoulder height—incredibly strong and quite superior to steel tube frames. Fortunately, it also has deformable structures to dissipate crash energy, built to FIA GT racing standards. You sit in that tub and move the steering and pedals for fit. It’s twice as good at resisting twist as your lovely convertible is. I can feel that rigidity on track. Only the suspension moves; it’s a revelation.
And you can see that suspension working because it’s the pushrod type, partially exposed, with shocks mounted over the driver’s knees. This design reduces weight and aero drag in the suspension and allows sophisticated control of the spring rates through the angles of the rockers. Very race car. Not surprising because KTM worked with competition chassis manufacturer Dallara in creating its first four-wheeler.
Although there is a version that’s street-legal in Europe, the official launch in the U.S. is for the X-Bow Comp R, intended only for the racetrack. Thus, the American version includes a fire extinguisher system, a front/rear brake balance adjuster, full safety harness and headrest, and more track-specific touches. MSRP is $104,500 USD, which isn’t terrible for a full-on track weapon.
The triple-adjustable WP-brand shocks are also racy. Best to stick to factory settings or get a real race engineer. The potential is tremendous. A good shock tuner can get it just where you like it.
And I liked it. I sampled the X-Bow at Sonoma Raceway, an ideal circuit for this featherweight. This place almost never goes straight and hardly ever flat, either. The ups and downs and lefts and rights are relentless and greatly magnify what’s best about the car: its agility. Compared with the supercars of the world that I’ve hot-lapped with MotorTrend, it’s an entirely different experience, one much more akin to the Norma FIA P3 prototype with which we won the 25 Hours of Thunderhill just a couple years back.
The KTM is low and open. My sightline is only a bit higher than the green grasses of the Bay Area’s wet winter season. Wind rushes and whistles over my helmet, my face shield the only windscreen. With the center of gravity at about my belly button, I feel very much a part of the monocoque, not like I’m riding atop it. The minimal roll happens around me, not beneath me.
The steering is unassisted, like most everything on this KTM and like the Norma prototype’s steering. Response is instantaneous, but the ratio is not terribly quick. A good thing, in fact, because it might be too much. With the transverse mid-engine and short wheelbase, there is little polar moment. In other words, the X-Bow will change direction at the speed of thought. It enters quickly enough that higher-speed corners must be treated with some respect, lest ye get more than ye request. The downforce from the splitter and aero underbody helps keep it glued the rest of the way to the exit.
At lower speeds, I found the car a driftable delight. With some purposeful patience before going to throttle, the tail would begin a predictable slide through the middle of the corner, which I could then maintain with the copious midrange torque of the turbo 2.0-liter. Ever exit a corner and find yourself hoping a camera caught it? All I got was applause from the KTM instructor watching from Turn 11.
KTM claims the X-Bow scales at under 1,800 pounds (816 kg); its Audi-sourced engine makes 300 horses in the Comp R and a tad more lb-ft of torque. For reference, the Lotus Elise Sport comes in about 200
pounds (90 kg) heftier with 83 less hp and a whopping 126 lb-ft less torque. So yes,
the X-Bow will pin your ears back coming off the slow corners. That TFSI direct-
injected engine has a broad 3,200-rpm gap between torque and power peaks, so it’s not picky about your gear choice, either.
And although there are six gears, the Audi box and shifter combo is not a high point of the car. Longish and rather vague throws lack the quick reflexes of most of the package. But there’s also a DSG dual-clutch version to try, well suited to keep up the boost and prevent costly and dangerous shift mistakes.
Big Brembos haul the wild thing down to corner speed, with that bias knob to fine-tune the setting. It’s all about the driver in the CrossBow, oops, X-Bow. There’s no ABS or traction/stability control. All you. It’s the real world, and there is even a race series planned for testing talents against your compatriots.
Its weight means it uses less of everything: brakes, tires, fuel, engine, tranny. Efficient speed and a real racing car experience, that’s the KTM X-Bow. I said, hey, babe, take a drive on the wild side.
|2019 KTM X-Bow R|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Mid-engine, RWD, 1-pass open roadster|
|ENGINE||2.0L/300-hp/309-lb-ft, turbo DOHC, 16-valve I-4|
|TRANSMISSIONS||6-speed manual, 6-speed twin-clutch auto|
|CURB WEIGHT||1,750 lb|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||147.2 x 75.4 x 47.3 in|
|0-60 MPH||3.9 sec (mfr est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||30.2 mpg (mfr est)|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||109 kW-hr/100 miles (mfr est)|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.62 lb/mi (mfr est)|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||Currently|