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Best Of The Best Part I: Cars

The Big Idea: Shifting to Neutral – What Actually Is The Future For Electric?

Illustration By Shout 

After decades of fits and starts, electric vehicles are now squarely in the automotive firmament, with even the combustion-loving likes of Rolls-Royce, Bentley and Lamborghini embracing a battery-powered future. So what’s next? Enter the climate-neutral car.

Most EVs are not as clean as the brochures would have you believe, considering the immense carbon footprint of battery manufacturing, plus the fact that much of the energy grid is still plugged into coal-fuelled power plants. In theory, a climate-neutral car would not just forego

tailpipe emissions, as with a standard EV, but would also be net-zero when it comes to all harmful greenhouse emissions, from production as well as operation.

Yet according to Brett Smith, director of technology at the Center
For Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Michigan, “There’s so much heavy manufacturing that goes into a vehicle, very few suppliers will be capable of meeting the goal in the next 5 to 10 years.” Smith adds, “To know that a car will never use coal-powered electricity is still decades away in the United States.”

Undeterred, one player leading the charge is Polestar, aiming to be the first to release a climate-neutral production car, in 2030. Hans Pehrson, head of the endeavour Polestar has dubbed The 0 Project, acknowledges the difficulty. “I really compare this to when JFK said it was time to put a man on the moon,” says Pehrson, adding that “those involved  knew they couldn’t do it on their own; they needed collaboration.”

Suppliers that have already signed on with the Swedish marque include SSAB, a steel manufacturer that’s developed a fossil-free version of the alloy, and Norway-based Hydro, which is working on carbon-neutral aluminium. Most importantly, Polestar plans to bring this to fruition without resorting to offsetting, a way of cooking the environmental books. “The most common form of offsetting is to pay someone to plant trees somewhere else,” says Pehrson, “but if we continue
to let out CO2 emissions, the PPM [parts per million] level will not stop increasing.” He’s aware that electricity will not be 100 per cent clean by the 0 Project’s target date but emphasises that, for the first time, there would be the “possibility” of net-zero for the consumer.

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Also in the neutrality race is automotive designer Henrik Fisker, who cites 2027 as his team’s deadline “to build a vehicle that is climate neutral through the life cycle of the car”. He breaks that sequence into five parts: upstream sourcing, manufacturing, logistics, the use phase and end-of-life recycling. Recognising the battery as an Achilles’ heel, Fisker is “looking at innovative ways to source as much non-primary, recycled content as possible, including that of the minerals still crucial to effective batteries”.

Lecedra Welch, environmental- sustainability manager at the Michigan- based Automotive Industry Action Group, is quick to distinguish these long-term efforts from sleight-of-hand greenwashing. “Our industry understands how important climate change is, and companies are actively working with competitors and their suppliers to address these challenges and mitigate risks,” she says. It’s a sentiment shared by Smith. “Small automakers with very low volumes are in an intriguing position to do this as a test-case exploration,” he says. “It’s pushing the boundaries to figure out what the solutions can be.”

Daily Driver

Porsche 911 Carrera GTS

Robb Rice

Porsche’s most powerful and finely appointed 911 Carrera is the GTS, a performance monster that can attack with the best and yet is also happy to be enlisted for quotidian tasks, genially shop-hopping or making a midnight drive-thru run.

But back to the performance. With a 30 hp boost over the Carrera S plus bigger brakes, centre-lock wheels and sport bodywork, the GTS hits the sweet spot within
the 911 family. It delivers nearly the output of a 911 GT3 but with greater comfort and that docile-at-low-speeds personality, especially when equipped with Porsche’s proven eight-speed PDK automatic transmission. Though the variant is offered as a coupe or a cabriolet — with a choice of either all-wheel or rear-wheel drive for both — our choice is the RWD soft-top, especially when heaped with options such as rear-axle steering and a front-axle lift system, ideal for cramped parking lots and their pesky speed bumps.
From £85,576

Hypercar

Rimac Nevera

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The Rimac Nevera isn’t just the best hypercar we’ve driven over the past 12 months; it’s a vehicle that permanently redefines the class in terms of what we should expect from this rarest and most extreme breed of automobile. Its impact also transcends the category: while the Nevera’s unanswerable performance persuaded the Volkswagen Group to entrust Bugatti’s future to its young Croatian creator, Mate Rimac, its EV alchemy will also flow down to more affordable models within the group stable.

But oh, the sensations. Stats such as its crazy 1,914 hp and 8.58 second standing quarter-mile time don’t begin to communicate the bizarre, disorienting experience of flattening the Nevera’s right pedal. The car seems to defy physics, its rate of acceleration increasing as it finds more grip, the four electric motors doling out precisely the limit of torque each tire can handle. Nothing, not even the new 1,578 hp Bugatti Chiron Super Sport, which we drove soon after, comes close to what the Nevera delivers.
Around £1.7 million

Grand Tourer

Bentley Continental GT Speed

Robb Rice

Most Bentley owners weren’t even alive when the first Continental hit the road in 1952. Yet that coupe’s inimitable fastback profile has expressed the ethos of the marque ever since, defining the very essence of a grand tourer, a car that can tackle transcontinental trips in both comfort and style. Since 2004, Bentley, by then under ownership of the Volkswagen Group, has remained true to its original GT mission by unveiling ever more capable Continental models. Now into the third generation of its modern incarnation, the newest and most powerful Continental is the W-12-engined Speed, offered as a coupe (GT) or convertible (GTC), identical apart from the roof.

That the Continental GT Speed was also named Robb Report’s 2022 Car of the Year is no surprise given its accomplishments in every measure. Effortless power and seemingly bottomless torque confer a sense of omnipotence on its driver, while passengers bask in a leather-and-wood environment so opulent it’ll make your private club jealous. Few automobiles are as sleek, timeless and imposing in their style — or honed with such an elegant edge — as this British-born heavyweight champion.
From £213,000

Convertible

McLaren 765LT Spider

Robb Rice

Every A-list performer has an “It” factor. On the automotive stage, the 755 hp McLaren 765LT Spider, with its timeless body seemingly sculpted by the wind, manifests just such an intangible. Sure, some cars may have more ferocity in output or styling, and others are imbued with a greater level of refinement, but none can touch this roadster’s overall ability to enthral its audience.

The motorsport-derived convertible, which takes its LT appellation and profile from the Le Mans–winning McLaren F1 GTR “Longtail”, shares the same carbon-fibre monocoque chassis and 4.0-litre twin-turbo V-8 as the 720S Spider, a contender in our 2022 Car of the Year. Yet compared to its heavier sibling, the 3,060-pound 765LT offers an additional 45 hp and 22 ft lbs of torque as well as a 25 per cent increase in downforce.

With both the roof and throttle in the down position, the McLaren regales with its dramatic engine note, a powerful reminder of its ability to cover zero to 60 mph in 2.7 seconds on its way to 205 mph. Unfortunately, few will get to experience the model’s full performance, even on track, since only 765 examples will be made. But, as they say in showbiz, “Always leave them wanting more.”
From £310,500

Interior

Bentley Flying Spur Hybrid

JAMES LIPMAN

One of the most difficult accomplishments in sports is not winning a championship but repeating the feat. That’s exactly what Bentley has achieved with the Flying Spur, which earned our Best of the Best accolade for its interior in 2021; 12 months later, the new Flying Spur Hybrid makes it a back-to-back victory. Its cabin is an oasis of artisanal elegance, highlighting the superlative craftsmanship and design on which the 103-year-old marque forged its legacy.

The sound-deadened interior is dressed in 3-D diamond- quilted leather upholstery and paneling, while the dash transitions from contemporary to classic with Bentley’s revolving display that toggles between digital infotainment, analog instrumentation and flush, open- pore veneer. Not to be overlooked are subtle yet distinctive touches such as hand-stitched trim and the ubiquitous knurled-metal surfaces, including those under the door handles that offer tactile refinement even for an otherwise invisible area.

Prior to entry, the climate can be preset to 22 degrees centigrade via smartphone app. Once underway the overall atmosphere can be further enhanced by the optional 2,200 w, 19-speaker Naim sound system. Is anyone betting against a three-peat in 2023?
From £168,300

Supercar

Ferrari SF90 Spider

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Following a first drive in Ferrari’s SF90 Stradale, Robb Report proclaimed Maranello’s 1,000 hp hybrid the “new normal” in the fast-changing world of supercars. Soon after, embodying the shape of things to come, Ferrari’s most powerful and technically advanced series-production automobile had a stablemate: the SF90 Spider. While both cars are essentially identical from the waist down, the Spider is characterised

by Ferrari’s signature retractable hardtop architecture: in seconds, the car transforms into a stunning convertible whose futuristic exterior reflects Ferrari’s racing heritage. Smooth transitions across every surface are punctuated by massive air intakes atop each rear fender, while slippery aerodynamics manage airflow for low drag, high downforce and maximum efficiency at speed. Its prodigious output — the mid-rear- mounted, 4.0-litre twin-turbo V-8 produces 780 hp, with another 220 hp coming from three electric motors – is delivered through an eight- speed dual-clutch transmission driving all four wheels.

Want more? Four selectable Power Unit settings, from full hybrid to a full-on race mode, let the driver tailor the sound and performance. Supercars are typically rigid affairs, literally and figuratively, a take-it-or-leave-it statement of an automaker’s most audacious imaginings. With the SF90 Spider, Ferrari has created something equally ferocious but altogether more accommodating.
From £418,000

SUV

Aston Martin DBX707

Dominic Fraser

Aston Martin’s DBX707 is the latest example of the marque’s unwavering quest to build the world’s most powerful luxury SUV. The gorgeous exterior styling hides a twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V-8 that sends
697 hp to all four corners via an innovative wet-clutch, nine-speed automatic transmission; a sprint to 60 mph from standstill is covered in just 3.1 seconds as it heads to a top speed of 193 mph. Along the way, occupants and passersby alike are treated to a riotously boisterous soundtrack. The SUV’s air suspension provides an exemplary ride, while 22-inch wheels wrapped in sticky performance

tires offer tenacious lateral grip; despite its utility form factor, the DBX707 feels light and agile when tossed into a corner. Massive carbon-ceramic brakes guarantee repeated fade-free stops at any speed. But athletic focus notwithstanding, Aston Martin didn’t skimp on indulgence. The passenger cabin’s leather is lined with an elegant carbon-and-metal trim, while digital innovation satisfies all but the most ardent early adopters. Five operator-selected drive modes give the model chameleon- like adaptability as they reconfigure vehicle settings from all-terrain to track-ready with equal competency. The DBX707 is as good as an SUV gets.
From £189,000

Sedan

Rolls-Royce Black Badge Ghost

Robb Rice

Despite Darth Vader’s protestations, the dark side has rarely seemed entirely appetising. Until now. Rolls-Royce has given that phrase a positive (if moody) spin with the new Black Badge Ghost, which the marque’s CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös calls the “alter ego” of the completely redesigned Ghost that was named Robb Report’s 2021 Luxury Car of the Year.

The stygian treatment extends beyond the exterior’s standard 100 pounds of atomised black paint, 22-layer carbon- fibre wheels and chrome-electrolyte- plated Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament and Pantheon Grille — that edgier persona carries through to performance, as well, with its 591 hp, 6.75-litre twin-turbo V-12 delivering an additional 28 hp and 37 ft lbs of torque compared to the base version. Most noteworthy is the Black Badge–exclusive Low mode, which dispenses the full 664 ft lbs of torque at just 1,700 rpm, cuts shift times by half when the throttle is at least 90 per cent deployed and elicits a decidedly more ominous exhaust note. The power plant and satellite- assisted eight-speed transmission allow the 5,490-pound four-door to cover zero to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds, while four- wheel steering gives it remarkable agility for its size. When we were considering this year’s top sedan, the Rolls-Royce Ghost’s dark side showed us the light.
From £300,000

Concept Car

Audi Skysphere

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Few concept cars from this century are as groundbreaking in imagination — or desirability — as 1950s icons such as
GM Firebirds and Bertone BATs. But Audi’s Skysphere concept expresses aesthetic and technical creativity so impressive that its impact will be felt for years to come. The two-door convertible is a harbinger of future Audi designs, incorporating Level 4 autonomous- driving capability and featuring an interior that can redefine its dimensions and functions as needed. Remarkably, body and frame components slide into and out of one another, allowing the wheelbase and overall length to shrink or grow by nearly a foot, transforming the all-electric Skysphere from aggressive sports car to quintessential GT and

back again on demand. The team at Audi Design Loft in Malibu, California, called back to a benchmark in Audi history with their radical concept, which was inspired by the proportions of the Horch 853 roadster, whose long front end and compact cabin defined 1930s extravagance. And the futuristic Audi’s rear-hinged doors open wide to showcase an interior made warm and welcoming with sustainable materials including microfibre, wood and synthetic leather.

Electric Car

Mercedes-AMG EQS

There are plenty of metrics used to measure electric vehicles: kilowatt-hours, voltage, cruising range, charging rate. Then there’s performance, which for
EVs means more than just top speed and acceleration. For the Mercedes-AMG EQS, notable stats include the ability to replenish an estimated 186 miles of range in just 19 minutes – but let’s also not forget the potential for up to 751 hp and 752 ft lbs of torque, along with a zero-to-60 mph time of 3.4 seconds and forward thrust that feels like a freight train.

And unlike the tech-centred minimalism of certain EVs, exquisite details abound in the EQS, including intricate brightwork, the option of leather accents plus perfectly executed fit and finish – hallmarks of the brand’s long history of obsessive design and engineering brought to bear in a vehicle that marks a new era for the world’s oldest marque. Sure, the overall body styling is more sedate than expected for the first EV from Mercedes’s high-performance AMG division, but don’t let it fool you: this car portends a bright, electrified future for Mercedes-Benz while showing just what heritage automakers can do when they set their sights on the EV space.
From £102,160

Sports Car

Ferrari 296 GTB

LORENZO MARCINNO

Of progress, Enzo Ferrari is claimed to have said it’s “not so much inventions which are needed as conscientious elaboration”. That’s certainly the case with his eponymous marque’s new milestone, the 819 hp Ferrari 296 Gran Turismo Berlinetta (GTB), Maranello’s first official V-6 production car — and a hybrid to boot.

Ferrari is not reinventing the wheel here; its six-cylinder mid- rear-engine configuration has a proven track record in motorsport. But this road-going model elaborates on the form with the addition of a 165 hp electric motor and the 654 hp mill’s “hot-vee” layout, with two turbochargers set between the 120-degree cylinder banks and topped by the exhaust to improve output while lowering both the weight and centre of gravity.

On Spain’s Monteblanco Circuit, the 3,241-pound (dry weight) car, stablemate to the 812 Superfast and F8 Tributo, reveals plenty of kick and arguably more athleticism than its siblings, thanks largely to its 102.3-inch wheelbase, shortest in the current lineup. The raw muscle is reined in by the same brake calipers found on the SF90 Stradale,

a rear spoiler that adds 220 pounds of additional downforce and the eight-speed dual-clutch transmission, which manages the prodigious output seamlessly and helps deliver a zero-to-60-mph time of just 2.9 seconds. For many purists, the very notion of a modern Prancing Horse production model with a V-6 engine — let alone a V-6 hybrid — would be considered sacrilege. But we challenge anyone to climb out from behind the wheel of the 296 GTB and declare it anything less than a Ferrari.
From £241,560

Tribute Vehicle

Morgan Plus Four CX-T

No other car in our lineup of standouts presents such a seemingly incongruous duality in style and purpose as the Morgan Plus Four CX-T; the automotive equivalent of Jay Gatsby gone steampunk. A collaboration with the team of off-road specialists at Rally Raid UK, the all-terrain two-door, of which only eight examples will be made, is the most versatile build that Morgan has released in its 113-year history.

The marque’s Plus Four model — debuted in 1950 and reimagined in 2020 — serves as the foundation, integrating Morgan’s latest aluminium platform and BMW’s turbocharged inline- four engine with specialised underbody fortification. Also highly customised is the wishbone suspension with EXE-TC coilover shocks, as well as the rear-side-exit exhaust system, all helping to facilitate the 255 hp vehicle’s nine-inch ground clearance.

Most visually arresting is the external roll cage (there’s also one inside) accented with a quartet of roof-mounted headlamps. Then there’s the tailored rack that houses, among other outback accoutrements, two Pelican luggage cases and a storage box, as well as tow ropes affixed to the car’s exterior – de rigueur for where this protean ride will take you, which could just as easily be Downton Abbey or Dakar.
£170,000

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