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Koenigsegg's Agera R. The Stig. A frozen lake

  1. The phrase is prophetic, appropriate and recurring. It
    consists of the first seven words of the following quote: “Be careful, it has
    eleven-hundred horsepowers. There is sometimes suddenly icy areas of
    unexpectedness, and the tyres are half as wide at the back as they should be.
    Seriously, I would be really, really careful,” says Bård Eker in a lilting
    Norwenglish hybrid accent as he runs me through a checklist of the new Agera
    R’s intimate buttons. Bård describes himself as ‘chief floor wiper’ at Swedish supercar-maker Koenigsegg, but is, for all his very British sense of humour, a
    serious stakeholder in the entire operation, a fact borne out by his next
     statement.

    Words: Tom Ford
    Photography: Joe Windsor-Williams

    This feature was originally published in the May issue of Top Gear magazine

  2. “I would be quite a lot careful. So. Oh, and it is
    technically my personal car, it is the only one in existence, we haven’t really
    set up the traction control and the car is worth… well, probably about 10
    million.” I gasp. Ten million pounds? No matter how blasé you might get, that’s
    still a punch to the metaphorical guts. “No, 10 million krona.” Good. An
    enormous amount in a foreign currency is ignorable. Later, it turns out to be
    about one-point-one million quid. For lots of reasons, I’m glad I wasn’t sure
    in the first place.

  3. I pull the door shut on a white-leather cocoon, a wraparound
    ‘screen with A-pillars pulled back almost into peripheral vision, white,
    quilted leather and silvery glyph-stamped electronics making bleepy noises that
    nobody understands. The wheel is white, the change paddles are white, the
    silvered dash animated and slick, with a touchscreen on the right. Clean and
    technological, it’s only an Apple logo and set of indecipherable apps away from
    being a Scandinavian Mac user’s porn dungeon. The door itself spirals down and
    in, winding sideways from vertical to horizontal via an M.C.
    Escher-complicated, architecturally cute door-flange-and-dampers arrangement
    that you could hang on the wall as industrial art. It seems faintly churlish to
    call it a mere hinge.

  4. Push the middle button in the silver Simple Simon in the
    middle of the dash, and the dialset glows blue, accompanied by the jet-like
    whirr of priming fuel pumps. Press it again, and a heavy-duty starter motor
    thrums behind your right ear and the percussive bark of a 5.0-litre V8 bangs
    through the cabin like a sawn-off at close range. Oh my. First impressions are
    that despite the calming post-modern whiteness of the interior, the Koenigsegg
    Agera R is no sanitised supercar. It sounds more like a racer. One of the angry
    ones. Pull both paddles to engage neutral, pull the left-hand ‘down’ paddle to
    engage reverse, pull back and out and finally pull the right-hand paddle for
    first. Feed in the throttle, find the biting point and ease away.

  5. From the inside, the Agera R sounds shockingly mechanical -
    you can hear tappets and valves and gurgles and gasps of transferred air and
    fuel. At idle, it sounds like a tractor having a heart attack. On the move, it
    sounds like a NASCAR crashing at full throttle into an aviary: thunderous V8
    blare followed by the hysterical twitters and whooshes of a feathery massacre.
    That’ll be the pair of turbos mounted on each bank. Lighter throttle loads are
    punctuated by what can only be described as the sound effect they used on Star
    Trek when the doors slid back, a kind of sussurating whistle. If that sounds
    odd, it is. The Agera never stops twittering and farting, and it’s all the
    better for it.

  6. The same goes for the exterior design. This is not a wind
    tunnel soap bar pared clean and bland in the pursuit of aerodynamic efficiency.
    This is a big sweary swagger of a car. Low and wide, the basic slipperiness of
    the standard Agera is overwhelmed first by the R’s rear wing, complete with a
    mechanical damping arrangement that allows for dynamic deformation at speed, as
    well as the other slight visual tweak; the ruddy great big roof box bolted to
    the top. Yes, that’ll be a 250+mph capable supercar with a Thule roof box. It’s
    been smoothed by the engineers at Koenigsegg to be slightly more aerodynamic,
    but it’s still bloody odd. And brilliant. Utterly brilliant.

  7. You can’t see it at all from inside the car, but every time
    you approach the R, from any angle, the combo of roof-top coffin and wing thing
    make this a supercar of high - if not actually slightly camp - drama. Pop the
    flashy doors, and people gasp and make little sighing noises, like tiny
    drive-by orgasms. It’s not conventionally pretty, and it has a lot of seemingly
    disparate elements, but somehow you can’t help thinking that if you want a
    supercar to look like a supercar, this concoction of exotic pre-preg carbon and
    Kevlar looks almost like a caricature. Like it should be doing its (theoretical
    and unproven) top speed of 275mph, all the time.

  8. To drive, it’s a lot more brutal than the virginal matt
    white paint and practical top-box would have you believe. Threading through the
    crisp blues, whites and greys of Sweden in the spring, things get hectic
    quickly. First up: the Agera would normally wear oil-drum-shaped rear tyres
    (345-section 20s),but at the moment is tippy-toeing around on 255 winters.
    While this is fine for braking a relatively light car from slow speeds on a
    slippery surface, given that the ‘Egg-plus-box has 885lb ft of torque delivered
    by a pair of turbos the size of your head, it’s like trying to stop an
    avalanche with a stern look and a cutting put-down. It also means that the
    Agera R is absolutely bloody terrifying. Not in the ‘Wow, this is so fast and thrilling
    - and yet I feel completely in control!’ kind of way, but more in the ‘Christ,
    I’ve got to slow down. I have kids I want to see again’ kind of way. 

  9. Pull away gently - any forceful application of the throttle
    merely brings standing-still levels of wheelspin with the traction-control off,
    a stuttering, inelegant rev-limited launch, if not - and warm up through the
    first three gears, changing at around 5,000rpm. OK, so it’s very quick, but
    feels like a massive V8 rather than anything likely to give you a short-term g
    facelift. Time for a bit of boost. There’s a fairly slick blending of the
    turbos into the V8’s natural torque curve that means that as the V8 is running
    out of twist, the turbos kick in.

    And immediately spray the back end across two carriageways.

  10. Back off, whoop down a couple of calming breaths, try again
    a gear up. A smack in the back from the intentionally brutal, single
    input-shafted Cima seven-speed dual clutch (violent going up, sweet and smooth
    going down) and: same thing. Full boost simply overwhelms the rear tyres in
    every gear below seventh, with a heart-stopping wriggle on upchanges or bumps.
    And there are a lot of bumps. The R will apparently hit 62mph in under three
    seconds: right now, you’d struggle to get moving at all. On a track, in this
    trim, the Agera R would be challenging, bordering on scary. In a car as wide as
    this, on a battle-scarred public road, it’s enthusiastically lethal.

  11. There are mitigating factors. Sweden may be sporting an
    azure horizon and bone-dry tarmac, but the relatively recent disappearance of
    snow from the roadways has left them covered in dust and salt with the grip
    characteristics of oiled glass. The roads are viciously cambered, cracked,
    lumpy and strewn with tree-shaded corners guarding 30ft slicksof sheet ice. Not
    ideal conditions in a family hatch, slightly less than hellish in a supercar
    that’s about as comforting as a razor blade trampoline. Unknown corners are
    cautious. On straights made brief by the wanton and reckless application of
    over 1,000bhp, the Agera bucks down the bumpy roads, tearing great rents in the
    tranquillity and dragging a 30-foot high rooster tail of road grime up behind
    it like a gauzy set of dark angel’s wings. 

  12. I’m terrified, elated, concentrating like crazy and
    convinced I’m about to have a massive accident. You unpick the edges of the
    Agera R’s handling and performance like bomb disposal goes about
    mine-clearance: one stepat a time, and aware that any misstep will have you
    posted home in an urn. For me, it’s too soft at the back, something Bård tells
    me is easily adjustable via the Triplex triple-spring and damper arrangement of
    the rear suspension - the horizontal middle spring is adjustable for
    preference, and the car has been set up to take some of the pressure off those
    skinny rears. But even though the car is ready to bite, I can’t stop. Agera R
    addiction turns out to be quick, easy and dangerous.

  13. There’s truth in the fact that even some of the very fastest
    hypercars are actually pretty easy to drive, even in extremis. The Veyron -
    even the 1,200bhp SuperSport - may be an engineering masterpiece, but it can,
    at times, feel like an Audi TT for all the competency you actually require to
    get the best from it. And while that makes them very usable for even the most
    hamfisted and inattentive trustafarians, it also pokes the Agera R into sharp
    perspective: this is simply not an easy car to drive to its full potential.

  14. It is not a quiet car, or a benign car, or even an elegant car to get in and out of. It’s true that the V8is incredibly tractable - it’ll pull from a virtual standstill in nearly every gear - and that it rides extremely well at low-to-medium speeds. But all that does is build an entirely false sense of security. After all, when a big dog bares its teeth, chances are it isn’t smiling. The Agera R is like that. Just when you think you’ve got a bit of a handle on it, just when you start to push the carefully judged parameters, turn away for a split second, and it’ll have you wearing Sweden as a hat.

  15. Eventually the Agera R starts to wear me out. To really get
    an idea of the performance potential of a car as aggressive as this, you need
    space and lots of it, something you simply can’t find on a public road
    surrounded by spruce-textured crash barriers. The thought gently tugs, but 12
    hours of R is enough, and eventually I retreat to a small but bijou mountain
    lair for the night, ears ringing and adrenaline gland dried out like a sultana.

    The next day brings more gorgeous weather from Sweden.
    Bright skies, blazing sun, an equally arresting Koenigsegg. But the Agera R
    still feels hemmed in by the public highway, I’m sensitive to its
    claustrophobia and begin casting about for an airport, or bigger expanse of
    tarmac. Which is when we see the lake. A frozen lake with tyre tracks webbing 70
    per cent of its surface. Cars. On a big lake with nothing to hit. Providence is
    calling, and denial is not just a river in Africa.

  16. Twenty minutes later, and we’re chatting to Martin. Martin
    says we can drive on the lake. “Is it safe?” I enquire, looking at what is
    quite patently liquid water sloshing around the periphery of the shoreline.
    “Well, we stopped driving on it a week ago because the ice is thin, but it’s
    probably safe. In parts. Probably,” says Martin. I believe it. Martin is saying
    that the icy racetrack is unquestionably safe. Taking this glowing affirmation
    of the lake’s Health and Safety to heart, we immediately run the Agera down
    onto the ice.

  17. It is serene. A sheet of blue-white nothing on which to
    practise consequence-free supercar drifting technique, which approximates
    tickling the throttle in third gear and then winding on as much of the
    surprisingly available steering lock in the shortest amount of time as is
    humanly possible. Bliss. But then, on one glorious arc, there’s a crack and a
    snap and the rear of the Agera dips drunkenly. Momentum carries us through, but
    it’s obvious that being in a car on this ice is a stupid thing to do. So it’s
    time to get out of the car. 

  18. Above my head is a red T-bar handle that opens the roof box,
    much like one that would launch missiles. So it’s time to launch my own secret
    weapon. I reach, pull and twist and there’s a hiss and a faint smell of ozone.
    Up and out just as the Stig turns towards me. The lower half of his body is
    slightly blurry, a dark mess that seems to twist into space in a way that makes
    me slightly nauseous. And then the white thing is out and into the driving
    seat, ready to race. I pull skis from the base of the roof box, slap on my
    boots and attach the tow rope. Being in the car is a stupid idea. You could
    fall through the ice and drown. But being ski-towed by a 1,115bhp supercar on
    sheet ice by a race demon from the nether regions of Somewhere is OK. Probably.

    At least I’m wearing a hat.

  19. The Stig makes a full race start, gentled only by the utter
    lack of grip. My makeshift ski-rope - modified from an actual vehicle tow rope
    in no way whatsoever - snaps taut, I smell high-octane fuel and ponder the bark
    of the Koenigsegg’s vee as my arms are pulled out of their sockets and chunks
    of wet ice smash into my face. And then we’re off, drifting around the lake in
    tandem, the ice cracking, the Agera R barking and the swift scratch and roar of
    my skis on sheet ice. With even the Stig somewhat hampered by the low-mu
    surface and hi-po delivery, it’s actually incredibly enjoyable, this supercar
    skiing malarkey. But there’s a sense of unreality to it, which lasts for less
    than half an hour. As the sun arrives, I’m doing more and more waterskiing. And
    as the Stig drifts around another arc, the Agera’s rear tyres chew through the
    top of the lake and reveal… actual lake. Time to beat a hasty retreat.

  20. The Stig refuses to be re-imprisoned, and strides away
    across the lake towards Åre. He does not look back. Within seconds, his
    whiteness has blended with the scenery and he’s gone. As I pack away the skis
    and get off the ice, I realise how unreal this has felt. In fact, the only
    thing that feels properly real is the Agera R. A complicated experience in a
    world whose prideful efficiency has lessened our acceptance of
    less-than-instant gratification. The truth is that this is a proper old-school
    supercar. You need to learn the Agera R to drive it well. But just by driving
    it at all, you make the world a more exciting place. And for that we stand in
    fear-flecked silence, and applaud. Very loudly indeed.

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