Can the record-breaking Rimac Nevera hypercar deal with a long road trip? | Top Gear
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Can the record-breaking Rimac Nevera hypercar deal with a long road trip?

TG goes tunnel-running across Europe in Rimac's extraordinary quad-motor electric speed machine

Published: 09 Nov 2023

The plan has gone a little awry. This is due to the Mont Blanc tunnel’s unexpected closure. It’s a pity, not least because the 7.2 mile-long engineering masterpiece that connects Chamonix with Courmayeur in the Aosta Valley (Italian Job territory) is a reminder of the inspirational power of big infrastructure projects. The tunnel opened back in 1965 – amazingly – and one stat stands out: its creators used 37 million kWh of electricity during its six-year construction.

This is rather more than the Rimac Nevera’s lithium manganese nickel battery pack manages, although there are times when it feels like this thing could punch a hole right through an Alp. I was one of the first people in the world to drive the Nevera, back in ’21, and since then it’s had TG approval courtesy of Chris Harris and one of the most spectacular drifts even that perma-slidey man has ever executed. But that was a prototype. Now in full production, and having smashed 23 records in a single day this past summer, Rimac has invited me to have another go.

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The Mont Blanc tunnel might be off limits but the adventure starts somewhere near Turin and it’ll still take in a variety of other mega tunnels. (It’s incredible, they’re like bus stops in this part of Europe.) I should add that the Nevera and I aren’t just being reunited for old time’s sake. Although that welter of new records – just ponder that brain-frazzling 0-249-0 mph time of 29.93 seconds – confirms that it’s an aero-honed sledgehammer, company founder Mate Rimac is keen to remind everyone that the Nevera is also a useable GT. Perhaps even a daily driver if you’re a Silicon Valley bro (or sister) with telephone number levels of disposable. A daily driver with four surface-mounted permanent magnet motors driving each wheel individually, coursing with the most advanced torque vectoring ever seen, boasting a power output equivalent to 1,889bhp and 1,740 lb ft of torque, with a pair of single-speed gearboxes connected to the front and rear wheels. It really is an extraordinary achievement, and likely to remain unsurpassed. Until Ferrari unleashes its electric hypercar in 2025, anyway. We’ll see.

The six-day trans-European road trip I’ve parachuted into will see a Nevera drive from Rimac’s Zagreb base through seven countries, amassing 1,324 miles in the process. My stint will start near Turin, skirt the Parc National de la Vanoise north to Chambéry, then south again towards Grenoble, Aix-en-Provence, before flying home from Marseille.

There’s another reason we’re here. Rimac has just inked – or whatever the 2023 equivalent is – an arrangement with IONITY that’ll bequeath Nevera owners with eight years unlimited free charging at all of the company’s pan-European charging points. It’s unlikely to be a deal-breaker for those in the market for a car with this sort of intergalactic capability, but it shines a renewed light on one of the era’s defining machines.

Which is an interesting way to describe the Nevera, if you think about it. Is a Bugatti, Ferrari or Porsche  a ‘machine’? Of course, but much more besides. Those guys are legacy car makers with an abiding history in and love for engines. It’s not necessarily a pejorative term, yet there’s the whiff of hi-tech utility to an EV, as if circulating electrons and electrolytes are less emotionally resonant than pistons, cylinders and explosive internal combustion. Maybe it’s because EVs are mostly silent in operation, generally do their thing without complaint or hesitation. To a diehard, EV is an abbreviation that’s about as reassuring as AI.

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But then we know that very clever people in companies we haven’t yet heard of and plenty that we have are working their butts off to elevate the whole caboodle in terms of measurables like range and energy density, and subjective ones such as sound and emotion. Mate Rimac might have beaten them all to it, though. The Nevera has the means to accelerate to 186mph in 9.3 seconds, but its ability to charge at 500kW is another doozy. Perhaps the doozy. There aren’t many charging points around engineered to hose energy into a car’s batteries at that velocity, but IONITY’s 350kW Halo charger can take the Nevera’s huge 120kWh battery from zero to 80 per cent ‘within 25 minutes’. Cue a quick European road trip to assess the veracity and reliability of the network.

The Nevera is waiting outside on Monday morning, our stop-over framed by picturesque ski chalets and mountains. This is an above average way to start the week, no question. My small overnight bag fits easily in the rear luggage compartment, which has a soft-close function and won’t melt my stuff (unlike the Maserati MC20’s trunk). Design-wise, the Nevera is on the subtler end of the hypercar spectrum but still packs major visual wallop. A Time Attack limited edition has just been launched, sporting green (go-faster?) stripes inspired by Mate’s old e-M3 record-breaker and also the colour ionized particles during a lightning storm turn the sky. It gives the car improved instant theatre, but even in steely silver the Nevera’s a looker. It’s also no more or less intimidating than, say, a BMW i8, and actually easier to get into. The seats are incredibly comfortable – not always the case in hypercars – all-round visibility is surprisingly good, and there’s somewhere to put your phone: behind the central touchscreen, which folds forward in a smoothly engineered, high quality manner. That’s a clever touch. OK, so you have to use that same screen to adjust the seats, which is more annoying, but at least grouping all that stuff centrally means the cockpit is mercifully free of switchgear and distraction.

The main instrument display offers up all the basic info plus a read-out which shows how much torque each wheel is grappling with, and a g-meter. There are no column stalks; indicators and wipers are operated via wheel-mounted buttons. The interior door handles are made of billet aluminium and feel fabulous. But I remember all this from two years ago. What’s much improved is the action of the rotary controller that primes then gives you control over the car – P, R, N and D. Its haptic is reassuringly expensive in feel, like a piece of haute horologie. There’s another one in the middle of the dash that governs the seven drive modes, including Cruise, Sport, Track and Drift. This is not the time or place to trouble the latter three, but the truth is, the Nevera is an easy car to get into and just go.

It’s also absolutely nuts, in the best possible way, and it’s the manner in which Rimac’s engineers have filled in the space between these extremes that’s so cool. But first, we’re forced to engage bimble mode, not an official Rimac designation but necessary given the amount of standing water there is. The big Michelin Pilot Sports (275/35 upfront, 315/35 at the rear) have no problems dealing with it, but even so, let’s not overcook things.

We make our inaugural charge stop to coincide with the morning’s first strong cup of coffee. The Nevera’s battery goes from 47 to 85 per cent in a little over the time it takes to drink it. Then we hit the road, looping along and down the big, open passes you find as you cross the border from Italy into France. For some reason, this always puts me in mind of Jason Bourne, though if I remember rightly he uses a more innocuous looking E28 BMW 5 series in the second film. Perfect Euro spy-operative kit (as also favoured in Mission: Impossible – Fallout). Somehow the sight of renegade assassins stopping to charge an EV doesn’t feel right.

Time to move. In Cruise mode, the Nevera really is shockingly comfortable. Its suspension uses double unequal length wishbones at each corner with electronically adjustable dampers. It’s more supple than some mid-size executive saloons; it’s one of those cars that ‘breathes’, a bit like a big and rather heavier Lotus Elise. One other fun fact: its carbon chassis is said to be the stiffest ever for a road car, at 70,000 Nm/per degree.

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It steers and handles with a Lotus level of finesse, although it’s on another planet in terms of complexity. There are 77 separate ECUs and millions of lines of code hustling around its body. The result is a dazzling bandwidth. The Rimac All-Wheel Torque Vectoring (R-AWTV 2) replaces conventional ESP and traction control systems, working predictively and responsively to make 100 calculations per second. Obviously it’s impossible to determine everything from the driver’s seat, but given the software primacy this thing has and the sheer amount of stuff that’s going on, the result is amazingly granular. Weighing 2,300kg, it’s too heavy to hustle like an Alpine A110, but its steering is better than I remember, and you can place it on the road with unerring accuracy.

Then there’s its performance. Needless to say, the way the Nevera gathers momentum requires massive respect on the driver’s part. Mainly because it doesn’t ‘gather’ momentum at all: it warps forward in a way that’s alien even if you have lots of experience with violently fast and powerful cars. Most take a breath before surging forwards, but the Nevera is just… instant. Give it moderate to fair beans on a public road and you’d better be ready. It’s like being in the centre of a movie special effect, genuinely difficult to get your head around.

The same software brain that governs the stability control, dampers, throttle and brakes – across those different drive modes – also takes charge of the active aero. So the Nevera is stable and confidence-inspiring, even under huge braking inputs or sudden changes of direction. The braking system (390mm Brembo carbon discs upfront) is also core to the car’s energy recuperation, but it’s another element that has a totally natural feel. How Rimac’s engineers have pulled off this magic trick is beyond me.

A detour into Grenoble serves up a weirdly quiet road that runs parallel to the River Isère in the city centre. Weeds and shrubs poke up through broken concrete for a post-apocalyptic look, and briefly I wonder if we’ve taken a wrong turn. It would be a great location for a car chase. It’s also bumpy and uneven, but the Nevera has no bother dealing with it.

Rimac says the whole trip only needs seven charging stops, though we’re averaging rather less than the claimed 303 miles on a full charge. Hmm, I wonder why? Still, the Nevera’s long distance bona fides are confirmed. The bigger issue is the same one that afflicts every supercar in France: being able to reach the toll booths. I guess you’d get round that by buying one of those telepass things. (And not missing your turn-off like I did, and enduring a 40-minute, toll booth-strewn detour. Definitely not Bourne-like behaviour.)

As we head through Provence, I’m distracted – as ever – by the sight of old cars that have long since become absent from the UK. To the beautifully original late-’80s Fiat Tipo spotted back in northern Italy we add no fewer than three Citroën XMs, a BX, a very clean-looking early Peugeot 205, and a Renault 25. As dusk settles, the Nevera’s cabin takes on a different look and feel, reinforcing its insanely hi-tech character. We’ve used it pretty normally this past 12 hours, for the most part, and it has proven to be an exemplary GT. Forget Rimac’s mastery of battery and e-motor technology, these guys have also created one of the great all-round performance cars of the 21st century. And then some.

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