Flat out in the wild Koenigsegg Jesko hypercar
Delivering Jesko beer to Jesko von Koenigsegg in a Koenigsegg Jesko? Any excuse to drive the maddest hypercar on the planet
“The Jesko” BANG “Absolute is the latest and” BANG “greatest hypercar to come from” BANG “the sizeable mind of Christian von” WU-BUP-BUP-BUP-BUP... BANG “Koenigsegg.”
Cut there, let’s go again...
Delivering a simple line to camera in anything with a healthy amount of horsepower, under full acceleration, is an acquired skill... in the Jesko it’s pretty much impossible. It’s not the ferocity of the g-force squeezing me against my seat like a giant potato masher that’s the problem, I can cope with that, it’s the ninja reflexes required to click the upshift paddle before colliding with the rev limiter that’s proving tricky. So we keep going, run after run, until my brain, eyes, ears and right hand are sufficiently recalibrated, a perfect launch is in the bag and my adrenal glands dangle like shrivelled walnuts off my bruised kidneys.
Photography: Mark Fagelson
In my defence, there are some typically revolutionary pieces of technology here that are conspiring against me. The first is a gearbox, a new nine-speed “Light Speed Transmission” that blows raspberries in the general direction of a twin-clutcher. Essentially you have two sets of three gears that compound to create nine possible ratios – like a bike derailleur system – with the first three extremely closely stacked (hence me repeatedly headbutting the rev limiter), the next three a bit more spaced out, and the final three further apart still. It features six individual clutches for the forward gears and a seventh for reverse, so all gears are constantly engaged and ready. And the benefits are many. Not only are shifts, quite literally, bang on, you can also jump from one gear to any of the others and it’s also smaller and two-thirds the weight of a comparable nine-speed box. Plus, and here’s the real kicker, it means the engine doesn’t need a flywheel, so it has a demented appetite for revs, like a 1,600bhp superbike.
The engine is a flat plane crank 5.1-litre twin-turbo V8 that for the most part feels naturally aspirated and always feels extremely angry. It produces a maximum of 1,578bhp and 1,106lb ft of torque, can rev from idle to 8,500rpm in 0.2 seconds, 0–62mph takes around 2.5 seconds and top speed in this slightly softer and more slippery Absolut version is theoretically the scary side of 310mph. I say theoretically, because no one’s found the space, or the brass balls, to find out yet... but they will.
Only 125 will ever be built costing around £2.3m each, but then the spec is the stuff of breathless teenage dreams... carbon bodywork, carbon tub, hollow carbon wheels (weighing less than 7kg per corner), carbon ceramic brake discs clamped by in-house designed calipers (Christian isn’t interested in buying in anything he can make better himself), and a total weight of 1,390kg dry – 30kg less than the stiffer, bewinged Jesko Attack. There’s 1,000kg of downforce at 171mph in the Attack version, but that drops to 150kg on the infinitely cooler looking Absolute we’ve got to play with – identified by its rear fins instead of wings, less aggressive front splitter and carbon inserts on the rear wheels to more effectively cleave the air. Except one of them came loose on our first full-bore run and was munched by the wheel so for our shoot... exposed spokes it is.
Beer and fast cars. That’s why we’re here. Unequivocally two of my favourite things, and yet two pleasures rarely enjoyed together. But where there’s a will there’s a way. The plan, in true Top Gear style, could have been spat out by a computerised feature generator. We are in Ängelholm, Sweden, on a mission to deliver Jesko beer to Jesko von Koenigsegg in a Koenigsegg Jesko. Try saying that fast five times after a plate of pickled herrings and several digestifs. Wordplay to one side for a moment, there was method to the badness.
Jesko beer, brewed locally, made its world debut at the 2019 Geneva Motor Show, when the Jesko car also got its first airing. And back in 1992 when Christian was a young man with distant dreams, making his money flogging frozen chickens to the highest bidder, Jesko von Koenigsegg was instrumental in getting Koenigsegg Automotive off the ground. He helped to secure a startup loan and pledged three to four weeks of his time to assist Christian set up in a small town in the southeast of Sweden, called Olofström. He was still there five years later working 18 hours a day. Fair to say Jesko’s unwavering generosity hasn’t gone unnoticed and culminated in Christian naming his latest and greatest hypercar after his dear old dad – a fact he kept secret from him until the press conference at the show. No, you’re crying. As tributes go, it figures because the Jesko represents everything Koenigsegg stands for: beauty, excess, usability, craftsmanship, engineering bravery and raw, bloody minded performance.
We’re standing on Koenigsegg’s runway turned testing strip, just a few minutes drive from the factory, trying to absorb the opulence and detail in this carbon-fibre bullet. Even photographer Mark and videographer Dave, who’d normally be weeping gently on first sight of dark grey and naked carbon bodywork on account of its light sapping superpowers, are making ooohs and ahhhs as they circle it. It pulls off a trick of being, proportionally, hypercar 101, but with its softly curved snout, pinprick headlights and visorlike glass it couldn’t be mistaken for the product of any other company.
Blip a button on the key fob and the doors flip forward automatically – a piece of theatre that refuses to wear thin – drop into the carbon-shelled bucket seats and you’re surrounded by an interior that’s fairly sparse – mainly a portrait screen in the dash, a couple of cupholders and lots and lots of carbon fibre. There’s an instrument screen attached to the steering wheel that stays level even as you wind the lock on – reeks of a gimmick, actually works brilliantly – and there’s more space for two people in here than any Koenigsegg that’s gone before. Then, just as I fire the engine and sit there listening to the saw-edged idle, it starts to rain. Turns out cold Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s, outrageous amounts of power and a wet track make Jack a dull boy – we retreat to a trailer for hot tea and await dryness.
Good decision because once we’re back out there, it’s unhinged. We’re talking five star, unfiltered, mind scrambling shove all delivered without lag to an explosive, serrated soundtrack and with the subtlety of a donkey kick to the side of the head. And then I discover we’re running on standard super unleaded so I have only 1,262bhp (for the full 1,578bhp you need to fill it with E85) and spend the next hour trying and failing to think of a situation where you could realistically use 300bhp more. I ask one of the engineers what it’s like juiced up on E85. “Like having nitrous boost, constantly.”
But acceleration alone isn’t a party piece these days, not when EVs have turned straight-line speed into a cheap commodity. The Jesko’s true genius reveals itself slowly, in the light steering that crackles with information and the predictability of the brakes. In the accessibility of its performance and its sense of humour. Want to toast some tyres? The Jesko has no interest in putting you off – the merest hint of squat under throttle, dive under braking and roll into the corners helps you feel out the limits of grip, then as you step over them it’s all balance and lightness. This isn’t a garage ornament, it’s a car you could and should use regularly and thoroughly.
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And so we do, swapping closed runway for public highway. Heading north from the factory through sweeping rural B-roads – marvelling at the fact that this 300mph missile can do docile, too – to the town of Båstad, or a similar word that we, the British contingent, insist on calling it. This starts something that’s hard to stop because a large number of Swedish words appear to be twinned with British toilet humour. We buy some lunch at Willy’s, drive past Bad Cok and see several signs reading Infart. I’m only just regaining my composure when we pull over for fuel – a process that involves lifting (hydraulically, no actual effort is required) the entire rear clamshell like a peacock, which does tend to attract every camera phone within a two-mile radius. If you’re an introverted billionaire who doesn’t live in the wilderness, you have been warned.
Then we get the call – Jesko, who lives in Stockholm and is 83 years old, has travelled south for five hours and is happy to meet us at a Koenigsegg family friend’s house nearby. We arrive just as the light’s fading and crunch up the driveway towards a sizeable country pile. The door swings open and there he is, all smiles and waves, perfect English and infectious energy. Before we sit down he wants me to hold his jacket so he can sit in the car – I offer to assist, but he gently bats me away. We photograph him in the driver’s seat, grab a couple of coldies, then head inside to crack our... oh... zero alcohol Jesko beers. The boozy ones were out of date apparently. Oh well, it’s “quite drinkable” says Jesko, and he has to drive anyway.
We sit soft in the library, clink glass and learn the correct pronunciation of skål, then I listen to Jesko’s story. How Christian had “a lot of interests and a great number of friends growing up”. How Christian presented him with a business plan with “everything from A to Z, I was rather impressed”. How in the early days he would phone Christian who was in the workshop 500 metres away and he’d say “Father, please don’t disturb me, I’m building the car”. How for Christian “nothing is really good enough” and how he’s “been to the Geneva show, every year for 20 years, and people always ask me, how come it costs that much? It’s just a car with four wheels? My answer is sorry, but this is not a car. It’s a piece of art.”
In these unsettled financial times, there’s an air of greed and gluttony that follows supercars and hypercars around. Nobody needs something like this, but Koenigsegg always finds a way to stay the right side of uncouth. It’s the purity of Christian’s vision, I think – to build the best hypercar the world has ever seen – that hasn’t wavered or warped with fashion, and his refusal to compromise, ever, that creates something beyond just a car. It’s a piece of perfection. So let’s all raise a bottle to the man who helped get this fairy tale up and running and his four-wheeled namesake – Jesko – Top Gear’s Hypercar of the Year 2022.