BBC TopGear
BBC TopGear
Advertisement feature
View the latest news
The flamboyant, bombastic Utopia is the car at its most sculptural, creative and majestic. A howling V12 theatre on wheels

Good stuff

The art and theatre of it, thunderous V12, manual gearbox, compliant suspension

Bad stuff

Luggage lockers are hard to get to… like you care


What is it?

You could describe the Utopia – only Pagani’s third ever ground-up new car – as mobile sculpture or rolling artwork, but that goes without saying so let’s start here: the most elaborate surroundings ever put round a manual gearbox.

The transmission is crucial, not just because of what it does to the Utopia’s driving characteristics, but because of what it says about Pagani as a whole. In short it proves Horacio and his 260-strong team care deeply about the experience of driving. It’s sometimes hard to keep sight of that when you’re busy being hopelessly distracted by the interior furnishings.

Advertisement - Page continues below

Can we start outside please? Because the Utopia looks bonkers.

Inspiration appears to have come from all over: art deco, 50s futurama, steampunk, Victoriana and more. These are themes that shouldn’t work together but, somehow, do. The genius is in the fusion, the melding of these influences.

Is the Utopia especially beautiful? No, but it bursts with charisma and creativity. Is it modern? No. The Huayra arguably looks more modern than the Utopia, but this is not a design that’s going to age. Major car companies deliberately design their cars so the new one makes its predecessor feel dated – it’s how they persuade you to buy the new one – Pagani isn’t under those pressures.

It’s building 99 Utopias (more Utopia variants will follow after these first coupes) and every single one was spoken for a year before the car was even seen, before they knew what it would cost (2.15 million euros plus tax, so £2.22 million). This is timeless design, Pagani giving its customers something unique, something different.

What’s its best angle?

The one it’s hardest to view the Utopia from: directly above. Picks up the teardrop shape of the cabin, and the portholes cut into its upper surfaces. Then zoom in. Because whatever you make of the styling from a distance, the detailing is utterly beguiling. From the precision milling of the brake calipers, to the aluminium rear lights that hover in their dark surroundings, from the leather latch buckles to the chandelier-like door mirrors it’s all mad, exquisite perfection.

Advertisement - Page continues below

At no point does the Utopia come across as a lightweight car. It looks heavily luxurious, no expense spared, dripping with decadence and jewellery. And yet it weighs less than a McLaren 750S, just 1,340kg with fluids.

No hybrid here then?

No, but there could have been. Pagani has a relationship with Mercedes-AMG going back to the very beginning, over 25 years ago. The Utopia could have been powered by AMG’s 4.0-litre twin turbo V8 with full hybrid and over 1,000bhp. But Horacio didn’t want it: too heavy, the lap time simulations showed it would be four-to-five seconds slower around the Nordschleife than the engine the Utopia is fitted with, a twin turbo V12.

Twin turbo V12? The one fitted to the Huayra?

Essentially the same engine, but it’s changed a lot since the early days of the Huayra, where the turbos made it breathy and robbed it of music and character. This is sharper, more responsive, tuneful. And thunderously torquey. 811lb ft at 2,500rpm. The way the Utopia goes through the mid-range is utterly bonkers, a bottomless well of acceleration coming up from deep within.

It doesn’t rev high, but doesn’t really need to. This is bassy, dramatic performance with a roaring, snarling engine accompaniment. And few numbers attached. Like GMA and the T.50, Pagani sees no need to publish acceleration figures.

It wouldn’t be quick with a manual, though would it?

You might need to redefine your definition of quick. For sprint times a paddleshift will be quicker: and you can have one, the same seven-speed Xtrac gearbox, but with automated actuation. Tellingly, few owners are. Reports of the demise of the manual look premature when some three-quarters of Utopia buyers are choosing to wrestle the lever themselves. Probably for the sound of it slicing through the open gate.

But most remarkably it’s easy to use. The clutch is light, there’s no juddering or ill manners. The shift is a little longer and more rubbery than in, say, a T.50, and with a dogleg first and seven speeds it’s a little tricky to find your way round initially, but there’s nothing about the car that makes you want to rush it anyway.

This is a driving experience to relish and savour. The artistry of the cabin is in harmony with the supple compliance of the suspension, the gentle filtering the electro-hydraulic steering gives the road surface. It’s deeply, intimidatingly fast when unleashed, yet easily managed. Because it’s light, the control doesn’t need to be too rigid. It flows along.

What’s it like inside?

The wide sills reveal the truth. You are sat in a carbon – or rather Pagani’s unique Carbo-Titanium and Carbo-Triax – tub consisting of just three pieces: the main tub, the roof structure and an interior section. All carbon work is done in house. The same applies to the metalwork on display, every piece of which is machined from solid billets of aluminium. The complete steering wheel including rim, hub and arms, starts as a 43kg block, milled down to just 1.7kg.

We’ve already talked about the dazzling splendour on display, but here’s something less noticeable, but arguably more important. Ergonomically it’s wonderful. The seat cossets, the driving position is just so, with plenty of steering adjustment. Forward visibility is impressive through the heavily curved windscreen. You can even see a little bit out the back through the craftily positioned mirror and window. The side mirrors, as well as looking like Victorian street lamps, are large and useful.

It's a bright and airy cockpit and it functions well. There’s CarPlay and USBs and sleek little leather storage pockets and fabulously tactile switchgear that’s thoughtfully, cleverly positioned. It’s tricky to read the engraved fonts but you don’t mind, because you soon learn the positions. No touchscreen, just a dash screen operated by a clickwheel.

Tell me something else boring but important.

Pagani is very proud of the fact this is a fully globally homologated car. It meets every emissions regulation going - including the notoriously stringent California tests - and beats every crash test. It has WLTP CO2 emissions of 342g/km and combined fuel economy of 18.7mpg.

This means it can be sold around the world with no stipulations attached. None. For a small company building few cars, the investment required to achieve this - to crash test complete cars, to do separate emissions tests everywhere from Canada to Japan, to do all the investigations, compliance and regulatory work - is enormous. 

Does it have rivals?

Supercars have rivals, hypercars don’t. That’s because the people that can afford these exotic creatures are never making either/or choices. Also, these cars are made in the image of their creators. Look at Gordon Murray and his obsession with light weight, or Christian von Koenigsegg, Mate Rimac, Enzo Ferrari’s focus on engines… the list goes on. Horacio Pagani possibly exemplifies the role of exotic car creator better than any of them. No-one else blends design and engineering in such a richly tactile way.

So, yes, you could point to various Bugattis, Koenigseggs and so on all costing similar amounts, having two seats and limited luggage space, mated to exotic powertrains. But these cars are creative endeavours in the same way that art or music is. It’s about your response to them, not about which one is better. Subjectivity doesn’t work here.

What's the verdict?

The Utopia isn’t about driving performance, it’s about the performance of driving

It’s easy to imagine that Pagani deals only in flamboyance and drama, that at its centre the Utopia could be a bit flakey, that the art dominates the science. Nothing could be further than the truth. What has always characterised Paganis is harmony: they look sensational, and they drive sensationally. The engineering is as lovingly created as the design.

Only Pagani’s third ever car, don’t forget. The Zonda edged towards favouring driving dynamics, the early Huayras possibly leant a fraction the other way. Make what you will of the way it looks, but the Utopia is the best balanced Pagani there’s ever been. It’s focused and intense under power, yet calming when you back off, it never gnaws at you. The quality of both engineering and design is off the charts.

When we talk about performance we think about speed and numbers. With Pagani you need to think about performance as artistic expression. The Utopia isn’t about driving performance, it’s about the performance of driving.

The Rivals

Subscribe to the Top Gear Newsletter

Get all the latest news, reviews and exclusives, direct to your inbox.

By clicking subscribe, you agree to receive news, promotions and offers by email from Top Gear and BBC Studios. Your information will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

BBC TopGear

Try BBC Top Gear Magazine