It may seem like an innate response - almost a reflex - to quickly label cars into their respective categories. If you're well versed on the subject, you know you know the differences between a sports car, a supercar and a hypercar, but when it comes to defining those differences, could you really articulate them?
Probably not, and it's probably something you haven't put too much thought in to, either. Now you're thinking about it, and like us, you're torn between tangible measurements such as speed, horsepower and price alongside subjective thoughts about a car's presence, feel and X-Factor.
In reality, what makes a car one category or the other is in fact all of those things. Speed, power, price, production volume, engine position, drivetrain, feel...you see? It's virtually impossible to account for everything that would sway a vehicle into its rightful slot. While recognising the subjectivity involved in such a classification process, in an effort to allow you to form your own opinions we hope this will beef up your knowledge of the three automotive genres.
The every day driver's car. Sports cars are fun, agile and relatively inexpensive compared to the other categories. They have great potential, the upper limits of which are not out of reach on a good road. Rather than constantly thinking you need a race track, sports cars are built to make driving fun and gratifying.
This category usually starts with something like the Mazda MX-5. Their engines can be mounted anywhere and power the rear wheels or all wheels. It's more likely for sports cars to come in manual, although this is becoming less and less common as the technology progresses, especially in the European landscape.
Examples: Porsche Boxster, BMW M3, Alfa Quadgrifolio
Supercars boast a level of drama and prestige noticeably above the status of sports car. They are harder to handle, usually have an output above 500 horsepower and their price point places them in a slimmer percentile of affordability compared to the previous category.
Almost all supercars are mid-engined. The same applies for transmission, as pretty much all use DSG or paddle shifters to enhance performance (manual shifting is simply too slow).
Their 100km/h dash is likely sub-four seconds. Something like the McLaren 720S may blur the lines between a supercar and a hypercar, with hypercar performance behind a supercar facade. In this case, the feel of the car determines the category more so than any tangible measurement.
'Supercar' is also one word. We're unsure why that's changed from 'sports car' but you better roll with it.
Examples: Lamborghini Aventador SV, Aston Martin Vantage, Ferrari 812 Superfast
Hypercars bend the boundaries of the impossible. They push the limits of physics as the absolute pinnacle of automotive engineering (hell, engineering in general), re-writing the textbook on aerodynamics in the process.
Everything about hypercars has to be so loud (both literally and metaphorically) that they give drivers and observers an anxious feeling. When you step out of a hypercar, you're just happy to be alive.
Downforce is a priority and the driving experience calls for an incredibly delicate touch. These vehicles usually sit well over $1 million, with many track-only and limited to a run of a few hundred (or in some extremes just single digits).
With hypercars it's about the milliseconds of difference, every pound of force, with total output well above 1000 horsepower. To unlock this category, hypercars have to also ditch any aspirations for luxury and prioritise performance above everything else. If it doesn't absolutely have to be in the car, it isn't.
Examples: McLaren P1, Aston Martin Valkyrie, Ferrari FXXX K
For an insight into the future of internal combustion engines, have a read of our interview with motoring icon Jeremy Clarkson here.