By on September 19, 2018

In yesterday’s Buy/Drive/Burn post, we presented three coupes that are sporty, agile, and have over 500 horsepower. Yet each of them fell short of qualifying for supercar status. But why? In today’s QOTD, we’ll spend some time determining the characteristics which separate regular sports cars from supercars.

As expected, some of the comments on the Buy/Drive/Burn post yesterday touched on today’s topic. Perfect timing. There are a few metrics which generally come to the forefront when considering vehicles for inclusion in the genre of supercar. Let’s have a list.

  • Engine placement
  • Cylinder counts
  • Cost/attainability
  • Performance figures
  • Branding

While certainly not inclusive, the above list is a good start. Some argue there’s no supercar status if an engine resides anywhere but between the axles. That puts the Nissan GT-R and all versions of the Porsche 911 out of the running immediately. I saw talk that eight or more cylinders are necessary before any consideration of supercar status, again knocking the GT-R and the Acura NSX down into “regular coupe” status. Long ago, a managing editor somewhere said a supercar had to be above a certain price point, and even if other metrics were satisfied, a low price meant it was too attainable, and not a supercar.

2018 Nissan GT-RCertainly, performance figures are part of supercar consideration, but what level of performance is required? If the GT-R is faster around a specific track than a Lamborghini Huracan, does that matter? The performance bar for supercar is ever escalating toward the upper limits of what’s technically possible. Perhaps the first generation Acura NSX was a supercar, but the new one just isn’t. Or maybe the new version is just a bad supercar, but it still makes the list.

Finally, let’s consider branding. Does the logo on the front and rear matter when it comes to a supercar? Back to the comparison before — GT-R versus Huracan. Obviously, Lamborghini is a supercar manufacturer, while Nissan and Acura are not. Should that matter, or does it matter? Is an exotic badge really necessary, or is it just some snobbery?

I’ll be watching the comments today; maybe someone will create a definition with which I agree. Feel free to add any metrics I might’ve missed. Off to you.

[Images: Porsche, Nissan]

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31 Comments on “QOTD: Can One Define the Specifics of Supercar?...”

  • avatar

    My car is paid for, runs great, looks good and suits my needs… It’s super! ;-)

  • avatar

    For me, a supercar is really a “Know it when you see one” type of thing, but I do have some general criteria:

    -Can’t be a more powerful version of any lesser car. 911 GT2/GT3 and Corvette ZR1 are awesome cars, but they are not supercars.

    -Must be instantly recognizable by a non-car person as something special. My mom could look at a GT-R and have no idea it’s fast. Even she would know an Aventador is a supercar.

    -Must be a coupe or convertible. I love fast 4 doors, but they are not supercars. Let’s not even start on SUVs.

    -Must be capable of performance greater than any contemporary “mainstream” car. I realize this is vague. But if your supercar can be embarrassed by a Camaro, it’s not really a supercar.

    -Can’t be mass produced. Again, this is vague, but supercars aren’t common. Seeing one should be an experience. Handbuilt is a major plus.

    -I’m not 100% hung up on cylinder count, but very few cars I would consider supercars have ever had less than 8. New Ford GT and original NSX being the best examples.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree with everything in your post except calling the original NSX a super car. That last bullet needs an XJ220 reference.

    • 0 avatar

      What about a Lotus Elise? I’m not sure where it stands on track performance, but despite its power deficit its weight probably makes it pretty quick. And it certainly satisfies your other qualifications (aside from cylinder count). But is it a supercar? Ehhh….

      • 0 avatar


        I stand by the NSX being a supercar when introduced, although it lingered so long virtually unchanged that it would be hard to call it one by the end. I guess I’d say it’s possible to lose supercar status while remaining in production, as weird as that is to say. Still, I agree the XJ220 would be a better example. I always seem to overlook it.


        I don’t consider the Elise a supercar, but I guess based only on my post there’s nothing that would disqualify it right away. Maybe a special rule that if it shares an engine with an economy car, it can’t be a supercar?

        • 0 avatar

          I think the one thing you’re missing is an eye-watering price. That’s why I’d exclude the NSX from super car status (and the Ferrari 348 it competed with and every Lotus as well).

          I don’t think a “super car” should be something obtainable by any relatively successful orthodontist.

          • 0 avatar

            I would set the attainability line a bit lower, since I believe (with some bias perhaps) that the Viper is a supercar.

            That also allows me to include things like the 05-06 Ford GT, the R8, and the NSX that an orthodontist could probably swing.

    • 0 avatar

      Even the C6-generation Audi RS6 with the twin-turbo 5L V10?

    • 0 avatar

      …. don’t forget, they will need to catch on fire and burn to the ground with regularity to obtain true super car status.

  • avatar
    Stanley Steamer

    The Ford GT proves that branding and cylinder count don’t matter.

  • avatar

    Maybe it’s a “Tick at least X checkboxes from a list Y check boxes long” kind of thing…

    Cylinder Count
    Engine location
    # of seats
    # of doors
    Cutting edge tech

  • avatar

    If it costs $100k+, it damn well better be a supercar.

  • avatar

    Engine placement – rear axle
    Cylinder counts – 0
    Cost/attainability – cost of E-class
    Performance figures – 0-60 under 3 sec
    Branding – Tesla

  • avatar

    I’d say “supercar” is defined by the spec sheet and price is my last consideration. But I’ve always been a bit democratic that way.

    Corvette Z06 and ZL1 along with Hellcat and Camaro ZL1 fit the spec sheet designations in my mind, I could give two rips that the price is relatively affordable compared to something like a Porsche or a Lamborghini. In fact I like the “thumb in the eye” nature of their lower prices.

  • avatar

    A supercar needs to be superfast, look fast even standing still, have awesome handling and brakes, a fantastic sound from the motor, ridiculously difficult and expensive maintenance needs, a sticker price that takes your breath away, and it is very helpful if it is also unreliable, fuel sucking, and offers very uncomfortable accommodations for the driver and passengers.

  • avatar

    I would say that to be a proper supercar, it has to:

    …cost as much as a nice house in a decent American or Canadian neighborhood.

    …be based on a coupe.

    …be very fast.

    …be heavy and complicated considering how low, sleek and performance-oriented it is.

    …have reliability poor enough to trigger the Lemon Law were it a normal car.

    …be low enough to the ground as to be difficult to use on most roads.

    …have maintenance procedures so onerous as to be considered bad design.

    …have short-lived, hilariously-expensive parts that both wear out AND time out.

    …be too easy to drive considering its power levels.

    …fit into that grey area of being too performance-focused for practical daily usage, but too heavy and slow for actual racing.

  • avatar

    At least a half dozen hip hop artists have to lease one and claim they own it.

  • avatar

    In my opinion, supercar is the short form of super-sports car. It has to be a sports car first. A supercar is the highest level of sports car and hypercar is the highest level of supercar.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    I think that it is easy to confuse an ‘exotic car’ with a ‘super car’.

    Both are in the category of almost unattainable but the super car needs to be just that, super. IMHO, if it does not have near F1 stats, then it is not a super car. I can’t think of any super car that is not hand built. The hardest car for me to qualify is the Ford GT. I think it falls into the Super car category based on its DNA.

    The next category down would be exotic which catches most of the almost but not quite super cars: Porsche GT3, RS8, NSX, Morgan Aero 8, ZR1, Viper, any RR so and so forth.

    • 0 avatar

      Personally, I prefer the term “exotic car” for the highest tier of automobiles – Lambos, Ferraris, etc.

      To me, “supercar” always meant things like a ’70 Chevelle SS 454 or a ’69 Hemi Daytona.

      • 0 avatar

        Supercar – what’s the 0-100 and the 100-0 time? What’s the lap time? What’s the Gs on the skidpad?

        Exotic – It costs HOW MUCH!?!?!? How low were the production numbers?

        That does not prohibit overlap between the two.

      • 0 avatar
        87 Morgan

        I agree with you OneAlpha. A legit 70′ SS Chevelle is a super car to me as well. I have not use for a McLaren etc.

  • avatar

    200K$ and plus, must be exclusive and tends to catch on fire.

  • avatar

    To be a supercar it has to be measured against what else was available at the time. It used to be that 300hp as enough to be a supercar, when common family cars were 100hp or less. Now that minivans have 300hp, a supercar needs much more.

    Similarly, for price, it needs to be a multiple of a common sportscar, rather than just a number. It should also be made in limited quantities, preferably by hand rather then an assembly line. I’d also put in performance that is also substantially better than a “common” sports car.

    So say Mclaren P1 vs a Morgan Aero, which otherwise might qualify on hand built and limited production.

  • avatar
    S2k Chris

    I think the contemporary mid engined V8 Ferrari is the dividing line between sports car/GT and Supercar of whatever era is under discussion. Cheaper/slower/lesser than that, it’s a sports car. More expensive/faster/exotic/whatever and it’s a super car. The Ferrari itself could go either way.

  • avatar

    Mid-engine placement-check
    Rear wheel drive-check

    Super minivan?
    Toyota Previa

  • avatar
    Tele Vision

    It’s a moving target, I think. Koenigseggs? Yes. Ruf’s new and old Yellow Birds? Yes. The original Countach? Sure, but at 5.4 seconds to 100 Km/h and a top speed of 179 MPH there are many German sedans that could murderlate the ole’ girl everywhere it went. To my mind it’s still a supercar, though.

  • avatar

    To determine a sports car (supercar) you ask this question: Would you like to take this XXX on a 6hr road trip to Denver? If the answer is hell no!, then it’s a sports car.

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