Road Tests


Time 7:44 pm, October 21, 2008

Unless you’re a fully paid-up member of the biking fraternity, there’s a very good chance that you’ve never heard of KTM. If, however, you are aware of Austria’s only – and therefore biggest – motorbike manufacturer, you’ll know that it made its name in the mucky world of motocross before branching out into the kind of circuit racing you see on the telly every other Sunday.

And we’re not just talking about taking part here. KTM has excelled in every branch of two-wheeled motorsport it has entered and thanks to some canny marketing in recent years, has a road-going range that enjoys substantial waiting lists.

With a track record like that, it’s not surprising that KTM bosses felt the need to branch out from its core business. With motorcycling coming under increased pressure from European safety zealots (who would much rather we all drove cars), KTM figured that a four wheeler could be the way forward.

Rather wisely, they decided to call in a few mates to help with the design and engineering of the X-Bow. The looks are the work of Gerald Kiska – an Austrian designer who has penned everything from golf clubs to motorbikes – while the main chassis, or ‘tub’ in KTM-speak, is the work of renowned Italian racing car builder Dallara. The engine is an off-the-shelf Audi 2.0-litre turbo unit, while the supension and brake components are sourced from the very best names in the business.  

Looking like the lovechild of a Formula One car and the Batmobile, the X-Bow is jaw-droppingly handsome in the flesh. Short, wide and low, it makes a Caterham look like a school project. Essentially a composite tub with everything else hung off the sides, the X-Bow is about as close to a racing car as you’re likely to get for under £100,000.

The engineering is exquisite. From the stainless steel fasteners to the bespoke arms that carry the wobble-free mirrors, the X-Bow has the kind of detailing usually reserved for Formula One cars. It’s also substantial. The delicate-looking carbonfibre running boards, for example, are designed to be stood on when getting in and out, while all the winglets, fins and air-ducts that dominate the rear end feel incredibly solild. 

Climb aboard and the racing car theme
continues, albeit with one or two concessions to the real world. The X-Bow has a fixed seat
(if you can call an inch-thick plastic foam moulding a seat) so you have to move the pedal box and the steering colmunn to create the perfect driving position. The latter slides back and forth on a small carbon fibre sled and allows drivers of all shapes and sizes to get comfortable. And we’re not just talking about tall racing drivers here, we’re talking about six-footers with a pie belly and size eleven feet.

The ‘dashboard’ consists of nothing more than a wedge-shaped LCD display taken from one of KTM’s roadgoing motorbikes, while starting up requires little more than a prod of the waterproofed rubber switch on the centre column. The X-Bow has a keyless-go system that negates the need for a traditional ignition barrel that would normally be at the mercy of the elements. As mentioned earlier, it’s attention to detail like this that makes the X-Bow a truly special car.

Click the four-point seat harnesses into place and you’re ready for the off. And the first thing that strikes you is how easy the whole process is. The clutch is light, the throttle is easy to modulate and the brakes have the same progressive feel you’d get in a normal road car. And while the mechanical clatter from the 240bhp four-cylinder turbo is quite the soundtrack you expect to hear, the gearshift is well-weighted and a doddle to master. In other words, any idiot can jump in and feel like a Formula One legend.

Pick up the pace and you can really start to appreciate the work that has gone into the X-Bow. With just 790kg to move around, the engine makes light work of acceleration, while the massive brakes scrub off speed with breathtaking efficiency. But it’s the chassis that impresses the most. The steering is fast, direct and brimming with feedback while the ride is exceptionally civilised for such a performance-biased machine.

The balance is superb and the confidence it inspires makes you love it more with every corner that you dispatch. Even on the slimy Welsh roads and diesel-smeared roundabouts of our test route, the KTM never felt anything other than planted to the road. It is, quite simply, one of the most entertaining cars money can buy. 

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Of course, there are downsides to the X-Bow. There’s no concession to bad weather and unless you’re a biker (and therefore used to it), the constant battering your head gets at 70mph, may come as a bit of a shock. It’s also a lot of money. Although prices start at £46,041, our test car was fitted with a host of options that pushed the price up to an eye-watering £81,132.

However, when you factor in the build quality and the fact that it can out-sprint and out-handle virtually every supercar in the world, the X-Bow starts to make sense. Just don’t forget your waterproofs.


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