The KTM X-Bow is the product of Austrian motorcycle maker KTM sensing a chill in the air.
Having established itself as a respected maker of off-road and competition motorcycles, it dipped its toes more deeply into the road bike market with some predictably hard-edged, high performance models.
However, the slow but relentless decline in the number of motorcycle licences across Europe spurred the firm on to try its engineering hand at building a four-wheeler.
The result is the KTM X-Bow, a roofless, two seat mid-engined sports car designed for road and track, which drives it firmly into the virtual paddock occupied by the Ariel Atom, Lotus 2-Eleven and various Caterhams. But it is so outlandish in its design that, even next to the established track-day-inspired oddballs, it looks like it's from another planet.
Much of the KTM X-Bow is carbonfibre, and it comes either in black, black and white or black and orange, the trademark colour scheme of its makers. It's powered by a turbocharged 2.0-litre TFSI engine from Audi, complete with six-speed gearbox.
Structurally, the core of the KTM is an immensely strong carbonfibre tub, much of it exposed. It’s also possible to specify ancillary bodywork in matching carbonfibre. The body generates up to around 200kg of downforce at 124mph and it’s suspended by pushrod-actuated double wishbone suspension.
There’s not much creature comfort inside, but the sliding pedal platform is brilliant and combines with a four-way adjustable wheel. A hard-to-read LCD instrument pack sits between the twin cowls of the facia, while the controls for its trip computer and lap-timer sit on the steering wheel along with the indicators, horn and headlight flashers.
And of course the KTM X-Bow is predictably fast, not to mention huge fun. It's also unexpectedly refined, with a supple ride, relatively muted exhausts and a body remarkable free of vibration.
Three variants are offered: the GT, R and RR. The GT is the more road-focused variant, with a wraparound windscreen featuring integral heating elements, a wiper, windscreen washers and even portable clip-on sun visors.
The GT model is powered by a 281bhp, 310lb ft four-cylinder engine, which sends its power to the rear wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox and LSD. KTM claims 0-62mph in 4.1sec and a top speed of 144mph.
KTM's X-Bow R is a more performance-orientated model. It does away with the windscreen – so a helmet is a necessity – and benefits from more power. Its 2.0-litre powerplant churns out a higher 295bhp but a slighly lower 300lb ft. It's some 57kg lighter too, helping it accelerate from 0-62mph in a quicker 3.9sec. Its top speed is unchanged.
Lastly, KTM offers the range-topping X-Bow RR model, which is aimed specifically at those seeking to cut every tenth from their lap times. Upgrades include forged wheels, Brembo brakes, unique suspension tuning and ultra-high-performance tyres. A variety of power outputs are offered, allowing owners to tailor their cars to their requirements.
Draughts aside, in fact, the standard model almost seems tame. The X-Bow might do without ESP, traction control or ABS, and there’s no assistance for steering and brakes either, but it appears almost disappointingly benign on track. Throttle response is blunted unless the turbo is spinning hard and turn-in feels more measured than electric.
Overall, in standard form at least, the X-Bow feels rapid, grippy, stable and obedient, its chief sensation-generator the denial of a roof.
But build speed and confidence – not hard, with a mid-engined chassis this friendly – and you realise that this is an utterly exhilarating weapon. Turn-in sharpens at speed, spearing the KTM through switchback twists that allow you to feel the car pivoting directly beneath your spine. You sense g-force, too, of which it can pull as much as 1.5 on road tyres.
The steering is quite heavy when loaded, slightly masking its fine sensitivity, and the servo-less, ABS-less brakes must be pressed hard, although the results are mighty effective if you can stay the right side of locking a wheel.
More speed increases the buffeting and your need for concentration, especially given the possibility of a rear-end slither or brake lock-up. Oversteer moments are satisfyingly easy and unalarming to correct, making this a car that it’s easy to polish your skills with.
The X-Bow is a bit of a contradiction, mixing civility and cockpit turbulence. On track, some may find it lacks the physical excitement – and occasional intimidation – of its rivals.
Yet it’s hard not to fall for the X-Bow’s wonderful manners and the flattering way it lets you hone your abilities without too many heart-in-mouth moments.
If you want more go from your KTM then the harder edged, more stiffly sprung and powerful X-Bow R gets extra power and a lower centre of gravity, which makes for a faster, sharper track car at the expense of some of the standard street version’s virtually unflappable civility.
Those who want even more can opt for the RR model, with more upgrades and tweaks, which KTM states is "tuned uncompromisingly for victory".
In any specification it’s no beauty, but it is fascinating to look at, thoroughly well built and extensively crash-tested. Whether it’s worth more than an Ariel Atom is debatable, but this is a terrific track-day machine with remarkably good road manners.
But given its price, you’ve got to love the KTM X-Bow as a piece of engineering and product design as much as you’ve got to love the driving experience.