The KTM X-Bow offers eccentric looks and sharp handling but it's an expensive first effort from the motorcycle maker
What is it?
The KTM X-Bow is a roofless, windscreen-less, 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.
It looks like a mildly terrifying tropical insect. Much of it is carbonfibre, and it comes either in black, black and white or black and orange, the trademark colour scheme of its makers KTM.
This Austrian company is a long-established maker of motorbikes, but their realisation that the number of ‘bike licences is on the decline has spurred them to build a four wheeler.
The X-Bow is powered by a 240bhp 2.0 litre turbo FSI engine from Audi complete with six-speed gearbox – a twin clutch paddleshift DSG will be optional – the drivetrain just visible through the slightly untidy cluster of mechanical components at the X-Bow’s rear.
The core of the KTM is an immensely strong carbonfibre tub, much of it exposed, and it’s possible to specify ancillary bodywork in matching carbonfibre too. The body generates almost 200kg of downforce at 124mph, and it’s suspended by pushrod-actuated double wishbone suspension.
There’s not much creature comfort inside, the fixed-position, black moulded foam seats heating up in the sun, 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, the controls for its trip computer and lap-timer on the steering wheel along with the indicators, horn and headlight flashers.
What’s it like?
Draughty, if you drive it without a helmet – which is not advised. But it’s predictably fast and huge fun. And unexpectedly refined, the ride apparently supple, the exhausts muted and the body remarkable free of vibration.
It 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 the track - throttle response is blunted unless the turbo is spinning hard, and turn-in feels more measured than electric.
You have not stepped into a yelling, darting, potentially treacherous race car with number plates. Instead, you think, this is a very civilised mid-engined sports car that’s rapid, grippy, stable and obedient, its chief sensation-generator the denial of a roof and much of a windscreen.
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.
But, those used to the raw charms of Atoms, 2-Elevens and Caterhams may feel that the KTM lacks physical excitement, and that its set-up should be more race-car nervous.
The plus side is that on the road it should prove very well sorted, and, as it’s possible to alter the shock absorbers’ bump and rebound rates and trim the ride height, it should be possible to create a chassis set-up to suit individual driving styles.
Should I buy one?
That depends on how you plan to use it - and the prevailing weather in your locale.
The X-Bow is a bit of a contradiction, mixing civility and cockpit turbulence – it really needs a deep windscreen to allow you to travel without a helmet and hear yourself think. 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 skills without too many heart-in-mouth moments.
It’s no beauty, but it is fascinating to look at, thoroughly built and extensively crash-tested. Whether it’s worth more than an Ariel Atom is debatable, but this is a serious Lotus 2-Eleven opponent and a terrific new track-day machine.