When KTM first estimated the cost of its then-upcoming X-Bow, it was about half the price the finished car turned out to be. The company thought it could industrialize carbon fiber production for the tub. It couldn't. Nor did KTM foresee the entire planet running out of cash a few months after launch, but it wasn't alone there.
But, after a turbulent childhood, the X-Bow has found a sustainable level. KTM will build 150 this year; over a third will be racecars. Most of the rest will be these: the new X-Bow R.
The R's headline figure is a power hike to 295hp (up from the standard car's 237hp), courtesy of adopting the Audi S3 engine. There's more to it than that, though. The engine sits three-quarters of an inch lower (which brings the center of gravity down by 0.6in.) and is now fixed rigidly to the chassis. The springs are stiffer and the dampers uprated; all combine with Teflon washers across the front suspension, supposedly to make the chassis and steering sweeter.
They do, too, exorcising a few dynamic foibles. The R is still very agile and stupendously grippy, but it has lost some of the standard X-Bow's wooliness. The lower roll center and the rigidly mounted motor make it less nervy. It's more adjustable, more faithful; it feels like it's working with, rather than against you, increasing its driver's confidence. There's more steering feel and precision, too. All combine to bring the X-Bow closer to where it should be.
The extra power? Well, it's good but it still isn't Atom Supercharged fast – but you wouldn't reasonably want for more. That it's a touch laggy right at the bottom end is one of a few quibbles. The driving position remains a touch upright, and the optional carbon fiber wind deflector is essential.
Other problems are less of the X-Bow's own volition. For my money, I find a Caterham more adjustable still and an Ariel Atom more engaging. But the X-Bow R is a beautifully built, lovingly detailed piece of product design, and worth its $13,000 premium over the standard X-Bow, taking it to an estimated price point of $107,000. Given the emotiveness of these purchases, I can see the appeal. But it'll only truly come of age when KTM can make complex carbon fiber shapes more cheaply.