What is a Supercar?

Defining the performance boundaries of this impressive segment.


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Trying to pin down the defining characteristics of a supercar evokes plenty of opinions but little consensus. What separates a sports car from a supercar, and when does a supercar graduate into a full-blown hypercar? The boundaries can be fuzzy.

One element that all supercars share, however, is an uncompromised approach to performance. Designed specifically to deliver thrills through the single-minded pursuit of top-notch speed, handling, and braking, they are unencumbered by concerns about practicality, fuel efficiency, and affordability. With these elements in mind, let's dive deeper into what elevates an automobile into the supercar stratosphere.

What is a Supercar? Scary Straight-Line Speed

The introduction of hybrid powertrains in the performance-car world has seriously upped the stakes when it comes to acceleration, creating a whole new class of hypercars that almost defy belief with zero-to-60-mph times in the low-two-second arena.

Supercars aren’t that quick, but they’re still astounding with the pedal to the floor. In our view, to qualify for the term, a vehicle needs to post a 60mph time of less than 3.5 seconds. Many are even quicker than that, putting a comfortable distance between their own acceleration and that of increasingly quick sports cars and sport sedans.

This means models like the Ferrari F8 Tributo, with a manufacturer-estimated time of 2.9 seconds, and the Porsche 911 GT3, at 3.2 seconds, are in contention for supercar status. You might ask, is the Chevrolet Corvette a supercar? Chevy claims the upcoming 2023 Z06 hits 60 in 2.6 seconds—0.3 second quicker than the F8 Tributo—so it's certainly in the conversation.

What is a Supercar? Hold-Tight Handling, Brace-Yourself Braking

A supercar can't just be quick in a straight line; it also needs to carry speed in corners. Supercars are track-ready machines that reliably stick to the asphalt from one apex to the next. And while they don’t have to use a mid-engine design, there’s a good reason many do. Placing the engine’s weight near the center of the car makes a vehicle more stable and predictable when pushed to its limits. Mid-engine cars like the latest Corvette Z06, the Acura NSX, and the Lamborghini Huracán Evo are particularly adept at taming the twistiest road courses.

Stopping power is just as important. A supercar needs to stand up to the repeated abuse of aggressive braking on the track, and many of them use large carbon-ceramic discs, which are resilient to extreme heat.

What is a Supercar? Rarefied Air

The final pieces of the supercar puzzle are price and availability. It's difficult to find this level of across-the-board performance for less than six figures, as the technology, craftsmanship, and design know-how that go into these bleeding-edge autos are costly to develop.

At the same time, for a car to be considered super, it typically has to be rare enough that encountering one on the road is a special event. Exclusivity breeds desire, and low-production supercars are among the most desirable vehicles out there.

For some brands, this isn't a problem: Lamborghini, Ferrari, and Aston Martin sell limited numbers of their high-performance machines for sums that could land you a seaside condo in Miami. For others like Chevrolet with its entry Corvette and Porsche with lesser versions of the 911, lower price points make the vehicles common enough that few people consider them supercars.

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Benjamin Hunting
Benjamin Hunting is a writer and podcast host who contributes to a number of newspapers, automotive magazines, and online publications. More than a decade into his career, he enjoys keeping the shiny side up during track days and always has one too many classic vehicle projects partially disassembled in his garage at any given time. Remember, if it's not leaking, it's probably empty.