One of the most important events during the prestigious Monterey Car Week is the Quail Motorsports Gathering, where high-end automakers unveil their latest and greatest creations. This year's Quail event saw the debut of at least a dozen multimillion-dollar machines, but the show's star was the new Koenigsegg CC850, a reimagining of the brand's first hypercar featuring a groundbreaking new transmission -- one that is both an automatic and a manual with a clutch pedal.
To find out more about the CC850's engineering and design, I stepped into the driver's seat of the car and had a conversation with founder and CEO Christian von Koenigsegg... while on the Koenigsegg stand at the show... with the roof off and windows down... and tons of bystanders looking and listening along. He even let me start it up and rev it. No pressure!
The perfect homage
2022 marks the 20th anniversary of the lovely CC8S, Koenigsegg's first production car, and the CC850's styling pays direct homage to that model. It's an obvious throwback without being wholly retro, and Koenigsegg said that while nailing the look was a challenge, it helped that the CC8S has aged extremely well.
"We understood that a very new, small startup company cannot create new cars very often," Koenigsegg said, "so we needed to have a shape that is distinctive, efficient, dynamically purposeful and timeless." Because the CC8S still looks so modern, it only took subtle tweaks for the CC850 to seem fresh.
Modern technology was a big help, according to Koenigsegg: "We modeled the CC8S by hand with me and two other guys, but here, we've been able to do it with the latest computer design and surface modeling. It was about fine tuning and refining what we had, taking it to the next level and making sure it's competitive today."
The CC850 is about 15% larger than the CC8S in every dimension, and its wheels have grown by 2 inches (they're 20s), but the excellent proportions have remained. "Not one component is the same," Koenigsegg said, "but it's very much emotionally the same."
The CC8S was one of the only supercars with a removable roof when it came out in the early 2000s, and crucially it was also the first one that could be easily removed and stowed onboard. "We started conceiving of that back in 1994, after looking around to differentiate what we were doing compared to what was out there," said Koenigsegg. "We made it a base feature so that you get two cars in one, and there's no cutlines or extra giveaways that it's not just a coupe."
Removable tops are now a Koenigsegg hallmark, and the CC850 has one too. The wraparound windshield also calls back to the CC8S, though it was designed specially for the CC850. "The widescreen visibility helps, especially driving in town, as you can look around corners without having A-pillars in the way," Koenigsegg said, a big help with a car as wide and low as the CC850.
Koenigsegg also made a conscious decision to give the CC850's interior an analog feel, which is most apparent in the spectacular gauge cluster that looks like a cluster of high-end watch faces. "It would have been easier to use a digital cluster, as we already have those in various shapes and forms," he said, "and this we have to develop from scratch with mechanics and gears and electronics and things like that. But it suits the character." Making the steering wheel round instead of squared off was also a must, as it's better for spirited driving "like on a rally course," which is a very Swedish thing to benchmark.
Driver engagement is the goal
Instead of chasing performance figures, Koenigsegg's aim for the CC850 was for it to be about driver engagement and fun above all else. "The CC850 is based on the underpinnings of the Jesko, and that is the most extreme performance machine I've ever driven," Koenigsegg said, "but the CC850 has this layer of emotional excitement and engagement with the manual. It really makes you drive the car more."
Called the Engage Shift System, the CC850's wild transmission is an evolution of the Jesko's 'Lightspeed' gearbox. It ditches the flywheel and clutch between the engine and transmission, using tiny individual hydraulic clutches inside the transmission itself instead of synchros and forks. So instead of the transmission changing gears, it actually changes clutches. There are three sets of clutches combined with three gears on each set, which compounds into nine total forward gears, using the clutches in various mixes. "The clutch pedal is actually controlling those clutch pressures directly," Koenigsegg explained. "It's an electronic link, but there's hydraulic pressure to have some engagement interaction mechanically." So the gear shifter is really a selector of which clutches to use, but for the manual mode Koenigsegg felt that nine was too many, so it's limited to just six of the possible combinations.
To give the transmission more versatility, it's also the world's first stick-shift that can change gear ratios, as the CC850's manual mode has both track and road settings that use different mixes of the nine gears. "The track setting has a longer first gear to get out of the pits, and then very tight step rates between the gears for fast action around the race track," Koenigsegg said. "Then the road setting has a shorter first gear for better takeoff in traffic and a longer spread between the gears, so you don't have to shift all the time."
So for track mode the 'first' gear is actually the third gear, while in road mode 'first' gear uses the second gear, as the real first gear is super short. Confused? Don't worry, the different ratios are marked on the center tunnel underneath the shifter.
There's a lot going on in order to make this transmission feel like a real manual, as the shifter has no actual mechanical connection to the transmission itself. "The pressure in the hydraulics at your foot is the same pressure back in the clutches augmented, and we could do a lot of filtration there, but we don't," Koenigsegg said. "It's your foot that's controlling the clutch. You can stall it, you can do a burnout, you can rev it while in gear; there's no difference in interaction."
If you shift fast and hard there's resistance, and you can't just pull it out of gear when under load or shift into too low of a gear, as there's a detent that holds against the shifter until the engine revs allow -- like a real manual would do with synchros. But if you lift and have torque matching, you can take the transmission out of gear without using the clutch. "It has all these features and functions so if you blindfold yourself, you would think it's a very good normal manual," Koenigsegg said. "We want this to behave with all of a manual's quirks and features so it gets the right feel."
After getting to play with the shifter and engage the clutch, it really does feel excellent. The manual action is stellar, and the gated shifter has totally exposed linkage so you can see everything that's going on. The shifter itself is cool, too, with a wooden knob that features the Swedish flag set into the top. In order to go into automatic mode, you just move the shifter all the way over and down to 'Drive', and the CC850 will calmly, swiftly shift for itself and let you relax. The transition between manual and automatic is seamless. I asked Koenigsegg if he plans to put the ESS transmission in other models, and he said it's all up to the customer. "We never know how the people will react to what we're doing. So far, the response has been amazing, and when we get the cars out to the customers, if they really love it we will continue doing something like this."
Because the CC850 is based on the Jesko, it took a lot less time to develop than usual and will take less time to produce as a result. "Between ordering and delivery for the CC850 is under two years, while the Jesko took us four years from intro to delivery," Koenigsegg said. The brand originally planned for a production run of 50 cars, to celebrate Christian's 50th birthday this year, all of which were sold out by the time the CC850 was revealed. But interest was so strong after the car's debut that Koenigsegg decided to build an additional 20 units. "I'm just so happy with the end result, it came together beyond my expectation, and the response has been amazing," he beamed. "I'm excited to get it out there and have people enjoy it."
As for how Koenigsegg would personally spec his own CC850, the show car we're sitting in is it. "This is my personal car, this was my birthday gift to myself," he said. "I've been driving it around the factory keeping it a secret."
Creating a sustainable hypercar
The CC850 uses a nonhybrid V8 engine that can run on biofuel, which Koenigsegg sees as an ideal solution going forward. "It's such a world of freedom in what you can do now. I mean, you have restrictions in emissions regulations and what you're allowed in that sense, but mixing and matching and breeding wild ideas is beyond our wildest dreams 10 years ago," he said. "I love electrification, but in this kind of niche internal combustion is still valuable."
With renewable fuels a car like the CC850 can be competitive on CO2 emissions for a longer amount of time, especially as a weekend driver. "You don't have to take so much raw material out of the ground to begin with, so then you can have more lithium for your daily driver instead of hogging that for these cars," Koenigsegg explained.
"The sound is such a vital part of the experience for a car like this. Purely electrified sports cars are exciting and performance can be immense, but it just takes away one element and adds weight," he continued. "I think the combustion engine using renewable fuel with the latest aftertreatment systems in a lighter car can have equal or lower CO2 footprint and more excitement at the same time."
That doesn't mean that Koenigsegg is totally forgoing electrification -- in fact, it's the opposite. Looking toward the future, the brand is aiming for a mix of traditional engines, hybrids and EVs. The Regera was a monstrous hybrid with a single-speed transmission, the Gemera uses a crazy three-cylinder hybrid setup and the brand is working on solutions for its first electric car. We're also starting to see companies experiment with multi-speed transmissions for EVs, which Koenigsegg says isn't a bad idea. "You can have a smaller, higher-revving electric motor with less torque, and still get a lot of torque through gear ratios so you have a wider spread of speed." But Koenigsegg has its own solution, having already patented an electric motor with a torque converter and lock-up, which provides torque multiplication without shifting.
"We're not killing anything off just because a trend says we should," Koenigsegg said. "It's a super exciting time to be in."
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