Supercars used to be savage, one-dimensional beasts that tore up the tarmac like a nuclear-powered drill. They were uncomfortable, hot and dangerous, but they were fast and that was all that mattered. Not anymore. Now even warp-speed weapons are expected to be iron fists wrapped in the softest velvet glove, hard thugs in touch with their feminine side. The Ascari KZ1 has the brief nailed.

It was never intended to be a pared-down racer, despite its final curb weight of 2,810 pounds. This is a luxury GT with comfy Connolly leather seats, a fully decked out interior and a setup geared as much for comfort through town as a committed assault on the apex. Considering the 5.0-liter BMW E39 M5 engine, tuned in house at Banbury and clearly visible through the rear window, delivers 500 bhp through the rear wheels, that's no mean feat. The engine is a pussycat beneath 4000 rpm; after that all hell breaks loose right up until the 8500-rpm redline and g-forces do strange things to your face.

This car races to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds, to 100 mph in 8.3. It will stop pretty much as fast, too, thanks to AP Racing six-pot calipers on the front and four-pots on the rear clamping on drilled and ventilated discs. But far more important is the relatively civilized manner in which it gets there. Soft suspension helps transmit the power to the road, as well as stopping the car from spinning violently on every bend, and despite a lack of electronic traction taming measures the KZ1 rarely lights up those 19-inch rear wheels without serious provocation. You can do it, of course, but it takes a solid stamp on the right pedal.

Major ruts in the tarmac thump through the whole carbon-fiber monocoque, which tends to mark out a first-class hypercar these days. But the KZ1 can still soak up disastrous roads and there's no savage sting in the tail. The rear end simply didn't threaten to overtake the front at any point. This is not a car that intends to put the fear of God into its owner; it's there to catch you when, in an old-school F40 or even Porsche 911, you would fall. The steering feels alive from the moment you turn the key and the car jinks in response to the slightest movement at speed. It's not nervous, thanks to the natural tendency to push wide at the first sign of trouble or excessive input. Incidentally, the first sign of trouble was so far beyond the remit of a normal road car that, had the local police witnessed the test, I would now be on a career break.

It will mooch through town happy as your average saloon, though, and reversing and tight maneuvers, traumatic experiences in almost every other car of this ilk, become second nature in no time. It's only 8 inches shorter and narrower than the Lamborghini Murcielago, but it's like a rapier next to a broadsword at parking speeds, and those lithe dimensions make a world of difference when facing oncoming traffic. Barring a serious blind spot when the car lies at 45 degrees to the junction, necessitating neck craning or mirror adjustment to avoid pulling out in front of trucks and smashing this creation into so much carbon shrapnel, it's near perfect. It's a genuine go-anywhere supercar, which had no trouble with curbs, humps, ditches or countryside park roads. The manufacturers have awakened to the fact that most people that have the financial means to buy a machine like this don't necessarily have the ability or inclination to ride the ragged edge. For them, its ability to cruise past nightclubs is just as important as its talents at 200 mph or in off-camber bends.

When Klaas Zwart took the reigns of the company it was a traditional English sports car manufacturer, knocking out road rockets from what looked like an old greenhouse. Now Zwart has a glass-fronted workshop in Banbury, within spitting distance of BAR's headquarters, and a unique race resort near Marbella-read about it on the next page. His clientele expects creature comforts like air-con, sound insulation, a suspension that doesn't break newly purchased teeth on speed bumps, and a car that is safe to drive. This creates a much harder task, but Ascari has created a near masterpiece without going to ridiculous extremes like fitting an auto or nasty F1-style 'box.

The essence of driving remains, therefore, fun without the danger. Yes, a Porsche Carrera GT and Ferrari Enzo will be quicker, but how many owners are really going to test that out? The KZ1 is a hellishly beautiful machine, too, and every organic panel flows towards that rear end in a display of cohesive design missing from the Ferrari Enzo and Lamborghini Murcielago. Everything is carbon-fiber, from the monocoque that one man can lift to the swooping panels that are manufactured in sufficiently low numbers to not worry about simplification. There are mass-production components, including Peugeot headlights and a Vauxhall VX220 starter button, and those side mirrors look like they came off something far cheaper and nastier. But the money saved there has gone into race-bred suspension, brakes, a beast of an engine and more than three years of development.

There will never be lots of these cars around, as this is no common Ferrari, and that alone will be worth the price of admission to this exclusive club for some. Only 50 will ever be made, so get on the phone right now if you're one of the elite few that could even contemplate an impulse buy of this magnitude.

If you're rich, love looking tough and driving fast and never want to feel the indignity of spinning off the road then rejoice-your car has arrived.

Ascari KZ1

Longitudinal mid-engine, rear wheel drive

5.0-liter (4,941cc E39 BMW M5) V8, dohc, four valves per cylinder
Ascari ECU, camshafts, performance headers, exhaust

Unequal length wishbones, coilover dampers, front anti-roll bar

Four-wheel AP discs, six-piston front calipers, four-piston rear

Carbon-fiber monocoque and body

Peak Power: 500 bhp
Peak Torque: 368 lb-ft
0-60 mph: 3.8 sec.
Top Speed: 200 mph

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