The most remarkable thing about the Zenvo TSR-S isn’t its four-figure power output, its seven-figure price tag, nor the fact that its V-8 engine is force fed by two superchargers.
Neither is it its claimed 6.8-second zero-to-124-mph time, which matches McLaren’s claim of the Senna and is sufficient to make it one of the quickest street-legal cars on the planet. It’s not even that Zenvo remains Denmark’s only native automaker, despite having built only 15 cars since its foundation in 2009. While all of these points are certainly interesting, none gets close to the crowd-drawing effect of the TSR-S’s unique aerodynamics.
Wind and Fire
Like most hypercars, the Zenvo has a sizable rear wing, but in addition to being adjustable in the normal fore-aft plane it uses two hydraulic actuators that can pivot it by up to 20 degrees on the car’s longitudinal axis. On the Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium this proves capable of drawing a crowd to the pit wall, with spectators leaning out to see the wing waggling from side to side as the TSR-S tackles the tight La Source hairpin.
It looks, well, strange and counterintuitive, tipping in the opposite direction the way motorcyclists lean and raising its inside edge. It’s as if a plane banked to the left but is somehow turning right. Zenvo founder Troels Vollertsen describes it as a “centripetal wing” and claims it works like an aerodynamic anti-roll bar. Many of the spectators at Spa seemed confused, and some were openly skeptical. The track’s corner workers were similarly perplexed; on the Zenvo’s first lap of the 4.4-mile circuit it was black-flagged because officials thought it was broken.
We first encountered the mid-engine TSR-S—and interviewed Vollertsen—at last year’s Geneva auto show. Now we’ve been invited to Spa to actually experience the car and its trick wing at an event organized by Curbstone, a high-end track-day company. The TSR-S is nominally a road car, the second S in its name standing for “street legal,” so we were placed in a group of high-end road machinery, including a pair of Lamborghini Huracán Performantes, a Ferrari 488 Pista, and a Porsche 911 GT2RS. Waiting for track time affords us a closer look at the two TSR-S models Zenvo brought along: a yellow prototype and a finished blue car that we’re told represents what will be delivered to customers prepared to pay the roughly $1.6-million asking price.
The Zenvo uses a steel-and-aluminum spaceframe adorned with carbon-fiber bodywork and steel subframes. The TSR-S uses a 5.8-liter V-8 based on a General Motors LSX crate engine. Inside, the engine spins a flat-plane billet crankshaft connected to forged pistons, with boost supplied by twin Rotrex centrifugal superchargers, one for each bank of cylinders. The car has three power settings, selected by a control on the steering wheel: 700 horsepower, for when you lend the Zenvo to a nervous grandmother; iQ, which automatically varies output according to conditions; and Maximum, for unleashing the car’s full 1177-hp fury. The rear wheels are driven by way of a seven-speed sequential automated manual transmission. Zenvo claims the TSR-S will eclipse 62 mph in 2.8 seconds.
Our day at Spa, however, doesn’t run according to plan. The TSR-S prototype exceeds the circuit’s noise limits on its first lap, and then the blue production car limps back into the pits with a sickly gearbox. Zenvo’s technicians plug in laptops to interrogate the transmission’s computer, but it’s soon obvious that the car isn’t going to be fixed in our allotted time frame. So, will the prototype suffice, we’re asked, as long as we agree to go gently past Spa’s noise meters? Certainly, but this means an experience considerably rawer than that of the “finished” car. The prototype’s cabin has a substantial roll cage and a bare metal dashboard studded with toggle switches. One of these is labeled “Wild Dog” and locks the engine into its raciest tune. We make sure this is selected.
The track is busy, and the traffic is fast and (mostly) driven by people who know their way around the famous circuit, particularly the high-speed ascent at Eau Rouge. Like the track, the TSR-S’s learning curve is steep, and concentration isn’t helped by an extremely noisy cabin, nor the baking heat from the absence of any form of interior ventilation. The driving experience is similarly extreme. The Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires—sized 245/35R-20 in front and 325/30R-21 at the rear—come up to temperature quickly, helped by the forces involved in managing the Zenvo’s claimed 3300-pound curb weight. Although grip levels are high, the steering is slower than expected, and it’s hard to build faith in the car as it exhibits what feels like understeer in slower turns.
The engine is most definitely a monster, though. There’s no hint of lag, and acceleration builds at an increasingly frenetic pace as the revs climb. Even short-shifting in deference to Spa’s noise limits and coasting on several parts of the circuit, the Zenvo is clearly among the fastest cars in a straight line, reeling in a hard-charging Porsche 911 GT3 on the long Kemmel straight. The 15.6-inch front and 15.0-inch rear carbon-ceramic brake rotors pinched by six-piston calipers shrug off speed without drama and prove that most of our initial braking points are desperately conservative. The paddle-shifted sequential gearbox raps through its gears with brutal precision. Yet, what’s missing is a sense of connection with the Zenvo. Even after 20 minutes of lapping, we’re still struggling to come to terms with the steering and to build up the confidence needed to lean harder on the chassis and to feel the effect of the rear wing.
Looking over the production TSR-S as the technicians poke and prod it, the standard of the finished car is impressively high, Zenvo having gone to the considerable effort of creating its own switchgear rather than using off-the-shelf parts, including those for the electric window controls. The cabin sans roll cage is nicely trimmed and a far friendlier place than the prototype’s. While it doesn’t quite feel up to snuff for the car’s substantial price tag—what appears to be a touchscreen turns out to be an iPad mounted in the center of the dashboard—this isn’t the sort of car sold on interior ambience.
The downtime also gives us the chance to talk to Vollertsen about the active rear wing. He explains that as the downforce generated by it remains perpendicular to its plane, tilting it creates a force vector, allowing its effect to move across the rear axle. The wing moves under the direction of an elaborate control system that measures g forces and speed, as well as the car’s yaw angle, and then adjusts the wing’s angle to transfer load to the inside rear wheel to increase cornering grip. Vollertsen says that although the wing loses about five percent of its downforce when tilted, it can use up to 30 percent of the wing’s total effort as a sideways force to counter body roll. He also says that it works best when the car is being pushed to the edge of its adhesion.
Although Zenvo is unable to entirely fix the blue TSR-S’s gearbox, it is determined to be healthy enough for some exploration laps. There are some unexpected pauses between gear changes, but the engine’s huge reserve of torque minimizes the need for shifting. While no slower than the prototype, the blue car feels far easier to drive, the cabin is better insulated, and it has a ventilation system to mitigate some of the cabin heat. Although Vollertsen says that all of the suspension settings between the two cars are identical, the production model’s steering feels more confidence-inspiring and its front-end responses are more accurate.
Vollertsen’s insistence that the trick rear wing works better when the car is driven harder gives us license to do just that. It is predictably easy to push the TSR-S’s rear end beyond its traction limits, even in Spa’s faster turns. The greater challenge is to resist the instinct to play safe and easy in someone else’s seven-figure hypercar. But pushed harder, the tilting wing and the car’s traction control system work together to manage heroic yet manageable angles of oversteer. It’s impossible from the cockpit to sense the relative amounts of help given by the different assistance systems, but the overall effect is that of a car that feels considerably less intimidating when being flogged hard than it probably should.
The wing is more than a gimmick, but Zenvo knows it still has much work ahead of it if it’s to be taken seriously enough by hypercar buyers to reach to its target of producing five cars a year. Vollertsen’s determination to do as much as possible, and to engineer radical technology into his cars, reminds us of another Scandinavian hypercar pioneer, Christian von Koenigsegg. The TSR-S won’t be coming to the U.S., but Vollertsen says he is already planning both for future models and, ultimately, worldwide sales. If future Zenvos feature the same active aerodynamic tech as the TSR-S, they surely will be easy to spot.