Though it’s now existed in its current form for well over half a century, it hasn’t been until much more recently that carbon fiber began being heavily utilized in the manufacturing of production cars. And while the advanced woven construction was once only used for smaller details and elements such as interior trim pieces and select aero components, carbon fiber has since been turned to for everything from wheels and full suites of bodywork to the entire chassis around which the vehicle is constructed.
This trend admittedly took the better part of a decade before even beginning to verge on mainstream, though it is slowly becoming more and more commonplace — as evidenced by the ever-growing selection of heavily carbon-laden models currently on the market. And it’s this selection of vehicles that we’ll be exploring today in this guide to the best carbon fiber cars on the road. On top of counting down our picks for the greatest weave-heavy autos, we’ll also be exploring the benefits of carbon fiber as well as its history and uses in the automotive arena.
Cars & Carbon
A Brief History Of Carbon Fiber In The Automotive Sector
In the late 1960s, carbon fiber was introduced in the form that we now know today, with the material’s potential for strength finally being realized after decades of R&D. Thanks to its immense heat resistance and unparalleled strength-to-weight ratio, carbon fiber — which is also known as “graphite fiber” — was heavily utilized in the aerospace industry in its first years, though by the latter-end of the 1970s, world-class automakers and race teams were starting to look to the weave as a means of innovation.
After spending several years experimenting with the material, McLaren would become the first company ever to debut a Formula One car with a carbon fiber composite chassis in 1981 with its MP4/1 racer. Nearly a decade later in 1990, Jaguar would enter the history books when its 6.0L V12-engined XJR-15 became the first-ever production car with a full carbon fiber monocoque design. Over the subsequent 30 years, the material has gone from an exclusive novelty to a means of achieving weight and performance figures that otherwise wouldn’t be possible — or would cost exponentially more to produce.
And while replacing metal suites of bodywork with carbon items does indeed allow for a considerable amount of weight savings, one of the areas in which carbon fiber has become most beneficial to cars is its use in framework. Benefitting from advancements in the space such as the development of forged or “marbled” carbon fiber, these carbon frames allow less raw material to be used. Plus, the material that is present is markedly lighter than steel, aluminum, or other traditional constructions. This has ultimately given way to complete automotive frames that weigh less than the average American male.
A Wondrous Weave
The Many Benefits Of Carbon Fiber In The Auto Space
Despite tipping the scales at roughly one-third the weight of steel, carbon fiber is some five times stronger and boasts twice the tensile stiffness, making this ultralight and ultra-strong material perfect for use in the automotive sector. This fact is furthered by carbon fiber’s incredible heat tolerance and minimal thermal expansion, as well as the weave’s chemical resistance and imperviousness to rusting. Collectively, these properties hugely lend themselves to the car space, and allow the construction to be conducive to everything from engine covers to body panels to framework.
Because of its aforementioned qualities, carbon fiber is known the world over as being an ultra-precious, cutting-edge material — and one that almost always comes at a fairly exorbitant price, as carbon fiber’s manufacturing process is a long and elaborate one that requires highly skilled and expertly trained technicians to execute. By utilizing carbon fiber, automakers are able to bestow their rides with an unmistakably premium and performance-focused character — especially when the weave is left exposed and fully on display. So, while it undeniably sports a slew of objective benefits, the material is also lauded for its appearance and, moreover, what it represents.
The Elements Of A Car That Are Built From Carbon Fiber
When talking about cars that are built from carbon fiber, it helps to have a decent understanding of the exact parts that are manufactured from the aerospace-grade weave. Below, we’ll quickly touch on the four main areas in which carbon fiber is used in the creation of automobiles.
Structural Components: Undeniably one of the most profound ways that a car can benefit from the use of carbon is in its chassis, as its rigidity and lack of weight make for a game-changing experience behind the wheel. Carbon frames are still fairly state-of-the-art items, and as such tend to be reserved for elite automotive offerings, however, in recent years we’ve started to see carbon fiber appearing on everything from the frames and bodies of compact commuter cars to the beds of American-made pickups.
Bodywork: The most common and widespread use of carbon fiber in the automotive industry is unequivocally for bodywork, as well as aero pieces, packages, or kits. Not only does the material’s lack of weight add a considerable performance advantage, but its appearance also undoubtedly bolsters an already exotic car’s exclusive and race-focused feel.
Unsprung Mass: Minimizing the weight of unsprung mass on a vehicle hugely improves its handling characteristics, so it probably won’t come as a surprise to learn that manufacturers have increasingly been turning to carbon fiber when looking to deliver ultra-featherweight unsprung mass components such as the wheels and brake assemblies.
Trim: While it doesn’t directly benefit a car’s performance in the same way as using carbon fiber for the body or framework does, carbon fiber is often utilized in the interior of exotic vehicles, making up everything from the cabin’s trim package, bezels, and accents to the steering wheel, shift knobs, and seat backs. Again, this doesn’t hugely bolster performance, though it definitely ups a car’s “cool factor” and overall exotic nature.
Hugely benefitting from the development of the i8, BMW’s i3 is a top-shelf take on a compact commuter car that features a carbon fiber frame draped in carbon fiber-reinforced polymer bodywork, allowing for a sub-3,000 lbs. weight. The newer s-spec of the i3 also offers a myriad of improvements over the base model, including a visual facelift with a revised grille and front-end, a higher top speed, quicker acceleration, and markedly better handling.
Drivetrain: BMW eDrive PMAC Motor
Power: 181 HP & 199 FT-LBS
Top Speed: 99 MPH
Weight: 2,972 LBS
Alfa Romeo 4C
Often described as an “entry-level supercar” the 4C is constructed around a state-of-the-art carbon tub that comes cloaked in a sleek set of all carbon bodywork. Powering the Italian-made car is a mid-mounted, turbocharged 1.7L four-banger that makes almost 240 hp and 260 ft.-lbs. of torque, plus allows for a top speed of around 160 mph. Alfa Romeo also produces several even more impressive and high-performance special edition variants of the 4C, as well as the Spyder version seen here.
Drivetrain: Turbocharged 1.7L Inline-Four
Power: 237 HP & 258 FT-LBS
Top Speed: 160 MPH
Weight: 2,487 LBS
Rolling onto the scene in 2013, BMW’s i8 represented a game-changing supercar, utilizing a carbon frame and an ultra-advanced hybrid powertrain that’s since set the standard in the super and hypercar spaces. On top of a futuristic design with butterfly doors, the innovative i8 also packs a mid-mounted 1.5L inline-three petrol engine that’s helped along by a 98kW electric motor — both of which send power to an all-wheel-drive system. And while the i8 is no longer in production, the German brand has revealed that it plans on rolling out an all-electric version of the supercar in 2023.
Drivetrain: Hybrid Turbocharged 1.5L Inline-Three + 98Kw Electric Motor
Power: 369 HP & 420 FT-LBS
Top Speed: 155.3 MPH
Weight: 3,501 LBS
Dodge Viper ACR Extreme
Kicked along by a massive 8.4L V10 engine, the Dodge Viper unequivocally stands as one of the most potent U.S.-made sports cars of all time, though in 2016 the American auto marque unleashed an even more capable version of the car with its ACR Extreme Package. Distinguishing it from the regular Viper is the ACR Extreme’s coil-over Bilstein racing shocks, six-pot Brembo brakes biting down on Carbon Ceramic Matrix discs, and a full suite of carbon fiber bodywork supplemented with an advanced aero kit that includes an adjustable dual-element carbon fiber rear wing, rear carbon fiber diffuser, a unique hood, and a carbon front splitter — an arrangement that’s good for generating some 1,700+ pounds of downforce at 177 mph.
Drivetrain: 8.4L V10
Power: 645 HP & 600 FT-LBS
Top Speed: 180 MPH
Weight: 3,374 LBS
First hitting the market in 2010 after several delays, the LFA was Lexus’ attempt at producing a no-holds-barred supercar, with an in-house designed and built carbon fiber-reinforced polymer center monocoque chassis paired with aluminum subframes front and aft that houses a 533-hp 4.8L V10 engine which was developed in collaboration with fellow Japanese brand Yamaha. Carbon fiber-reinforced polymer was also used for the bodywork of the LFA — a model that’s had an enormous impact on the direction of Lexus’ current high-performance lineup. Lexus also produced several up-specced versions of the already-impressive LFA, including the Nürburgring variant seen here.
Drivetrain: 4.8L V10
Power: 533 HP & 354 FT-LBS
Top Speed: 203 MPH
Weight: 3,263 LBS
Ford GT Liquid Carbon
Costing a quarter-million dollars more than the base model, Ford’s Liquid Carbon-spec GT is an even more potent and impressive version of the iconic American supercar. Alongside receiving the horsepower boost and engine cooling upgrade given to the latest year’s base model, the all-carbon GT has also been bestowed with a full titanium construction Akrapovič exhaust system, carbon fiber wheels, titanium lug-nuts, and six-point racing harness anchors — all as standard equipment. The biggest change on this special edition model, however, is without question its bodywork, which is an absolutely breathtaking fully-exposed liquid carbon weave fortified beneath a glossy clear coat.
Drivetrain: Twin-Turbocharged 3.5L V6
Power: 660 HP & 550 FT-LBS
Top Speed: 202 MPH
Weight: 3,054 LBS
Referred to by its manufacturer as “the personification of McLaren’s DNA at its most extreme,” the Senna is an insanely powerful and thoroughly cutting-edge hypercar model with a 2.6-second 0-60 mph time, a 208 mph top speed, and a more than healthy power output of 789 hp and 590 ft.-lbs. of torque. Taking its name from the Brazilian-born legendary race car driver, the Senna is the fastest street-legal, track-focused hypercar offered by McLaren and features a driver’s seat that’s centrally placed within the cockpit and set into the car’s carbon tub frame.
Drivetrain: Twin-Turbocharged 4.0L V8
Power: 789 HP & 590 FT-LBS
Top Speed: 208 MPH
Weight: 2,641 LBS
Wmotors Fenyr SuperSport
Limited to only 100 units worldwide — plus 10 Launch Edition variants — Fenyr SuperSport is the epitome of modern rolling exotica, with a twin-turbocharged 3.8L flat-six prepped by world-renowned Porsche tuner RUF, that puts down 800 hp and 722 ft.-lbs. of torque, allowing for a nearly 250 mph top speed and the ability to fire off 0-60 mph runs in just 2.8 seconds. The Fenyr SuperSport is also cloaked in bodywork that’s been handcrafted from an amalgamation of carbon fiber and graphene composite, thereby affording tremendous strength and rigidity despite an ultra-svelte weight.
Drivetrain: RUF-Built Twin-Turbocharged 3.8L Flat-Six
Power: 800 HP & 722 FT-LBS
Top Speed: 248.5 MPH
Weight: 3,119.5 LBS
An absolutely stunning feat of engineering that proves that the Danes can build cars with the best of them, the Zenvo TSR-S is another thoroughly state-of-the-art hypercar that tips the scales at less than 3,300 lbs. Its twin-turbo’d 5.8L V8 engine — which generates almost 1,200 hp — rockets the carbon-bodied car to a top speed that’s electronically limited to 202 mph. It can also do 0-60 in just 2.7 seconds and 0-125 in 6.8.
Drivetrain: Twin-Turbocharged 5.8L V8
Power: 1,177 HP & 811 FT-LBS
Top Speed: 202 MPH (Electronically Limited)
Weight: 3,295.9 LBS
Audi’s R8 is unequivocally one of the nicest supercars that’s still capable of serving as a daily driver, however, even with its incredible performance capabilities, not everyone is a fan of the stretched-out TT look. Enter world-famous auto design house Italdesign, which has taken the R8 platform and treated it to a serious upgrade, resulting in the Zerouno. First unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in 2017, the Zerouno packs a naturally aspirated 5.2L V10 and all-carbon fiber bodywork that helps it achieve a sub-1.5-tonne curb weight and a top speed of more than 200 mph.
Drivetrain: 5.2L V10
Power: 602 HP & 383.5 FT-LBS
Top Speed: 205 MPH
Weight: 2,998 LBS
Hennessey Venom F5
If the Ford GT is America’s supercar, then the country’s hypercar is almost certainly the Hennessey Venom F5. Constructed around an insanely advanced all-carbon fiber chassis that weighs only 190 lbs., this absurdly fast machine puts down more than 1,800 hp, giving it an equally incredible power-to-weight ratio of 1.34 hp-per-kg. The beyond liberal use of carbon enables the car to weigh under 3,000 lbs., which, when coupled with its tremendous power output, gives it the ability to crack the 300 mph mark.
Drivetrain: Twin-Turbocharged 6.6L V8
Power: 1,817 HP & 1,192 FT-LBS
Top Speed: 311 MPH
Weight: 2,998 LBS
McLaren’s first-ever hyper grand touring car, the Speedtail is the elite British brand’s most aerodynamically efficient model to date, as well as its fastest with a top speed of over 250 mph — a pace that’s unlocked through the car’s potent bi-turbo 4.0L V8 and sub-3,200 lbs. weight. The Speedtail also features a number of elements borrowed from the brand’s legendary ’90s model, the F1, such as its centrally-placed driver’s seat, to go along with its thoroughly modern forged carbon fiber trim package.
Drivetrain: Twin-Turbocharged 4.0L V8
Power: 1,036 HP & 848 FT-LBS
Top Speed: 250 MPH
Weight: 3,153 LBS
In the 2010s, as high-performance electric vehicles continued growing ever faster and more powerful, it became abundantly clear that EVs would soon overtake ICE-powered rides in terms of speed and power output. In November of 2019 at the Dubai International Motor Show, that day came when Japanese startup Aspark debuted its legitimately game-changing Owl. On top of a wildly sleek design with a carbon frame hidden beneath all-carbon bodywork, the fully-electric supercar’s more than 2,000 hp output enables it to clock a 250 mph top speed, despite weighing over two tonnes.
Drivetrain: Four PMAC Motors
Power: 2,012 HP & 1,475 FT-LBS
Top Speed: 248.5 MPH
Weight: 4,189 LBS
Aston Martin Valkyrie
On top of featuring a carbon tub and body, this limited production hybrid sports car — which is the famed British firm’s first-ever hypercar — was developed in collaboration with Red Bull Racing and AMR. That being the case, it boasts a slew of Formula 1-derived components and features, including its Le Mans-style bodywork — which is of course crafted from carbon fiber. Restricted to 150 units in total, the Valkyrie’s chassis is also made from carbon fiber, and in fact, doesn’t feature a single steel component.
Drivetrain: 6.5L V12 + 119kW PMAC Motor
Power: 1,140 HP & 664 FT-LBS
Top Speed: 205 MPH
Weight: 2,315 LBS
Koenigsegg Agera RS
Every machine that leaves the Koenigsegg factory in Ängelholm is an objectively elite, thoroughly state-of-the-art, and utterly high-performance piece of automotive engineering, and the Swedish supercar maker’s Agera RS is far from an exception. Limited to only 25 specimens all told — 10 of which were already spoken for prior to the model’s public reveal — the Agera RS can reach speeds of nearly 280 mph, largely thanks to a sub-1.5-tonne dry weight (3,075 lbs. wet) that’s been unlocked through the use of all-carbon fiber bodywork adorning a wildly-advanced monocoque carbon fiber chassis with aluminum honeycomb reinforcements and integrated fuel tanks — a frame that tips the scales at only 154 lbs., including the tanks.
Drivetrain: Twin-Turbocharged 5.0L V8
Power: 1,160 HP & 944 FT-LBS
Top Speed: 278 MPH
Weight: 2,855 LBS
GMC Sierra 1500
Though it admittedly doesn’t deserve an official spot on this list, GMC’s new Sierra 1500 is worthy of an honorable mention as it’s a mass-produced model that utilizes a decent amount of carbon fiber in a unique and interesting way. The bed of this pickup truck range is insanely durable thanks to it being made from GMC’s all-new CarbonPro material, which is crafted from a combination of steel, aluminum, plastic, glass fiber, and, you guessed it, carbon fiber.
Drivetrain: 5.3L V8
Power: 277 HP & 348 FT-LBS
Top Speed: 108 MPH
Weight: 4,490 LBS
The Complete Guide To Carbon Fiber
Interested in learning more about this advanced and rugged woven material? Then be sure to head over to our our complete guide to carbon fiber for a comprehensive look at the material’s history, advancements, manufacturing process, and many applications.
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