Swedish supercar maker Koenigsegg makes vehicles that are as brilliant as they are unnecessary so we were a little perplexed to learn that the company had won the 2016 Popular Science Grand Award. The thing about proper science is that you can’t just throw together a bunch of turbochargers, add a dash of extra horsepower and expect recognition. On the flipside, building a beautiful vehicle gets you nowhere just as quickly. No, the mad genius Christian von Koenigsegg won this accolade for his company through the cam-free internal combustion engine it pioneered.
To be clear, we applaud all efforts to engineer better cars and that is what Koenigsegg has done by effectively ditching the camshaft. This is no small matter because the camshaft has been an integral part of the internal combustion engine since, well, at least 100 years.
Christian von Koenigsegg was considered crazy for wanting to start his own supercar company, completely from scratch. But when his first car was finished in 2002, people quickly started changing their opinion. And 14 years later, the Swedish entrepreneur and inventor has proven himself an automotive genius, delivering innovations with his tiny committed team that some of the world’s most storied and established brands are struggling to keep up with.
Therefore it should seem obvious that the Koenigsegg FreeValve engine, which made its debut this year in a Chinese Qoros concept car, should be hailed as one of the biggest innovations of 2016.
Taking the place of the camshaft is a hydraulic actuator system that controls how the engine breathes. This new system allows each valve on the engine to be opened or closed independently, at a unique moment and for a unique amount of time. Theoretically, this could mean the eradication of every inefficiency inherent in the camshaft system. So, to make a long story shorter, this is a big deal. Motor Authority has a great video from Engineering Explained for those of you who want to learn more.
Beaten into second place on the Popular Science list is the McLaren 570S which was singled out because it is, in the publication’s opinion, the first truly usable supercar. Despite sitting low to the ground, having 562hp on tap and a 200mph+ top speed, it can be driven comfortably in real-world situations.
The top three is rounded out by the Chevrolet Bolt EV which makes the list for being the first true electric car for the people thanks to its ability to cover 238 miles on a single charge and costing just $37,495 before grants or subsidies.
Elsewhere in the list there are awards for the new Mercedes E-Class (eighth place) for its cutting-edge car-to-car communication system that relays live road and weather conditions in seconds to other Mercedes cars; and for the Audi SQ7 TDi.
Ranked in fifth place, the premium SUV makes this year’s cut for its innovative lag-free turbo system that uses two traditional turbos plus a third, electrically powered compressor that spools up instantaneously regardless of engine revolutions or exhaust gases. It makes a diesel feel as responsive as a gasoline engine.