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Czinger 21C First Ride Review: 3D-Printed Absurdity

Roadshow logo Roadshow 8/18/2022 Daniel Golson
Looks fast. Is fast. Czinger © Provided by Roadshow Looks fast. Is fast. Czinger

As a passenger in a car speeding around a race track, normally I'm looking out through the windshield and scanning the corners ahead, just like the driver. But as I'm being taken on a hot lap in the Czinger 21C around Thermal Club's South Palm track by IMSA racer Joel Miller, my view ahead is blocked -- by the driver's seat.

Unlike nearly every other car in existence, the 21C has a tandem seating arrangement, with a mostly glass canopy that feels straight out of a Top Gun fighter jet. From the back seat, my only option is to look out the long side windows when cornering, which is a pretty awesome view nonetheless, though it's still a slightly unnerving experience -- on the straights we hit well over 150 mph, and I have no clue what's ahead. But the seating arrangement isn't even close to being the wildest thing about this American-made hypercar, which is one of the most interesting and innovative vehicles I've ever experienced.

Upon first inspection, the 21C might remind you of an LMP1 Le Mans prototype or some other kind of extreme race car, but its styling really is unique. The tandem cabin allows for a narrow body but a wide stance, with the 21C's bodywork looking like it was shrink-wrapped over a Formula 1 car. This one is the high-downforce model that's designed for heavy track use -- the luxurious, low-drag longtail model is coming soon -- and it has an extreme aerodynamics package that includes a vaned front splitter and a huge top-mounted rear wing.

And yet, this isn't some track-only special. The 21C is fully homologated for road use in the US, having met all crash-test standards and emissions regulations.

The 21C looks awesome. Czinger © Provided by Roadshow The 21C looks awesome. Czinger

The 21C has a single, large butterfly door on each side, and despite lacking a B-pillar it's tough to slide into either seat thanks to extremely wide and tall sills. The front seat is a super thin carbon-fiber bucket, whereas the rear "seat" is molded straight from the chassis. The passenger doesn't have much in the way of padding or protrusions to hold onto, either. I'm 5 feet, 9 inches tall and have to slouch to reach a comfortable seating position, and with a helmet on I don't have much headroom. There's a lot of legroom at least, with your feet resting alongside the driver's seat.

A roller coaster for the road and track

Powering the 21C is a 2.9-liter, twin-turbo, flat-plane-crank V8 engine, which was designed in-house by Czinger and is mated to a seven-speed sequential transmission that sends power to the rear wheels. On its own, the engine is already wild, putting out 950 horsepower and revving to an 11,000-rpm redline. But Czinger also pairs it with an 800-volt electrical system, a 2.8-kilowatt-hour battery pack, an electric motor at the front axle and two motors at the rear axle. Despite all of that, the 21C weighs less than 2,900 pounds.

Total output is 1,350 horsepower, though this first-ride prototype is down a few hundred horses. Czinger quotes a 0-to-62-mph time of 1.9 seconds, and the 21C takes just 8.5 seconds to reach 186 mph from a stop, asking only 5.4 seconds more to come to a complete stop from that speed. Top speed is 253 mph, or 281 mph for the low-drag car. Acceleration is immediate and intense, with the high-pitched V8 soundtrack augmented by whirrs from the electric motors. This kind of gut-punch physics rivals the feeling from even the quickest EVs, and deceleration is just as shocking. The 21C's brakes are carbon-ceramics, with 16.1-inch discs and six-piston calipers up front and 15.3-inch discs with four-piston calipers at the back. The 21C also uses regenerative braking that both aids deceleration and charges the battery through a motor-generator unit.

Talk to me, Goose! Daniel Golson/CNET © Provided by Roadshow Talk to me, Goose! Daniel Golson/CNET

Straight-line speed is only part of the picture. The 21C produces 1,356 pounds of downforce at 100 mph and a whopping 5,512 pounds at 200 mph, and it wears Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2R tires that are about as close to a true race tire as you can get. The hybrid setup provides precise torque-vectoring capabilities that truly make the 21C feel like it's on rails through corners -- it's like riding one of those high-speed roller coasters. There's no noticeable feel of weight transfer and zero body lean; even when we hit curbs on the track, the 21C feels totally planted and stable. From the passenger seat, the 21C easily rivals GT3 race cars in terms of speed, grip and g-forces.

Pop the large rear clamshell to reveal the engine and you'll discover what really sets the 21C apart. Where you'd normally see a mess of straight lines and carbon-fiber mounts making up the structure of the car, the 21C's engine bay looks almost organic. That's because nearly everything about the 21C has been 3D printed with the help of artificial intelligence. No, seriously.

3D printing the future

Czinger was co-founded and is currently run by father-and-son duo Kevin and Lukas Czinger, the former of whom is also CEO of Czinger's parent company Divergent, a pioneer in 3D-printing technology. Walking into the company's headquarters in Torrance, California, is more like walking into Iron Man's lab than a traditional car company. (It also gives shades of Westworld, though Czinger's robots and AI hopefully aren't on a path toward rebelling against humans.)

The company's innovative Divergent Adaptive Production System essentially automates the design and development process for most of the 21C's parts. Engineers plug the attributes and constraints that each component needs into a computer, from how much it should weigh and how it needs to fit and connect with other parts, to what kind of g-forces it needs to withstand and how much it will cost to produce. The AI software then generates the perfect design by running thousands of simulations to optimize the shape and construction of the part, making them as strong as possible.

This takes a tiny fraction of the time that it normally would, removing so much of the engineering legwork and resulting in parts with a unique look that mimic lots of things found in nature, like a plant's cell wall under a microscope or the tendons in a muscle. The control arms, for instance, are hollow with an internal structure that saves weight and increases strength compared with a normal vehicle arm.

Not your typical engine bay. Daniel Golson/CNET © Provided by Roadshow Not your typical engine bay. Daniel Golson/CNET

Once DAPS has come up with the optimized design for a part, they are produced by some of the largest 3D printers I've ever seen. Czinger's printers are some of the most advanced in the world, using 12 lasers that are able to print many times quicker than other systems. The AI also optimizes the manufacturing process, so there's zero metal waste from the creation of each part. Divergent came up with the aluminum alloy used by the printers, too. Currently, the only things that aren't 3D printed are the carbon-fiber body panels, the wheels, the leather and fabric interior components, the suspension and all of the powertrain, but Czinger is working on getting many of those parts adapted to the printers, as well.

Divergent's tech also made it easier and quicker to improve the 21C throughout its development. The working prototype I rode in is the only one Czinger currently has, and that's partly because it doesn't need to make another. It takes just hours to ideate, perfect and print a new part where it used to take entire days. If the engineers have an idea on how to improve something, they simply have the AI whip up the perfect solution, print it and then put it on the car. This is the 10th iteration of the 21C since it was first shown off in 2020, and Czinger will surely keep improving it before production starts.

But the real party trick, at least visually, is how it's all put together. Because even the most enormous 3D printers can still only make things that would fit in the space of a large oven, smaller parts need to be produced and combined to create a usable component. Czinger uses ultra-strong adhesives, also designed in-house by the company's scientists, that can cure in just a couple seconds and result in a stronger bond than existing solutions. DAPS also comes up with ways to attach parts to each other that don't require special brackets or mounting points, as each part is designed to fit together organically.

Robots! Czinger © Provided by Roadshow Robots! Czinger

Instead of a traditional assembly line, Czinger uses a group of about a dozen robots all arranged in a circle. One robot will hold up a component while others reach in to apply the adhesives and glue other pieces together. Once the robots have all the parts, it takes just minutes to assemble a part, like the car's subframe. And because the entire process is optimized by the AI and doesn't require any molds, dies or special part mounts, it's easy for the robots to move on to the next project with little downtime. The whole thing is fairly mind-blowing, especially when you get to see the production process up close.

What comes next

Only 80 examples of the 21C will be built at a starting price of around $2 million each, with about half likely to be the low-drag model, and deliveries will commence next summer. The 21C is endlessly customizable, with owners basically getting to spec their cars exactly how they want. 

Czinger is already thinking beyond the 21C. During Monterey Car Week, the next Czinger model will be unveiled. The company is rapidly expanding, too, with its few hundred engineers and designers being augmented by some of the best from the Mercedes and Williams Formula 1 teams. There's a lot of exciting stuff on the walls at Czinger's design studio, and the follow-up to the 21C will be a more mainstream model produced at a higher volume, though the company and the products it offers will still be more McLaren than Mitsubishi .

Look how teeny the cabin is. Czinger © Provided by Roadshow Look how teeny the cabin is. Czinger

Beyond just making Czinger an established name in the high-end car space, the real goal is for Divergent's groundbreaking processes to be licensed for use by other major automakers, something that's already in the works with multiple brands. Using Divergent's AI software and 3D printers would allow other brands to ditch or reduce huge sections of their factories, eliminating the need for things like stamping lines. While the 21C's final assembly is done by hand, the manufacturing process could easily be scaled up and further automated, with the 3D printers and robots working in conjunction with a more traditional assembly line.

What Czinger and Divergent are doing really does seem like the future of auto manufacturing. The DAPS process is quicker, smarter and cheaper than traditional manufacturing, and it results in much less waste and better performance. It could be used to better every type of car on the road. It just so happens that the showcase for this new technology is an absurd hypercar.

Czinger 21C Hypercar Is the Future of Auto Manufacturing

The Czinger 21C is a new American hypercar built through extensive use of 3D printing.

The Czinger 21C is a new American hypercar built through extensive use of 3D printing.
© Provided by Roadshow

This was originally published on Roadshow.

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