I've always considered the Supercar (8880) one of the finest models TLG has ever produced. When I first found out about the latest Technic automobile - #8448 Super Street Sensation, I was a bit disappointed. The 'specs' on it weren't that impressive for a gear-head like me. Both featured V8 engines and active suspension on all four wheels. However the 8880 had 4 wheel drive and 4 wheel steering. 8448: rear wheel drive, front wheel steering. On the plus side 8448 had 5 speeds plus reverse (compared to 8880's four speeds). 8448 also featured the new 'hydraulic' system.
The 8448's exterior looked real sharp, but I'm typically drawn to sets for their action or parts, not their looks. Also the packaging had me concerned - instead of the familiar box with lots of compartments and a tray holding the 'feature' pieces, 8448 contained 8 smaller boxes inside it. This reminded me of the Town Jr. approach and made me wary. Could it be that TLG dumbed down the SuperCar?
I decided to buy it anyway. After putting it together I pulled out my 8880 set and built that as well - just for a good side-by-side comparison...
Those 8 sub-boxes in the 8448 actually turned out to be my favorite feature of the set. Each box contains the parts for a sub-assembly of the car itself. This has several big advantages:
8880 still shines in terms of drive train complexity. The 4 wheel drive and 4 wheel steering mean that every wheel must pivot and receive power. With suspension added to the mix, the drive linkages to the wheels have to be pretty clever. You also need 3 differentials to do this the right way. Before building 8880 I couldn't envision such a construction. In contrast, the 8448 is pretty standard stuff. Rack and pinion steering and using a differential on the rear wheels is standard fare even on smaller Technic cars.
The engines are pretty similar. To be honest, I find the engines to be the most boring part of Technic car models. On the plus side, the 8448 engine uses a few extra parts to make it look cooler (although operation is still the same as ever).
The transmission on 8448 is cooler - five speeds plus reverse compared to the 4 speed of 8880. The basic principle is the same, but a few new gears are used to provide extra gear ratios. There's also a special 'extender' piece for the driving ring that facilitates the reverse gear.
The 'hydraulic' system for the 8448 (and other 1999 Technic sets) isn't really hydraulic at all - its pneumatic. But its different from the regular pneumatics. The basic piece is similar to a large pneumatic cylinder, but without any connecting hoses. It is spring-loaded so that it wants to extend fully. The pneumatic cylinder makes it very smooth during operation. Very similar to pneumatic cylinders used on hatchbacks or storm doors. When I first heard about these 'hydraulic' parts, I wasn't impressed. However, they do add a nice feel to the model. I think I'll be using them quite a bit.
As for appearance, that's where 8448 really shines. When I first built 8880 I thought it looked very cool. Today on the table next to 8448, the 8880 looks almost pitiful. The hard angular edged of the 8880 have given way to smooth sleek curves of the 8448. Its also clear that TLG took some styling cues from real automobiles - the 8448 rides much lower to the ground (typical for the type of sports car its supposed to be). 8880 is so high it almost looks ready for some off-roading.
In my own Technic creations I almost always emphasis function over form. I think it was that the hard edged of using beams for defining form always looked too harsh. Now, however, I think I will start paying attention to form. 8448 is a great demonstration of conveying surface and shape without hiding the inner workings of a model. It does this smoothly and gracefully. I almost think of it as 'sculpting' with Lego.
8880 came with instructions for two different cars (the Supercar itself and a Formula-1 racer).
8448 takes a different approach to multiple models. There are only instructions for one chassis, but there are 5 different bodies (six if you count the convertible variation) you can wrap around the chassis. This ties in very well with the modular approach of the car itself. The instructions for motorizing 8448 are trivial - the basic chassis already has a spot reserved for a motor. There's even proper support for the motor and appropriate gearing. You need to add a total of three pieces (motor, 16-tooth gear, 2x4 technic plate) and you're done. There are even instructions on the lego website showing how to add multiple motors for additional power, or adding power steering.
There are other small improvements as well:
Two things missing from 8448 that were present on 8880:
As for parts, the 8448 is pretty good. Not many beams and plates, but lots of 'newer' parts such as angle beams, angle bricks, and of course those new body plates and flexible axles. There's also a decent assortment of gears, including a couple of the new 20-tooth bevel gears and some 'double-bevel' gears.
8448 is a worthy successor to the 8880 Supercar. Although its drive train and steering are simpler, it adds several new dimensions including hydraulics, a transmission with reverse, and some really nice 'sculpting'. I'm very pleased with the set, and am even considering buying a second one for parts.