Bugatti first gave us the Veyron and has now perfected a 1487bhp, £2.5 m marvel set to become the fastest production vehicle in the world.
The Bugatti Chiron is simply an automobile. That’s the thing you ought to recall. Only a car, like the other: four wheels, several benches, and a fuel tank. It’s more than the Bugatti Chiron will be a vehicle that can do… what, exactly?
Well, a few figures, if I could. The official calculation states are that the Chiron can be 420 km / h or 261 mph, but this is deceptive. It is both electronically restricted and slower than the old Bugatti Veyron Super Sport; it became the fastest production vehicle globally at 267.8 mph. It was a mere 1183bhp. The latest Chiron has 1479bhp to move on with. But it should be faster than the Veyron.
"The Bugatti Chiron will go, by my reckoning, only as fast as its tyres will allow before they explode"
In particular, provided that the Chiron brief was quite simple. The simplest that Bugatti boss Wolfgang Dürheimer had encountered throughout his career, once the head of Porsche R&D but by dint of being genius and suspecting some of his Volkswagen Group colleagues, now in charge of both Bugatti and Bentley.
“Be better than the Veyron in every respect,” it said.
This means that when Bugatti returns next year to the Ehra-Lessien test track of the Volkswagen Group with the Chiron, to tell us exactly how fast it’s going to go, that’s going to be a more significant number than the official figure.
Dürheimer says, by a remarkable amount, more significant than the number of the Veyron Super Sport, although nobody at Bugatti still cares to speculate how fast that might be. That would be 295 mph if it were 10 percent faster-and with 50 percent more power, that’s not unreasonable.
But that won’t be it. By my reckoning, the Chiron will go only as quickly as his tires will allow before they explode. So my guess is they’ll test some on an aerospace rolling road for destruction, instruct a driver to swallow some brave pills, strap in, hold on, and ease off at the point of detonation at a few miles per hour. For the sake of argument, let’s call it 275 mph (this is my number, not theirs, and if either way, I’m out by five mph, so be it, it’s a big enough number).
It’s essential, though, because everything else you read about Chiron here has to be tempered by that fact. At once, a car defined by massive numbers is constrained and freed by that superior top speed. It dominates yet compromises its personality. Yeah, yes, it’s only a car. But it’s one that’s going to do 275 mph, and that defines what it is like entirely.
Can the Chiron do better than the Bugatti Veyron?
Let’s see, in this ‘half-comparison’ automobile review.
Is the Chiron, the part of the mythology?
For a start, it means that you are standing there when they tell you about it, and they start handing you parts and showing you graphs. It is so obsessive to pursue such a significant number that it is easy to get lost in the details.
I’d need hundreds of pages and minutes to tell you all about it, but the short story is this: the Chiron is a two-seater carbon-fiber tub with doors opening conventionally. It has a W-configured 8.0-liter, 16-cylinder engine, four four-cylinder banks around a common crankshaft, the top two 90-deg V banks between, and the bottom two another 15-deg each side of them. To minimize what would otherwise be unimaginable lag, there are four turbos, two of which blow all the time and are fed by eight exhausts each. The other two are valved, depending on throttle position and rev range, to drop in and out, and each of the four turbos is powered by four exhausts when they’re ‘on.’
That they fall in and out helps create a near-flat 1180 lb-ft torque curve from 2000pm to 6000rpm, a number that doesn’t seem smaller regardless of how many times you write it. It moves to all four wheels through a revised version of the Veyron’s Ricardo dual-clutch automatic transmission using heavier-duty clutches and lighter gears. Power goes mostly to the rear, but it is pushed to the front with a Haldex coupling when the seats cannot cope, which would frequently be.
Wheel sizes are up over the Veyron by an inch at each end, so 20 in front and 21 at the rear, but the tires are wider at the front (285 mm) and narrower at the back (355 mm) for a better balance of handling than on a Veyron Super Sport. Yes, Bugatti is concerned with track times and handling: it would be among the fastest cars in the world around Le Mans by its calculations, thanks in large part to its performance along the Mulsanne Straight.
The Chiron must operate around the globe as a Volkswagen Group car, and 1479bhp and 1180 lb-ft require a fantastic amount of cooling, so even though the Chiron is small, it is 2038 mm complete at 1212 mm.
Other notable particulars? Hours of them, literally. Turbos that look about 50 percent larger than Veyron’s, a carbon fiber intake manifold, conrods that can take half as much more strain than Veyron’s but weigh no more, carbon-ceramic brake discs of 420 mm diameter, a steering wheel milled from a solid piece of aluminum, suspension bushes containing three different rubber compounds to provide laterally, longitudinally and vertically different responses
I might as well go on, and I will. Naturally, the passenger cell is carbon fiber, but now the rear subframe/engine carrier is like that. At Bugatti’s Molsheim factory, the engine is put in position, and the cell and page are assembled around it, joined by just ten titanium bolts. It has a torsional rigidity of 50,000Nm per degree, so racing car stiffness levels, Bugatti says.
Equally astonishing are the other numbers: 0-62 mph in 2.5sec, 0-124 mph in 6.5sec, 0-186 mph in 13.6sec. And 275 mph, let’s say.
Don’t ever forget about 275 mph.
Gallery of the Bugatti Chiron
Settling down behind the wheel of the Chiron Bugatti
Oh, another number:£,518,000, at the exchange rate as I write. There will be only 500 Chirons made, and the truth is that every £2.5 m is too cheap. Yes, Bugatti will make money on the project, Dürheimer tells me, but not so much that Volkswagen would necessarily have punished it in the climate that the company is currently experiencing.
However, still, yes, it is too cheap: it’s£2 m before taxes, so multiply that by the 500, and you have got £ 1 billion to design, engineer, produce and support a brand-new car that’s approved for sale all over the world and that has to meet the exacting standards of the VW Group for seemingly trivial but no doubt expensive things like keeping its interior cool when it is hot and clearing the windscreen when it is so small. It is just a car, after all.
Bugatti set out to sell 450 Veyrons, and after painting some of them, like the Ming vases, and getting pianists to put their name to others, he finally got through all of them, but he did not make a bean in the process. This time, Dürheimer says, he knows what he is doing, so 250 Chirons are already sold, and he is confident he is going to sell the rest. In two years, he will have to go back to the VW Group Board and pitch for a replacement.
This stuff is essential. Not because a $2.5 m hypercar is playing a part in a larger scheme of things, but because more mainstream cars will inevitably get faster, stronger, and more expensive, and with that comes the trickle-down, the democratization, the ultra-expensive materials and processes that the Chiron spearheads.
Of course, there is leather and metal among the materials and not much inside the Chiron. It feels beautifully assembled because it will be, but the leather cover is firm, not soft because you are aware that saving weight – hey, we have got 275 mph to do – adding tens of kilos of insulation is a premium you cannot afford.
However, there are reminders that, as you would hope, this is a£2.5 m car. The stitching is lovely, and the gaps between the materials are perfect. The world’s longest automotive lighting bar, it says here, swoops around behind you, enhancing a sense of separation between driver and passenger while splitting the view back in two, and making you wonder how they are going to make a convertible and how much floppier it is going to be.
The seats are load-bearing, not comprehensive, and electrically adjusted, but the cabin feels wide. Manual adjustment of the steering wheel, start button, drive mode selector, and shift paddles. The handbrake is electronic, the center console is ultra-slim (hence the swoopy bar, to add perceived width and strength to the center of the car) and is covered in a piece of beautifully machined and satin-polished metal, adorned with knobs that turn with the oiliness of those on the top-of-the-line hi-fi. There is still a particular key if you want to unlock the full 261 mph top speed and not be limited to 236 mph, but these days it lives in a socket in the car, so it could be a button that saves weight and does not look like a metallic fob from the 2006 Skoda Octavia.
Visibility is quite average, but otherwise, ergonomics is straight out of the VW Group handbook. So you are thumbing the starter like you might in the Audi, and the engine is burning to a voluble, but from a cylinder-count perspective, the cacophony is indistinct, and it is ready. Foot on the brake, pull the gear lever back to D, go away.
It is all where you expect it to be. You could be in a VW Golf – a 1479bhp, 8.0-litre, two-meter-wide Golf that can do 275 mph or so, but still a Golf. I mean, in a flattering way. This is a remarkable achievement.
Going to unleash the Bugatti Chiron on the road
The reality is that it may not take too long for the road checking portion of the experience. Not because, amid Bugatti’s promises that we should measure the Chiron correctly, it confronted us with a car with a peak speed of 261 mph on roads with a legal limit of 75 mph and reminded us we were liable for our licenses. I have no idea what the interior of a Portuguese jail looks like and no real urge to find out, but if I glance over my shoulder and whisper, there is stuff I can tell you.
How easy is this? It is swift, but so are plenty of vehicles. But the way it is, it is easy not fast in the manner of the Tesla Model S P100d. It gets up and goes before the Veyron has determined which of its turbos to send air through. Tesla is instant. It is not a swift Ariel Atom V8, which is hairy and instant like a superbike. It is not even any sort of quick McLaren P1. To keep it running, the P1 has a torque dip-filling electric motor and, comparatively speaking, a race-style engine, two-wheel drive, and far less weight.
No, the Chiron has an understanding of acceleration much more literal than either of these. Until it massively inhales and, about a second after you ask it to, starts to drive you down the lane, in loping, rapidly desperate strides of noise and blur, there is lag- very a lot of it typically-. The Chiron spools and runs up to the comparatively moderate levels I brought it to, and it just doesn’t stop. Bugatti’s test driver informs me that the car is still accelerating, especially when it reaches the 261 mph limiter. And when you are scared, you lift off, at which point it whistles and exhales an amount of air like a bouncy castle that exploded off the road. And you do, too.
Driving and handling? The former is sensible, and the latter is reasonably unapproachable on the lane. You can turn between EB mode (the normal one), Highway and Handling, but, god, all this is somehow unbecoming of a £2.5 m hypercar, rendering it more convenient for this path and stiffer for that one.
The EB model automatically changes the adjustable dampers’ stiffness, while the other two stiffen their parameters and decrease the ride height. But body control is often robust, regardless of mode, and the ride is often firm but rarely crashy. The Chiron can also ride the Belgian pave in EB, but the most significant advantage, other than being less prone to ground out, is that this mode increases comfort. It is acceptable in terms of that, then, and body control, but closer to the jarring standard of a Porsche 911 GT3 than the strange plushness of a Ferrari 488 GTB.
The steering weight in handling mode is sufficient, though excessively high, and the self-centering is correct. Solidity along the straight-ahead is reassuring (as you might expect), the lock is mediocre, and if you are dreaming of trading up, the directness and feeling (or the electrically aided approximation of it) are excellent and almost as lovely as it is in a Golf R. When power arrives in a rush. You drive a car that always feels every inch of its considerable width, it grips, and it manages to the point I was prepared to force.
Did Ettore Bugatti not tell “built fast trucks” to Bentley once? Ok, I do not intend being disrespectful, but when it comes to mobility and driver engagement, making a vehicle with an urge to do something 275 mph while maintaining a cozy, leather, and metal-lined interior brings compromise of its own.
That is understandable, in any case. And commendable. Giving the Chiron a vast engine and ignoring the rest would have been fast, But it would have been no more formidable than tuning to 2000bhp for a Nissan GT-R. Other than that, the Chiron itself.
As the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport was checked on the track, individuals with minimal vehicle familiarity arrived at our test runway, climbed in, rode at 200 mph, rode back to the start, and climbed out again. Only fast. The Chiron will achieve everything that will be achieved with an added 50 mph, more luxury, convenience, and handling on top. The crowning achievement is that it lets the utterly distinctive look nearly average. A vehicle only? Oh, a ride.