THE D_TRB REVIEW: Bugatti Chiron
So, the moment is here: how does the £2.5m and 1497bhp Bugatti Chiron feel on the road?
I have in my possession some crazy statistics about the Chiron, which I’ll share in due course. However, the fact that within about 20 minutes of driving it on a pretty unremarkable road I’d notched up three bird strikes says much about its other-worldly performance. Nature’s most agile, fastest and most alert avian creatures simply can’t understand how the Chiron can be very far away one millisecond, and then plucking them out of mid-air and shredding them into component form the next. These poor little birds may have genetic coding that draws upon millions of years of experience, but they haven’t seen anything like this. Truth is, none of us have.
So here are the basics. The Chiron features a heavily revised 7993cc W16 with four turbochargers. They’re much bigger than those in the Veyron but lag (which was very noticeable in the Veyron Super Sport) is said to be reduced by a new two-stage turbocharging process. Below 3800rpm all exhaust gases are used to spin-up just two turbochargers, thereafter the other two chime in to ensure the motor has the top-end reach to match the low-rev potency.
The result is 1500PS (1479bhp) at 6700rpm and an astonishing 1600Nm (1180lb ft) from 2000-6000rpm. This mighty engine drives through a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox built by Riccardo, a Haldex four-wheel drive system and the hardest worked tyres in the world – Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s measuring 285/30 R20 at the front and 355/25 R21 at the rear.
Amazingly, all the power is useable pretty much all the time and such is the traction that this 1995kg monster (that’s empty of people and fluids) accelerates from 0-62mph in ‘under 2.5 seconds’, 0-124mph in less than 6.5 seconds and hits 186mph in less than 13.6 seconds. Usually the car is limited to 236mph but if you use the second ‘Speed Key’ it will reach 261mph. And that’s still electronically restricted. It could go faster. The real top speed? Nobody knows just yet, but Bugatti promise to go for absolute V-max in 2018.
So you approach the Chiron and swoon a little. ‘Ours’ is black as the night and riding on black wheels. It looks magnificently malevolent. The interior has bright orange leather seats, transmission tunnel, door trim and roof lining with a black dash and the steering wheel also trimmed in black. That sounds odd, possibly even horrendous, but the overall effect is stunning.
This is no crazy concept car interior, though. It’s reserved, logical and feels like the product of a huge manufacturer, not an artisan outfit like, say, a Pagani Huayra’s cabin. This is good and bad. Good because it feels timeless and nicely elegant, but perhaps surprising that it isn’t a bit more aesthetically daring or jewel-like in detail and execution. Although the big 'C-bar' that separates driver and passenger is very cool. Of course, depressing the blue button marked ENGINE is a thrill all of its own as you know you’re teetering on the edge of a unique, unknown experience.
There’s no evocative high-pitched starter motor, no attention-grabbing flare of revs. The big engine just roars lazily to life. It’s a big, deep, complex noise but it isn’t music. Knock the gearlever to the right with the side of you fist and the ‘box selects D. Another knock to the right selects Sport mode, but it’s better to instead just pull a paddle to get Manual mode should you want to gain total control.
We’re in EB mode, which means a ride height of 115mm at the front and 116mm at the rear, the constantly variable dampers in their most relaxed setting and the new electric steering at its lightest. Even so the Chiron immediately feels taut, cohesive and has this deep-seated sense of composure. The carbonfibre monocoque is incredibly stiff and Bugatti say its torsional rigidity of 50,000Nm per degree is comparable to an LMP1 car. You feel that inherent stability in everything the car does, from the smooth, precise steering reaction to the way the suspension deals decisively with the road’s surface and controls the Chiron’s mass so effortlessly. Even before you open the taps the Chiron exudes a sense of extreme potential and ruthless control.
Then you pin the throttle, the engine draws breath and a few tenths later seems to throw the car into the far distance. In fact ‘throw’ is the wrong word as it suggests the performance tails off. It doesn’t. Ever. Instead you’re pushed with ever greater force, the acceleration amplifying with each smooth, clean gearshift and the speed building with an eery, insatiable insistence. So the Chiron can’t match the instantaneous response of the electrically-boosted 918 Spyder, but once it hits its stride it would eat up the Porsche’s advantage, breeze past and then drive away like a 911 Turbo might from a Cayman S. The Chiron is sensationally, unnervingly fast and requires great restraint as a driver.
Watch the Bugatti Chiron run from 0-200mph in just 16 seconds!
It is down to you, too, because the chassis seems to not only cope with the performance but positively empowers the driver to exploit everything that W16 can create. Traction is simply outrageous. As long as the tyre temps are over 25-degrees Celsius the Chiron can deploy all 1180lb ft even in 1st gear, and the chassis balance and grip is such that corners aren’t simply the dull bits that get in the way of feeling 1479bhp pinning you to your seat.
In fact the stiffer, lower Autobahn mode (95mm front ride height, 115mm rear) also increases agility and locks down the body control like you wouldn’t believe. That means huge stability, but what’s particularly impressive is that the Chiron doesn’t ever want to understeer and instead seems to divert power to its outside rear wheel to create this lovely tail-led stance. I wouldn’t condone sliding this hugely capable car on the road but the sensation that the rear of the car is involved with negotiating a set of corners is as unexpected as it is rewarding, and it’s there well within the limits of the tyres.
The brakes, especially when aided by the air brake, are simply sensational. You’d expect as much and certainly require them at maximum capacity from time to time as it’s so easy to misjudge just how fast the Chiron is between the turns. A special mention should also go to the steering. It’s an electric system but it’s a much more sophisticated and expensive set-up than on other VW Group products (even something like a Porsche 911 GT3) and in terms of feedback and linearity of response it’s fabulous. There’s much more weight to it than the Veyron but even in Autobahn mode (we left the Handling mode alone on this relatively narrow road as it backs the ESP right off and the Bugatti team even refer to it as ‘Drift mode’ on more than one occasion) there’s never any of that sticky, synthetic resistance you can get with these systems and the feel of the chassis and steering together gives fantastic detail about grip levels and surface changes.
As you can probably tell, I’m a fan of the Chiron. You would be right to argue that it’s simply too fast for the public road, that it’s heavy and unnecessary and consumes fuel at an irresponsible rate, that it’s nothing short of a folly. But it’s also an incredible experience, a car that’s easy to drive at low speeds, capable of astounding acceleration and yet doesn’t seek out those numbers with such stubbornness that nothing else matters. It has balance and poise, it offers feedback and rewards and most of all it does it with a smile as broad as that of test driver Loris Bicocchi, who endowed it with all of these fine qualities. He deserves much credit. It would probably be enough that the Chiron has 1479bhp to sell all 500 slated for production at €2.4-million plus taxes, but in an extraordinary twist it’s pretty damned good to drive, too.