Everything about the Chiron is extraordinary — starting with the $3 million-plus pricetag. By Damien Reid
WHEN it comes to the 1120kW, 8.0-litre, 16-cylinder quad turbo Bugatti Chiron, the figures overpower words, written or spoken.
Filming a video segment behind the wheel, I try to speak as I plant my right foot — and it quite literally takes my breath away.
So fierce is the acceleration that it compresses my chest and I’m physically unable to speak until I lift off the throttle. The spots in my vision, from reduced blood flow to the head, also clear.
Writing about the experience is no small challenge. There are a tsunami of astonishing numbers and an avalanche of reactions from my four hours behind the wheel — it’s hard to find one stat more impressive than the next.
When Volkswagen launched the Bugatti Veyron in 2005, it aimed to reset the bar for the ultimate supercar. Then company boss Wolfgang Durheimer wanted a successor that was “better in every respect”.
Engineers say the Chiron betters the performance of the Veyron by 25 per cent in every respect from power to drag coefficient. Certainly its power boost feels that way — the four turbos are 69 per cent larger than those used in the 895kW Veyron Supersport.
Bugatti offsets the risk of turbo lag by having two blowing from start-up, then at 3800rpm a valve opens to bring all four on song. Fed by four exhausts each, they deliver a linear 1600Nm wall of torque from 2000pm to 6000rpm.
With no hybrid powertrain like the Porsche 918 or LaFerrari, the Chiron doesn’t have instant takeoff.
It’s more like the Space Shuttle launching — it takes power to move the mass, then once off the mark it just never stops accelerating — and that means rest to 200km/h in 6.5 seconds.
Under controlled conditions cruising at prodigious speeds, it feels composed, tractable, yet also ready to pounce. Beyond halfway on the 500km/h speedo, I can chat to my codriver and still guide it with pinpoint accuracy.
Acceleration and composure are peerless but its braking performance is perhaps even more impressive.
Enormous 420mm carbon ceramic discs and a giant rear air brake wipe speed off faster than I expect, so I find myself consistently braking too early into corners, recalling the advice from a Bugatti engineer before we set out, that the Chiron always wins the mental game of chicken with its driver.
As well as dispensing wisdom, the engineers also provide some head-spinning statistics. At its governed top speed of 420km/h, the Chiron sucks 1000L of air a second into its 10 radiators and intercoolers; its water pump propels 800L a minute, the equivalent of filling an average bathtub every 11 seconds.
At prodigious speeds, it’s thirsty — on full throttle, its 100L tank is drained in just under eight minutes.
The Chiron is not a strippedout racer like the LaFerrari. The interior matches Bentley levels of comfort, consuming 18 cow hides, though its 66L of luggage space in the nose fits just one large suitcase.
It may not be what you’d call practical but it’s certainly more usable than “supercars” at less than half its power and price. The powered seats are supportive in a firm way, not good for an all-day stint but OK for a few hours. The feeling of width is accentuated inside by a slim centre console, milled from a solid billet of aluminium and housing comfort and convenience controls.
Nestled in the sill panel beside the driver is another start key, locked into place. This unleashes the full 420km/h potential. It’s just shy of the world speed record of 431km/h h set by the Veyron — you can expect a version of the Chiron to top that eventually. Today’s default top speed is 380km/h. My codriver Andy Wallace, winner of the 1988 Le Mans 24-Hour and no stranger to high-performance and high-maintenance Jaguar racers, says: “We’re sitting in a car with 300kW more (than the Jaguar V12) and it’s as tractable as a Volkswagen Polo and good for 200,000km before a major service.”
Bugatti lost money on every Veyron it made. A flagwaver for its engineers to show what was possible at the extreme end of performance, the Veyron eventually tallied 450 sales.
The Chiron has a different mandate, to be profitable while presenting the pinnacle of automotive engineering. The production run will be 500 cars, with 250 pre-sold.
Deliveries, in left-hand drive only, begin this month with a starting price equal to $3.4 million. There’s another stratospheric figure.