Go strato­spheric

Ev­ery­thing about the Ch­i­ron is ex­tra­or­di­nary — start­ing with the $3 mil­lion-plus pric­etag. By Damien Reid

The Advertiser - Motoring - - PRESTIGE FIRST DRIVE -

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 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 high­per­for­mance and high­main­te­nance 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.

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