We could have done 236mph if we’d waited until the next off-ramp, no question. That’s the car’s electronically limited top speed in its normal driving setup. Insert a second key down between the driver’s seat and the rocker panel and the ride height and spoilers reconfigure themselves in a low drag mode that subs stability for the ability to slip through the air, and the speed limiter is raised to 261mph (420kmh). What’ll it do without that limiter? We’ll have to wait until next year to find out when Bugatti conducts a maximum attack run at VW’s Ehra Lessien test track, but at least 280mph seems likely.
Here’s how badly the Bugatti Chiron messes with your mind: I just did 217mph on an ordinary Portuguese highway in daytime traffic and came home slightly disappointed that I didn’t go faster.
Forget about the two-eighty, though, or the ridiculous 310mph the speedometer is calibrated for. It’s as pointless as the haters say it is. There’s almost nowhere on earth you can go that quickly. But in the Chiron you can go 217mph everywhere.To reach 200mph in a 911 Turbo S you need miles of freeway and nerves of steel. To reach 200mph in a Chiron you only need the tiniest stretch of asphalt, a fat wallet and a decent lawyer. At 217mph our Chiron was tracking dead straight, the steering wheel as calm as a sloth at a mindfulness retreat, the noise an airplane like fusion of wind whoosh and mechanical roar. At 217mph it was pulling like a Porsche 911 does at half that speed.
Forget the 2.5sec it takes to get to 62mph. By any sane measurement, that’s extremely quick, but a Tesla P100D gets very close. The Chiron though, is only just getting started. Try these: 0-124mph (200kmh) in less than 6.5sec and 0-186mph (300kmh) in 13.6sec.
It’s mind bending. But didn’t the Veyron also bend minds (often shortly before bending fenders, streetlight poles and other cars)? And that came out over a decade ago, when its $1.25m price seemed crazy. The new car costs $2.6m plus tax. The Chiron gets to 186mph 3.1sec quicker, but is that enough? Has it really changed the rules of the game in the way the Veyron did?
Looking at the technical makeup, you’d have to say no. Although the carbon chassis is new, and the power train comprehensively upgraded, the fundamentals are the same. The eight-liter W16 delivers its power to all four wheels through a seven-speed dual clutch transmission. A new two-stage turbo setup sees each bank of eight cylinders blowing through one turbo until around 3800rpm, before the other pair is added into the mix to give a big fat, wide torque curve, and as little lag as possible. It makes 1479bhp, compared to 987bhp from the original Veyron and 1184bhp for the Supersport. Torque? 1180lb ft, right through from 2000-6000rpm. I wonder if Bugatti does a fifth wheel option?
But where’s the hybrid component, the electrical boost that’s expected of a modern hypercar and which might have eradicated the perception of lag altogether? Maybe it’s just as well the Chiron does without it weighs 4398lb as it is. The last thing it needs is a beer gut of batteries. That means it doesn’t have the instant-on throttle response of a LaFerrari. And it doesn’t sound anywhere near as good either, even if it’s a lot more musical than the Veyron. But feel the torque wash you back into the seat midway through third gear on a twisty two-lane road, and to be honest, you’ve got enough going on that you’ll hardly notice.
And you can use the performance on twisty two lane roads. Okay, maybe not all of it, but this car really handles. It steers properly, the damping is excellent and the stopping power is almost as eye-popping as the acceleration. The Veyron was never this much fun. Close the throttle on tighter corners and you can feel nose tuck in and the rear edge out. Toggle the rotary driving mode dial to Handling and you can even drift it a little. Apparently. A Portuguese back road didn’t really seem the right place to try. Come to think of it, I’m not sure where is.
But then you reach a little town at the end of that two-laner and you realize the true breadth of the Chiron’s talents. You can make anything go fast if throw enough horsepower at it. But to make it the fastest car in the world, and at the same time as easy to drive as a Civic, more comfortable than many sports sedans and with an audio system that’s almost better than being in the studio with the band, that takes some doing.
For some that lack of rawness could be a turn off. This might have a small trunk where the Veyron had almost nothing, but no one’s really going to treat it like a GT, are they? Supercars are for administering 10 minute concentrated shots of adrenalin.
But this one’s different. This is the rare thing, a supercar that delivers a real feel-good factor driving slowly. It does that through its incredible attention to detail and choice of materials. There’s hardly a trace of plastic in sight. Everything you touch is leather, carbon fiber or metal. That handsome steering wheel? Milled from a solid hunk of aluminum. Even the starter button and driving mode selector are illuminated slivers of aluminum. It makes a Bentley feel about as bespoke as a can of Coke.
So maybe you’re thinking that, yeah, this sounds like an amazing car, but it’s not that much different to the Veyron, and you could list dozens of other really cool cars you could have instead for your $3m+. And realistically it is going to be $3m+ by the time you’ve factored in your tax and options like the tinted carbon bodywork.
But this bit is as difficult to get your head around as the fact it can do 200mph from a dead stop in 16sec: Chiron customers don’t have to make agonizing choices like we do. The average Chiron customer has 47 other cars, three jets, three helicopters and a huge yacht for good measure. They probably already have all those other cool cars you were thinking you’d get instead, or they could have if they wanted.
They’re way beyond rich. As Bentley and Bugatti CEO Wolfgang Dürheimer puts it: ‘When a Bentley customer comes to the factory to buy a car, he flies first class on the plane, and stays in the best room in the hotel when he gets there. But the Bugatti customer comes in his own plane, and he owns the hotel as well.’
So while the Chiron might not move the game on to the same extent the Veyron did, you can see perfectly well why 250 of the planned 500 production run is already sold. It’s an incredible machine in its own right, and that blend of luxury a performance means it still delivers a unique experience among supercars. But the next Bugatti, that’s going to be the real shock. It needs to be.