Bugatti Chiron is a car of mind-scrambling numbers: 1103kW, 1600Nm, $4.4 million, 1995kg, and that famous 420km/h top speed. In mid-2017, evo Australia editor, Jesse Taylor, had just 42 minutes to try to make sense of it all
Douglas Adams was right. The answer to the meaning of life, the universe and everything is,
indeed, 42. Of all the incredible numbers associated with the Bugatti Chiron, it’s the comparatively small figure of 42 that means the most to me. The 42 minutes I spent in the supple leather driver’s seat, staring at that 500km/h speedo while being shoved in the back by a force beyond comprehension, are imprinted onto my mind with indelible ink.
To be granted those 42 minutes took months of logistical wrangling from the other side of the world. In fact, my first two attempts to get behind the wheel of the Chiron were thwarted. To score wheel time in the world’s fastest and most expensive series production car took the cashing-in of all favours and goodwill chips that I’d accrued in two decades in this job. And here’s the thing about those 42 minutes; it was meant to be sixty, but road works and heavy traffic meant I was running late. I’ll forever wonder how I could have spent those 18 minutes…
Crack! The sonic boom thunders through the carbonfibre super structure as the 355/25 R21 rear tyres slap over the expansion joint between the sections of concrete. Had I not been previously warned to expect a thunder clap within the cockpit, it’d have surely startled me into twitching at the wheel or touching the brakes. Forewarned, however, I continued holding the beautiful aluminium throttle pedal to the bulkhead, and kept a light touch on the leather and carbonfibre steering wheel. The Chiron merely shrugged off the expansion joint and continued hauling in the horizon at over 100 metres per second.
Even for someone who’s driven lots of very fast cars, including the Veyron, it’s difficult for me to find a frame of reference for the Chiron’s speed. Conventional measurements are meaningless in a car with 1103kW and 1600Nm. With launch control engaged, the Chiron will breach 100km/h in under 2.5 seconds. The first 200km/h (not even a 50 per cent score on the Chiron’s ultimate ability) is dispatched with disdain in 6.5 seconds. Many people’s idea of a fast car would begin with the likes of a Volkswagen Golf GTI, and it’s good for 0-100km/h in about 6.5sec. Up to 200km/h, the Chiron is accelerating at such a mind-scrambling rate that it’s all you can do to process the stream of scenery pouring through the windscreen. The speedo needle swept through the first half of its arc and beyond 250km/h at top-dead centre. With the four-turbochargers delivering their full 1.85-bar head of steam, the speedo’s accompanying digital numbers flickered in meaningless chunks of 15-20km/h.
There was no let up as the speed built towards 300km/h (something that takes just 13.6 seconds) but my mind finally caught up and began to comprehend and appreciate the acceleration. An Aston Martin Vanquish takes over 40 seconds to pass 300km/h, and very fast cars such as a Porsche 911 Turbo need 30 seconds. Something truly ballistic, think Ferrari 812 Superfast, takes around 24 seconds.
In an attempt to comprehend the scale of the Chiron’s performance, consider that its 1103kW power peak is more than twice that of a Lamborghini Aventador S or three times the power of a BMW M4 GTS. The Bugatti’s 1600Nm represents twice the torque – plus another 60Nm – of the ballistic McLaren 720S. But this is the craziest comparison of all – the Chiron has 221kW and 350Nm more than the Veyron Supersport, a car already capable of a mind-bending 431km/h. That’s a Golf R on top of a Veyron.
My Chiron continued its rush, storming beyond 300km/h like most performance cars run to 150km/h. Thirty years ago, the Ferrari F40 became the first production car to exceed 200mph (322km/h), but the Chiron didn’t even draw breath as it powered beyond that milestone. Remaining rock solid and tracking arrow straight, the Bugatti powered beyond my previous vmax PB of 341km/h (set 11 years ago in a fully wrung-out Lamborghini Murcielago LP640).
At just beyond an indicated 350km/h, the expansion joint exploded through the back of the car like I’d driven over a landmine. I did wonder if those in the still and calm air outside the Chiron registered the shockwave.
Even as the speedo’s digital display tripped into the 370s, the digits were still skipping ahead in clusters of three and five km/h, while the analogue needle swept on in a smooth motion. I’m sure that, like all cars, the Chiron’s accelerative fury is eventually reined in by the demands of drag, but there was a feeling of plenty more to come.
Finally, after a 30-second rush that is still buzzing through my veins six months later, the electronics said enough. One final glance at the speedo revealed that the digits had settled at an indicated 391km/h. Later interrogation of the data-logger confirmed that the first stage of the electronic limiter was working and the true speed was 382.4km/h. That’s 106 metres per second, but 38km/h short of the Bugatti’s second-stage limiter (accessed via the ‘speed’ key that is inserted into the sill).
But what can the Chiron do given ultimate freedom and enough space? It’s something Bugatti itself is keen to discover and, in partnership with Michelin, they are actively developing a tyre capable of 500km/h.
Despite Koenigsegg’s recent Bugatti-busting records (both a 447km/h two-way averaged top speed and absurd 0-400-0km/h test), and the 485km/h boast of Hennessey’s new Venom F5, Bugatti remains confident that it builds the world’s fastest production car. Off-the-record chats with Bugatti and VW Group brass and engineers have suggested numbers from 455-505km/h. Assuming that an untethered Chiron hits 485km/h, at 382km/h I’d only tapped into 79 per cent
of the Bugatti’s ultimate pace.
Merely lifting at this speed triggered a rate of deceleration similar to that of a firmly applied brake pedal at 100km/h in a regular car. But with the road running out and the Chiron eating it up in football-pitch mouthfuls, a firm brush and bury of the pedal poured heat into the carbon ceramic brakes. Both at high- and, surprisingly, low-speed, the pedal is easy to modulate, but given the speed of the car, I’d prefer a larger pedal than the round lozenge that is, thankfully, ideally located for left-foot braking – perhaps something that would accommodate both of my size 12s.
After my two vmax runs (the warm-up yielded a mere 366km/h) it occurred to me that the Chiron was as fuss-free at 350km/h as a 911 Turbo is at 200. To remove a task from my overloaded brain, I’d left the seven-speed dual-clutch in auto mode, but the assurance of the Bugatti was such that this was an unnecessary precaution. Fitness for purpose has never been more apt.
My time with the Chiron was so fleeting that I’m not going to claim this as a comprehensive road test. But I am confident that, beyond the Bugatti’s headline speed, it’s no mere bauble for the ultra rich. Speaking of which, Bugatti has sold more than 300 of the 500-unit production run at a minimum price of $4.4 million. The example I drove featured a $300K optional paint finish and a few other options that took the final price just beyond $4.9m.
Aside from drumming road noise, the Chiron does slow and mundane as easy as a Golf, luxury better than any Bentley and drama on a scale that a Lamborghini cannot match. That it
also combines engaging dynamics with its outrageous speed rounds out a complete skillset. That you could buy a dozen dream cars for the cost of the Bugatti is missing the point. Not only is the Chiron the world’s fastest car, it’s also the world’s finest GT car. Think of it as a Ferrari 812 Superfast on EPO – it would make a sensational daily.
On a more typical backroad, and while not trying to trouble all 1103kW, the Chiron exhibits involving handling and surprisingly chatty steering. Far from being an overpowered 1995kg lump of energy, the Bugatti is at least as engaging as a Nissan GT-R. By the way, the quoted 1103kW, 1600Nm maximum outputs are actually the minimums. Bugatti says that these numbers are available at altitude and at temperatures of 50-degrees Celsius. At sea level or in cooler temperatures, the Chiron, like the Veyron before it, makes more than it says on the tin.
The steering is nicely weighted, with a natural response rate. It’s no 911 GT3, but the Chiron is miles away from being a straight-line specialist. I only drove early examples of the Veyron rather than the later, more powerful and more focused Supersport variant, but the Chiron feels vastly
different. Lighter on its feet (despite the 1995kg mass), more driver-oriented and more willing to be driven hard as distinct from driven fast. To feel the Chiron squat onto its haunches as it changed direction and fire out of a corner wasan unexpected delight.
Cruising in the calm after the vmax storm, it’s hard not to be even more impressed with how complete the Chiron feels. The cabin, dominated and divided by that great arcing spar of aluminium, is utterly captivating. The quality is in a realm of one and the Chiron even smells fast.
The two poles of the Chiron are making an entrance and clocking a number beyond comprehension. But even if you never chased a number, nor used it to arrive, you would still marvel at the abilities of this engineering wonder. You might also just own the finest car ever made.