BUGATTI CHIRON DRIVEN: 1,500 Horsepower of Engineering Excellence
Driving the most expensive, most powerful production car in the world.
Bugatti is a brand with a certain cache, unsurpassed in the arena of hyperbole. With the introduction of the Veyron in 2005 the brand was revitalized, unable to be beaten when it came to facts, figures and exclusivity. One-thousand and one horsepower, and a top speed in excess of two-hundred and fifty miles-per hour instantly cemented the Bugatti Veyron as the performance benchmark. That it cost $1,700,000 was just the hyperbolic icing on the cake of incredibleness of the Veyron. The wow factor remained unsurpassed throughout its decade-long run, despite the best efforts of many valiant competitors.
At least, it was unsurpassed, until now. The Veyron’s 450-car production run has come to a close, and in its stead stands the latest, greatest tower of power from Bugatti. It’s called Chiron.
Let’s put the facts and figures right out there.
As the successor to the Veyron, Chiron is, of course, packing insane firepower. 1,500 horsepower at 6,700 rpm, and 1,180 lb-ft. of torque at 2,000 rpm catapult the Chiron into the next dimension with swiftness. Much like Veyron, that firepower comes courtesy of an eight-liter, quad-turbocharged W16 engine. Rest assured, the Chiron powertrain stands out from its predecessor. Bugatti was quick to whip out graphs, charts and actual engine parts when asked. The turbochargers are much larger, for a start. The heads have been revised for better flow and greater efficiency. Of course, the block has also been fortified to take the extra wallop, with new pistons, rods, crank, bearings and pretty much everything else that can be upgraded when your goal is 1,500 everyday horsepower.
Perhaps that’s too esoteric, too unrelatable for the every day driver. Let’s put it in context. 1,500 is equivalent to 9.49 Honda Civics in horsepower. Too much of a stretch in performance? No problem, it’s also equivalent to 3.53 times as much power as a BMW M3. One last reality check: the Chiron has a 158% power premium over the Ferrari LaFerrari hypercar.
Accompanying the utter lunacy that is the W16 behemoth riding behind the driver’s seat are the other, otherworldly stats. If you want to crunch some numbers, chomp on this: the Bugatti Chiron costs $2,998,000 before options, and there are options, alright. The statisticians in the audience will note that you’re paying a 1.3-million-dollar premium over the Veyron for 500 horsepower. I’ll spare you the calculator time: that’s $2600 per horsepower gained.
Of course, it would be obtuse to stop there, as the Chiron is so much more than just a blank check for those hunting horsepower.
Meeting the Chiron(s).
Bugatti customers operate on a different level than most, so it’s only natural that Bugatti would give us a fleeting taste of that lifestyle. Upon arriving at La Maison Bugatti, I was greeted by this sinister symphony in midnight blue. Of course, that is just a tinted clearcoat covering the all carbon fiber body panels beneath. Look closely, and you’re greeted with carbon fiber weave beneath that pretty finish. I have seen oceans with less depth than the appearance of this car. It also helps Chiron lose a bit of weight from it’s predecessor, coming in a lighter, but still heavy 4,400 pounds.
The detail work of the Chiron is again, otherworldly. The black magic of aerodynamics has been heavily involved in the contours of the car, with air channels and sculpted body panels controlling the air around it, making it do the car’s bidding. Of course, the aerodynamic package is both passive and active, that big rear wing has more computing power than NASA did just a few years ago. The effect is palpable, with the car stimulating both intellectual curiosity at its function and an evocative desire with its form. Every time I walked around the Chiron, I noticed a new, fascinating detail about it. That it looks like a carbon-bodied spaceship also helps the “wow” factor.
Let’s talk tail lights. This one small detail is completely indicative of this car and its intentions. The tail light panel, referred to as a “membrane,” is actually a floating assembly. That black mesh allows air that passes through the body work, and cools the Chiron’s many radiators and heat exchangers, to exit out the back of the car. The tail light membrane is “floating” so as not to obstruct the exiting air. Functional, yet absolutely beautiful in both detail and execution.
Double click the images above and tell me if there is anything big I missed. Like I said, each pass around the car had me spotting new details, mouth agape, like an idiot.
If you recall about a minute ago, I said “Chirons,” so when it came time to drive, I grabbed a set of keys and landed the other Chiron in attendance. Swathed in the more traditional two-tone paint scheme that Bugatti is known for, this combo was a light blue/dark blue body over polished wheels.
Of course, when you’re driving a Bugatti Chiron, the paintwork is largely irrelevant, people will be taking pictures as soon as tire touches public pavement. I have had the good fortune to drive some very cool cars but the Chiron takes the cake when it comes to public reception. Leaving La Maison Bugatti, I was tasked with making a left-hand turn onto the Pacific Coast Highway, a feat best reserved for the bold and brave. Except, of course, when you’re driving a Bugatti. All four lanes of 60 mph traffic stopped to let the Chiron out onto PCH. Seriously. People everywhere were scrambling with cameras, phones, etch-a-sketches, it didn’t matter. Nothing gets more attention than this car, full stop. In the span of five minutes, I passed two Rolls-Royce Ghosts, both featuring drivers facing personal injury with how craned their necks were upon seeing the Chiron.
But, the best public interaction came moments later. As I arrived at an intersection, I happened upon a McLaren 650S, revving it’s engine, and garnering much fanfare. That is, of course, until I pulled up right beside the Macca and let loose 16 cylinders of wailing fury. Normally, I don’t revel in public attention, but this was just too good to pass up. Our friend in the McLaren turned around and promptly dropped his jaw into his lap upon seeing the Chiron. Again, the cameras were clicking away non-stop.
So there is much fanfare when showboating a Bugatti Chiron, but how does it drive?
In a word? Sublime. Bugatti’s team was adamant that the Chiron is a driver’s car, much more so than Veyron, which traded tactility for outright pace. The interior is driver-focused, offering adjustable gauges and on-screen information so that the driver knows everything that is happening with the car. Speaking of the interior, it is gorgeous, with this example featuring extended caramel-colored leather and beautifully polished aluminum work. The seat frames are dry carbon-bodied and perfectly cosseting to the driver and passenger. The floating center stack doubles as your HVAC controls or performance meters, adjusted at the press of a button.
Speaking of adjustability, the blue dial on the steering wheel is the key to unleashing the Chiron. That dial toggled between the different driving modes for the car, which adjust the power steering calibration, adaptive dampers, throttle response, and the rear wing. Of course, less discussed is that the Chiron has a “track mode,” which was explicitly calibrated with drifting in mind. No, that’s not a joke, one of Bugatti’s engineers referred to it as ‘drift mode,’ and showed us a clip of a very sideways Chiron smoking tires.
“The Bugatti Chiron is so much more than just a blank check for those hunting horsepower.”
The software is great, but the hardware is better. On the winding canyon roads of Malibu, the Chiron can really dance. Of course, the adaptive dampers are brilliant at coping with the broken pavement, and helping generate massive, unyielding grip. The shocks on this car are worth their weight in gold. Those dampers work together with massive rubber: 285-section width front and 355-section width steamroller rear tires, co-developed with Bugatti and Michelin. They are a custom compound variant of the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 track day tire, and they work phenomenally at keeping the Chiron hooked up and communicative. Behind those beautifully-polished wheels (20-inches front, 21-inches rear) are carbon-ceramic brakes with the largest brake calipers I have ever seen before. All the better for “woahing” this 4,400 pound atomic weapon.
Bugatti said they have built a driver’s car, and they weren’t kidding. Racing driver Butch Leitzinger was along for the ride, and when pressed about the biggest leap from Veyron to Chiron he said it was unquestionably the handling and sharpness of the car. Bugatti is adamant that Chiron drivers can and will use the car as an occasional track day toy, and there is no doubt it would clean up shop at a track day. Good luck keeping up.
This level of playfulness is usually reserved for cars like Miatas or old BMWs, that a 1,500 horsepower, 4,400 pound hyper car can be so tossable and friendly is astounding. Coming into this, I was afraid that the car would feel disconnected, and be a one-trick pony, but that is so not the case, to the point that it is actually flabbergasting. This should be a case of “Don’t meet your heroes,” but the poster car to usurp all other poster cars really is as good as the facts and figures suggest. Does it stop being hyperbole when the hype is justified?
What about the power?
It’s good, it’s really damn good. Scratch that, it’s amazing. How much do I need to use the term “otherworldly” before it sinks in? The W16 makes such an exotic, mechanical sound that, combined with the whiz-bang 7-speed dual clutch automatic transmission the driver can’t help but be engaged in the process.
Speaking of the process, let’s process how big the engine is. There are four banks of four-cylinder engines, strung together on a common crankshaft. It’s massive, but despite that, it revs to 7,250 rpm. Can you imagine the forces at play with 16 cylinders spread apart at four different angles swinging off the crankshaft that fast? How this motor manages to so smooth is a modern marvel of technology and engineering. I’m not sure how many balance shafts are hanging off the crank, but it must be a lot to keep the engine sewing machine smooth.
Let’s talk power delivery: there is power everywhere. Peak torque is from 2,000-6,000 rpm and peak horsepower is at 6,700 rpm just 550 revs before the redline. Sure, the power is a bit flat below 2,000, but it’s relative, this engine is making more horsepower and torque below 2,000 rpm than most super cars make period.
Turbocharged engines can be so hit and miss with me, and I own a turbo car. Of course, some are better than others, but there is usually compromise in terms of where the engine is going to make usable power. Too many turbo cars offer low-down grunt at the expense of high-rpm performance, which is nice around town, but ultimately a bit dull when you’re really hammering down. The Chiron pulls hard to 7,250, to the point where I blipped the limiter a few times not expecting the engine to pull as hard as it did up top. It rewards those who chase the red line with both power and an exotic sound that you will never hear anywhere else. In the same vein, you can putz around town all day just off idle and have more power than is ever explicitly necessary.
Oh, and the acceleration is unrelenting. It’s not violent, it doesn’t explode you into the next dimension, though it certainly could. The Chiron rides on a continuous plateau of power. Surf’s always up, because the wave of acceleration never stops with thing. 0-to-100 mph happens in less than 5 seconds. The 1/4-mile jaunt, and it is a jaunt in the Chiron, is clicked off in about 9.5 seconds. Fortunately, the Chiron is electronically-limited to a tame 261 mph, otherwise it would happily keep going, supposedly past 290 mph.
There is one thing I wish I could change about my date with the Chiron: I wish I had more time with it. In just three hours, I was completely swayed. I want three weeks, maybe even three months, because from where I’m sitting (and where I wish I was sitting), being in the driver’s seat of the Bugatti Chiron is a gift greater than all others. Toss the hyperbole out the window, the Bugatti Chiron is even better than you imagined.