And now, from the sublime to the ridiculous, please welcome the Bugatti Chiron.
Excuse the offhand introduction to a car that rewrites automotive benchmarks so comprehensively that it stands to be the gold standard against which all other hypercars will be judged in the next decade.
The seminal Veyron’s successor truly is sublime in terms of the design and engineering that’s gone into it, and all the associated numbers are nothing less than ridiculous – in a positive way. Try this on for size: the Chiron leaps from standstill to 100kph in less than 2.5 seconds, on to 200kph in less than 6.5 seconds, and 300kph in just 13.6 seconds. Keep your foot floored and the acceleration won’t stop until you hit 420kph – and, even then, only because an electronic limiter will keep you from going any faster.
This is what’s possible when your source of propulsion is a 16-cylinder, quad-turbo engine that belts out 1,500hp and 1,600Nm – outputs that one would more readily associate with a hydroelectric power station.
Other fly-by-night supercar purveyors have had cracks at rolling out 1,000hp-plus offerings, but these half-baked entities aren’t even a patch on the Chiron, which has been subjected to all the safety, quality and durability standards that its VW Group parent company mandates for all its products.
The microscopic attention to detail is evident in every single component you scrutinise, and the visual impact of the car as a whole is plain gobsmacking – hence my elevated pulse rate and mildly light-headed feeling as I’m about to slide into its low-slung cockpit for a four-hour thrash across a variety of Portuguese roads.
The thought “you lucky so-and-so” flashes through my mind as I limbo over the Chiron’s wide sidesill and almost fold my legs in half to clear the tightly positioned front doorsill. Getting in and out of the Bugatti is a slightly awkward exercise, even in the context of this rarefied segment.
Once settled in, there’s a great feeling of spaciousness (for a car of this genre), and the cabin ambience is on par with a premium luxo limo – in terms of quality, if not sheer volume. Anything that looks like metal, carbon fibre or leather is indeed that. There are no cheap plastic bits pinched from elsewhere, and the result is pleasing to the eyes and fingertips. Everything you touch exudes quality, and each control element has a lovely damping/weighting to it.
Sat behind the flat-bottomed, three-spoke wheel, you’re faced with an instrument cluster that houses a central analogue speedo calibrated to 500kph (when was the last time you saw one of those?), and it’s flanked by a pair of virtual TFT screens that can be configured in various ways, depending on what info you want in front of you.
Illustration by Hussain Almoosawi
Fire up the massive W16 engine and it settles into a bassy rumble at idle. This graduates to a jet-plane/vacuum cleaner whine at light throttle loads, and a thunderous bellow as you begin to unleash the mayhem that lurks within.
Being put in charge of 1,500 horses is a task one initially approaches with discretion, but confidence builds quickly – the Chiron’s power delivery is encouragingly smooth and progressive, and traction levels from the all-wheel-drive chassis, with its electronically controlled diffs, is prodigious.
The speedo needle arcs past 250kph with utter nonchalance and even 300kph flashes past absurdly quickly. Straights shrink, corners arrive much earlier than you expect and you end up carrying much more momentum into them than you would be in anything else. But here’s the thing: the experience is never intimidating. The Bugatti has great inherent balance, and invites you to get on the gas hard and early – even out of second- or third-gear corners.
Unlike the one-trick-pony Veyron, the Chiron has adaptive suspension with five modes – “EB” (short for the company’s founder, Ettore Bugatti, and essentially a “comfort” setting), “Autobahn”, “Handling”, “Top Speed” and “Lift” (to negotiate driveways, speedhumps etc).
Even with the basic EB mode selected via the twist knob on the steering wheel, the car remains uncannily flat – but never jarring, even over rough cobblestones – when you’re going at it. And while the steering in the Veyron wasn’t the most communicative, the Chiron’s electrically assisted set-up is deftly weighted and has a nicely textured, analogue feel to it.
In addition to altering chassis, suspension and drivetrain settings, the different drive modes also tailor the angle of attack of the huge adaptive rear wing accordingly (from minus 10 degrees when retracted up to 14 degrees in Handling).
But the pièce de résistance is when you stand on the brake pedal as hard as you can – at, say, 250kph. This triggers the wing to pop up at 49 degrees and serve as an air brake. Your eyeballs nearly escape from your cranium when you experience this from behind the wheel. This level of speed-shedding simply doesn’t seem feasible in a road car.
The Chiron is truly mind-boggling. It hasn’t just tossed the supercar rule book out the window, it’s ripped it to shreds and fired it into outer space. And yet you can still comfortably drive it every day.