The heaviest sandstorm the UAE has seen in a while was not the ideal weather in which to take the upgraded, Dh12-million Bugatti Chiron out for a spin. But even a four-day shamal wasn't enough to stop me from being among the first people in the world to drive the newest car in the Bugatti range, the Sport member of the Chiron family.
Developing a cool 500bhp above a Formula One car at 1479bhp, the Chiron Sport's eight-litre, quad-turbocharged, 16-cylinder engine is the biggest, most powerful unit currently in production, giving it a phenomenal 420 kilometres per hour top speed. Strapped into the driver's seat on a section of closed road, it was time to reacquaint myself with the Chiron. I drove the launch version two years ago and was utterly blown away.
For a standing start acceleration, the needle on its 500kph calibrated speedometer barely lifted as I stepped on the accelerator and was already doing 60kph from the moment I released the handbrake. Less than a second later, I passed 100kph, a moment marked by its shift into second gear. At this point I heard a great whoosh behind me as the second pair of turbochargers fired up to send the car beyond 160kph. Two seconds later, the needle sat smack in the middle of the dial to indicate 250kph, about six seconds after I released the handbrake. By now only my peripheral vision registered the speedo, which showed the needle at the 1 o'clock position, with plenty to go. I kept my foot buried, not realising that this signalled 300kph.
After 16 seconds of full throttle in a Bugatti Chiron Sport, I decided enough was enough and rolled out of it, having touched 315kph. Scarily, it was still pulling like a train, urging me on to 400kph. This was all happening in the middle of a sandstorm, so visibility and grip were reduced, but it never once put a foot wrong.
The big difference between this and the regular Chiron is the 17-kilogram weight reduction. That may seem minuscule when you are talking about such enormous power figures, but you feel it when you jump on the brakes. As before, the rear wing turns into an air brake, except that it now deploys regardless of pedal pressure above 160kph. This means it not only pulls up much faster, but it also avoids the weight transfer you had with the regular Chiron.
In that car, the wing pops up only for emergency stops above 160kph and created some nosedive.
Mechanically, the Sport is unchanged from the regular Chiron, which Bugatti said was a 25 per cent improvement on the Veyron model it replaced in every aspect of its performance. With turbos that are 69 per cent larger than the Veyron, you can imagine the kind of lag these units could deliver, so Bugatti offset that by having two blowing all the time, fed by eight exhausts each, while at 3800rpm a valve opens to bring all four into play. They are fed by four exhausts each to deliver a linear wall of torque from 2000rpm to 6000rpm.
As expected, it takes a mountain of air, water and oil to keep the Chiron Sport operating at its peak, with an oil flow rate of 120 litres per minute, keeping things cool – that's two litres every second. At its 420kph top speed, governed by the limitations of the tyres, 1,000 litres of air is fed into its 10 radiators and intercoolers every second, while its water pump can fill an average-sized bathtub every 11 seconds, at 800 litres per minute. If driven at full throttle, its 100-litre fuel tank will be drained empty in under eight minutes.
There are no boy-racer carbon-fibre accents, race-harness belt buckles or cramped cockpit to announce its speed credentials. It also has more headroom than a Mercedes-AMG GT or an Aston Martin and is civilised enough to take a gentle cruise in.
Supremely faster and more luxurious than all of its competitors, the Bugatti Chiron Sport is not exactly what you'd call practical. But it does have room for a 66-litre suitcase in the nose, which makes it more functional than most other vehicles that are given the title of supercar.
Compared to its stripped-out competitors, the Chiron's interior is a tremendously luxurious environment. The powered seats are supportive in a firm way, not good for an all-day stint but OK for a few hours, while the sense of width inside is accentuated by a slim centre console made from a solid billet of aluminium. This houses all the comfort and convenience gauges while a smooth LED divider down the centre allows the driver to feel as though they are sitting in their own cockpit.
Where you'll find raw carbon fibre and Alcantara in other supercars, the Chiron's cabin is filled with solid billet metal hardware and the finest leather, while an outstanding Accuton sound system that uses a one-carat diamond membrane in each of its four tweeters delivers outstanding sound.
On hand to observe my test drive was Bugatti president, Stephan Winkelmann, who was in the UAE to celebrate Bugatti's 110th anniversary by chaperoning the stealthy €16.7m (Dh52.1m) La Voiture Noire one-off Bugatti that was shown at the Geneva Auto Show.
"The Middle East is the first stop on our global anniversary tour," he says. "We wanted to bring La Voiture Noire as it's a region where people like to tailor their cars and order bespoke models like this. It also gives us a chance to test it among the public."