Speed Mettle

Itís more than a decade since the Veyron relocated the goal posts to the moon. Time for Bugattiís new Chiron Ė through mind-bending engineering and a little help from a reworked quad-turbo, 1103kW W16 Ė to notch a new hypercar high

WORDS CHRIS CHILTON PHOTOS JAMES LIPMAN

FOR A car that makes a big noise about going fast, the Bugatti Chiron does a great job of going slowly. Slow, of course, is a relative concept. At 200km/h, the kind of speed when your average affordable fast car is starting to breathe a little heavy, the Chironís cabin is an oasis of calm, your right foot treading as lightly on the right pedal as a pond skater dancing on the waterís surface. A pond skater thatís about to slip on some concrete Wellies.

ďOkay, you can start picking up some speed now just to get ready,Ē my co-driver Loris tells me gently from the other side of the weird carbon septum that divides the passenger compartment. Thereís a brow in the motorway ahead and traffic in the slow lane to the right. But I lean into the pedal because I trust Loris. Bugatti trusts Loris.

So does Lamborghini. And Pagani, and Koenigsegg. Loris Bicocchi is the go-to man for supercar dynamic tuning.

But does Loris trust me? How must it feel to sit beside a stranger knowing youíre about to give them the okay to unleash 1103kW and do their absolute damndest to go as fast as physically possible on a public road in a car thatís electronically limited to 418km/h?

As we crest the hill and the motorway unfolds ahead, Loris nods his head slightly and makes a chopping motion with his hand. Before his wrist has even reached the end of its arc, Iíve pinned the throttle. The four turbos take a set, take a breath and the W16 pins us both to our seats. I can feel my cheeks flush and my hands instinctively grip the wheel tighter as the car hurls itself forward. Two-ten. Two-twenty-five. Twohundred and forty kilometres per hour. The increments on the speedometer are ticked off as quickly as you can say them, and with the same nonchalance. Twosixty.

Two-seventy-five. That long straight we could see from the crest? Half of it is in the rear-view mirror. Not that Iím looking anywhere but forward. Two-ninety.

Three-hundred. At this load the Chironís water pump is pushing enough water to fill a bath in 11sec and the scenery rushing past the side windows looks almost like liquid, a smear of green. Three-hundred and twenty two kays an hour, and still pulling as hard as a senior league hot hatch in the prime of second gear.

When I hit an indicated 200mph (322km/h) in a 911 Turbo S a few years back chasing the then-new AMG SLS on the Autobahn, those last few mph came slowly and the car left you in no doubt it was giving its all. I got out shaking like Iíd just been pulled from a shipwreck in the North Sea. But the Chiron feels relaxed and rock solid. Thereís no commotion at the steering wheel, no vibration, just the muted roar of 16 cylinders and the whoosh of air being barged aside. Coming through!

Three-thirty. Three-forty. Three-fifty. ThreeÖthe carís still barrelling forwards when Loris calmly raises his hand.

ďOkay,Ē he says cheerfully, ďthis is our junction.Ē

I push hard on the handsome art-deco brake pedal and the giant eight-piston calipers drop 150km/h like theyíre flicking away a cigarette butt. We peel off the motorway and I try to mentally digest what just happened.

We didnít reach the Chironís electronically limited 418km/h top speed, or even the 380km/h it will do

without the second key engaged to activate the low drag mode. But we could have, if with Jamie Lipmanís Nikon, more junction. People will 418km/h car when thereís hardly safely and legally do that speed. fact that the Chiron can do Itís that it can do the 350km/thatís the maximum for almost speed that ordinarily requires aborted autobahn runs before you need, and you can do it want to do it.

But is the Chiron a one-anything to offer when (or becomes a bit, well, ordinary. it do anything the Veyron Forgive us for being a little the game on?

To find out, weíve come to could be more appropriate expensive hypercar than western impoverished country?

Although there are classic four-wheeled vehicle makes than the Chiron, even if the cap, brown cords and leather peculiar to aging Portuguese couldnít possibly imagine that Who could, without prior aged we didnít have a rendezvous , and had carried on one ask whatís the point of a ardly anywhere you can peed. But maybe itís not the 418km/h thatís so impressive. m/h we just did, the 350km/h most every other supercar, a res huge space and endless ore you get the traffic break just about anywhere you trick pony? Does it have if) shrinking straight roads ary. More to the point: does didnít do back in 2005? e cynical, but does it move o Portugal. Well, where to drive a grotesquely estern Europeís most c cars worth far more, no s a better statement of wealth e old men wearing that cloth er jacket uniform thatís e gents sat at the roadside hat it costs $3.3m. r knowledge? Because that

Is the Chiron a one-trick pony? And does it do anything the Veyron didnít?

really is an outrageous amount of money. And what it buys isnít fundamentally much different to many other supercars. Leaving aside the legal ramifications of getting caught doing 350km/h on a road with a 110km/h limit, or the moral issue of doing it when other cars are present, does the very real performance advantage over a Ferrari 488GTB make it worth ten times more?

Thatís a question only proles like us are likely to ask, says Bentley and Bugatti CEO Wolfgang DŁrheimer.

Chiron customers have an average of 47 other cars.

They already have the Ferrari. Maybe three. They donít have to think twice about whether the monthly finance payment is going to leave them enough left to pay the mortgage. They spend $500,000 on options, like the tinted carbon bodywork. One bought six Chirons, a $23m order, and didnít flinch when he was told there was no multi-pack discount.

ďA customer who comes to Crewe to buy a Bentley flies first class and stays in the best suite at the hotel,Ē explains DŁrheimer. ďA Bugatti customer arrives in his own plane. And he owns the hotel.Ē

Hopefully that kind of wealth means they have a lackey to open the Chironís door for them, because your very first point of contact with the car is a slightly loose-fitting arc of plastic thatís about as tactile as the wobbly handle on a 30-year-old oven. The Chiron deserves better because in every other area, the detailing on this car is out of this world.

Bugatti talks about the authenticity of the Chironís materials, and a no-plastic concept. ĎWhat you see, is what you get,í says DŁrheimer, and what you do see and get is almost always made from carbonfibre, leather or aluminium. Our carís optional exposed carbon bodywork is so beautiful you almost expect the lacquer to ripple like water in a pool when you reach out to touch it.

Grin and bear the handle interaction and the cabin is no less outrageous, starting with the speedometer.

It takes pride of place in front of the driverís view, where youíd normally find a rev counter in a Porsche or Ferrari Ė a reminder that in this car absolute speed is more important than the engine kind Ė and reads to 500km/h. ĎItís analogue, not digital,í DŁrheimer explains. ĎIf a little boy looks through the window, we want him to be able to see the numbers.í

See the steering wheel? Looks good. Feels better.

Itís hewn from a solid aluminium billet. Even the elegant blue buttons sprouting from beneath the hub, one a driving mode dial, the other a starter button, are illuminated anodized aluminium. The Chiron does luxury like luxury should be done, but rarely is.

In that respect, Bugatti has raised the bar. But what about the mechanical hardware? While almost all other hypercars have at least an element of hybrid power, including the 918 Spyder DŁrheimer oversaw during his time at Porsche, the Chiron sticks to its quad-turbo W16 guns. You can see why: the old engine was capable of delivering the 1500ps target (1100kW)

The W16 makes 1103kW. Thatís almost 50 percent more than the first Veyron

Touch too much

The biggest surprise in the Chiron cabin is that there is no giant touchscreen. Thereís no screen at all, in fact. Everything is operated through the two digital displays either side of the speedometer and/or the four rotary dials on the raised centre console that move with the precision of the controls on a mid-century camera. Click, click, click. Theyíre genuine aluminium too, not coated plastic, or just boring old black plastic like the rubbish you get in the centre console of an ordinary expensive car like a Bentley Continental Supersports.

with some work, and the cost of developing an entirely new drivetrain Ė even before the emissions scandal exploded Ė would have been huge. As would the weight.

The W16 is 436kg as it stands. That said, the successor to a car that left all others looking dated, suddenly seems slightly off the pace.

And thatís the only possible context in ing which you could use that phrase when talking lking which you could use that phrase when talking about a car that reaches 100km/h in 2.5sec and 300km/h in less than 14sec. Breathing through four new turbos that are almost 70 percent bigger than the original Veyronís, but now arranged to operate sequentially to improve gas speed and reduce lag, the 8.0-litre W16 makes 1103kW and 1600Nm. Thatís almost 50 percent more power than the first Veyron (736kW) and 220kW up on the Supersport.

The seven-speed gearbox is carried over, but almost everything else is new. Including how the Chiron feels.

The chassis features adaptive dampers and the ride comfort is staggeringly good given that this car also has to be able to work at almost three kays a minute as well as it does at 30km/h. Leave the drive-mode selector in its auto mode, badged EB for Ettore Bugatti, and the huge tyres (20in front and 21in rear) seem completely unfazed by changes in surface.

But at the same time, the damping is excellent.

When the road throws up a surprise yump, the carís mass falls earthward evenly, landing foursquare, its bump and rebound energy bundled out of the door like a gunman at a presidential rally.

The steering is better too. Not brimming with fingerjiggling feel, like a McLarenís, whose busyness would lking ec h f likely be unbearable at 418km/h, and not Ferrari-like darty off the straight-ahead, but crisp, linear and perfectly weighted.

Switch the driving mode past Autobahn (soft dampers, low ride height) to Handling and that steering gets heavier, perhaps a little too heavy, and the dampers take a tighter grip. They have a huge amount of mass to control, and occasionally, when you lean hard ad, ed. hn g hter ss an lik F b S d t t g co on the giant ceramic brakes, youíre reminded ded th on the giant ceramic brakes, youíre reminded that this car weighs 1995kg. But itís properly fun to drive. As easy as a TT, but no TT makes you smile like this. Dial the pace back to six- or seven-tenths and itís at itís best, flowing effortlessly from one corner to the next and leaving you sure that thereís more to this car than simply Autobahn attacks.

Handling Mode relaxes the ESC, and if you close the throttle sharply on a tight corner, the rear end moves enough that you need to unwind the steering a smidge to stay your course. Loris says itíll drift under power too, given enough space, but not having a dry lake bed handy I decided to take his word for it. That comes down to the nagging awareness of the value, and not anything scary in the Chironís dynamic makeup. Thereís nothing scary about the Chiron, except maybe getting it out parking space. The turning circle is dreadful.

Which does slightly undermine Bugattiís GT aspirations, although the fact that thereís now a small luggage area under the nose means itís more useable than the Veyron ever was. More useable, more handsome, more artfully constructed, and yes, even faster.

Anyone can make a car go fast if they throw enough power at it. And maybe someone like Hennessey come along and break the rumoured 450km/h record Bugatti hopes to set next year in a car without the ded d he se oves midge wer e es ything thing ut of its mall able ndsome, nough will cord he th d i A

Pots of gold

Itís easier to look at the cutaway above than to imagine the Chiron W16ís pair of narrow (15į) angle V8s driving a common crankshaft at 90 degrees. With direct injection and a quartet of larger, electronically controlled turbos Ė in sequential pairs Ė pumping extra boost (up from the Veyron Supersportsí 22psi to 27psi) the Chiron maintains a 1600Nm plateau from 2000 to 6000 revs and peaks at 6700rpm and 1103kW, gains in the order of 28 and 25 percent, respectively.

Most other fast cars are interchangeable, but the Bugatti Chiron is different MMb bu

Model Bugatti Chiron Engine 7993cc W16 (90į), dohc, 64v, quad-turbo Max power 1103kW @ 6700rpm Max torque 1600Nm @ 2000-6000rpm Transmission 7-speed dual-clutch Kerb weight 1995kg 0-100km/h 2.5sec (claimed) Economy 22.5L/100km Price $3.3m (approx.)

On sale Not for Australia M p torq Transm 10 E P

Itís as good at popping down the shops as it is popping up in the Guinness Book of Records

speed limiter activated. But that wonít diminish the Because to make a car do those and again without breaking few runs, while also making hatch, as refined as a Bentley supermini Ė that is whatís so leaning towards trackbased some canít even be used on built a car thatís as good at popping up in the Guinness much of that too? The but judged objectively, it performance its predecessor reflection on the might of anything. to experience this car and simply by the performance, package, and for me, the Conversations about the Chiron will sheer speed, but like drophead, thereís so much this car even just trickling parked. appeal of the Chiron. Becau numbers and do them time or needing a rebuild every f it ride better than a hot hat and as easy to drive as a sup incredible about this car.

While other hypercars are based performance, and som the road at all, Bugatti has b popping down the shops as Book of Records.

But didnít the Veyron do m Chiron is shockingly fast, bu doesnít make the leap in pe made. Which is as much a re the original Veyron as anyth That said, itís impossible not be bowled over. Not sim but the totality of the packa craftsmanship. Conversation always gravitate towards its a Rolls-Royce Phantom drop enjoyment to be had from t through traffic, or simply pa Granted, there was the small matter of a recession to deal with, but it took Bugatti 10 years to sell all 450 Veyrons. More than half of the 500 Chirons have already been spoken for, despite the price doubling Normally at this point weíd be thinking about what other car you could have for the same money. Is there something better? And there is, at least in parts. A McLarenís steering is like a lossless file to the Chironís MP3. A Porsche GT3 is more playful. A V12 Astonís soundtrack will be playing in your head long after the Chironís has been forgotten.

Many of you might well be thinking that youíd spend your very notional £2m (A$3.3m) on one of those and buy a kick-ass holiday villa somewhere tropical, a rubbish football team, or maybe just eradicate child poverty in an entire African city with the rest.

But thatís not thinking like a Bugatti customer. If you were so rich that you could spend £2m with as little concern as you had handing over the 10 bucks for this magazine, you would. Because most other fast cars are largely interchangeable. A McLaren 650S feels and sounds different to a Ferrari but offers much of the same experience. But the Chiron is different. Maybe it doesnít change history like its predecessor. But there is still nothing on earth quite like a Bugatti.