2018 BUGATTI CHIRON FIRST DRIVE REVIEW: THE BENCHMARK

For whom 261 mph is just the starting point

View Special Offers

We’re loafing along at 100 mph or so in fourth gear when I nail the gas. There’s a hiss of air as the mighty 8.0-liter 16-cylinder engine behind my shoulders takes a deep breath, and the Bugatti Chiron lunges at the horizon. I make the first shift at precisely 6,556 rpm. Four turbochargers are pumping 26.8 psi of boost, gulping 35 cubic feet of air every second, and putting 2,866 pounds of peak pressure on each connecting rod. The water pump is circulating coolant through the engine fast enough to fill your bathtub in 11 seconds. At wide-open throttle, the fuel pump will suck the 26.4-gallon gas tank dry in about seven minutes. With startling suddenness, we’re doing 200 mph.

Bugatti engineers say the Chiron will accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in less than 2.5 seconds, to 124 mph in less than 6.5 seconds, to 186 mph in less than 13.6 seconds. From the driver’s seat, riding the military-spec thrust of 1,479 horsepower and 1,180 lb-ft of torque in conjunction with all-wheel drive and massive tires, it feels every bit that quick. On the road the Chiron’s top speed is electronically limited—limited!—to 261 mph. It will go faster. The Chiron will easily beat the Veyron Super Sport’s 268-mph production car V-max record, insists Bugatti boss Wolfgang Dürheimer, but he won’t say by how much. “We’re keeping that a surprise for you,” he smiles.

The Bugatti Chiron is utterly extraordinary, and not just because it’s faster and more powerful than the car that has been the benchmark for hypercar speed and muscle for more than a decade, the Bugatti Veyron. Or because it costs a cool $2,998,000 (including destination, you’ll be pleased to know). No, the Chiron resets the benchmark because it’s also smoother, more refined and—crucially—more fun to drive than its storied predecessor. The Veyron was a car largely defined by thrust and velocity. The Chiron adds agility and personality to the mix, enhanced by a thoughtful mélange of technology and luxury.

Bugatti Chiron front three quarter in motion 05

For the Chiron’s creation, the brief given by Ferdinand Piëch, godfather of the Veyron, to Dürheimer and his team was simple: Make it better, in every way. They have succeeded.

REVISIT THE BUGATTI VEYRON:

It starts with the engine. Although the basic architecture is unchanged, the mighty W-16 has been redesigned to reliably produce 8 percent more power and 9 percent more torque than in the Veyron Super Sport. The extra grunt comes courtesy of four turbochargers that are 69 percent bigger than those used on the Super Sport engine. But that’s not the whole story: At low revs, exhaust gases from each bank of eight cylinders are fed to just one turbo on either side of the block. Then, at 3,800 rpm, a flap is opened in each exhaust manifold to feed the second turbocharger. The result is a torque curve that’s dead flat from 2,000 rpm to 6,000 rpm and a power curve with the upward trajectory of a ballistic missile. (We’ll get back to that metaphor in a moment.)

The engine sits in an all-new carbon-fiber monocoque with a torsional stiffness of 50,000 Nm/degree—comparable to that of a Le Mans LMP1 prototype. How strong is that in layman’s terms? Bugatti was able to crash test the same car several times to verify the aluminum crush structures at the front and rear of the car. If you’ve ever witnessed the violence of a crash test, you’ll realize how stunning that previous sentence is.

The suspension is height adjustable and features adaptive shocks. In conjunction with electronic control of the power steering, the all-wheel-drive system’s torque distribution, the rear differential, the active aerodynamics and the stability and braking control systems, engineers have crafted five selectable drive protocols—Lift, EB, Autobahn, Handling, and Top Speed.

Four drive modes are selectable via a rotary controller on the left-hand side of the steering wheel. EB is the standard driving mode. Lift mode raises the ride height four-tenths of an inch front and rear to enable the Chiron to be loaded on a truck or plane or to clear steep drives and speed humps. Autobahn mode (which is also automatically activated at 112 mph) drops the front end of the Chiron eight-tenths of an inch to improve the car’s aerodynamic angle of attack at high speeds, adds more on-center weight to the steering, and raises the active rear spoiler farther into the air flow. Handling mode further stiffens the suspension, programming the shocks to catch rebound motions 50 percent sooner, adds more torque to the steering effort, and tilts the rear wing to deliver more downforce.

At 200 mph the Chiron feels utterly rock steady, preternaturally relaxed, barely breaking a sweat—exactly what you would expect of a car running at less than 75 percent of its potential.

Autobahn and Handling modes will take you to 236 mph. Going faster requires selecting Top Speed mode, activated via a second separate Speed Key, which slots into the floor by the driver’s seat. While stationary, of course. Think of it as the automotive equivalent of ordering a ballistic missile launch.

After the Chiron’s digital neural network runs a systems check, the front end is lowered an additional six-tenths of an inch, and the rear comes down 1.2 inches, dropping the whole car closer to the bitumen. The full-width rear wing is also snugged closer to the carbon-fiber bodywork and set at a shallower angle. Both measures are designed to reduce aerodynamic drag, and they enable the Chiron to hit its speed-limited 261 mph.

For those owners who want to go beyond that outrageous pace, right to the very edge of the Chiron’s performance envelope, Bugatti will help them do it in a factory-owned car—or the owners’ own—fitted with a set of special ultra-finely balanced wheels and tires, plus a battery of additional sensors to be monitored by factory technicians during the V-max run.

What you notice from behind the wheel, apart from being shoved firmly back in the seat by a relentless surge of thrust every time you hit the gas, is the crisper throttle response. The revised W-16 allows you to finesse the Chiron’s attitude through corners with a precision that simply wasn’t possible in the Veyron. There’s much more sensitivity in the chassis, too, the steering telegraphing more clearly what’s going on where the rubber meets the road. Although by no means small—it’s about as wide as an Escalade and weighs as much as an Audi A8—the Chiron shrinks around you on a winding two-lane in a way the Veyron never could.

For that you can thank Bugatti chassis guru Loris Bicocchi, who oversaw the final tweaks to the Chiron’s chassis tuning, focusing on steering feel and chassis balance. “We changed many, many parameters on the car compared with the Veyron,” says Bicocchi, who credits Wolfgang Dürheimer for the big Bugatti’s character change: “He said, ‘If you have to choose between comfort or sporty, please take sporty.’” A key change was tire spec: Compared with the Veyron, the Chiron’s rear tires are narrower but larger in diameter (21-inch versus 20-inch), while the fronts are wider. “Now, in a steady-state corner, the mechanical balance is better,” Bicocchi says. In other words, there’s less understeer.

What is no less remarkable than its staggering performance is how unremarkable the Chiron feels mooching along city streets at 20 to 40 mph. It’s docile and calm and comfortable, the suspension riding over road acne with surprising fluency, the giant Riccardo seven-speed dual-clutch transmission seamlessly switching between ratios, the steering light and accurate, the pedal feel of the giant carbon-ceramic brakes beautifully modulated. It feels about as edgy as a Honda Accord on a soccer mom run.
Bugatti Chiron front interior

The superbly finished interior is impressively roomy for a two-seater, and the user-interface technologies presented in the same cleverly reductive manner as an Apple product. For example, the line of rotary controllers marching down the flying buttress center console look after the HVAC functions, but the information shown on the small digital screens in each of them can be changed at the press of a button. In Performance mode, it showed I hit precisely 6,556 rpm and used exactly 1,437 hp on my way to a genuine 204 mph. Hmmm, looks like I left 42 hp on the table. Should have tried harder …

Everything from ancillary information such as oil pressure and water temperature to audio settings to tire pressures to sat nav information is presented on two high-resolution digital screens located on either side of a giant analog speedometer that reads to 500 kph. (In U.S.-spec Chirons, the speedo will show 300 mph.) Why an analog speedo? “It doesn’t fade away when the ignition is off,” Dürheimer says, ” so when people look inside, they can see how fast the car can go. And they will talk about it.” Yes, indeed they will.

The Chiron is a beguiling combination of hypercar and grand tourer. You can drive it fast—very, very fast—without feeling your hair is on fire, your palms are sweating, and your heart is hammering away inside your chest. Like a battleship, the Chiron’s immense power is wrapped in an imperious calm.

There are those who question the relevance of a car this powerful, this fast, this expensive. But that is to ignore the astounding engineering achievement the Bugatti Chiron represents. Dürheimer neatly sums up its place in history. “In terms of combustion engine cars, I think this will be the peak,” he says, subtly acknowledging the fact the Chiron’s replacement will inevitably be a high-performance hybrid. “Thirty years from now, people will look back and say, ‘That’s how they did it back then.’” He’s absolutely right.

2018 Bugatti Chiron
BASE PRICE $2,998,000
VEHICLE LAYOUT Mid-engine, AWD, 2-pass, 2-door coupe
ENGINE 8.0L/1,479-hp/1,180-lb/ft, quad-turbo DOHC 64-valve W-16
TRANSMISSION 7-speed automated manual
CURB WEIGHT 4,400 lb (mfr)
WHEELBASE 106.7 in
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT 178.9 x 80.2 x 47.7 in
0-60 MPH 2.4 sec (mfr est)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON Not yet tested
ON SALE U.S. Currently