Driving a Bugatti Chiron isn’t what you imagine it would be like. The numbers associated with the car raise expectations to rather unachievable heights. (Can we really comprehend what a 1,500hp motor is like?) Having all that power available is tough to explain. It seems too simple; as though there should be a sequence of codes to input, or special permission granted. Technically all that stands between anybody with a valid driver’s license and control over a the Chiron’s 1,500hp is the $3 million price tag. We were lucky to get behind the wheel of one of the world’s most expensive production cars recently and found that, despite its immense power, the car is easy (and thrilling) to drive.
There’s shockingly little drama involved when asking the W16 engine (a marriage of two V8s) and its four gigantic turbochargers to propel you toward ludicrous speed. From zero to 3,800rpm, two turbos (one the right bank and one on the left) are doing the heavy lifting, but with just eight cylinders pushing power through them, they spool up very quickly. When they begin to run out of breath at 3,800rpm, the other two turbos kick in and fill up the volume all the way to 6,000rpm. What that means is, unlike typical vehicles that have a torque curve, the Chiron has a torque line. It is absolutely flat. No turbo lag, no drop off. The car’s delivery of power is near instantaneous.
The Chiron takes 32.6 seconds to go from zero to 249mph. It feels similar to the gut wrench that occurs when a pilot releases the brake and the plane surges forward down the runway. The difference is, that feeling remains pretty much all the way through the lower end of the rev range. The transition from one set of turbos to the other is seamless and, if you don’t run out of road ahead, the car will just keep charging.
A mix of the guttural thrum of the W16 and whoosh of the turbos spooling fill the ears. It is concurrently hilariously enjoyable and addictive. What Bugatti has done with this engine is simply incredible—a true masterpiece of engineering. However, the miraculous shove the Chiron delivers isn’t the only party trick it can bust out.
Cliché but true: with great power comes great responsibility, and a serious braking system in a car like this is essential. The set-up on the Chiron is as serious as vehicular speed-erasure measures come. Assisted by the adjustable wing at the rear that acts as an airbrake, the carbon ceramic discs and their bespoke AP Racing calipers with titanium pistons (the only road car with that feature) can bring the Chiron to a stop from 249mph in under 10 seconds.
While we were not in an environment where it was possible to get anywhere near 249mph (let alone the 273mph top speed the Chiron is capable of), we certainly experienced the skull-shifting force of braking hard after accelerating equally as intensely. Firm application of the brake pedal not only rearranges your internal organs, but also your mental state. Once you know what kind of stopping power the Chiron possesses, exploration of its speed and handling capabilities comes with far less apprehension.
Simply exploring what the Chiron can do—even on winding canyon roads—is an inimitable experience. Not because the driving dynamics are unlike anything else, but rather because they are familiar and easily processed. The Chiron doesn’t drive like a 4,360 pound car that’s 80+ inches wide; it’s much more lithe than one would expect. It’s easy to place in a lane and doesn’t fight back the way many large cars do. In truth, the majority of the time it doesn’t deliver sensations much different than another vehicle under the Volkswagen Auto Group umbrella—the Audi R8. Given that the R8 Coupe is just shy of being 1,000 pounds lighter though, that’s actually quite telling of how good the Chiron is at being a “normal” sports car despite its substantial heft.
However, it’s those few moments when the Chiron behaves like a hypercar—grabbing hold of your senses and wadding them up into a knot—when you know you’re well beyond the realm of “above average” and have transitioned into rarefied air. The blend of unrelenting force during rapid acceleration or deceleration, a chassis that remains unflappable (even on less than ideal road surfaces), an elegant modern cockpit, the grunt of the 8.0L W16 and heavy breathing of the four turbos amounts to a product that is far, far away from normal. You can still drive it without having to stress about keeping it in line, but the crazy is always there—just waiting to be unleashed.
Images by Jonathon Harper