It’s the breadth of ability that impresses most of all. Yes, this is 1,577-horsepower car that is electronically limited to 273 mph. It reaches 60 mph in 2.4 seconds, would empty its 100-liter fuel tank in nine minutes at top speed, and gulps in up to 1,000 liters of air per second.
And yet, while the acceleration is truly ballistic, the way the $3.9 million Chiron conducts itself the rest of the time, during everyday driving, is truly remarkable. But we’ll come back to that later.
When Volkswagen began development of the Veyron, the 2005 predecessor to the Chiron, the goal was to create a car the world had never seen before; one that produced 1,000 horsepower and had a top speed of 250 mph, yet could be driven to the opera. It had to set a new performance benchmark, but also work just like any other vehicle from the Volkswagen Group.
Rimac. Tomorrow’s Bugatti will be electric, of which there is no doubt, and the Chiron’s mighty 8.0-liter, quad-turbocharged W16 engine will be consigned to the history books.Fast-forward 15 years and the Chiron Super Sport driven here is rounding off what has been an incredible resurgence for the Bugatti brand. Acquired by the VW Group in 1998 after years of hibernation, the company is now under the custodianship of Porsche and Croatian hypercar maker
But that is still some way down the road, and for now the Chiron is very much alive and well. The run of 500 examples is sold out, but still in production at Bugatti’s ancestral home, at a chateau in Molsheim, France. Here, customers are invited to tour the history buildings, learn the story of Bugatti, understand why the brand is different to the likes of Ferrari, Lamborghini and Aston Martin, and configure their car.
For this, they are ushered into a room with an enormous TV screen, invited to sit at a Bugatti-branded desk on a one-piece carbon fiber chair, sip coffee and work through every fine detail of their car. From the exterior paintwork and wheels, to interior shades and even the option for bespoke artwork stitched into the leather door panels – or their names in the headrests – nothing is too much effort.
I’m told that the average Chiron buyer tends to add around €350,000 ($375,000) of optional extras to their car. But then again, that’s only about 10 percent of the base price, and that sum is swallowed whole if they opt for exposed carbon bodywork, such is the extra time and effort required to make the unidirectional weave line up perfectly across every panel.
Bugatti-branded luggage sets are also available to those 500 buyers and so too is a Bugatti home stereo system, a scale replica of their car, and much more besides.
The Chiron Super Sport is closely related to the Super Sport 300, which itself is based on a slightly modified one-off that set a new production speed record of 304.773 mph in September 2019. The Sport Sport is intended to be more comfortable than the 300, but borrows the same rear deck that is around 10 inches longer than that of a regular, 261 mph Chiron. Power is up from 1,479 to 1,577 horsepower and peak torque is unchanged at 1,180 lbs-ft.
Lunch eaten, it’s time to experience the Super Sport for myself. First off, Bugatti test driver and 1988 Le Mans winner Andy Wallace is behind the wheel, as I drop tentatively into the passenger seat. Wallace is the man who set the aforementioned speed record in a Chiron, so he knows a thing or two about driving quickly. He is here to act as tour guide, driving instructor and insurance policy; journalists aren’t allowed to drive a Bugatti Chiron unless Andy’s in there with them.
We won’t be crossing the triple-tonne threshold today. Partly because our route doesn’t include the derestricted German autobahn, and secondly because the ‘regular’ Chiron Super Sport I’m driving has an electronic limiter that calls time at 273 mph, in a bid to save owners from themselves.
To demonstrate what I’ve let myself in for, Wallace slows to walking pace then floors the accelerator to show that, even with 1,600 horsepower on tap, the Chiron Super Sport’s all-wheel-drive system and sticky Michelin tires refuse to break traction, even in first gear.
The initial acceleration is akin to a Tesla’s Ludicrous mode, but the way the Bugatti’s performance fails to subside until Wallace lifts off is what’s most impressive. It is simply without comparison. I burst out laughing at the sheer lunacy of it all. Keep your foot planted for 12 seconds in a Super Sport and you’ll be doing almost 190 mph.
Next it’s my turn and, like accompanying a nervous teenager on his first driving lesson, Wallace calmly directs me through junctions and across roundabouts. It’s perhaps lazy of me to liken the Chiron’s low-speed uneventfulness to a Volkswagen Golf, because the quality of the ride and premium weighting of every control is closer to a Bentley. But that’s still mighty impressive, isn’t it? How Bugatti has made a car as violently accelerative as the Super Sport potter around town like any other luxury vehicle is as impressive as the ballistic performance.
There is comfort and refinement in here, and while the ride is undoubtedly firm, the impression is more of an assertive surefootedness than that of a supercar desperate to remind you of its Nurburgring lap time on every journey.
I’m hesitant at first, leaving the eight-speed automatic gearbox to do its own thing as I follow Andy’s instructions through the narrow, wall-lined streets of a small French town.
Finally the road opens up and there’s a clearing in the Monday afternoon traffic. I pull the left-hand paddle to take manual control of the transmission, then pull again until second gear is engaged. Mirrors checked, road ahead scanned for junctions and laybys, I press the accelerator as far as it will go and the Chiron catapults us towards the horizon.
Aside from the absurd performance, the soundtrack of the massive W12 engine gulping in air contributes significantly to the multi-sensory experience. It’s a sound that isn’t smooth and delicate like a V12, highly-strung like a V10 or sonorous like a V8. Instead it is industrial; a noise emitted from six exhaust pipes that isn’t trying to sound musical, but which is simply a byproduct of massive power.
A gear change or two (and mere seconds) later, I lift off, slow down and shift my attention to how the Chiron handles. I won’t pretend to be a racing god who hustled the Super Sport down a winding French country lane with abandon. But what I can say is, the big Bugatti rides extremely well, and the way it remains entirely unfussed, even under rapid acceleration on a cambered and undulating road, is mightily impressive.
The steering isn’t fizzing with telepathic feedback, but it is direct and sure-footed, with a sense of invaluable reassurance fed to the driver’s fingertips. It’s a message that says not to worry, and that despite the massive power on tap, everything is under control.
Ease off, switch the transmission back to automatic, and the Chiron returns to being a comfortable, luxurious cruiser. Mr Hyde morphs seamlessly back into Dr Jekyll, and we return to Bugatti HQ.
I had expected the Chiron Super Sport to be as intimidating as its performance suggests, but in reality it’s nothing of the sort. Yes, it is powerful, expensive and rather heavy, but once used to its size the Chiron is no more difficult to drive than a Bentley. Only when you accelerate with commitment does the car transform into something otherworldly, and even then it manages to deploy 1,600 horsepower without ever feeling out of control.
It’s easy to dismiss the Chiron as an indulgent, excessive and entirely pointless exercise. But I urge you to view the Bugatti not as yet another very fast supercar, but as a triumph of engineering, combining luxury, design and technology into a vehicle that stands apart from its rivals.
The Chiron Super Sport is perhaps the ultimate expression of what a car can be, and with the death knell of internal combustion already sounding, it could well be the last of its kind.