From the February/March 2021 issue of Car and Driver.
The Bugatti Chiron swims in molten torque. There’s so much pure, concentrated grunt that even at idle, the quad-turbo 16-cylinder feels like it’s trying to break free. It would rather crack the engine mounts and vaporize the calipers than stay still. This is physical force evolved into mechanical will.
That’s 1180 pound-feet of peak torque amid a mind-boggling 1479 horsepower—numbers so otherworldly that they are topped in insanity only by this car’s $3.3 million base and $3.7 million as-tested prices. With that much power and at that cost, this Bugatti ought to damn well be the quickest and fastest car that Car and Driver has ever tested. And it is. More or less. Sort of.
Because not even Bugatti can afford to always have the latest Bugatti, the car we tested was a 2018 model that started life as a run-of-the-mill Chiron and was later modified to Sport-model spec. That $275,000 upsell consists of stiffer springs and anti-roll bars, lighter wheels, four exhaust tips, and carbon-fiber windshield-wiper arms.
This car is not normal in any way. From afar, it’s a rocket-propelled marmoset. Hunched in profile, it’s about to spring and snag its prey. Up close, this one is gloriously finished in color-impregnated carbon fiber that looks like herringbone blueberry candy. Every stitch in the weave is perfectly aligned with its neighbors. It’s not a sports car exactly, and it sure doesn’t look like a luxury car. It’s a two-seat suborbital capsule with beyond-space-age aesthetics and nth-degree detailing. And it’s built to standards to which all automakers aspire.
Unlike virtually all other new cars, the Chiron doesn’t have soft-plastic bumper covers. Instead, the carbon-fiber fenders extend to and around the nose—a single sweep of seamless awesomeness. The exotic headlights contain four elements, each firing out photons the size of volleyballs. Smack a Mercedes-Maybach S-class with this prow and it may cost as much to fix the Bugatti as it would to buy that tank-like limo. In the U.S. market, the tail is protected by two rubber protrusions acting as bumpers. So Chiron owners are slightly better off backing, rather than nosing, into things.
Apple CarPlay capability is neither standard nor an option, there’s no oversize screen inside, and the 300-mph speedo remains analog, which will give kids of the future something to ooh and aah at when they see a Chiron at a car show. Four elegant metallic dials flow down the narrow center console and control the cabin climate. The quilted seating surfaces are covered in leather that’s more buttery than butter. The steering wheel has polished spokes that glisten more brilliantly than sterling silver, and the rearview mirror is a delicate oval and seemingly meant only for decoration as there’s no way to really see out the back window. The Gumball Rally rule applies here: What’s behind you doesn’t matter.
The engine whirs to life and then seismically rumbles. From the outside, it sounds like the approach of an armored column; from the inside, as if you’re in a finely tuned rock polisher. After momentarily considering if your Nikes are good enough to touch the polished pedals and then pulling the somewhat indistinct shifter into drive, the Bug moves out authoritatively. It can’t defy the laws of physics, but it does impart a feeling of immortality.
Speed is a talent even the most half-baked home-garage lunatic can achieve. Tuning for wide-open throttle is a straightforward pursuit. What’s amazing about this Bugatti is that it imitates a regular car so well. At part throttle, it putters along like, say, a Hyundai Sonata or Ford F-150. The Ricardo-made seven-speed dual-clutch transmission is programmed to keep engine speeds down when it’s not doing hero work, as if Bugatti engineers were reaching for that elusive double-digit city fuel-economy rating. So even galumphing along at 40 mph, the trans ratchets up to seventh gear and stays there, which is strange but not irritating like it is in your Hyundai. After all, with an 8.0-liter W-16 engine aboard, there’s always plenty of torque to keep the beast moving before calling on the four turbos or downshifting. There is never any barking or hesitancy from the powertrain, either; this isn’t a highly stressed race machine. And it’s not a normal production engine that’s been tasked with over-performing. It’s purebred and mission appropriate. When it’s asked to loaf, it will loaf like artisanal sourdough.
That in mind, it’s impossible to disguise the humongous potential here. The transmission’s shifts aren’t brutal, but they’re also not smooth. We’d call them semi-harsh, as might be expected of any device designed to withstand so much power. The Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires are massive: 285/30ZR-20 in front and 355/25ZR-21 in back. That giant footprint and the rugged construction required for the tires to maintain their shape at the Bugatti’s claimed 261-mph top speed mean unavoidable tire noise. That it is subdued in the Chiron, particularly in light of the car’s carbon-fiber structure, is an achievement.
When other supercars are running out of breath, the Chiron is only starting to try. Based on quarter-mile clocking, this is the quickest car C/D has tested. Using launch control, we slammed through 1320 feet in 9.4 seconds at an astonishing 158 mph, and the car pulled hard beyond 200 mph. The Chiron’s 4544-pound curb weight is a drag from a dead stop, so the 60-mph run takes a rather languid (relatively speaking) 2.4 seconds. The Porsche 918 Spyder and even something as common as a 911 Turbo S can beat that. But the Bug needs only 4.4 seconds to reach 100 mph and 15.7 seconds to reach 200. We didn’t have the runway to test the 261-mph governor, but the Chiron feels fully capable of that.
With its incredibly stiff structure and perfectly poised suspension, the Chiron is confident at speed to the point of overwhelming arrogance. It’s impossible to test this car’s limits on anything except a long track, so on the street, it always has more to give. And give. And then it asks for more fuel. When it’s humping, the Chiron practically needs to burp after drinking so much so quickly. And while it will run California’s 91 octane, it makes only about 1200 horsepower on the stuff. On 93 or better, it makes the full 1479.
Eventually, all things must stop. Stupendously large carbon-ceramic brake rotors at each corner haul the big Bugatti down from 70 mph in 160 feet. Proper sports cars do the same thing in 140 feet or less, but they also weigh 1000 fewer pounds.
Handling? Sure, it goes around corners. And it orbits the skidpad at 1.06 g’s with a neutral balance that will turn to power oversteer with a sneeze of the turbos. But even with the Sport’s extra starch, the Chiron’s character is more about traveling fast in a straight line. Each turn seems like an interruption to the real joy of this car, which is ingesting continents with the imperious disdain available only to those who have $3.7 million to spend on a single car. It does that spectacularly well.
If you’re insecure enough to need ego fortification through vehicular acquisition, there are a lot of conspicuous-consumption machines that cost a lot less than this one. Many of them even have silly doors that fly into the air when opened. The Chiron buyer needs to appreciate it for the integrity of its design, the quality of its construction, and how it confidently achieves speed unlike any other vehicle on earth—and not worry that its doors open like an Accord’s.
The Chiron has been around since 2016, and only now have we had a proper run with it. It’s both quick and fast, indeed. But here at C/D, we’d save up a few more dollars and hold out for one of the 30 Chiron Super Sport 300+ models with an additional 99 horsepower and a 300-mph-or-so top speed. Because, really, why compromise?
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