The challenge was on, but it was a dare I doubt any other car manufacturer would have the guts to offer.
From behind the wheel of the stationary, quad-turbocharged, 16-cylinder, 8.0-litre Bugatti Chiron, one of just 500 that will ever exist and good for 420kph, I sat facing a long, empty and straight road.
The guy sitting beside me knows a thing or two about going fast. Andy Wallace won the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1988 driving the TWR Silk Cut Jaguar, was an F1 test driver, and claimed the British F3 Championship the same year he won the Macau Grand Prix.
He was strategically planted next to me to keep Bugatti’s insurance premium for this exercise somewhere within reason.
“Believe me — you think you’ve got the mettle to wring its neck?
I guarantee you’ll get scared and back off before you’re anywhere near that corner,” Wallace tempted, finger pointing into the sun.
As I was always the kid who had to touch the hot plate only because my big brothers told me not to, I planted my right foot as hard as I could and aimed for that far-off, right-hand bend about a kilometre down the road.
To prove what an even bigger idiot I am, it wasn’t good enough for me to just jump on the loud pedal of a car valued at Dh9.4 million. No, I had to engage its launch control just so that all of its 1,479bhp would feel my wrath.
First, the revs built up with my right foot on the floor before I slipped my left foot off the brake pedal and it instantly launched off the mark with near 100 per cent traction thanks to its all-wheel drive sending chunks of power to the front wheels to stop 1,600Nm of torque from frying the rears into oblivion.
Instantly, my head planted itself into the headrest and there it stayed as we passed 100kph in 2.5 seconds and then 200kph just four seconds later.
Still charging as hard as a Lamborghini Aventador in second gear, it was only at this point that I noticed a shortness of breath due to the compression on my chest from the g-forces it generated in full attack mode. The needle climbed past the 12 o’clock position, which initially seemed a bit underwhelming until I realised it’s a 500kph-calibrated speedo.
Still hauling like a space shuttle on afterburners, the needle passed the two o’clock position with two of its seven DSG gears to go.
My brain was calculating the rapid closing distance on the corner, but it was coming at me faster than I could compute, while anything aside from the straight-ahead vision had become a blurred tube of green and blue in my peripherals.
If I were a fighter pilot trying to tame a wounded jet heading for the ocean, it would be at this point I would have pulled the ejector seat.
But the Chiron is far from a stripped-out fighter. It has a sumptuous leather interior comprising 18 cowhides which give it a deliberate Bentley-like ambience.
With the corner fast approaching, I jumped on the brakes to wash off as much speed as I could to bring it down from its 320kph, back to 70kph in time to take the bend.
The Bugatti’s 420mm-diameter carbon ceramic discs worked in conjunction with a huge airbrake to arrest its speed and as it did so, blood rushed to my head as I saw spots in my eyes accompanied by a faint dizziness from the negative g-forces.
The brakes worked so well that I washed off more than enough speed so quickly, I then had to embarrassingly accelerate just a touch again to take the corner at a sedate speed.
Mind-bending Bugatti Chiron 1 — Lame Motoring Hack 0.
“You can’t play chicken with the Chiron as it wins every time,” a smug Wallace said after.
“No matter how brave you think you are, you’ll always pull up short before the corner.”
Unless you’ve driven a 1,500bhp pro-modified-style dragster, which I have, or are a retired astronaut, which sadly I’m not, then you have no idea of the sensory explosion my brain went through in less than half a minute on a quiet day in the back blocks of Portugal.
With apologies to Ferrari, McLaren, Porsche and Pagani, but your LaFerrari, P1, 918 Spyder and Huayra BC do not even come close to getting an invite to this realm of supercardom. Heck, you guys are almost a Dodge Hellcat short in horsepower from even sitting at the Chiron’s table.
The Chiron, of course, is the successor to the hallowed Bugatti Veyron, which, to be fair, had write-ups similar to this when it was released in 2005 boasting 1,001bhp. It rewrote history and until now has remained the top-speed benchmark supercar.
So when Bugatti boss Wolfgang Dürheimer said he wanted a successor that was “better in every respect,” you knew this was going to be something quite special.
Nestled in the sill panel beside the driver is another start key, locked into place. This is the key that unleashes the full 420kph potential but for us, and as a default, we had to make do with the one that restricts it to 380kph.
With apologies to Ferrari, McLaren, Porsche and Pagani, but your LaFerrari, P1, 918 Spyder and Huayra BC do not even come close to getting an invite to this realm of supercardom.
Eagle-eyed Bugatti enthusiasts may note that the Veyron set a world record speed of 431kph, 11kph more than the official top speed of the Chiron. Bugatti assures us that the speed limiter will be removed so that its test drivers can set a new benchmark that some pundits indicate will be close to 470kph in an unfettered Chiron later this year. Overall, there’s a claimed 25 per cent improvement in every respect to the Chiron’s performance over the Veyron, including its drag co-efficient, fuel efficiency and power. While the engine still reads the same in the spec box in terms of configuration, number of cylinders and capacity, its four turbochargers are key to its 300bhp boost over the final Super Sport iteration of the Veyron.
Being 69 per cent larger than the Veyron, you can imagine the kind of lag these hamburger-sized turbos could deliver, so Bugatti offset them by having two blowing all the time that are fed by eight exhausts each, then at 3,800rpm a valve opens the other two to bring all four on song. These are fed by four exhausts each to deliver a linear wall of torque from 2,000rpm to 6,000rpm.
Bugatti has shunned any electrical assistance to the powertrain, so while it lacks the immediacy of take-off compared to the hybrid supercars like the 918, LaFerrari and P1, it more than makes up for it a split second later as the stopwatch — and your neck muscles — will prove. Speaking of figures, it takes a mountain of air, water and oil to keep the Chiron operating at its peak speed so how does an oil flow rate of 120 litres per minute sound to keep the giant engine cool? That’s two litres a second!
At its governed top speed, 1,000 litres of air feed into its 10 radiators and intercoolers every second while its water pump can fill an average-sized bathtub every 11 seconds at 800 litres per minute.
Thankfully it has a large 100-litre fuel tank, but that becomes academic when it’s drained empty in less than eight minutes thanks to the turbos sitting on 1.85 bar of boost (most performance cars are around 0.8 bar). That pressure is the equivalent of 1,300kg placed on top of each of its 16 pistons.
After a while the stats become mind-numbing, so luckily my co-pilot is the kind of person who can put that level of engineering and performance into perspective in a way that only a man who has raced a 400kph TWR Silk Cut Jaguar can.
“During qualifying for Le Mans, we’d wind up the V12 Jag engine so we could go about six seconds a lap quicker. But after the second lap, the engine would explode because the cylinder pressure was so high it would stretch the head bolts and pop the head gasket,” Wallace said.
“By comparison, the Chiron has 400bhp more than that firecracker and it’s as tractable as a Volkswagen Polo and good for 200,000km.”
We’re also having this discussion in a luxurious environment on the motorway, listening to music through an outstanding Accuton sound system that uses a one-carat diamond membrane in each of its four tweeters.
Chiron’s powered seats are supportive in a firm way, not good for an all-day stint, but OK for a few hours, while the feeling of width inside is accentuated by a slim centre console milled from a solid billet of aluminium. This houses all the comfort and convenience gauges while a swoopy LED divider down the centre gives the feeling of the driver sitting in his own cockpit.
Supremely faster and more luxurious than its supercar competitors, the Bugatti Chiron is not what you’d call a practical car, though it does have room for a large, 66-litre suitcase in the nose, which makes it more usable than rivals that boast substantially less power but for half the price.
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