When I received an invitation to drive one of the world’s fastest and most exclusive cars, the Bugatti Chiron, I was asked to relay my reaction.
“Is the Archbishop of Canterbury Anglican?” I wrote in reply.
So, a date was made — but with that decision came some trepidation.
The exchange rate the day I drove the car was $1.31. Which means the manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $3.26 million U.S. was really $4.2 million Cdn, and something that expensive can sure get your attention.
For this particular reason: every automotive writer’s worst nightmare is crashing what’s called a press car. Automakers let you borrow those things so you can drive around and then write or broadcast your impressions. They expect you to return their cars intact.
So, when I went to pick up the Bugatti from Grand Touring Automobiles in Vaughan a week ago, it was -4 C, there had been some snow the night before and patches of ice were still around. As a result of this, all I really wanted to do was drive the car around the block — slowly.
This Bugatti Chiron
might very well be capable of going from a dead stop to 100 km/h in less than two seconds, but me doing that with it would have to come another day.
This was just fine with retired racing driver Robert Franklin (Butch) Leitzinger
, who would act as my co-driver/chaperone. “For this kind of car to be driven properly, it really should be in a warmer climate,” he said.
But then he surprised me.
“Bugatti is part of the Volkswagen Group, and all of the cars in the group have to go through the same torture tests. While the test cars spend a couple of months in South Africa in 130-degree heat (Fahrenheit), they spend the same amount of time cold-weather testing up in Sweden.
“It’s fairly unique that this car is actually capable of performing in all conditions.”
Be that as it may, I said, I will still take it easy.
Since I had use of the car for only an hour, I decided to do what just about every Canadian driver does first thing in the morning: I took the Bugatti Chiron through a Tim Hortons’ drive-thru.
Leitzinger, who lives in Pennsylvania, went along with the gag but was clearly perturbed. “They’ll kill me if there’s a coffee stain,” he said. I told him not to worry because Canadians learn two things early in life: how to play hockey and how not to spill their Tims. We pulled up to order.
“Two small coffees, one black, one regular, and put them in a bag,” I said.
“You want a tray?” a voice replied.
“No, I want them in a bag, and I’ll tell you why: I’m in a very expensive car, and I can’t spill a drop."
We got to the window and I exchanged money for the bag of coffees. The staff had crowded around to look out.
Them: “Nice car! How much is it worth? Can I have a ride?”
Me: “Thanks. Four million dollars. No.”
What can I tell you about this Bugatti? It’s a $4-million-dollar car and looks (two-tone black/grey exterior and burnt orange interior) and feels and behaves exactly like you would expect. It’s a midengine, two-seater that’s very low to the ground, so it’s not the easiest car to get into, or to exit. But once inside, it’s like settling into your favourite easy chair.
The car has two main buttons on the steering wheel: one to start/stop (which I really like), and the other for the five driving settings (which I didn’t touch because there was no need). The cockpit has other buttons to control the environment, but there is no clutter; it is all very streamlined.
There is a shift lever in the centre console, and once you start the car, you just nudge that lever to the right to put it into drive. You barely touch the accelerator to get going to 50 km/h, and it’s only when you head out onto the highway (we went north on Hwy 400 at Rutherford Rd.) that you realize you are aboard a rocket ship that can very quickly leave every other vehicle out there in its dust.
We exited the 400 at King Rd. and went west to a road running north/south and just tootled along for awhile. I asked Leitzinger to talk about the car.
“As well as being a hypercar,” he said, “this was also meant to be a luxury car. Yes, the headlines are always about the fastest car in the world, but what’s actually more interesting is that you can be driving along and having a conversation without having to scream over the sound of the engine.
“The engine is a 16-cylinder, 8-litre, quad turbo, which makes 1,500 horsepower. The Veyron
, the previous model, made 1,200 hp. To get the additional horsepower, they increased the turbocharger size. Normally, when you increase the size of the turbocharger, you get more power, but then you also get turbo lag — you know, the time it takes from when you put your foot down on the pedal to where it spools up and actually gets going.
“They got around that with a two-stage turbocharging system. There are eight cylinders per side, so from zero to 3,500 r.p.m. goes through one turbocharger and then, after 3,500 r.p.m., the second turbocharger opens up. It gives big torque from 2,000 all the way up to 6,000 r.p.m.
“Normally, if you look at a torque curve, it goes up and then comes back down. This is a shelf — it goes straight up and then straight across so you don’t have to work the gearbox all the time just to keep it in the power zone.
“The gearbox is a seven speed, twin-clutch design. We’re in automatic. To go from automatic to manual, you just touch one of the paddles on the back of the steering wheel. The left paddle is downshift and the right is upshift. It will stay in manual until you ask for automatic again and, to do that, all you have to do it nudge the shifter to the right.
“The car is docile and easy to drive. You’d think with 1,500 hp that it’s going to be an animal trying to kill you, but ...”
The retired driver, who was a sports car champion and also dabbled in NASCAR racing, said there’s no doubt the car is worth every penny.
“It requires so much technology to make the car go 261 miles an hour (it has a limiter holding it to that speed to protect the tires, which could fail otherwise) but also to feel like a luxury touring car at that speed. This is the Volkswagen Group’s space shot. The Veyron was famous for costing the group money; this one is meant to be earnings positive. But they’re not getting rich off these cars; the margin is pretty thin.”
I was driving the car by this time and, as I was nearing the end of my hour in it, and the sun was shining and there was nobody else on our road, I had to find out. I shouldn’t talk about doing this but I just eased down on the throttle, and in a very short period of time I was going really, really fast.
But here’s the thing: it took no effort on the part of the car to get going that speed. The ride was a smooth as silk — the chassis tunes itself to the road — and you could just feel the power.
Said Leitzinger: “One of the things about this car is that you wind up going a lot faster than you thought you were going. You have to pay attention to the speedometer.”