What is it?
The Veyron’s reign as the world fastest production car is at an end, and the usurper comes from within. Yes, the £1.9m Chiron retains the Veyron’s fundamental proportions and powertrain, but it’s new in every other conceivable way, and built to bend physics to breaking point.
The Chiron is not a hybrid. Unlike its closest competitors – the McLaren P1, LaFerrari and Porsche 918 - it relies solely on fossil fuels. Its engine is a development of the Veyron’s 8.0-litre quad-turbo W16, its gearbox a strengthened version of the Veyron’s seven-speed twin-clutch, and like the Veyron it deploys its immense power through all four wheels.
“If we went with hybrid we would have added additional weight. We would have experienced package constraints, too, because this car doesn’t have any areas where you can put additional stuff, so the styling would need to change,” Wolfgang Durheimer, Bugatti’s CEO explained. “We will dramatically raise the bar in terms of top speed, we will dramatically increase the power by 25 per cent, the aerodynamics are better, the road holding is better. We didn’t need a hybrid.”
Whereas the Veyron Super Sport produced a piffling 1183bhp and 1106lb ft of torque, the Chiron develops 1479bhp and 1180lb ft. Oh, and at a constant top speed the Veyron could drain its 100-litre fuel tank in 12 minutes, the Chiron can do it in 9.
Clearly this is a game of very senior numbers, so here’s some more. It will accelerate from 0-62mph in less than 2.5 seconds, 0-124mph in less than 6.5 and 0-186mph in under 13.6. Take a moment to let that last one sink in. That’s 2.9 seconds faster than a P1 and a second quicker than the Veyron Super Sport, bearing in mind that at 186mph a second equals a lot of fresh air - 83m of it to be precise.
Then there’s the top speed, which Bugatti has limited to 261mph - a token 3mph more than the Veyron Super Sport. The specially-developed, wider Michelins can take more, Bugatti says, and will be used for a Chiron’s record-setting attempt, which is expected to surpass 270mph, but the limiter is a “safety measure for road-travel”. Euro NCAP will be delighted.
Key to the engine’s swollen power reserves are four larger turbos that work in tandem to deliver maximum torque from 2000 to 6000rpm – that’s across 70 per cent of the engine’s full operating range. The two-stage system only calls on two turbos up to 3800rpm, to improve throttle response, and all four beyond that. A new titanium exhaust system helps out by reducing back pressure compared to the Veyron and houses two enormous catalytic converters – each six times the size of one you’ll find in a Mondeo. There are six exit pipes in total – four sticking out the back and two pointing downwards to create a blown diffuser – a downforce-boosting technology proven by, then subsequently banned in F1.
Everything about the Chiron’s powertrain is super-sized. An improved charge air cooling system means 60,000 litres of air per minute are pumped through the engine, while the coolant pump can circulate 800-litres in the same time. According to Willi Netuschil, head of engineering “temperature management is one of the biggest problems”. In total there are 10 radiators crammed under the Chiron’s skin.
With great power comes great need for big brakes, so the front and rear discs are now 20mm larger, 2mm thicker and made from carbon silicon carbide – a material that’s both lighter and more resistant to fade. Clamping them are eight-piston calipers in the front and six-piston at the rear – each piston a subtly different diameter to keep brake wear even.
The tyres, now 14 per cent wider at the front and 12 per cent wider at the rear, are wrapped around larger rims – 20-inch front and 21-inch rear – and built to withstand otherworldly forces. They need to be, as each gram of rubber is exposed to a centrifugal force of 3,800G. A bigger contact patch on the road means better braking, acceleration and wet-weather grip, while the updated four-wheel drive system uses electronic diffs on the front and rear axles, allowing fine control of the handling characteristics. More on that in a bit…
As a starting point for the world’s fastest car Bugatti uses a new carbon-fibre monocoque (each one takes four weeks to make), with a carbon-fibre rear-subframe attached to save 8kg versus the Veyron and boost rigidity, while the entire package is wrapped in a carbon-fibre skin. Bugatti claims torsional stiffness is now up there with an LMP1 prototype, while a new electric steering system and suspension bolted directly to the monocoque means it should react to inputs faster than a 1995kg car has any right to.
It’s the steering that gets you first – stop and consider for a second just how special your steering must be to outswagger a 1,479bhp engine. But you just never think twice about where to position the car; within minutes you find yourself threading this vastly expensive machine the way you would a £10k used M3. The rack is electric, and some large-foreheaded genius from Molsheim has managed to make seven algorithms communicate with each other to the extent that this might be one of the best electric steering systems on sale. Then again, for the money you’d expect it to be pretty good.
Michelin has ditched the PAX system rubber for a Cup 2 design developed especially for this car. On a twisty road it’s night-and-day superior to anything we experienced in a Veyron. There’s big front grip from the 285mm section on turn-in, and then the 4WD system juggles things around so you can experience the full slingshot. And believe us, the first time you give it full afterburner from a second-gear turn in a Chiron is a moment to remember.
You see this 1,479bhp claim in itself means nothing if it can’t be accessed or effectively deployed. For example, a Veyron Super Sport has 1,183bhp, but once traction and clumsy electronic intervention and gearshifts and fear and other factors have nibbled away at the process the number of times you actually get to use that 1,183bhp are negligible. In the Chiron, the full madness is available most of the time. Even on the Jebel Hafeet road’s dusty cambers, I could just bury it in second and the thing flew. No traction control warnings, no hesitation, just acceleration and instant gearshifts of a type we have never before experienced – not even in some zapped-out tuner GT-R.
We drove up and down the Jebel Hafeet road not believing what the Chiron was capable of. In terms of direction changes, braking performance and cornering ability, it was like a very, very powerful Audi R8. And that’s a huge compliment. As for the big W16 – it sounds more aero than automotive, it’s never musical, more a rumbling presence whose pitch alters as your peripheral vision greys-out under g-loading. There isn’t time to judge the noise, you’re too busy managing the speed. From zip to a tick under 4,000rpm, just two of the turbos spool, and then the other pair arrives with a delicious kick to send you up the road faster than you’d think possible.
Tyres are everything in the world of 200mph-plus motoring. The rubber needs to be fresh, if the treads are too worn, you can’t head beyond 210mph. If the pressures are too low, the same applies. The stats generated at speed in this car are more NASA than automotive.
Aerodynamically, this car is way more advanced than the Veyron. It channels air aggressively down its flanks, keeping it attached to form a stabilising pressure either side of that carbon skin. The rear wing switches for the best blend of slipperiness, downforce and air braking. The Chiron even has a separate pair of downward-facing exhausts to create a blown diffuser.
But it cannot cheat physics, and that means the Chiron has a curious battle to overcome as it hurtles towards 231mph – the acceleration is so brutal that the air flow over the tyres cools them to the extent that they lose pressure. And too little pressure could lead to very bad things. This is why you always run with the car’s tyre-pressure monitoring system on the dashboard – it runs to two decimal places and you watch it like a hawk.
The first two high speed runs had to be aborted because the front right dipped below the recommend 2.8 bar, but on the third attempt the Chiron kept pulling. The thrust from rest to 100mph is insane, it must take around 4.5secs – but the way it bulldozers its way through the next 100mph is spooky, and it just keeps going; much more aggressively than a Veyron Super Sport. It hits 231mph a little over 2km down the runway, nudging into its soft limiter with nary a hint of drama. How fast will it go unlimited? There’s talk of something in the 270s. In its lifetime, it is mooted a Chiron variant may exceed 300mph.