I love invitations, don’t you? They all start out about the same way but the fifth word in is critical. I mean “Would you like to” is a nice beginning but where they go from there can make all of the difference in the world. For example, if it continues “run with me for 26.2 miles” or “join Weight Watchers starting on Saturday” that may not be something which you’d jump at. Fortunately for me, since I live in AutoLand (metaphorically and literally), many times that tantalizing lead is followed by something automotive. The invitation that arrived before the 2018 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance continued with “drive the Bugatti Chiron on a two-and-a-half-hour leg of the trip from Los Angeles to Pebble Beach?” The Chiron is a supersonic vehicle which can go zero to 60 in under two and half seconds and, yes, I beat that mark as my reply was delivered in about one second–“hell yeah!”
Bugatti has been my most-favorite marque since I was a child. I was lucky to have a neighbor family which loved cars and their teenage son had–incredibly enough–a Type 35B Bugatti. The car made a certain unusual sound, which became my siren’s call, and I would race to the end of my driveway to see it go by. It wasn’t only the sound that spoke to me—it had perfect proportions. It also burned oil in copious amounts such that, long after it had disappeared from sight, the cloying smell of burning castor oil (the Castrol predecessor) hung in the air.
My next Bugatti highlight was a five-day trip to France to drive the modern machine. “Mine” was the Grand Sport Vitesse version–the initial Veyron had 1,001 horsepower, but the Grand Sport Vitesse upped it to 1,200 ponies. The joy of piloting that mythical car on the roads around Provence was exceeded only by 202 MPH on the backstretch of Bugatti’s home race track, Circuit Paul Ricard. That trip remains the highlight of my automotive journalist career but there are a few which come in right behind that, and this story is about one of them.
To replace the Veyron (which was in production from 2005 through 2015, if you include the few variants), Bugatti created the Chiron which, like the Veyron, is named after a famous Bugatti race driver from the past. The Chiron takes off (literally) from where the Veyron passed the baton. It’s still a W16 engine (16 cylinders!) but it’s now at 1,500 horsepower. While Bugatti doesn’t advertise its acceleration or top speed achievements, it’s faster than the Veyron Grand Sport Vitesse that I drove a few years before, which would mean 60 in under two-and-a-half seconds and a top speed which is electronically limited to about 260 MPH but which is said to achieve over 280 MPH with the restriction removed.
The Chiron is a vehicle where nothing was compromised to meet a budget. The leather is sumptuous, the seats beyond comfortable, the fit and finish superb, the ergonomics outstanding, the body sleek, sinuous, and gorgeous.
Immediately at home, I felt a huge rush just when firing up the engine. My co-pilot, the great Andy Wallace, a professional racer who is Bugatti’s test driver, showed me a few things which had changed since my Veyron drives and off we went. And I mean OFF.
Interestingly, the car is so sure-footed and capable that it’s effortless to drive. The transmission shifts are automatic (unless the driver chooses to use the paddle shifters), the steering direct, the suspension so sophisticated that its work is completely behind the scenes and all you know is that it’s taking care of business. The Chiron’s motto should be “I’ve got this!”
Whenever I mention Bugattis, people ask “How fast did you go?” This time I was better behaved, in no small part because of the plethora of police in the area. It was the Thursday of Car Week so everybody and his brother who had an exotic car was wending northward from Los Angeles. I saw gaggles of Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Aston Martins, Porsches and the like (birds of a feather and all that) and boy was it fun to pass the whole group at once! With the Chiron, you can go from the speed limit to a multiple of that in the blink of an eye and then get back down to the limit so quickly that should anyone, say, have a radar gun pointed your way, it will seem like an electronic glitch.
How to describe the indescribable? With the Chiron, let’s start with this: your body experiences what your mind really can’t comprehend. It’s like “I am here but now I am there and I can’t figure out how that happened!” With all-wheel drive and more computers than a Space Shuttle, the Bugatti wizards have figured out how to put 1,500 horses and 1,180 pound-feet of torque to work. With so little drama, it’s the closest thing to an automotive miracle that I’ve ever experienced. Suffice to say, the Chiron is my new favorite ride.