The term “supercar” describes an automobile that pushes boundaries. There are many: Ferrari, Lamborghini, McLaren and Porsche all offer cutting-edge technology, outlandish styling and blistering performance matched by limited production and eye-watering prices that guarantee exclusivity. Then there is Bugatti. The brand’s revved up Chiron somehow manages to make every other supercar seem a little less super by comparison. It’s not the first time that a Bugatti has upped the ante and rewritten the rules. The Veyron that first appeared in 2005 with 1,000 hp and a $1 million price tag defined excess for a decade. Only 450 examples were built through 2015. By that time, Bugatti’s Veyron Grand Sport Vitesse made 1,200 hp and cost more than $2 million.
Bugatti doesn’t rest on past achievements. Waiting in the wings is the Chiron, first shown at the Geneva Motor Show in March 2016. With nearly 1,500 hp and a window sticker of $3 million, the Chiron caused quite a stir—even before any civilian drove one. In fact, of the 500 planned for production (about two per week), more than half are already sold.
Bugatti threw the key in this driver’s direction at a recent event. There, along with driving the beast, we talked with Achim Anscheidt, director of design at Bugatti. Anscheidt began the Chiron project in 2006 guided by three principles underpinning its design. “[First] for the Chiron, it is important to have excellent proportions. Second, the brand DNA symbols have to be an important part of the overall statement. Third, it is important that the styling be as authentic as possible. What that means for the Chiron is something that we call ‘form following performance.’ If there is styling on the car, it should really have something to do with performance.”
And that is where things get complicated. Just exhausting heat from a 1,500 hp, 16-cylinder engine to avoid melting composite bodywork required ducting solutions unnecessary on the Chiron’s predecessor. Sucking more than 2,000 cubic feet of air per minute, sufficient volume to spin four hungry turbochargers was a formidable engineering feat. (Imagine a blue whale inhaling tons of water and krill in a single gulp). Yet the monocoque structure that encloses the occupants is a featherweight carbon structure weighing just 220 pounds.
How does this much power feel? The dual-stage turbocharging delivers brutal, nearly suffocating thrust as the engine bellows to redline. Its seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission (auto or paddle-shift modes) leaves this Bugatti’s limit nowhere in sight. Yet the Chiron is refined, well mannered and comfortable. Although the carbon-fiber chassis and body are stiff as a fossilized Tyrannosaurus, elaborate suspension bushings made with space-aged compounds ensure a smooth and luxurious ride. Five adjustable performance modes—Lift, EB (normal), Autobahn, Handling and Top Speed—let the driver dial in the desired handling traits for the task at hand. Handling is always razor-sharp and not the least bit twitchy. Permanent all-wheel drive provides maximum traction. The Chiron is very low, very wide and (at whatever speed) seems to glide close to the road like a manta ray skimming the ocean floor. Every move is elegant, graceful, without drama—until it’s time to press the issue.
Occupants settle into elegant sport seats, upholstered in the finest leather and stitched in a quilted pattern that recall a giant Chanel handbag. In front of the driver, a single round analog speedometer is clocked to 500 km/h, with other information displayed digitally as needed. An exquisite steering wheel contains most controls, freeing the dash and center console of clutter. Those surfaces are leather-wrapped, with touches of carbon fiber and with essential controls machined from aluminum.
The Chiron improves upon everything compared to its predecessor. It revs up on power and torque, it’s lighter, has more immediate handling and near-telepathic gearshifts. Larger wheels, bigger brakes and stickier tires manage the Chiron’s added capability. It is beyond quick, yet speed is just one facet of the Chiron’s personality. This is a civilized supercar. It hasn’t got a deafening exhaust, a torturous ride or a claustrophobic cabin. It is an expression of absolute power and unbridled luxury. It’s the antithesis of simple, yet its designers make the Chiron seem so—a remarkable achievement for the world’s most remarkable supercar.