The temperature gauge in the Audi flickers to a solitary degree. It’s cold and miserable. The type of melancholy that goes against the fact I’m about to spend 24 hours with one of the true hypercars, the 2019 Bugatti Chiron. Provisionally the home of Bugatti and McLaren in Munich is a ramshackle building awaiting its last rites.
Hidden away, it has all the charm of an asylum for stolen cars. Still, housed in a corner with the company of a damaged 570S and a 720S in need of some mechanical love, sits the big, black Bug. The irony of one of the world’s most expensive cars being stowed in a dilapidated shack isn’t lost on me.
As if this experience couldn’t get any more surreal, Andy Wallace, Le Mans winner and now Bugatti brand ambassador, enters the vibrant orange cockpit; its effervescence is made even more apparent in the dim light. Wallace depresses the brake pedal and the red hue from the tail-light cuts through the darkness with a lightsabre-esque intensity.
Once fired, all 16 cylinders and quad turbos fill the dormant warehouse with an orchestra of sound. While the famed race driver will accompany us for the 24-hour date, three’s a crowd. Wallace is relegated to a rented Toyota C-HR, which provides valuable service as a camera car and luggage carrier.
Raw numbers aside, the Chiron is a sexy and stylish piece of automotive art. It’s dripping in presence, both inside and out. However, it’s surprisingly useful and bigger internally than the broad-shouldered, ground-hugging stance suggests. It’ll be interesting to see if those thoughts remain in 24 hours’ time, but then, it’s hard not to get caught up in the experience of living with a Chiron.
It’s mine. And that thought never gets old. As the day passes, different elements of this fascinating car start to unfurl.
At first it seems there’s little to acclimatise to with the Chiron. The dash design is uncluttered and feels like a luxury supercar. The steering wheel accommodates two oversize blue buttons. One fires and cancels the 8.0-litre W16, while the other comprises various driving modes – manettino-style.
You start with EB before progressing to an Autobahn symbol, which lowers the ride height and firms the dampers while the aero kit assumes max downforce. A step further and you’re in Handling mode, complete with allowances enabling impressive yaw movements for the brave.
And of course, if you feel the need to go faster than 380km/h, the v-max setting and ‘the key’ come into play. Embedded in the door sill and held down by a magnet, it’s needed to activate the lowest drag position and the extra-firm damper setting that comes with it. However, this time around, the special key remains dormant – wrong terrain, wrong season.
That’s because traffic in downtown Munich is a bitch any time of year despite decent public transport. Inching through the city’s inner sanctum is like sitting in a red-light district window – you’ll be ogled. While the Chiron is pleasantly quiet at low speeds, the ride is still firm and the vulnerable front spoiler endures an endangered existence. Hence the fast-acting lift mode is the most essential driver aid. I’m reminded it’s not the right setting to exploit the Bug’s performance wares.
It’s lunchtime and the Maccas drive-thru isn’t quite wide enough for this valuable and vulnerable icon. The ancient parking structure near the Dome is littered with potentially crippling ramp angles. Anxiety levels must be managed when driving $3.6m worth of hypercar.
The Chiron’s appetite is ravenous and, unlike me, requires something more highbrow than a Big Mac. While filling up, the petrol-station attendant refuses to believe that eleven minutes at maximum speed is all it takes to suck the 100-litre tank bone dry.
However, that’s always been the tale here – a series of facts and figures that are hard to fathom. And that’s because even more so than the ground-breaking Veyron, the Chiron seems to have been conceived in a parallel paradise where all roads are wide, straight and smooth.
In that environment the 1103kW/1600Nm Bugatti could hit its electronically limited 420km/h top speed, a figure that’s comical in itself, if not for the rumoured 465km/h it’s actually capable of.
Still, in conjunction with fuel limitations, the Chiron can ‘only’ rocket along at maximum velocity for 20 seconds at a time due to the narrow safety window of the tyres, which must endure tonnes of centrifugal g-force per square inch.
For safety, it’s paramount to always keep an eye on the tyre-pressure monitor and temps when flexing your right foot, ensuring maximum grip for spirited stints. Anything outside the optimal operating window is asking for trouble.
There’s oddities, too, with the steering offering a hopeless 12.5m turning circle, yet flicks from lock to lock in an ultra-quick 1.25 turns. However, as you’d expect, there’s also much to marvel. Check out the massive AP Racing brakes boasting cooling apertures twice as large as the Veyron and a massive heat shield to prevent the Michelins from melting.
The five-position rear wing has increased in size by a third and fully extends above 180km/h (retracting at 130km/h). Hit top speed and it lies flat before assuming a near vertical 49-degree angle when acting as an air brake.
At full throttle, the turbos’ charged air pressure is a whopping 160bar as the engine takes in 1000 litres of air per second. Flat out, the flow rates for water (800L/min), petrol (880L/min) and oil (120L/min) are as extreme as the 1.3 tonnes of pressure that rests on every piston crown at bottom dead centre.
The driver of a red Ferrari casually relinquishes pole position at the traffic lights, before pausing and grinning broadly as he yells, “Hi five, mate”. It’s hard to skulk in dark corners in a Chiron. Every throttle blip garners an audience and its mere presence excites – it’s also a car spotter’s wet dream.
Crowds gather and zoom in on the W16 and 8.0 badges displayed on the cylinder banks and marvel at the massive rear air brake. The onlookers continue in the supermarket car park. Unlike most supercars, the Chiron is practical and accessible. Surprisingly, there’s enough cargo room for a weekend’s worth of groceries.
However, it goes further than that. Around town, two TFT displays provide a full set of information, while all key functions are available without taking your hands off the wheel. Even the launch control is a thumb’s length away. Although the infotainment system is hopelessly outdated – especially when put up against something like the new 992 Porsche 911.
Not unexpectedly, but you become popular quickly when you have the keys to a Bugatti Chiron. Everyone wants to experience what it feels like to be hurled to 100km/h in 2.5 seconds or feel the impact of 1600Nm being unleashed on their neck muscles. They all come out of the woodwork.
It’s visceral and physical as eyes widen and toenails dig into the soles of each passenger’s shoes. All who grace the passenger’s seat are utterly blown away by the experience. Inevitably, some ask for the tempo to be turned down, as if the occasion is too much to handle despite having eagerly entered the cabin of their own accord.
The weather could also be playing its part, eroding the confidence of those not behind the wheel. The tarmac is sodden in places and the temperature gauge has only nudged two degrees. Despite an armada of electronics to help me out and allay the fear of others, this much power can create havoc, if only for a tiny, deeply shocking fraction of a second.
All other mega-maulers, like the Porsche 918 and LaFerrari, move over as soon as the Bugatti opens its floodgates – and in doing so, the fuel consumption rivals the Titanic. Even in seventh gear (dual-clutch), part-throttle wafts you to a lazy 240km/h, while climbing beyond 300km/h doesn’t induce a heart attack as long as too many liberties aren’t taken.
Cards on the table, the fastest I drove the Chiron (on an Autobahn, of course) was 365km/h. This kind of velocity calls on all seven senses and ultimate concentration. Beyond 320km/h even minute changes of direction become noticeable inputs and braking distances are calculated by the kilometre. You need to be so far ahead of the game that if you’re reacting to something in plain sight, it’s already too late. Thrills don’t get much bigger than this.
It’s of little surprise, then, to find out the second home of the Chiron is a petrol station. And as you can imagine, as soon as the fuel-filler cap opens, it’s seen as another opportunity for onlookers to approach. If you’re well-healed, a car lover and an introvert, the Bugatti might quickly become the bane of your existence.
Maybe that’s why we’ve heard that the limited run of 500 units is not yet sold out – or the fact it costs $3.6m. According to one dealer, a major service with parts can cost as much as a new Volkswagen Golf. Gulp.
Receipt in hand and $200 poorer, I hit the starter button with the windows down, but in the quieter modes, there’s no bark from the exhaust. If there’s a criticism of the Bug’s aural theatre it’s that there could be a louder, more memorable idle act. After all, the Chiron’s big band comprises 16 cylinders and four turbos, so it’s a surprise not to hear heavy metal.
Beyond idle, two junior turbos start laying a punchy soundtrack at around 2000rpm, which deepens by 3800rpm when the manifesting duet becomes a growling quartet. The register of the W16 engine is a mix of part-throttle wail and high-rev whistle with dense low-rpm drums and lift-off histrionics.
Just like the varying timbres and intricacies of the acoustics, the Chiron is all about the bespoke details. It takes 500 man hours to complete a single monocoque – add in a few more days for the expensive optional paint on our test car.
It’s a treatment that adds a large sum to the overall bill, but most buyers won’t care. After all, the customer profile is described as a billionaire with countless cars already on the rostrum. One mega-rich client ordered six Chirons upon its launch at the Geneva motor show... that’s the buyer Bugatti is dealing with.
A fascinating part of Chiron ownership (to us mere mortals who’ll never afford one) is that Bugatti tracks every movement of every car sold – all is recorded by secured telemetry. The factory keeps a detailed journey log of its products, which includes an extensive high-speed profile. According to the Molsheim grapevine, so far only a handful of cars have exceeded 400km/h…
Even with one owner, apparently, using the Chiron as a daily driver, the average yearly mileage is little more than 2000km of the cars sold so far.
Every time you step back into the Chiron it takes a few moments to reacquaint yourself with the numerous superlatives the R&D team built into this epic machine. Yet, driving at night is a double-edged sword. Yes, lighter traffic makes going fast less risque, but the LED headlights aren’t as powerful as you’d hope. Hitting 300km/h in the depths of darkness is like playing Russian roulette when you can’t see far enough ahead.
Consolidating confidence is the immense aerodynamic stability. Designed for increased downforce and reduced drag, the ultra-fast two-seater also benefits from a highly sensitive, fully active front-to-rear aero balance which ties the car down, enhancing its handling prowess.
Although the Bugatti plots remarkable directional accuracy in foul weather, the super-direct steering and the Chiron’s incessant feud with longitudinal grooves can scare passengers with sudden uneasiness. Although, sadly, my time with the high-speed tech marvel is coming to a close. It’s going to be a hard goodbye.
Summing up spending 24 hours living with one of the world’s ultimate hypercars is hard to pen. It’s breathtaking and distinctly indulgent. A favourable public perception is upheld by its aura, where surprise and curiosity overpower criticism. And you better believe that once the road ahead clears, the Chiron is the king of every square inch of blacktop it travels on.
Unlike the Veyron, which disliked corners and racetracks, its replacement scores points for dynamics, while remaining a wild beast few will ever have the opportunity to tame. Walking away from the Chiron manifests myriad thoughts and emotions; detachment is a difficult pill to swallow.
Ultimately it’s hard to ignore the fact that the Chiron is potentially too fast for its own good and shocking to the uninitiated – but my god, what a thing it is.
2019 Bugatti Chiron
BODY: 2-door, 2-seat coupe
ENGINE: 7993cc W16, DOHC, 64v, quad-turbo
BORE/STROKE: 86.0 x 86.0mm
POWER: 1103kW @ 6700rpm
TORQUE: 1600Nm @ 2000-6000rpm
TRANSMISSION: 7-speed dual-clutch
SUSPENSION: double wishbone, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar (f/r)
STEERING: electrically assisted rack-and-pinion
BRAKES: 420mm ventilated carbon-ceramic discs, 8-piston calipers (f); 400mm ventilated carbon-ceramic discs, 4-piston calipers (r)
WHEELS: 20.0 x 8.5-inch (f); 21.0 x 11.0-inch (r)
TYRES: Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2; 285/30 R20 (f), 355/25 R21 (r)
PRICE: AUD$3.6m (est)
PROS: Unlimited power; presence; newly decent handling
CONS: Weight; price; thirst
RATING: 5 out of 5 stars
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