You can hear… no, you can feel it arrive from a distance, a sotto voce, quad-turbo shockwave mustering 1250Nm which makes the warm summer air blur, tickling the nerve ends and stimulating the ear drums.
This review was originally published in MOTOR’s May 2007 issue
The Bugatti Veyron, this paragon of automotive engineering, sounds like a low-flying chopper as it starts to climb the hill on the far side of town. Then the roar is muffled by the two-storey buildings that form the core of Herrsching by the Lake, a busy village which stands proud in the Munich stockbroker belt.
Max, my 17-year-old son, does a Matt Shervington down the driveway to welcome the meanest, baddest and most extreme car to ever spend the night in the Kacher garage. Tiptoeing across a raised drainage pipe, straddling a freshly shaven lawn, angrily fighting for traction at walking pace, the sizzling, crackling monster machine eventually grinds to a halt – Houston, we have touchdown!
Bugatti currently entertains five test cars. Two of them circle the US media circuit, appearing at high-visibility car nut events like Pebble Beach. In the course of these aficionado weekends, the company auctions test rides for prospective customers and wannabees – at up to $13,000 per 30-minute session. Given I had the car for 72 hours, that’s $1.87 million. Still won’t buy me one; not that the missus would be keen on it, anyway.
“I want out,” she yells, as I shift into third on a challenging country road. “Do you hear me?” Of course I do, dear, but I’m a little busy. “If you don’t back off NOW,” she shrieks, “you’re doing your own laundry and ironing. Forever!”
Instantly, I feather the throttle, mumbling something like, “Speed doesn’t kill, honey. You just need to know how to handle it.” She doesn’t buy it; arms folded firmly across her chest, Raphaela looks as if she’s already sizing up her half of the divorce settlement.
After a couple of runs to Munich and back, the fuel warning light blinks on. Max and I head for the local fuel station… which has to be cordoned off 10 minutes later when onlookers block the main road.
The Veyron’s fuel consumption may be the going supercar rate, but at 28 litres per 100 clicks you can virtually watch it drain your own personal oil well dry. In fact, at the VW test track in Ehra Lessien, a lead-footed Bug will return a resource-depleting 91 litres every 100km.
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So, I’m going to pay for the privilege at the fuel pump, but what to do first with my time with the car? Picking Max up from school seems like a good idea. In the course of a half-hour walkthrough, the lad collects enough brownie points from his mates to be guaranteed free drinks until the end of the term, and that’s even before his girlfriend is allowed to sit behind the wheel.
On the way home, we take the back route and thunder through the state forest in full fighter mode, leaving a trail of needling conifers and deaf deer behind. As long as the road is reasonably straight, this car has no rival. Its top-end urge is, in fact, so irresistible that not even a F1 racer, which is typically handicapped by too much drag, could keep up beyond 300km/h.
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Thanks to ESP and 4WD, irritations in the road are only felt as kicks and tugs but never as serious threats to the impeccable directional stability, which is otherworldly in its velcro-strap sure-footedness.
There are quite a few things the Veyron does not like. Kerbs, for instance, be they parallel, transverse or at an angle to the car’s flight path. At around $100,000 (nope, no typo) per set of 22-inch wheels and tyres, you don’t really want to scratch a rim, and you don’t want that Michelin PAX footwear to go pop, either.
Also to be handled with care are parking garages. Unlike the Gallardo and Murcielago, the Bugatti has no front-end hydraulic lift, so it keeps barking its kevlar-protected chin on ramps and inclines, which is allegedly okay but makes a godawfully expensive noise. Merging with traffic is also be a heart-starter.
When you travel-one up, it’s best to scan the huge blind spot via the tiny passenger door mirror. Alternatively, you can put on your x-ray specs or (my preferred method) boot the loud pedal and hope for the best…
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The Veyron’s worst man-made enemy is the radar trap. Although we did not get stopped for speeding, the cops flagged us down a few times just to take a closer look at this unknown flying object.
In nine out of 10 cases, breaking the law does mess up your driving licence, but in a Veyron you may avert the worst simply by taking Mr Officer Sir for a brisk spin round the block. Almost the entire Munich 12th precinct has now been through this routine, and even the chief of staff comes by to let the brute acceleration push dimples into his ample cheeks.
It’s impossible not be impressed by a 0-100km/h acceleration time of 2.5 seconds, but the men in blue are even more thrilled by the raw stopping power which leaves your guts upside-down begging for fair mercy. The Bug is soon the talk of the town on Cop Radio and by the end of day two, we get the thumbs up from just about every rozzer that crosses our path. Suckers.
It takes me half a day to locate the ‘ESP Off’ switch (it’s about half-way down the driver’s left shin-bone), and it takes me three more hours to pluck up the courage and push it. The difficult bit is to find an open corner in the middle of Munich.
We finally spotted what we were looking for in the Olympic Park where you can get four-wheel spin in first, experience a pupil-widening gap between early understeer and eventual oversteer, and learn to modulate 1250Nm – twice the getting-out-of-shape oomph produced by the new Ferrari 599.
I’m sure Walter Rohrl can powerslide this thing into and out of a car transporter, but mere mortals are better off paying attention to such instincts as fear and self-preservation.
Having said that, I do deactivate ESP once more coming onto a familiar freeway on-ramp, and the Veyron’s tail stepped out with the perfect elegance of a talented debutante to whom the three-four time is second nature. When the car finally swung back in line, the speedo read 165km/h and my guardian angel ordered a large whisky. Neat.
While under warranty, the Veyron is protected by a flying doctor service, but once that two-year/50,000km grace period is over, you pay for all repair work. Which can be very expensive: a new engine costs $430,000, a fresh gearbox lists at $180,000.
“We have yet to experience a serious engine problem,” says Lars the mechanic. “Some of the mules have done over 100,000kms without missing a beat.” But we can’t help noticing that after about 350 kilometres the seven-speed direct-shift gearbox begins to play funny. It starts acting rough around town, it no longer takes off without hiccups, and the shift quality deteriorates.
At one point, a cog-shaped warning light came on, and the in-gear tell-tales starts flashing. Lars hooks up his computer, nods knowingly and mumbles something about the next service in Wolfsburg on Monday.
As far as automotive overkill goes, the Uber-Volkswagen from Molsheim will probably never be dethroned, not even by messieurs Koenigsegg and Pagani. The first modern Bugatti is, without a doubt, an amazing piece of kit, an engineering tour de force and a driving experience the lucky few will treasure forever. Would I buy one if I had a few spare millions stacked up behind the house? Probably not.
Look, I love the speed, the power, the torque, the acceleration, the brakes, the sheer silliness of being a totally legal 3D PlayStation junkie. But not at close to two tonnes, not at this kind of consumption, not with the XXXL auxiliaries it takes to nurture and control the dino driveline.
What the true enthusiasts are waiting for, instead, is a contemporary minimalist Bugatti. It must be light, it must be nimble, and it must be a track star, which is something the Veyron will never be. The Veyron is the ultimate citius, altius, fortius machine. But its basic concept was conceived in a well-meant and well-prepared cul-de-sac.
After a year and a half, and after only a handful of completed units, the world’s potentially most prestigious luxury sports car brand is already in need of a strategic rethink.
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2007 Bugatti Veyron
BODY: 2-door, 2-seat coupe
ENGINE: 7933cc, W16, DOHC, 64v, quad-turbo
BORE/STROKE: 86.0mm × 86.0mm
POWER: 736kW @ 6000rpm
TORQUE: 1250Nm @ 2200rpm
TRANSMISSION: Seven-speed dual-clutch
0-100KM/H: 2.5sec (claimed)
TOP SPEED: 408km/h (claimed)
SUSPENSION: double wishbones (f/r)
BRAKES: 400mm ventilated and cross-drilled carbon ceramic discs, eight-piston calipers (f); 380mm ventilated and cross-drilled carbon ceramic discs, six-piston calipers (r)
WHEELS: 20.5 x 9.3-inch (f), 21.3 x 12.8-inch (r)
TYRES: Michelin Pilot Sport (PAX system), 265-680 ZR500A(99Y) (f); 365-710 ZR540A(108Y) (r)
PRICE: $1,950,000 (est)