Wishing to convey a modern and comfortable image to those around me, I tend to be rather selective about the clothes I wear. Rarely do I give a thought to coordinating my clothes with my car, because I’m driving a different vehicle almost every week.
But this time is different. This time, I’ve chosen to cut the crisp Connecticut air with my beloved Nürburgring jacket from a magical day years ago when I drove the iconic German racetrack. This time, I am coordinating my clothes with my car.
Why? Because I’m driving a Bugatti Chiron, one of just 70 produced at Bugatti’s headquarters in Molsheim, France. It’s a $2.998 million dollar ride and I have one hour with it. I’d better look good.
Miller Motor Cars in Greenwich is my host and I arrive early, equipped with a bit less than my usual amount of coffee for fear I’ll get too jittery. Bugatti public relations representative Breanna and pro racecar driver and Bugatti employee Butch Leitzinger greet me.
Just when I think I have a cool job, I meet someone with an even cooler job, and Butch has it. Still, he’s impressed with my Nürburgring jacket; ironically, he’s never driven that famed track. But he’s driven the heck out of the Bugatti Chiron, and he’s going to show me how it’s done first, and then I’ll get my turn.
Butch unlocks the straightforward doors. There’s no mystery as to how to open the Bugatti, a welcome change in a world of increasingly perplexing door handles. He gets into the driver’s side and I slide into the passenger’s seat. The center of the dashboard and the console are surprisingly simple. Deliberately, there is no center screen or cup holders. Just four dials exist, controlling various climate functions.
Achim Anscheidt, Director of Design at Bugatti, says, “Both for our customers and for us as designers, it is important for a Bugatti to have a certain stylistic longevity so that it is still perceived as precious in 10 or even 50 years.” Nothing dates a vehicle faster than infotainment-related features and controls: think 8-track cassette, CD player, even auxiliary jack. The lack of such things means the Chiron will age well.
There are two buttons low on the steering wheel. The right one is labeled simply, “engine,” vastly understating the pearly gates of powertrain heaven unleashed by using it. The left one is used to select a driving program.
Bugatti’s goal was to equip the Chiron with 1,500 horsepower (yes, roughly 10 times a typical car today), which it achieves with a unique 8.0-liter W16 engine. The 16-cylinder engine employs a “W” configuration and consists of two banks of eight cylinders joined to a single crankshaft. There are four turbochargers and the engine produces 1,180 pound-feet of torque between 2,000 rpm and 6,000 rpm, which means the Chiron can accelerate from zero to 60 miles per hour in less than 2.4 seconds, and passes through 125 miles per hour in about 6.3 seconds.
I assure you there is no turbo lag in this baby.
As for driving programs, there are four of them. “Lift” is pretty pedantic: it’s for raising the car’s height to clear speed bumps, driveway aprons, or loading onto a trailer.
“EB Auto” mode is automatically activated when the vehicle reaches a speed of 50 km/h (about 30 miles per hour) and is for every day driving conditions. The chassis height and shock absorbers are automatically controlled based on speed and road conditions. This is the mode we’ll be in for most of our drive. I say “most” because the next mode, “Autobahn,” is automatically activated if the Chiron is driven faster than 180 km/h (about 112 miles per hour).
Yes, there may have been a brief moment when Butch and I exceeded official Connecticut speed limits in the course of our travels.
In any case, in “Autobahn” mode the shock absorber settings automatically adjust for comfortable, stable handling at highway speeds. You can feel the car seemingly snuggle into the road, and every part of the driver’s interface with the vehicle gets just a bit tighter and more communicative.
Finally, if you’re fortunate enough to get the Bugatti onto a racetrack, then “Handling” mode is called for. In this mode, all systems are set for maximum agility and performance.
In terms of sheer velocity, the Chiron maxes out at 380 km/h (about 236 miles per hour). But wait, there’s more.
Bugatti says in its media kit: “To reach higher speeds, the driver can activate the ‘Top Speed’ mode, which allows speeds of up to 420 km/h (about 261 miles per hour) and is activated by a second, separate ignition key. The so-called Speed Key…is used by Bugatti to underline the special nature of driving up to top speed. By turning this key, the driver consciously opts for this mode, which is then only enabled by the vehicle if all the relevant systems give the green light. ‘Safety first’ remains Bugatti’s motto.”
In other words, all bets are off and you better know what you’re doing if you choose “Top Speed” mode. That would not be the time to run out of talent.
Just as all that driving technology is hidden behind two simple knobs, the shifter is also blessedly and deceptively simple. A quick swipe right puts the car into drive, reminiscent of certain dating sites, and I’m definitely attracted to the Chiron.
As we pull out into early morning traffic, Butch promises me the Chiron is easy to drive, and his casual attitude is reassuring. He drives to the nearby interstate, treating me to some of the insane torque the Chiron possesses as we ramp up onto the highway.
Butch drives for about ten minutes, pulling over with disarming aplomb at a bus stop so that we can switch seats. As I slide in, a guy in a pickup truck slows down and yells, “I’m next!” He’s not the first attention we’ve attracted and he won’t be the last. It’s a welcome bit of cheer and settles my nerves.
I adjust the seat and mirrors to fit my small frame and again, the Chiron’s controls are delightfully intuitive. Bugatti designers and engineers concentrated on performance, not gimmicks. As a result, timelessness permeates every corner of the Chiron. But enough about that – we’ve got roads to drive!
With a deep breath and a quick prayer, I accelerate away from the curb, instantly intoxicated by the prodigious power and effortless control exhibited by this car. There’s no doubt this is a super car, but it’s graceful and elegant where so many are brazen and raucous, and I’m amazed and delighted by finding near instantaneous comfort with the Chiron’s driving character.
The engine’s power speaks for itself, the suspension is tight, and I both feel and hear the road, but that’s the way it’s supposed to be with a car like this one, even when it leans heavily in the direction of luxury. Cabin racket isn’t deafening, but it’s not QuietTuned like a Buick either. Sensory awareness of the road is rightfully part of the Bugatti Chiron experience.
A short time into my drive, we enter the picturesque, tree-lined, two-lane Merritt Parkway. There’s still some residual rush-hour traffic, but I know this road well and I have some running room. I aggressively press the accelerator, and the engine’s prodigious horsepower and torque are immediately apparent, and so is all that control provided by the permanent 4-wheel-drive system.
Without hesitation and with breathtaking precision, we’re more than doubling the speed limit and the Chiron’s custom Michelin high-performance tires grip the road and hug the curves. Under these conditions, the Chiron shines, and brightly. Everything is in hyper mode, from the brilliant adaptive chassis tuning reflecting Bugatti’s laser focus on heightening the driving experience to the absolute purity of the 7-speed dual-clutch transmission, which happens to feature the largest high-performance clutch ever used on a passenger car. At extra-legal speed, the driving experience is absolutely exhilarating, and for all its touch-point simplicity this is suddenly and definitively a $2.998 million car.
In too short of time, we come up on traffic, forcing me to slow down to a more appropriate velocity. Once again, the Chiron delights its driver, the special carbon ceramic brakes proving nothing short of perfection. Unlike in other super cars I’ve driven, the Chiron’s brakes are not the least bit grabby, proving smooth and precise, whether we’re in stop-and-go traffic or slowing back down to prevailing highway speeds.
Eventually, we exit the parkway and move onto slower secondary roads, with the ubiquitous plodding traffic. But it gives me some time to both catch my breath and savor the experience. The Bugatti Chiron is such as joy to drive, even if the side roads don’t provide an opportunity to show what the car can really do. It’s still massive amounts of fun to drive this amazing car, whether we’re trapped behind a slow-moving truck or able to open it up on a wide-open straightaway.
This is a vehicle to savor, and an hour to remember.
With the foot-dragging reluctance of a petulant toddler, I guide the Chiron back to Miller Motor Cars. I really don’t want to get out. I want to just keep driving and driving and driving.
It wasn’t about the status. It wasn’t about how I looked. And least of all it wasn’t about what I was wearing, Nürburgring jacket notwithstanding. Rather, this car delivers an utterly fulfilling and completely satisfying driving experience, even if for just 60 minutes.
What does $2.998 million dollars really buy you? It really buys you happiness: Absolute, unadulterated driving happiness.