WRITER: Gautam Sharma
Bugatti is a name with a long history of fast, elegant, luxurious and brilliantly technical automotive works of art. Now a subsidiary of the Volkswagen Group, the French manufacturer is still doing what it does best, as we can see from its latest model, the Chiron.
If you’re a petrol-head to even the slightest degree, you’ll be familiar with the Bugatti Veyron. Launched just over a decade ago, it tore up the supercar rulebook and tossed it in the bin. As a street-legal car with 1000bhp and the ability to top 400km/h, it proved the impossible was not so, and it relegated even flagship models from Ferrari and Lamborghini to relative obscurity.
But times move on, and Bugatti has now created a successor to the Veyron that once again appears to redefine ‘super sportscar’ benchmarks. With the ability to rocket from a standstill to 300km/h in a stupefying 13.6 seconds and not stop accelerating until it hits 420km/h, the new Chiron’s credentials are irrefutable. Bugatti says it could hit an even higher top speed if only the tyres would allow it but in the interest of safety, they had to instal an electronic limiter.
Just 500 vehicles will be built, at a starting price of 2.6 million USD, and 120 of these have already been spoken for. Crafted extensively from aluminium, titanium and magnesium, the Chiron is underpinned by a cutting-edge carbon fibre tub that makes it the stiffest road car ever produced.
Of course, with such an exciting debut we had to find out more, so we met up with Bugatti’s CEO, Wolfgang Dürheimer, at this year’s Geneva Motor Show.
The Chiron’s styling seems even more dramatic than that of the Veyron, what were the objectives this time around?
The styling is meant to clearly identify it as a Bugatti and, particularly from the front and side, you won’t need to look twice to brand it. However, we also wanted to push the boundaries in terms of aerodynamic performance and we ended up with a car that’s still beautiful, yet has a little bit more beast than last time, especially when you come to the rear of the car where you have a cut-off, stealth-fighter inspired design. When the spoiler is not deployed, there are no visible interruptions, so it’s still a piece of art. The reaction from customers on our stand yesterday was very positive, which is why they have placed orders.
The other so-called hypercars (Porsche 918 Spyder, Ferrari LaFerrari and McLaren P1) all integrated electic energy into their powertrains, why didn’t the Chiron?
Our objective was to be the absolute pinnacle in the super sportscar world. The main criteria for those at the top of this pyramid are: performance, exclusivity and price. With only 500 units and a price of 2.4 million Euros, we are clearly on top in the last two. Then, as far as performance goes, you’d have to qualify if you’re talking top speed or lap times on a track. Our position at Bugatti is that we want to have the fastest car on Earth with the most breathtaking acceleration to push the world speed record, which we previously set at 431km/h. We analysed how to achieve this and our conclusion was that it is better to invest in a new 16-cylinder 8.0-litre engine than to downsize and add in electrical power, which would have also meant adding 150 to 180 kilogrammes to the car for the electric motors, battery pack and other components for the hybrid drivetrain. For our purpose, it was better to stick with pure combustion power.
You mentioned lap times versus maximum speed. Do any of your customers place much emphasis on the former?
Sure, and many of them have taken their cars to racetracks and discovered that this is not our best discipline. For this reason, with the Chiron we’ve taken steps to significantly improve the car’s agility and driving dynamics – not only longitudinal, but also lateral. So the steering, aerodynamic set-up and chassis are all quite different to the Veyron, and we’re sure our customers will appreciate this. We’ve also invested a lot in brake technology to have better stopping performance even under very heavy use.
At close to two tonnes, isn’t the Chiron still a heavy car?
Considering the increase in brake dimensions, power output and aerodynamic tweaks, the new car is very light. Basically, the entire car is magnesium, aluminium, titanium and carbon fibre. The monocoque is the stiffest of any super sportscar at present with a lot of rigidity built in with composite structures. The carbon fibre components used for the exterior are also more rigid than before with a very slight increase in thickness. So a lot of material science and simulations have gone into this car, which is how we kept it under two tonnes.
In terms of driving characteristics, how does the Chiron differ from the Veyron?
The biggest difference is in the power and torque. No car has ever accelerated your body in this manner. The moment you floor the throttle, it’s literally like being fired out of a slingshot. And when you get to the first corner, you’ll realise the car turns in easier and more precisely. The driving dynamics and handling on twisty roads has improved significantly. At the same time, the comfort level in the cabin has also improved. It’s not that noisy anymore either, I’d say it’s now at a very mature level. Then from the driver’s perspective, there is better ergonomics with the steering now exactly in the centre of your body [it wasn’t in the Veyron], and legroom around the pedals has also improved. For some of our Veyron customers, it might be hard to imagine how this car could be better in every dimension but they’ll get it after a 30-minute test drive.