Quick Spin: 2018 Bugatti Chiron

There’s a popular saying in the yacht brokerage business: “If you need to ask the price, you can’t afford it.” The same, it must be said, applies to the Bugatti Chiron.

Punch the throttle and the Chiron doesn’t just go, it’s already there.

For those fortunate few who don’t need to ask the price – and I’d like to thank both of you for your time reading this – the real question is “Does the Chiron offer exclusivity and engineering worthy of the expenditure?” The answer is a resounding “Yes!”, because even here in Vancouver, where McLarens are a reasonably common sight and Lamborghini Huracáns are a dime a dozen (often piloted by fresh-faced high-school students with new driver “N” stickers on the back), Bugattis are so rare as to be essentially non-existent.

Only 500 Chirons will ever be built, and each will be exclusively customized for the individual customer, so you’ll never see another car quite like your own (actually, you won’t see your own Chiron for a while either, because the first couple years of production are already sold out). And then there’s the absolutely unsurpassed engineering and driving experience, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

If you need to ask…

For those of you whose business empires are only medium-large and who’d need to review the corporate books before, say, purchasing Qualcomm – well, you needed to ask. Which likely means you can’t afford the approximately $4 million Canadian price tag for a new Chiron (Bugatti quotes the base price in US dollars, at $3,093,000).

As for the rest of you, let’s put that price tag into perspective: It’s the price of 100 Mazda MX-5 RFs. If you started at age 30, you could buy a new car every six months until your 80th birthday, and still not spend as much as on a Bugatti Chiron.

But then none of those cars would be a Chiron. So none of them would have an 8.0L quad-turbo 16-cylinder engine cranking out a mind-boggling 1,500 hp and 1,180 lb-ft of torque, delivered to the road via a seven-speed DSG gearbox and Haldex all-wheel drive system. None of them would have carbon-fibre and aluminum construction. None of them would hit 100 km/h in 2.4 seconds, 200 km/h in 6.1 seconds, and have a top speed of 420 km/h. None of them would have an articulated wing that acts to create downforce at speed, then flips up to form an air-brake when decelerating. None of them would have massive 420 mm (16.5-inch) ceramic disc brakes, either.

And certainly none of them would look like the Chiron, nor drive like it.

Lifestyles of the rich and famous

In a somewhat mind-boggling turn of events, Bugatti invited me recently to experience the Chiron, spending an hour behind the wheel. It was likely some sort of terrible mix-up (perhaps they thought I was Ryan Reynolds or something?), but they handed over the keys regardless, and I snatched them up eagerly. So, you ask, what is the Chiron like to drive?

It’s certainly not anonymous: Everywhere we stopped, people whipped out their cellphones to take photos. Who can blame them? The Chiron is seriously striking. It’s not only far more powerful than the Veyron it replaces, but far better looking too – at once more interesting and more cohesive. A distinctive aluminum-trimmed C-line arches around the back of the doors, dividing and defining the car, while offering up myriad two-tone paint possibilities. Taken as a whole, the Chiron wouldn’t look out of place in a science fiction movie, flying over a desolate Los Angeles landscape.

Inside it’s fitted out as one might expect of a $4-million supercar, with lashings of leather, plenty of real carbon fibre and aluminum, and a timeless pared-down retro/steampunk sort of style. This means no big infotainment screen, because such a technological detail would too easily date the car, and it also means no cupholders, since the car is built for driving, not for visiting the local McDonalds drive-though. Bugatti representative and former race driver Butch Leitzinger helpfully suggested that you could store drinks in the door cubbies, but I reckon that would only work for bottled drinks with screw-on lids.

While the Chiron may lack cupholders, it does have a small trunk up front. This is designed to hold an airline-approved carry-on bag (after the divider required to satisfy North American safety rules has been removed) but not a candy bar more. Certainly not two carry-on bags.

There’s a small infotainment display in the gauge cluster, just to the right of the analogue speedometer, and this handles duties for the audio, navigation, and vehicle information systems. A clever touch is the centrally mounted climate control knobs that can also show other selected information such as speed, fuel consumption, gear selection and such (they revert back to climate information if you go to adjust them).

My favourite feature was the illuminated C-shaped buttress that bisects the cockpit and mirrors the bold C-line on the car’s flanks. Interesting interior details aside, once you get used to the slightly quirky gearshift lever and the fact that pretty much everything is controlled using the steering-wheel buttons, everything in the cockpit makes good sense, and the Chiron is surprisingly easy to operate.

It’s surprisingly easy to drive, too, if you’re content to loaf around at 50 percent or less of the car’s true capability. It’s every bit as low as it looks and has wide door sills, which means climbing aboard takes a little nimbleness, but once you’re in your seat it’s perfectly comfortable and offers plenty of headroom and legroom. Punch the steering-wheel-mounted start button and the engine rumbles to life, sounding like, well, two well-tuned European V8s bolted together.

The car’s overall width does require a little cautiousness around sharp city corners and intrusive curbs, but the stiff body structure and adaptive suspension means the Chiron is composed and remarkably compliant over bumps, at least in “EB” comfort mode (you can choose from three driving modes: EB, named for company founder Ettore Bugatti, Autobahn, and Sport). Leave the mode in EB and the transmission in automatic and the Chiron is a docile enough driving partner, although the rumble and turbo whoosh of its massive turbocharged engine never lets you forget the power it’s capable of unleashing.

The Three-Second Rule

Which inevitably leads to the showcase moment: The Chiron’s ultimate claim to fame is its astounding, record-breaking acceleration, and here the engineers really have created something alien and otherworldly, something only fighter pilots have any regular experience with. Unfortunately, on public roads you can only get your Bugatti thrills in three-second increments, because in a fraction over six seconds you’d be doing 200 km/h – a rate of progress that the authorities here in BC don’t merely frown upon, but automatically impound the car for.

Full acceleration is actually a little physically uncomfortable, because all your guts and organs squash back against your spine, and then rebound forward when you mash the brakes three seconds later (already doing well over 100 km/h). But what’s bad for your guts is pure euphoria for your central nervous system. Punch the throttle and the Chiron doesn’t just go, it’s already there, leaving you muttering chuckled expletives, and with the sharp bellow of the exhaust echoing in your brain.

Big paddle shifters allow you to take control of the transmission if you choose, but the Chiron’s power and speed mean the shifts come quickly, so the temptation (and the safe choice) is to leave the seven-speed DSG gearbox in automatic mode. As a result, there can be a fractional hesitation as the car downshifts and the turbos spool up, but when the power kicks on it’s truly Herculean.

The Chiron’s no slouch in any other department, either: The massive ceramic brakes bite with impressive but easily controllable force, and the adaptive suspension and all-wheel drive layout provide flat, sticky handling with truly superb steering feedback from the electrically assisted steering rack. Despite its surprisingly heavy 1,995 kg curb weight (attributed mostly to the tugboat-grade stoutness required of the transmission and drivetrain to handle all that horsepower and torque), the Chiron never feels heavy, but instead feels confident, responsive, and easy to carve through the corners.

Now all I need to do is hide the keys until I can rent a racetrack somewhere….

Fast Numbers: 2018 Bugatti Chiron

Acceleration

0–100 km/h: 2.4 sec
0–200 km/h: 6.1 sec
0–300 km/h: 13.1 sec
0–400 km/h: 32.6 sec

Top speed

420 km/h (380 km/h in regular mode)

Engine Displacement: 8.0L
Engine Cylinders: W16
Peak Horsepower: 1,500 hp @ 6,700 rpm
Peak Torque: 1,180 lb-ft @ 2,000 rpm
Fuel Economy: 26.8/16.6/22.2 L/100 km city/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space: 44 L
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 7.4
9 Styling
10 Powertrain
10 Quality
8 Comfort
3 Practicality
10 Drivability
8 Usability/Ergonomics
3 Fuel Economy
5 Features
8 Value