2018 Bugatti Chiron Review
Paul Horrell’s 2018 Bugatti Chiron Review with Price, Specs, Performance, Ride and Handling, Safety, Verdict and Score.
IN A NUTSHELL Rocket-fast multi-million-dollar sled turns out to be so splendidly engineered and gorgeously made, you really can see where the money goes
2018 Bugatti Chiron Specifications
Price approx $4m plus taxes Warranty 4 years/unlimited km Engine 8.0L petrol W16 quad-turbo Power 1103kW at 6700rpm Torque 1600Nm at 2000-6000rpm Transmission 7-speed DCT auto Drive four-wheel drive Body 4545mm (l); 2038mm (w inc mirrors) 2162mm (w inc mirrors); 1212mm (h) Kerb weight 1995kg Seats 2 Fuel tank 100 litres Spare no Thirst 22.5L/100km combined cycle
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OK let’s get this out of the way first… what’s a 420km/h (limited) hypercar doing on a site called Practical Motoring?
Well, despite the extravagance, it’s not just a trinket. It actually is quite practical. The brutal engine and transmission are pretty smooth even in town. It’s quite comfy. You can raise the suspension to go over speedbumps. There’s a reversing camera. The boot will take an airline carry-on bag. It’s got all-wheel-drive for bad weather.
OK, OK, it’s not practical. It’s an absurd contradiction. Running at full whack, it’ll drain its fuel tank – 100 litres – in six minutes 47 seconds. But there’s no place on the planet to run it at full whack for that long.
Anyway, it’s left-hand-drive only, so can’t even be road-registered here. So, it’s a frivolity. We were given the chance to drive it and we jumped. You’d the same in our position.
What is the Bugatti Chiron?
What’s really important about the Chiron is it shows what happens when the best engineers from the whole VW Group bust a gut to probe the very limits of what a car can do against the implacable physics of combustion, aerodynamics, traction, cooling, and weight. One day that knowledge will be in your car.
First some fun facts. Acceleration isn’t only brutal at low speeds, it stays brutal to 300km/h and beyond. These are the numbers: 0–100km/h in 2.4sec, 0–200 km/h in 6.1sec, which is barely credible. Then 0-300 in 13.1sec, and 0-400 in 32.6sec. Like, gulp.
It’ll corner at 1.5g, which means one-and-a-half your weight is pressing you sideways out of your seat. It’ll brake at 2g thanks in part to an airbrake. The engine ingests and exhausts air at the rate of 1000 litres every second at full power, or 4.6 tonnes an hour (air isn’t heavy, but this engine can gulp a whole lot).
The rear tyres are 355/25 R21. When the car is at max speed, the wheel rims experience 3000 g of centrifugal force. The valve caps weigh 2.5 grammes at rest but with that force acting on them at full speed they’re effectively 7.5 kilos. Special valves had to be designed because the stems of ordinary ones were ripped outward, leaking air. Imagine the stress trying to peel the rubber off the tyre carcass. It’s why the top speed is electronically limited. The Chiron has the power to go faster even than 420, but who knows if the tyres could cope.
The Chiron’s weighs two tonnes, so you’d think the designers didn’t care about lightness. In fact they cared deeply, and there are some really exotic materials here. A full-carbonfibre tub and skin. Carbonfibre for engine pieces where no car had them before. Even carbonfibre anti-roll bars. Titanium bolts all over the place. Titanium for the silencer too. Formula One heat shielding. Carbon-silicon-carbide brake discs. Actual diamond slices as the membranes of the hi-fi’s tweeters.
If they hadn’t taken that detail-obsessive attitude, the weight would have ballooned, because of the mass of all the cooling for the eight-litre quad-turbo 16-cylinder engine. For the 1105kW of power it sends to the wheels it needs to reject another 2200kW (yes, two megawatts) of heat through its cooling system, which means 10 radiators.
Engineering is one thing, craftsmanship another. Everywhere you look around this car, or see it being built as I have, and you see an obsessive dedication to perfection. The paint and leather are flawless, every joint and gap controlled to a hairsbreadth. The instruments and dials are machined and assembled like horology.
What’s the interior like?
The Chiron has to be truck-wide to make room for its outsize mechanical entrails. The result is a fairly broad cabin too. So there’s decent elbow room. The two seats are thin buckets but nicely human-shaped and widely adjustable.
There’s a bit of double-deck storage in the centre console, and two door bins each side with beautifully damped lids.
Between the seats is one of the great styling flourishes, a C-shaped arch. That C is continued as a ridge that runs the length of the car’s centreline outside, inspired by the ridge on the classic pre-war Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic. (Worried about the price of the Chiron? A 57SC Atlantic, if it came to the auction houses, would fetch 10 times as much.)
The material quality in here is off the dial. Leather is buttery smooth, aluminium knobs and stalks beautifully machined. That flying centre console is a single machined piece of cast aluminium, anodised to any owner-specced colour.
It holds four dials, each with a little screen in its centre to switch a climate control function. A long press switches those displays to other more headline-grabbing info: max power, max revs and max speed since you last hit reset.
Ahead of you sits a physical speedo, but it carries so many numbers (up to 500km/h) it’s all but unreadable. There’s a digital counterpart. To the left a rev-counter and Bugatti’s famous power gauge.
The screen to the right of the speedo can carry all sorts of vital signs such as temps in the powertrain and tyres, or it’ll switch to a map. The stereo is brilliant, with speakers from a manufacturer called Accuton, so high-end I’d never heard of it. But there’s no head-up display, oddly.
Still, Chiron drivers are different from you and me. They want security, so the car has been tested to military standards of electromagnetic compatibility.
What’s the performance like?
To state the blindingly obvious, it’s fast. In a way that almost nothing with a proper cabin and roof can touch. Nothing from senior players including Ferrari or Porsche or McLaren anyway.
Some context. There will soon be faster cars: the Aston Martin Valkyrie and Mercedes-AMG One, maybe the odd Koenigsegg. But they’ll be so uncomfortable and uncompromising they almost don’t count as road cars. The Bugatti isn’t like that. Going slowly, it’s barely harsher than it’s sibling in the VW Group, the Audi TT RS.
So let’s light the fuse. If you go looking, in high gears and low revs, you can find significant turbo lag. But then, an eight-litre engine can make pretty darned significant progress even when off-boost.
Then the turbos come in and… things just get surreal. It goes into hyperdrive: the smearing of the scenery past the windscreen, the pinning of your body mass against the seat, the jittering numbers on the speedo. You don’t read those numbers, mind – believe me your attention is elsewhere.
An odd thing though. The acceleration and the speed themselves have a brutality no car has ever before, and yet some of the sensations are surprisingly muted. The herculean engine doesn’t make any angry noises, and you aren’t battling against wheelspin. You just aim and shoot.
In the dry, even flat-out away from standstill using launch control, the tyres don’t slip, unless you hit dust or a bump.
No need even to think about gears. It always shifts up at the red-line, just shy of 6700rpm. Even going full gangbusters, those shifts are pretty smooth. I did find myself using the paddles on a twisty road, preparing the car as I slowed for tight corners. It felt more involving that way. And if a downshift does happen to coincide with those turbos lighting up, it’s like being hit up the backside by a runaway train. Not always a good thing.
Meanwhile the noise is like nothing else on the road. A low, persistent thunder, rhythmic and treacly. The W16 actually operates as mostly as two engines, and the sound evokes a pair of massive and aristocratic marine engines propelling you on a Niagara of force.
What’s it like on the road?
Please don’t accuse us of stating the bleedin’ obvious, but all that power requires a whole lot of grip and traction. Grip, in the steady state of cornering, is something all supercars manage. But if the acceleration is the Chiron’s first and enduring shock, you also get a secondary batch of amazement from its benign manners. There is drama in its sheer absence of drama.
Barrel towards a bend at unfeasible speed and the brakes take care of you, swatting away speed without tram-lining. Turn into the bend and there’s an alertness and lovely precision to the steering that the older Veyron never had, as well as some feedback.
Understeer is possible in a tight turn if you go into a corner with too brutal tug of the wheel. Do the opposite and turn in without having lost all your speed and there’s no wobble of over-rotation if you lift the throttle.
Mostly the Chiron is settled and imperious. There’s a spooky absence of roll or heave – the adaptive dampers do an epic job. Mid-corner bumps don’t upset it one bit. All of which makes it feel agile: this two-tonner feels lighter than it is.
So you’re half way round the bend and it’s time for The Event.
Just nail it. Boof. The turbos spool up, the unimaginable power kicks in, and you’re somewhere in the middle distance. The remarkable thing is your awareness isn’t entirely dominated by the acceleration. You can also feel the tyres clawing away at the road, the power being distributed rearward, the tyres edging towards their limits. Or even fractionally beyond, before the well-calibrated ESP smoothly tames the silliness.
Meanwhile when you’re driving at more normal speeds, you suddenly realise the ride is pretty civil and the tyres not too noisy. In a car with this much grip and tyres this big, that shows an extraordinary degree of development.
The springs are steel coils, but they sit on variable-height platforms. That means the Chiron can lower itself for track work or on its the aircraft-like top speed runs. But also it will lift itself for speedbumps or rough tracks. It’s got such good manners.
What safety features does it get?
One can’t ignore the fact that the Chiron’s main safety feature is the driver. You really do need to keep your sense of perspective and self-preservation very much on high alert. The car won’t stop you doing preposterous speeds even in the wrong places.
That said, you certainly get some help. Look at the brakes: 100km/h to zero in just 31.4 metres. Failing that, you’ve got six airbags, and an immensely strong carbon-fibre tub surrounding you, with a race-specification fuel tank in the most sheltered part of the car.