I’m not sure anything can adequately prepare you to drive a modern Bugatti. If the thought of more than a megawatt of power under your right foot isn’t daunting enough, there’s the price tag. The Bugatti Chiron Pur Sport that we tested goes for $3,959,000. All press test drives require the presence of a chaperone—in our case, the affable Butch Leitzinger, one of a handful of racing drivers that Bugatti employs for this reason.
In fact, the car is so far out of the normal frame of reference that it’s perhaps even more daunting to write about than to drive, as evinced by the fact that it has taken me many weeks to properly marshal these words.
At least there’s no 300 mph (405 km/h) top speed to worry about. Topping out at 218 mph (350 km/h) means the Chiron Pur Sport is actually the slowest car Bugatti has made since its (second) resurrection in 1998. In terms of top speed, that is. Because it’s also probably the quickest car Bugatti has ever made in terms of acceleration, sacrificing a bit of Vmax for even more brutal acceleration. No pressure, then.
Sixteen cylinders, 1,500 horsepower
Bugatti’s current engine of choice is an 8.0 L, quad-turbo W16—in effect, a pair of 4.0L V8s sharing a common crankshaft. The 1,500 hp (1.1 MW), 1,180 lb-ft (1,600 Nm) engine has had its rev limit raised (from 6,700 to 6,900 rpm) and its throttle response sharpened. Only 20 percent of the dual-clutch transmission is carried over, and the gear ratios are much shorter, such that 7th in the Pur Sport is about the same as 6th in the normal Chiron, if any Chiron can be called normal.
How quick is it? From a standstill, you pass 62 mph (100 km/h) in 2.3 seconds, which is less time than it takes to read this sentence. 124 mph (200km/h) takes 5.5 seconds. Keep the throttle pinned for about 12 seconds to reach 186 mph (300 km/h), assuming you have a suitable stretch of road. We did not have a suitable stretch of road, but I got a glimpse of that operating envelope when Leitzinger demonstrated launch control on a deserted highway on-ramp before applying the stopping power of the massive (yet lighter than normal) brakes.
Yes, a Tesla Model S Plaid will accelerate harder than that, and at a fraction of the cost. If your only frame of reference is numbers from other people’s stopwatches and timing slips, that’s probably sufficient for you to declare the Tesla a winner. But let’s be honest—given that your average Bugatti owner has 50 other cars, they almost certainly have a Tesla or two already.
Besides, the experience is remarkably different. The Bugatti is far more mechanical, and far louder, as the inefficiencies of its internal combustion engine waste so much gasoline by turning it to sound. And this is an inefficient car, rating a combined 10 mpg (23.5 L/100 km). Yes, that’s horrid, so take comfort in the fact that only 60 Chiron Pur Sports will be made, they won’t get driven much, and pretty soon, the company’s new boss, Mate Rimac, will find a way to stick some electric motors in the next Bugatti.
After I was suitably awed, we found somewhere to pull over and swapped seats. It’s not the easiest car to get into if you’re middle-aged, and as you drop down into the bucket seat, you discover that the adjustments you can make are limited—and manually operated. This is a Chiron that is meant to be at home with the ups, downs, lefts, and rights of the Nürburgring rather than on the long straights of Ehra-Lessien, so the electric adjustment motors were probably deemed superfluous on the grounds of excess weight.
That explains the acres of carbon fiber and Alcantara. I’m not sure if the synthetic suede material is that much lighter than leather, and even with all the Pur Sport’s weight savings, it still weighs more than two tons (2,000 kg). Still, the material has become the industry’s default way of saying, “This one is a go-fast one—take it to the track.” Sadly, we didn’t take it to the track, just the roads of Greenwich, Connecticut.
Everything is unique to the Bugatti; there’s nothing here from the Volkswagen Group parts bin. The steering wheel is similar to Audi and Porsche multifunction wheels, but the spokes are more delicate. The door handles have a matte finish that in photos looks like plastic but is actually anodized titanium (and scratchable). The switchgear is machined from aluminum, and about the only plastic I spotted was the power button for the infotainment system. (This is pretty minimal and appears on the display to the right of the central 300 mph speedo, and no, there is no CarPlay or Android Auto.)
The rearview mirror is impossibly slim compared to just about any other car on the road, yet it still apparently contains the apparatus to self-dim. Not that it’s terribly useful—the view behind you is segmented into quadrants by the massive fin and the even more massive rear wing. The sideview mirrors do a better job; adjust them so it requires a tilt of the head to see the enormous side intakes and you should be set. And despite the air conditioning’s best efforts, the glass roof made things a little warm on a hot May day.
Tap the throttle, then coast
Driving through town, you rarely use much throttle. Just the tiniest burble from the engine is enough to get you to 25 mph, the transmission effortlessly changing up in automatic to 5th or 6th. You tap the throttle, then coast on the wave of torque, hyper-alert to obstacles or possible hazards like inattentive drivers and the potentially telephone-number-sized repair bill that would result if the worst happened.
The steering isn’t particularly heavy, but you can feel (and hear) the mechanical differentials at work when you’re maneuvering at a very low speed. The ride is on the firmest side of firm, with springs that are 65 percent stiffer in the front and 35 percent stiffer at the rear than a plain Chiron’s. The adaptive dampers use a different tuning philosophy, too, according to Jachin Schwalbe, Bugatti’s head of chassis development. I’ll have to take his word for it.
There is what passes for turbo lag in 2021. It’s not really comparable to what older people mean when they say turbo lag; it’s not like it was in the 1980s. But there’s still the briefest pause after giving the accelerator a good press (say, 25 percent of the way down) from being off-throttle. Whether that’s so the engine can suck in vast quantities of air or spin up the turbines—or if the throttle pedal is just programmed to keep billionaires out of a bunch of collisions—I don’t know.
But when a gap opens up and you give the pedal a proper poke, there’s a noticeable fraction of a second where not much happens (which is very unlike the experience of Ludicrous-ing a Tesla.) And then it does happen, and it happens very quickly, even with just 25 percent of the throttle’s travel.
Truth be told, the opportunity to do even these small maneuvers was fleeting as rush hour traffic began to accrete. So I have no way of contextualizing the fact that the special Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 R tires endow the car with 10 percent more lateral grip or what it feels like when the massive fixed rear wing (all 6.2 feet/1.9 m of it) generates all its downforce at speed. Mostly, the experience was just tap and coast, ever mindful of just how expensive a car I was driving.
When titan of the automotive industry Ferdinand Piech first laid down the criteria for Bugatti’s third act, he included that the car should be as easy to drive as a VW Golf, and it should be capable of 250 mph. The Nürburgring-ification process of Pur Sporting the Chiron might have canceled that top speed in this case, but I can report that even this track-ready Bugatti still checks the first box.
Listing image by Jonathan Gitlin