In the auction world, cars routinely fetch seven-figure sums. Racing provenance, celebrity association or simple rarity can — and frequently does — push the value of a vehicle well into the stratosphere. But the notion of a production car commanding a price normally associated with motor yachts and villas on the Côte d'Azur seems somehow disquieting. And for the new Bugatti Chiron, the French carmaker's successor to the Veyron hypercoupe, unveiled today at the Geneva motor show, a £1.9m (about $2.6m) price tag is presented with no shame. On the contrary: For Bugatti and its elite customer base, price is a point of pride — a superlative no less dazzling and quote-worthy than the car's world-beating specifications.
By the autumn of 2017, when the first of 500 planned Chirons leave the factory in Molsheim, buyers will be able to tell themselves three things: They command the most power, they can go faster than anything else on four wheels and they spent the most for the privilege. And that suits Bugatti just fine.
So prodigious is the power from the Chiron's quadruple-turbocharged 8-litre W16 engine and so great is the Chiron's tonnage (4,400 pounds dry; about 4,550lbs with a full tank of petrol), that the car's top speed is electronically limited to a mere 261mph (420kph) to preserve the special Michelin tyres. Three air ducts per wheel provide cooling for each corner's brakes. The car's structure redefines stiff, too; 50,000 Newton-meters per degree of torsional flex puts is in roughly the same league as an LMP1 Le Mans prototype. The Chiron also uses all-wheel-drive like its Veyron predecessor, but now, Sir, it comes complete with a Drift mode. Truly, this is the quixotic exotic.
This exercise in exotic overabundance takes its name from Louis Chiron, the Monégasque racing driver who competed in grands prix, sports car races and rallies and was famed for five French Grand Prix victories by 1949 was a favourite pilot of the Bugatti factory.
It’s been 90-odd years since the French marque made its name designing giant-killing Type 35 grand prix machinery. For Bugatti, now part of the Volkswagen Group, not only has cost, weight and technology run beautifully amok in the modern era, so has irony. The evolution from the light and lithe competition models of the 1920s and ’30s — cars with merely 130 naturally aspirated horsepower — to two-plus tonnes of road-smashing technology brimming with 1,500 horsepower and 1,180 pound-feet of torque is itself epic.
And the numbers keep rolling in, too. Bugatti claims a spleen-bursting sub-2.5-second blast from zero to 100kph (62mph), or 13.5 seconds from zero to 300kph (186mph). With the speed limiter disabled — as Bugatti will do when it attempts a world-record attempt on Volkswagen's enormous Ehra-Lessien test track — the Chiron will likely pierce the 270mph mark.
It took Bugatti a full decade to produce its pre-planned run of 450 Veyrons, which included the original 1000hp coupe and Grand Sport convertible, and the 1200hp Super Sport and Grand Sport Vitesse models. It is safe to expect the Chiron to follow the same script, with a convertible and 1700hp versions joining the range — not to mention a string of ever-more-garish special editions — between now and the year 2027.
So does the Volkswagen Group need a £1.9m halo car? And does the world need a production car with such mind-bending performance as the Chiron? For Volkswagen, the Bugatti marque is a glamorous, consumer-facing alternative to an expensive Formula 1 programme. The Chiron, and the Veyron before it, give the company a highly visible platform on which to explore and evaluate advanced materials and technologies, everything from cutting-edge tyre tech and fuel-management strategies to aerodynamics and occupant-protection systems — developments that will trickle down to future generations of mainstream cars. It is certainly true that Bugatti's cars are directly relevant to only a staggeringly small percentage of potential buyers, but their influence on the automotive world at large will be considerable.
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