First Drive: 2018 Bugatti Chiron, The World-Bending King of Cars

The Chiron is much, much more than an avalanche of statistics.

Dissecting Chiron’s performance and uncorking its avalanches of statistics can be about as much fun as reading the SparkNotes guide to The Sound and the Fury, watching highlights from The Godfather on YouTube, or asking Picasso about the paints he used to create Guernica. To my mind, those details aren’t really necessary. Chiron is less a hypercar than it is a piece of performance art, and it deserves to be treated as such. Enjoy the ride. Savor the mystery.

Suffice it to say that all the engineering behind Chiron is absolutely sufficient to achieve the performance goals that Bugatti established going into the long-awaited successor to the Bugatti Veyron. It’s fast, and it handles, and there’s a lot going on beneath the crisply creased carbon fiber body panels to make it all happen. But in the end, like its predecessor, it exists on a higher level than any other top-shelf sporting machine. When I got behind the wheel of the car recently, that was what I was most curious about. Not the details, but the cumulative effect. I wanted to see if it felt greater than the sum of its parts, to gauge its impact on a driver. What does the brain feel like on Bugatti?

Chiron is not like other super-hyper-ultra-cars: Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Paganis, Koenigseggs, and the others all still cut distinctly angular profiles that seem to be straining against the need to extend vertically. Chiron, less so. Its front end is a remarkably robust wave of metal — a big snout that defies convention. Its horseshoe grille contains a hand-painted, silver and ceramic badge that’s curved ever so slightly — the result of a manufacturing process in which the silver contracts during the baking process and forces the typically brittle and unbendable ceramic to curve right along with it. The sides feature enormous, gracefully curving chrome character lines that arc all the way from the roof, to the rear intakes, to the bottom door sill, to the front wheel. That line is a bold statement, a visual signature the likes of which hasn’t really been seen since the wild horizontal strakes of the Ferrari Testarossa in the ’80s. Both design strokes work brilliantly, exerting themselves by sheer force of will — helped along by their perfect proportions. Or, in racing terminology: They use all the track, without hitting the wall. Chiron is a machine capable of withering extremes, yet also a refined, beautiful bit of industrial sculpture.

2018 Bugatti Chiron

Engine: 8-liter, quad-turbo W-16
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
Horsepower: 1,479
Torque: 1,180 lb-ft
0-60: 2.5 seconds
Top speed: 261 mph
MSRP: $2,998,000 (base)

Overall, the exterior effect isn’t quite menacing, nor does it even look particularly fast. What it does exude is presence, a sense of imperial dominance. It prompts crowds to part in a way that other hypercars — most too kinetic and tightly wound to do the whole stately parade thing — can’t really equal. It’s easy to imagine it invading a small country.

You’ll note I refer to Chiron absent the definite article “the” — mimicking the linguistic status achievement attained by the supersonic transport Concorde many years ago. To those in the know, it was always just “Concorde,” not “the Concorde.” Here, similarly, it’s simply Chiron. Only machines of such regal bearing as these can dump the “the” and get away with it.

Inside Chiron, the drama multiplies. The car sits wide and low, with aromatic, drum-tight leather and minimalist controls; its ergonomics encourage both long trips, via comfortable positioning, and harrowing assaults on mountain roads, via firm support of both body-in-seat and hands-on-wheel. There’s an echo of the chrome character line separating driver and passenger. The massive engine sits behind you, barely concealed, comforting in its steady pulsing. The cabin is all about empowerment, yet it’s totally bereft of the aggressive visual cues of speed and performance you’ll find in other hypercars: the multitude of dials and switches, or the patterns in materials that normally shriek at you are nowhere to be seen. In short, it doesn’t make you feel like you have to prove anything to anyone, that you must assume a persona in the driver’s seat.

What it does exude is presence, a sense of imperial dominance. It’s easy to imagine it invading a small country.

Start the engine, and the show commences in earnest. There’s steady vibration and slight tremors as the engine shifts microscopically in its mounts with every tap of the throttle. When you engage drive and pull away, the car moves as if it’s being both pulled and pushed at the same time — with a firm, steady force like it’s simply making the world spin beneath its tires. When you find that open stretch and truly get on it, that world explodes. Chiron accelerates so ferociously and ceaselessly that it jumbles your insides a bit, and you have to glance in the mirror to see if it actually left your body behind in a pile on the freeway and if the car is rocketing away with just your soul at the wheel. It’s that fast, and it becomes quickly obvious that the pedal is endlessly deep, the power available with essentially zero hesitation. As a result, driving Chiron in earnest makes the world around you vanish. It compresses time and space as you effortlessly leap from one turn to the next.

Sound a bit over the top? Maybe, but Chiron delivers. It may be naïve and trite to elevate Bugatti to dizzying heights of achievement, but you can’t argue with the very real product, or the indisputable impact its designers and engineers manage to deliver to audiences both inside the vehicle and out. It’s an achievement in design and performance. It may be the second act of the Veyron narrative, but Chiron is very much its own machine, its enhancements and refinements from front to back, all made in the name of making your world both larger and smaller at the same time.

Bugatti hosted us in Greenwich, Connecticut for an afternoon to experience Chiron. Opinions are the author’s own.

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