Bugatti have managed to create an incredibly powerful car and the means with which to harness that power.
- 2010 Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Grand Sport; 8.0-litre, 16-cylinder, petrol; seven-speed DSG; coupe – USD$2,000,000
By Mark Hacking, USA.
Fair warning: This could well be the lamest review of a supercar in the history of supercar reviews. Of course, I know all about the test the blokes at CarAdvice Australia conducted of the original Bugatti Veyron last year. I marveled at the tales of driving over 300 km/h along the back roads near Molsheim, France—roads with a posted speed limit of just one-fifth that figure.
This particular review will be vastly different. Reason being, I had just one hour with the new Grand Sport—and that one hour was during rush hour. To make matters worse, we were experiencing an absurdly early blast of winter—no snow, but not far from it—so I had to drive the Veyron with the soft-top in place, removing me further from the visceral pleasure of hearing the 8.0-litre, 16-cylinder, 1001-horsepower engine bellowing just over my right shoulder.
The situation was this: I received a note that the supercar would be making a whirlwind tour of Toronto, Canada—one day only, no second chances, no option to book a more preferred drive time. For a moment, I actually toyed with the idea of turning down the chance to experience the Grand Sport.
Now, keep in mind that this is a ridiculously exclusive car set to be offered in very limited numbers—150 examples for the entire world, to be exact. The soft-top Veyron also happens to be significantly more expensive than the hard-top—to the tune of some $280,000 (US) more for a grand (no pun intended) total of some $2 million (US).
On the other side of the ledger was the incredible frustration I was certain to feel from driving a car that’s capable of going 400 km/h at about one-fifth that figure. You see, the Bugatti test drive would start and finish in one of the busiest areas of the city, an area that rivaled Los Angeles for traffic congestion at the end of the workday.
Arrrggghhh. I buckled like a belt and accepted the offer.
The drive started off with a briefing session courtesy of race driver Butch Leitzinger. A three-time winner of the Rolex 24 at Daytona and Le Mans racer with Bugatti corporate cousin Bentley from 2001-02, Leitzinger is just the kind of steady hand needed to showcase a radical supercar like the Grand Sport.
As he guided the car around the block, I gathered first impressions from the passenger seat. The interior was a spectacular mix of metal and leather, but I was most struck by how few switches and controls were on display. Many cars, particularly those in the entry-level luxury category, attempt to dazzle with technology overkill. Not so with the Veyron; the gleaming metal centre console houses an analog clock, air vents, hazard switch, start button, seat heaters, launch control, gearshift, a few buttons to cue the audio system and a few others to turn on the climate control. That’s it—simple yet stunning.
The cockpit continues the theme: a fantastic three-spoke steering wheel with paddle shifters, no buttons to operate cell phones, CDs, cruise control or the like. Beyond the wheel, there are three simple analog gauges: a large tachometer, a small horsepower output indicator to the left and a small speedometer to the right. C’est tout.
After showing me the basic controls, I took over the reins and immediately sent the Veyron Grand Sport blasting past the 300-km/h mark. Sorry, scratch that—this was the part of the test drive that took place in my mind. In reality, I eased the Bugatti into the middle of the expected traffic jam and struggled a bit in getting accustomed to its significant width.
I also marveled at the fact that this $2 million car doesn’t have a power-operated roof, steering wheel or seats—now that’s ballsy! The Grand Sport comes with a polycarbonate transparent hardtop and a durable cloth soft-top that’s held in place with an umbrella-like frame—again, everything requires manual labour to put into place.
In order to compensate for the loss of a fixed roof, the Grand Sport has been strengthened through the use of carbon fibre supports around the side skirts, B-pillars and transmission tunnel. These measures have made the Veyron less susceptible to torsional flexing than any other roadster on the market, according to the manufacturer.
For the true speed demons out there, it’s worth noting that the top speed of the Bugatti is listed at 407 km/h, but with no roof in place, this drops to 360 km/h and with the soft-top installed, rippling begins somewhere around 160 km/h. (Too low, wouldn’t you agree?)
As you may have gathered by this point, I’m not about to go on and on about how I pushed this extreme supercar to its limits, terrorized the general public and fueled a high-speed police chase throughout the greater Toronto area. I can’t even bear testament as to whether the real-world performance of the Veyron lives up to the specification sheet.
Here’s what I did accomplish while ducking in and around the city traffic: From a standing start, I managed to make the horsepower needle go past 350, cause the traction control lights to flicker on the instrument panel and take the GS up to 135 km/h from a standing start on a 60 km/h road. Victory!
During this brief blast of power, here’s what occurred to me: The Veyron is certainly the fastest road car I’ve ever driven. I’m not sure if it’s quicker than the late-1990s Arrows F1 car I drove a few years back—but if not it’s definitely an extremely close second. I’m almost certain that the carbon fibre brakes on the F1 were more powerful than the carbon/ceramic numbers on the Bugatti, but again, it’s a close call.
What’s most impressive about the Veyron Grand Sport is that I’m attempting to compare its performance to that of a purpose-built race car. Or perhaps it’s the fact that Bugatti have managed to create an incredibly powerful car and the means with which to harness that power.
Armed with permanent all-wheel drive, acceleration isn’t so much a matter of damage control (as it is with other high-output cars), it’s simply a case of keeping the front wheels pointed straight and then hanging on for dear life.
The seven-speed DSG transmission is similarly impressive. I can’t say for sure whether the Bugatti shifts more quickly than other dual-clutch transmissions on the market—I’m still awestruck by the Ferrari California—but this car is so fast, the limiting factor will be how quickly the driver can take the next gear and not how quickly the gearbox reacts.
It’s also a significant accomplishment to build a transmission capable of handling all that torque; Audi had similar challenges with their R10 TDI Le Mans racecar and their solution was a beefed-up five-speed manual gearbox, a decidedly low-tech solution compared to the Veyron’s DSG.
In the final analysis, my brief and low-speed test of the 2010 Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Grand Sport was, indeed, a fairly frustrating experience. I longed for the autobahn or a racetrack with at least one long straightaway, but neither was within shouting distance. But I like to consider myself a glass-half-full kind of guy, so I’m going to file the Veyron experience in the positive column.