Model Tested: 2011 Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Super Sport, W16-cylinder, petrol, seven-speed sequential manual transmission
In the 21st century, being quick is all important. Everything is instant – from the speed a page loads on the internet to taking and printing a photograph or seeing events unravel on the world news channels – human beings have a seemingly insatiable appetite for anything fast. And road cars do not come any faster than this one.
On June 26th 2010, at Volkswagen’s top secret test facility at Ehra-Lessien in Germany, French Le Mans driver Pierre-Henri Raphanel stormed into the history books by setting an independently verified speed record of 431km/h. It’s possibly the only place on the planet a Veyron can reach its maximum speed with tarmac under its tyres.
“The Super Sport wasn’t developed to set any world records,” Bugatti’s Head of Tradition, Julius Kruta tells me. “It was simply the icing on the cake.” He explains that a significant number of Veyron owners had approached the factory about making the car more raw, more focussed, even more powerful. Rather than let some aftermarket tuning company bastardise what they’d spent years developing, they decided to give those customers exactly what they had been asking for.
My own introduction to the Super Sport is in the wilds of Andalusia in southern Spain, where there are plenty of roads bereft of traffic and, thanks to billions in European Union funding, they’re mostly in perfect condition despite the often incendiary temperatures.
What has always made the Veyron so extraordinary is the fact that it’s as easy to drive as a Honda Civic, no matter what speed you’re doing. Docile yet mental, civilised yet brutally fast, no other car in history has brought prodigious power together with beautifully crafted luxury like the Veyron. It’s a towering achievement and one that’s so finely balanced that messing about with any aspect of its design could be tantamount to physical violation. So, has Bugatti succeeded in making this hallowed vehicle even better, or has the desire for a more raw experience behind the wheel sullied what made it so great in the first place?
Only one way to find out and, lucky me, I’m one of just 30 journalists worldwide to get a day behind the wheel. I should point out at this stage that the car used to set the world record, while identical to the one I’m driving, had its electronic limiter removed and the production cars are restricted to (a still ludicrous) 415km/h. This is simply because even the mighty Michelin cannot yet produce a road tyre that’s capable of maintaining a higher speed while still offering all-round usability. Just consider what the Super Sport is capable of. 0-100km/h takes 2.5 seconds. 0-100-0 takes 5.9 and 0-300-0 takes just 22.5 seconds. This, then, is as extreme as road cars get in 2010.
Externally, the Super Sport differs from the Veyron by doing away with the two huge air ducts that sat atop the rear buttresses. In their place are twin NACA ducts situated in the rear of the roof, giving not only superior engine cooling but a cleaner, less fussy profile. The wheels are new, with every spoke doing its job of forcing more air into the brakes. In fact, having an engine that now produces power to the tune of 882Kw and torque of 1500Nm (that’s an increase of 20 percent!), cooling is more important than ever, so there’s a revised front end that allows more air to flow through the radiators, which themselves have been redesigned.
This is an extensively re-engineered car. There’s a new exhaust system, a new double diffuser at the rear, the engine itself has enlarged turbochargers and intercoolers, the carbon ceramic brakes have been uprated, the transmission has been reworked and has new software, the suspension is stiffer – in fact I could go on and on about all the various tweaks and improvements but I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s far better to see how everything translates into the experience that 40 or so of the world’s wealthiest people will get to experience every time they open the taps of their Super Sports.
Everything about these cars is designed to be as close to physical perfection as it’s possible to be. And this is immediately obvious when you open the driver’s door and take your seat. The door opens in the conventional manner, which isn’t very supercar, is it? And you can see out of it, too. Rear three-quarter vision is non-existent but everything else is fine and Bugatti even relocated the door mirrors further back to allow better visibility after a customer requested it for his own car. That’s one of the beauties of such low volume manufacture.
The ignition is still operated via a traditional key – remember those? Press the big starter button in front of the gear shifter and the Super Sport literally thunders into life. No Veyron sounded this angry before. It’s a deep, guttural bellow that sends the wildlife scurrying for cover and alerts anyone within a mile radius that you’ve just started the world’s fastest, most expensive production car. The local police no doubt can hear it, too.
Knock the shifter over to the right and engage Drive. From there on you’re best using the exquisitely engineered paddle shifters so you can keep both hands on the wheel at all times. You’ll probably live longer that way. Unlike some other very fast cars, any Veyron is a pussycat at low speeds. The transmission, if left in automatic mode, seamlessly shifts between ratios, keeping everything calm and civilised. But I’m wanting to get to the wide, open Spanish highways so I can feel just what this masterpiece is capable of.
Soon enough I get my wish. The road is completely deserted and I can see for miles. No traffic, no police, just lots and lots of straight, perfect blacktop. So I swallow hard and knock down into third. I floor the throttle and the Super Sport roars, sounding as though Armageddon has started just centimetres behind my head. I can hear cooling air rushing over me and into those ducts as the car destroys the road. My body feels compressed, such is the ferocity of the acceleration. Into fourth, then fifth as the assault relentlessly continues. As I select sixth I quickly glance at the digital speedo and see it registering 324km/h – a personal best.
I back off the power and hit the brakes hard; my body coursing with adrenaline. As the big stoppers bite, I feel everything inside my skeletal frame seeking a way out through my chest and a second or two later the Super Sport is at a legal speed once again. This entire exercise is over almost as soon as it began – like a white-knuckle fairground ride. Yet, as impressive as the sheer speed is, what hits me between the eyes is that the Veyron remains totally, utterly composed. No lift, no stray, it just stays true to the course its driver inputs. It’s mind bending stuff.
Yes, being four-wheel drive and weighing 1838kg, it does understeer when you press hard through the twisty bits but, honestly, would you want the back end breaking traction when there’s so much power being put down? Me neither.
Bugatti has achieved the impossible and made the Veyron even better. It is indeed more raw, more exciting, even faster and even more focussed. Yet it’s still civilised and comfortable, it shrinks around its driver, despite being two metres wide and makes him or her feel part of the driving process, which in itself is rare for a car these days.
The Veyron Super Sport is, all things considered, the ultimate version of the ultimate car. We may not see the likes of it again.