“Just remember, it has 500bhp (375kW) more than a current F1 car, but it drives very nicely at slow speeds.”
If that’s not a backhanded warning from Bugatti test pilot and former F1 and GT racer, Pierre-Henri Raphanel, to keep my brain engaged, then I don’t know what is.
While never normally flustered about being given the keys to other people's cars, the AUD$4.6 million number on the Bugatti Chiron Sport did raise a few hairs on my neck. Especially when I’d just signed the paperwork covering me for third-party insurance.
In reality, this is normal business for a road tester, as the signing of waivers and insurance agreements goes with the territory, and the Bugatti crew are all first-rate guys. It’s just that I’d rarely given it a second thought, because it’s not every day I drive a car that’s worth more than a small country town.
The ‘you bend it, you buy it’ clause was particularly cautionary, as Dubai was experiencing a four-day sandstorm that resembled the Tom Cruise scene in Mission Impossible. The hotel gardeners and taxi drivers wore face masks, camels walked freely along parts of our drive after fences had blown over, visibility was fog-like, and some lanes were closed without warning from sudden sand drifts.
While shedding 17kg on an 1103kW car might be about as effective as deciding to drive before or after lunch, as I discovered later it’s not completely negligible, as weight transfer at warp speed is the big area where the Sport has improved over the garden-variety Chiron.
Two years have passed since I drove the first Chiron, and I remember it as being blindingly fast and literally taking my breath away as I found it difficult to breathe under full acceleration. So, while I was prepared for the Sport version, in truth nothing can adequately prepare you for a Bugatti experience.
“Did you remember your flight wings?” Raphanel joked as I shifted the lever across to sport in preparation for a full-on acceleration assault. With a 500km/h calibrated speedo, the needle barely lifted and I was already doing 60km/h in what seemed like the instant I lifted my foot off the brake.
As it shifted into second gear, we brushed past 100km/h scarcely a second later, which was when I heard the giant whoosh from the second pair of turbos engaging behind me that kicked it through 160km/h as the needle pointed to the 10 o’clock position.
Two seconds later, the needle was sitting upright in the middle facing north indicating 250km/h, just over six seconds after I had released the handbrake.
By now only my peripheral vision was registering the speedo, which showed the needle at one o’clock and with plenty to go. I kept my foot buried, not realising that the one o’clock mark signalled 300km/h.
After 16 seconds of full throttle in a Bugatti Chiron Sport, I decided enough was enough and rolled out of it, having touched 315km/h but scarily it was still pulling like a train, urging me on to 400.
However, this was in the middle of a typical Dubai sandstorm, so visibility was reduced and grip levels were akin to black ice with sand drifts sweeping the road, but never once did it put a foot wrong.
And here’s where the Sport earns its keep. Even though the 8.0-litre, W16, quad-turbocharged engine is untouched over the Chiron, its 17kg weight loss and an air brake that now deploys regardless of pedal pressure above 160km/h mean it not only pulls up much quicker, but most importantly, there’s virtually no weight transfer, which is fairly important at those speeds.
Previously, the Chiron’s giant rear wing would pop up only when you jammed on the brakes with full force above 160km/h. That resulted in some nose dive, which if you were not on the ball could catch you out if the roads were bumpy and potholed – like the ones we used in Portugal for its 2017 launch.
When you jump on the brakes now, the negative Gs still zap blood away from your eyes fast enough to literally see spots and make you a bit dizzy, but it pulls it up straight and true as if you were landing a fighter jet on an aircraft carrier.
Bugatti claims there’s a 25 per cent improvement in every respect to the Chiron’s performance over the Veyron, including its drag co-efficient, fuel efficiency and power.
With turbos that are 69 per cent larger than the Veyron, you can imagine the kind of lag these hamburger-sized units could deliver, so Bugatti offset them by having two blowing all the time and fed by eight exhausts each. Then at 3800rpm, a valve opens the back two to bring all four on song, being fed by four exhausts each to deliver a linear wall of torque from 2000rpm to 6000rpm.
As expected, it takes a mountain of air, water and oil to keep the Chiron Sport operating at its peak, with an oil flow rate of 120 litres per minute, or two litres per second, to keep things cool.
At its 420km/h top speed, governed due to the tyre limitations, 1000 litres of air is fed into its 10 radiators and intercoolers every second, while its water pump can fill an average-sized bathtub every 11 seconds at 800 litres per minute.
If left at full noise, its 100-litre fuel tank is drained empty in less than eight minutes thanks to those turbos sitting on 1.85bar of boost, which Bugatti claims is the equivalent of 1300kg atop each of its 16 pistons.
Bugatti’s Jekyll-and-Hyde persona from the Chiron and Veyron thankfully remains untouched. Back it off to 60km/h and with its VW Group-infused interior and copious amounts of leather, you could be forgiven for thinking you were cruising around in a Bentley Continental GT.
There are no boy-racer carbon-fibre accents, race-harness belt buckles or cramped cockpit to shout its speed credentials. It has more headroom than an AMG GT or Aston Martin, and is one of the most civilised cars you could find for a gentle cruise.
I would go so far as to say the Chiron Sport is a more useable 'daily' driver than any of the two-seaters from Ferrari, Lamborghini, McLaren and maybe even Porsche’s stripped-out and caged GT2 and GT3.
Supremely faster and more luxurious, the Chiron Sport is not what you’d call completely practical, but it does have room for a 66-litre suitcase in the nose, which makes it more useable than most that boast substantially less power.
Compared to its stripped-out competitors, the Chiron’s interior is a tremendously luxurious environment. The powered seats are supportive in a firm way, not good for an all-day stint but okay for a few hours, while the feeling of width inside is accentuated by a slim centre console milled from a solid billet of aluminium.
This houses all the comfort and convenience gauges, while a swoopy LED divider down the centre gives the feeling of the driver sitting in his own cockpit. Whereas you will find raw carbon fibre and Alcantara in other supercars, the Chiron is a cabin filled with solid billet metal hardware and the finest-grade leather, while an outstanding Accuton sound system that uses a one-carat diamond membrane in each of its four tweeters delivers outstanding quality audio.
Company president, Stephan Winkelmann, said that the key to Chiron’s demand, being sold out until the beginning of 2022, is down to constant fine-tuning and diversifying with variations like the Divo.
“Despite being sold out until the end of 2021, we are still working on the rest of production, and we have a lot of ideas and a lot of products in the pipeline, so there will be more.
“We have to work constantly on what is coming next,” he said.
The recent Geneva show gave a hint with the stunningly stealthy €16.7 million La Voiture Noire that was sitting over our shoulder, having made its first stop in Dubai as part of an exclusive lap of the world this year.
“We were surprised by the reaction to La Voiture Noire in Geneva, as there was a lot of fuss about electric cars. But in the end, all the talk from the show was about this.
“We created a new stand to cater for three cars, and it was a fitting way to start the celebrations for Bugatti’s 110th anniversary,” Winkelmann said.
Development began on La Voiture Noire in early January for a customer as a one-off, so while the display model is a mock-up, it shows Bugatti’s desire to build completely bespoke cars like this, which features a customised, longer wheelbase over the Chiron.
La Voiture Noire will be delivered to its owner in 2021, but not before it visits Ville d’Este and Pebble Beach first.
“For us, it is more of a problem to find the time to develop these types of cars than finding the people to buy them, because it involves a lot of people to work on it. And yet, we have customers who want us to build them something special.
“We could do more this year, because it’s a good year to bring together our history with the present to celebrate our anniversary and pick different eras to highlight,” he said.
That’s all well and good, but where do you go from the Chiron Sport in terms of building the ultimate, extreme example of a four-wheeled land beast? I have no idea.
Bugatti Chiron Sport
Engine: 8.0-litre, quad-turbo, W16-cylinder
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch auto AWD
Max Power: 1103kW @ 6700rpm
Max Torque: 1600Nm @ 2000rpm
Top Speed: 420km/h (governed)
0–100km/h: 2.6 seconds
0–200km/h: 6.1 seconds
0–300km/h: 13.1 seconds
0–400km/h: 32.6 seconds
Price: $4.6 million before taxes