Welcome to CarAdvice for billionaires... Mike Duff has the best day at work ever.
There are good days, there are really good days, and then there are the few that take the needle past the stop and empty the cupboard where the spicier superlatives are kept. Like the chance to drive a Bugatti Veyron and a Bugatti Chiron back to back.
This wasn’t the sort of brief turn normal for the most exotic cars, either – or one limited to a test track. Nope, this was a proper cross-country European route from Italy to France that took in both Alpine passes and a generous stretch of derestricted German Autobahn.
It was a journey that doubled as a trip into the parallel dimension where billionaires live and where hypercars like these are transport as well as toys. Yes, there are other road-legal cars able to match or even beat the Bugattis on power or even ultimate performance, but none can deliver velocity so effortlessly.
The story took place during the low point in Europe’s COVID travel restrictions last September, hence face masks rather than Hazmat suits, with a route chosen to celebrate both the 15th anniversary of the Veyron and the 30th of the EB110, which preceded Volkswagen’s takeover of the brand.
We started at the derelict Campogalliano factory near Modena, originally constructed to build the EB110, and ended in Bugatti’s original (and current) home in Molsheim, France.
The hook for the story gave an excuse to have a close look at the spectacular Campogalliano plant, which closed after five years when just 139 EB110s had been made, and is now a very scenic ruin. But as Bugatti doesn’t own an EB110, the journey would be entirely carried out in Volkswagen-era products.
In this case, a current-spec Chiron Sport and a record-breaking Veyron liberated from the company’s collection of significant cars – the same Veyron Grand Sport Vitesse that set a 254mph speed record for an open-topped production car in 2013. (Its glass roof remained in place this time.)
Four journalists got to share driving duties, swapping between the two cars and sitting out transit sections in a Caravelle crew bus. A hugely experienced Bugatti pro driver rode shotgun in each car: Andy Wallace in the Chiron and Pierre-Henri Raphanel in the Veyron.
The chance to spend proper time in both Bugattis was the eye-opening difference from the normal limitations of a launch event. This gave the chance to get beyond the visceral thrills of the acceleration both can engender, and which is always the first thing that any new driver wants to experience – a full-throttle launch is close to the g-loadings of a crash, but in the opposite direction.
It also gave a chance to experience how well both cope with the real world and longer times and distances.
This is the crucial difference over pretty much all other senior supercars. When Ferdinand Piech introduced what would become the production Veyron at the Geneva Motor Show in 2000, he committed Bugatti to build a car with a power output of over 736kW (1001PS), a sub-3-second 0–100km/h time, and a top speed higher than the 406km/h of the Porsche 917 he previously led the development of.
But he also promised it would be “able to take the owner and his wife to the opera”. Then, as now, most attention was paid to the outlandish performance figures – all of which were indeed delivered. But it was the proviso about usability that really made the Bugatti different.
Because if you can drive anything, you can drive a Veyron or a Chiron. Beyond the need to make allowances for their width and limited visibility, both are pussycats when asked to deal with the real world. I drive the Chiron away from Campogalliano with no more effort than would be required in a Volkswagen Golf, enjoying effortless low-down urge, a pliant ride, and something close to torque converter smoothness from the twin-clutch transmission.
The Italian Autostrada that takes us northwards is too busy for more than brief hits of acceleration; however, many other road users clearly want to see the Bugatti unleashed. The monstrous 8.0-litre quad-turbo W16 turns immediately loud and angry with bigger throttle openings, but gentler use sees it settle down to a busy hum reminiscent, unsurprisingly, of a pair of V8s.
A legal 130km/h cruise doesn’t feel like any kind of hardship, chatting to Wallace without the need to raise voices. There’s plenty to talk about: he won Le Mans in 1988 and reckons that, as Bugatti’s factory tester, he has done more than 160,000km in Chirons. He was also the man who set the car’s 490.48km/h production car speed record at the Ehra-Lessien test track in 2019.
|2021 Bugatti Chiron Sport||2013 Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport Vitesse|
|Engine||8.0-litre (7993cc) quad-turbocharged W16||8.0-litre (7993cc) quad-turbocharged W16|
|Power||1103kW @ 6700rpm||883kW @ 6400rpm|
|Torque||1600Nm @ 2000–6000rpm||1500Nm @ 3000–5000rpm|
|Transmission||Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic||Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|Drive type||All-wheel drive||All-wheel drive|
|Power to weight ratio||557.9kW/t||449kW/t|
|Fuel claim, combined||22.2L/100km||23.5L/100km|
|0–100km/h||2.4 seconds||2.6 seconds|
|Price (MSRP)||$3,400,000 (approx)||$2,646,000 (approx)|
Switching to the Veyron – after a stint slumming it in the back of the Caravelle – proves the older car is less polished but more exciting. Rearward visibility is even more restricted than it is in the Chiron, and the Veyron’s cabin feels both tighter and gloomier.
The Chiron is finished in the sort of top-flight materials that modern billionaires clearly demand, featuring details like beautifully milled metal control dials. The Veyron’s interior feels closer to that of an early noughties Volkswagen, with lots of shiny black plastic and some surprisingly proletarian switchgear.
Being a later Veyron, the Grand Sport gets the upgraded 883kW engine, although its output is still more than 200kW less than the Chiron. It is louder than its successor, too – with a savage induction roar under harder use – but it also takes longer to get into its stride with a discernible pause as the turbos build boost. Gearshifts are accurate, and impressively fast under manual control, but upshifts come with a bump, and the Veyron’s ride is also noticeably firmer.
But once on Austria’s Hahntennjoch Pass, which features a collection of corners that runs from sweeper to hairpin on its way to a 1900m summit, the Veyron proves to be more raw and exciting than I was expecting. I got to drive an original Veyron 16.4 back in 2007, which I remember feeling big and decidedly hard to turn on tight roads. But on smoother and slightly wider tarmac, the Grand Sport feels considerably more agile and dialled in than my memories of its predecessor.
The Grand Sport is riding on hugely expensive Michelin PAX metric run-flat tyres, these costing around $55,000 for a set at current exchange rates. (And the wheels also need to be replaced with every third set of rubber.) Traction is impressive, but far from total. The Veyron squirms as the engine comes on boost coming out of tighter turns, and the combination of bumps and full throttle can create a shimmying sensation from the back, even on straights.
The Veyron’s two-tonne mass also feels obvious in slower corners, tending to push it wide of a chosen line without throttle discipline. It needs the prospect of a linear path to a distant horizon to truly unleash hell, but the steering is deadly accurate, and the Veyron feels quicker than most supercars long before the accelerator is halfway to its stop.
Swapping to the Chiron for another go over the same mountain road confirms the newer car delivers its higher output with less drama. Ludicrous speed is more easily engendered and carried, the Chiron’s smarter chassis better at finding grip and maintaining order. Michelin PilotSport Cup 2 tyres are less expensive than the PAX rubber, but also find more adhesion, with the addition of active torque vectoring and – in Handling mode – a rearward torque bias helping to turn the car.
It is still clearly bigger and heavier than is optimal for a road like this; a lighter supercar would be grippier and more willing to change direction. But it’s hard to imagine that anything could be quicker than a hard-charging Chiron, mountains echoing to the snap and snarl of the exhaust note.
We cross the German border having established that both Bugattis are more than willing to take on an Alpine pass, but knowing that the next part of the journey is going to play more to their strengths. The A7 and A8 Autobahns will take us from the German border towards Stuttgart, with long stretches of both marked by the triple-stripe signs that show no speed limits apply. This is one of very few environments on earth where cars like these can be legally unleashed.
Even 15 years after it was launched, the Veyron is still outrageously fast – a Great White in a school of clownfish. Even potent performance cars are turned into bystanders. A point made when a new 992-generation 911 pulls right after passing a line of cars while accelerating at a rate that makes it clear its driver reckons he is in with a chance of keeping me and the Veyron at bay.
It isn’t even close to being close. The Bugatti surges past the Porsche as the four turbos are building towards peak boost, then compresses it to a speck in the rear-view mirrors as the power meter swings to its 1200PS stop.
The Veyron can reach 300km/h in less time than it takes even the Autobahn’s toothier predators to reach the 250km/h where electronic limiters normally stop play. It’s soon clear that the biggest risk is that of catching out drivers unused to such warp-speed progress. You soon develop a thousand-yard stare in a Bugatti looking out for turn signals.
But the Veyron’s real strength isn’t speed, rather the confidence to deploy it. It gets loud as velocities climb, ride firming up as the active suspension hardens to prioritise security over comfort. Yet it tracks arrow straight even as speeds become more aeronautic than automotive, with frequent peaks of 300km/h representing a kilometre every 12 seconds.
The huge carbon brakes bite hard and tirelessly when it comes to dissipating the vast kinetic energy. Their deployment is accompanied by the whirring noise of the hydraulic actuators moving the rear wing into its high-drag position.
The Veyron is ridiculously fast, but the Chiron is faster. The increased output makes little noticeable difference at everyday speeds. But the Autobahn’s quieter stretches prove the current car definitely has the legs over its predecessor, pulling a growing gap during the rare, special moments when both can be fully unleashed line astern. The Chiron’s climate-control displays incorporate a tell-tale that reports on peak revs, power and speed.
As we leave the Autobahn for a much slower cross-country run to Molsheim, Wallace reports I’ve managed top scores of 6772rpm, 1504PS (1106kW, or just above the official maximum rating) and 325km/h. Or almost exactly two-thirds the top speed Wallace managed at Ehra-Lessien. The Veyron feels like it’s barely broken a sweat. Which is more than can be said for its clammy driver.
Driving adventures like this likely won’t be around for much longer, regardless of how rich you are. An ever-increasing percentage of Germany’s Autobahn network has speed limits, and the era of the combustion-powered hypercar is also drawing to a close, despite how many of us don’t want it to.
Electric alternatives will likely be able to deliver even greater accelerative thrills, and some of those will likely wear Bugatti badges – the brand seems set to develop its next car in collaboration with Croatian hyper-EV maker Rimac. But none are likely to match the sustained high-speed abilities of the Veyron or Chiron.
Which will be remembered as the greatest? Although most potential buyers won’t need to make the choice – having the liquid wealth necessary to add both to the collection – the Chiron does definitely feel like a big step forward in most areas: it’s quicker, quieter and more dynamically secure. But as an experience, the Veyron is definitely the one: rawer, more exciting, and the original to the Chiron’s tribute act.
If you’re down to your last $3m and only have a single-car garage, then put it right on top of the list.