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Monday, 29 February 2016

Bugatti Chiron - The Last Great Dinosaur


Hybridisation. Downsizing. Impending autonomy. The world of cars is changing dramatically, and fast. Everything from tiny eco cars to the height of performance dreams is being affected by seismic shifts in trends and motivations for both paying customers and manufacturers alike. Naturally aspirated V12s, manual gearboxes, all that stuff may well be gone within a decade or so of now. Even some of the great champions of high-performance engines like Koenigsegg, Ferrari and Porsche have now built hybrids with (semi-)automatic transmissions and electric-only driving modes. Top speed and 0-60 matter less, emissions and gadgetry matter more.

However, while some car manufacturers are succumbing to this sea change, others are raging against the dying of the light. One of those is Bugatti, who have just unveiled their new road car for the Geneva Motor Show to replace the almighty Veyron. It's called the Chiron, and dashboard aside, the only thing electric is the steering assistance. A hybrid system was deemed insufficient for this car. Like before, the engine is both huge and turbocharged in a display of engineering brute force. In fact, this could well be the last all-engine milestone in performance cars... ever?


Named after Monegasque racing driver Louis Chiron - who raced for Bugatti in the 1920s and '30s, won the 1931 French Grand Prix and still holds the record for the oldest man to race in F1 (at 55!) - Bugatti's latest car could easily be seen from the outside as an overhauled Veyron. The engine is the same layout and displacement, the proportions are the same, some of the interior looks similar and its aims in life are much the same too. However, we are reassured that it's not some plebian facelift. This is new-new. The leviathan 8.0-litre quad-turbo W16 engine has been completely redesigned, every part reconsidered and re-engineered to be better at whatever it need be better at. This has included such things as two-stage turbocharging with better turbines, improved charge cooling, 32 fuel injectors (two per cylinder), a titanium exhaust and carbon fibre air intake parts. Not to mention "the largest and highest-performance clutch ever fitted to a passenger car." The result of all this and much more is 1500PS (1487bhp) at 6700rpm and 1180lb/ft (1600NM) of torque. That's a 50% increase in power over the original Veyron from 2005 and also in with a shout of being the most powerful production car ever made. Only the Koenigsegg Regera matches it and that needs three electric motors helping its engine to do so. To make the delivery of this massive firepower a bit smoother, only two turbos are running when you pull away. The other two don't wake up until 3800rpm to generate maximum boost, the result of which is an "absolutely linear" power/torque delivery from 2000rpm upwards. The full 1600NM of torque is available from 2000-6000rpm. The rev counter goes up to 8000rpm with no red line. The speedometer goes up to 500km/h...


The top speed, however, doesn't go up to 500km/h (311mph). On the road, for safety and durability reasons, the top speed is limited to a nice and sensible... 420km/h, or 261mph. What speed it can do down the main straight at Ehra-Lessien on a clear day is yet to be found out, but Bugatti are once again targeting a new top speed record for production cars. That will have to be over 270mph at least to really put the matter to bed for a few years, ideally closer to 280mph. You might have guessed that this is no easy task, hence the somewhat sleeker body to cut through the air a mite better than the old jelly-mould Veyron. There are some comedy figures involved in getting this car to make such progress - the Chiron can pump over 60,000 litres of air and over 800 litres of water per minute through the engine!

The airflow is clever too. The shape is carefully refined to keep laminar air flow attached all the way along the sides of the car to the short kamm tail, there's the obligatory huge diffuser with active flaps front and rear, and then we get to the cooling. The headlights sit under a distinct eyebrow which also doubles as an air intake, just next to the innermost LED light cluster, used for brake cooling. The signature "Macaron" grille cools one of the nine radiators, while a small horizontal slot underneath it cools the front differential. The corner grilles below the headlights cool low-temperature radiators (and an "air condenser") while also hiding secondary brake ducts. The Veyron's iconic twin air scoops flanking the engine have been integrated into the sides for the Chiron. The section behind the side windows is a ram-air intake, while the main section below feeds an oil cooler on each side (more radiators!). A small vent in the side skirts draws air out of the front wheel arch to lower pressure and thus lift in that area. Huge vents in the tail do the same for the rear arches (although the smaller area above the tail-light bar is venting the oil cooler). There is still a retractable wing/airbrake doing things too, and when it's standing up an extra cooling vent for the engine and exhaust is revealed, presumably only needed when the car is working hard. The engine itself remains partially exposed, albeit underneath plastic covers again, to aid cooling and look awesome. It will also sound awesome - the sheer immensity of that thing means it still sounds like it's started an avalanche.

But you want performance figures, don't you? OK, then: 0-100km/h is done in under 2.5 seconds, 0-200km/h is done in under 6.5 seconds and 0-300km/h is done in a staggering 13.6 seconds. Quick doesn't describe it. The Chiron embarrasses the Veyron. Even the 1200PS Veyron SuperSport is a whole second less quick to 300km/h, while the original car is a whole 3.1 seconds off the new pace. The top speed is limited to 420km/h (261mph) in most driving modes, but in Handling Mode with more downforce generated, the top speed is lowered to 380km/h (236mph) to protect the tyres and/or suspension from greater forces. At its lowest the drag coefficient is 0.35, but with the airbrake fully up it's 0.59Cd. You still need a special "Speed Key" in a special slot before you can shoot for the top speed, because it makes doing so feel like more of an occasion. As it should!


Of course, if you can go fast then you need to stop fast as well. The front brakes have eight-piston (!) calipers, the rear six, letting the car stop from 100km/h in 31.3m, from 200km/h in 125m and from 300km/h in 275m. The central tub chassis is made of carbon fibre to save weight and Bugatti claims it has "LMP1 levels of torsional rigidity" at 50,000 NM-per-degree. Given that they're part of VW Group, which currently has two LMP1 teams in Porsche and Audi, I'd be inclined to believe them. Once again it needs specifically-developed Michelin tyres (285/30 R20 front, 355/25 R21 rear) to withstand the uniquely hellish punishment of a heavyweight car closing in on 300mph, but this time they've been designed to also be easier and cheaper to fit. What with the Veyron's tyres costing about as much as a Golf, that seems prudent...

Lightness is rightness, and despite the industrial-strength engineering in the powertrain, Bugatti chased rightness in the all-new chassis. As well as the tub, the entire body and even the airbag housing (the latter a world-first) is made of carbon fibre. The centre console of the interior is made of carbon fibre as well as other trim bits. In the show car, it's blue carbon fibre, which the the best carbon fibre. The result of all this is that the Chiron weighs... about 100kg more than a Veyron?! How is that even possible? It could have something to do with being roughly 3" longer, 2" taller and 1.5" wider than a Veyron, to create more interior space (and possibly more room for radiators). The wheelbase, however, is only 1mm longer.

The old car's weight stopped it setting a TopGear lap record, but evidently the heavy-duty approach works for these people. Keeping it all under control is an electronic centre diff which can send any amount of the power forwards or backwards, and a torque-vectoring rear axle which allegedly makes this beast "easy to drift." Versus what? A tectonic plate? The different driving modes include different ride heights for the new active air suspension, including a lift function to get onto ramps and over speed bumps.


Design-wise, it's certainly a decade of progress over the Veyron, which looked a little too VW from some angles. Dipping into Bugatti's history invariably brings about a somewhat Art Deco feel to the curves, with the "Bugatti Line" curving from the front bumper, along the side skirt and around the door to make the A-pillar being the most obvious highlight of the exterior. The eight square headlights reminded me to a certain extent of the controversial Alfa Romeo SZ and RZ, but other than that the nose is just as sharp as the Vision Gran Turismo concept from which this style truly spawned. The central crease running from nose to tail is a reference to the Type 57SC Atlantic, and the way it bisects the interior spaces is impressively dramatic for a production car. The crease also reaches out over the exposed engine in a similar way to the large fin on the V-GT concept, and looks cool whether it has an aerodynamic effect or not. One nice detail is the bone line behind the side glass, which carries on underneath the Bugatti Line to stretch back over the rear wheel arches. At the rear it looks a lot less chubby, and that one-bar tail light is like something straight out of Tron. The four central tailpipes contained in a strange dual trapezoid metal housing complete the tail, but I'm not sure it's quite what I would've done. Overall the shape is sleeker, sharper, cleverer, artier and yet there's enough left in the silhouette, proportions and haunches that it's identifiable as a new Bugatti. Job well done.


The interior attracts the same observations. Much like the Vision GT, the Bugatti Line is repeated between the seats and emphasized with a light strip ending in overhead switches, while there is much (blue!) carbon fibre doing many curvy things and some oh-so-elegant slimline air vents. There's a pleasing lack of huge touchscreen on the centre console, too. Instead there are some very cool knobs with screens inside them and auxiliary driving information is housed in the instrument cluster, controlled by wheel-mounted buttons. It's satisfyingly minimalist, modernising the old-school ways like the mechanicals do under the skin. Plus of course, as it's a Bugatti, the quality will be nigh-on unsurpassable. The stereo reflects that, featuring four tweeters with one-carat diamond membranes and "the world's first mid-range speaker with two separate membrane zones," whatever that means. It also has WLAN/Wi-Fi internet so you can record telemetry about the car when you drive it (and so Bugatti can track what you're doing with your car...) while the passenger tweets on their phone about how good the music sounds. Or where their spleen has been relocated.

But obviously the best thing about it is that you can also have THE ENTIRE OUTSIDE IN BLUE CARBON FIBRE so of course I want one a lot now.

Beats "blue steel" a million times
If only I was a billionaire. The average Veyron customer owned over 80 cars already(!), and the price of this one isn't going to attract the kind of person who only has 79 - Bugatti state the price in Europe as €2,400,000 after taxes. That's been translated to approximately £1,890,000 or $2,600,000 [US] by other websites. So basically, don't expect to see one parked outside Lidl. Or Lydden Hill.
Bugatti will build 500 and a third of them are already spoken for.

So it ticks all the Bugatti boxes. It's got a huge engine, Art Deco style, mad yet clean interior design and a bonkers high price which will probably rise in time. It also looks to be a proper successor to the "the Concorde of the road" by righting the aesthetic wrongs and turning the performance up to... 15, or something. The Chiron is one of the last bastions of high performance through purely mechanical engineering (if we ignore the active all-wheel-drive, driving modes and paddleshift DCT). A Toyota Prius would cower in fear at the mere sight of something so gratuitous, with such a no-fucks-given attitude towards ecomentalism. The Art Deco-ness is entirely appropriate for such a proud speed machine of such classic values.

...

The only thing is, Art Deco machinery was about powering us into a prosperous new age in the near future... but we've seen the near future already, remember? The previous article on this blog was about a car with over 1000 horsepower, 1180lb/ft of torque, mind-bending acceleration and technological marvels... and the Rimac Concept_One damn well doesn't have the equivalent of four Golf GTI engines booming away behind the seats.

In fact, let's update the comparison table from that post, shall we?

That 0-200km/h time everybody's raving about on Twitter is no better than that of an all-electric vehicle developed by a handful of people in Croatia. Not only does the Rimac burn no fuel, but it costs less than half as much money and will 62.5 times rarer. If you are worried about the environment, then using European mains electricity to charge the EV's batteries could give it the equivalent of around 89g/km of CO2 emissions. The Chiron is predicted to emit about 450g/km, which is in itself much lower than the Veyrons. The Rimac also weighs over 100kg less and will have much more adjustable handling thanks to its fully independent all-wheel-drive and torque-vectoring.

Really, what is the electric car missing? Heritage, noise and gear shifts... and that's pretty much it. Oh, and the top speed is a relatively feeble 221mph (355km/h), but honestly how often is that going to matter outside of a dick-measuring contest? Even an autobahn can't promise you enough road to get to that speed and you'd be irresponsible to try it there anyway.

Cars like the Bugatti don't make sense in 2016. It's irrelevant to everything. Ten years ago when the previous one appeared, this was emphatically not the case. The Veyron completely outclassed and out-hyped the Koenigsegg CCR so much that everyone forgets it was the Swedish car that beat the McLaren F1's top speed record first, not the Franco-German one. It was the undisputed king of supercars (or hypercars), and no number of marginal gains from some two-bit American shed projects managed to change that image in ten whole years. There is no guarantee the Chiron will have the same impact because, well, it's a sequel. It might be a really good one, but it'll need to get awfully close to the end of its 500km/h speedometer to make it count for anything.


It's huge, heavy, thirsty, outrageously expensive and relatively old fashioned in its style and philosophy. Yet, it is also mighty, unapologetic and brutally fast. It's new and clever now, but will very soon be seen as a dinosaur, possibly long before the end of its planned eight-year production run.

But you know what? Dinosaurs are fucking cool as hell. Let's be glad that Bugatti saw fit to give us one more before the electric asteroid pummels the surface of the automotive world into silent oblivion once and for all.



[Full press release and images here]

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