Is this it? Are we approaching peak engine? Carmakers are winding down their development of internal-combustion engines and switching to hybrid and electric power to propel their most extreme models. So along with a couple of other Bugattis with the same 1578-hp engine, there’s a good chance that the Chiron Super Sport we’ve just driven will be the most powerful combustion-engine production car from a major manufacturer ever.
Much might still happen. New cars from Koenigsegg, SSC, and Hennessey all claim equal or greater power, but not all have yet been homologated for road use and all require E85 fuel. The Bugatti makes its 1578 horsepower on 93 octane premium, and deliveries start early next year. When the history of the automotive internal-combustion engine is written, this might be the last word.
How many superlatives would you like for your $3,825,000? The Chiron also claims to be the world’s fastest production car, after British Le Mans winner and Bugatti test driver Andy Wallace hit 304.8 mph in a Super Sport at Volkswagen’s Ehra-Lessien track in August 2019. That claim isn’t without controversy: The car was a prototype, and the speed was a peak, set one way. Plenty of others are taking aim at the record, and Bugatti says it won’t defend it.
Still, to celebrate, it first announced the Super Sport 300+ with the same uprated engine as the record-breaking car. Only 30 will be made, all in the record breaker’s black and orange livery. Those cars are all sold, deliveries have just begun, and we’re unlikely to get one to test.
Now comes this plain old Super Sport, which Bugatti says is also mechanically and aerodynamically identical to the record car but can be specified however you like and whose numbers are limited only by the fact that fewer than 50 of the 500 total Chiron build slots remain. Both versions top speed, however, are permanently limited to just 273 mph.
We’ve driven it. It’s insane. But if you can wait a beat to find out what it’s like to drive a car of such transcendent power, it’s worth running through the modifications that were made to break that barrier. For all its potential GOAT (greatest of all time) status, the changes made to the 8.0-liter W-16 engine are probably the least impressive. There are a bunch of detailed mods, but the bulk of the extra 99 horsepower was bought cheap with four bigger, more efficient turbos and a 300-rpm increase in the redline to 7100 rpm, with peak torque of 1180 pound-feet now available between 2250 and 7000 rpm, rather than 6000. Top gear (seventh) is now 3.6 percent taller. The suspension has been stiffened slightly, and the adaptive damping, electronic stability control, and steering have all been tweaked for better high-speed stability. Michelin has developed bespoke Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires for the car, which are rated to 310 mph (another record) and were run on the rig created to test Space Shuttle tires to be sure they could withstand the 5300 g generated at that speed. Each one is X-rayed for imperfections before delivery.
The aero package is arguably the most artful change, tasked with getting this big car through the air at beyond race-car speeds with Volkswagen levels of stability. The front end features tiny, hard-to-spot fins and holes designed to create a perfect laminar flow along the body of the car. The nine that puncture the top of each fender relieve pressure in the wheel wells that might otherwise lift the front end. They also reference the EB110 Super Sport.
The more obvious change is at the back, with the Super Sport gaining an extra 7.4 inches of length with an exuberantly shaped carbon molding that cuts drag by keeping the air attached for longer and reducing by 44 percent the “tear off” area where it finally departs the car and goes turbulent. The exhaust pipes are now stacked atop each other, two on each side to increase the surface area of the diffuser. The latter is a long, gorgeous single carbon piece that starts amidships and rises rearward, keeping the rear end stuck down at V-max with just one degree of wing angle.
None of these changes affects the Chiron’s remarkable docility at low speeds or its ability to jink into corners like a car of two-thirds its mass on the tight, two-lane French country roads near the Circuit Paul Ricard. Its good visibility, prodigious grip, and its quick and almost tactile steering soon make you forget the value, size, and power of what you’re driving. This isn’t just a dragster, it’s meant to be driven. It retains both the handling required for these mountain roads and the refinement to get a steely-eyed industrialist from Munich to Monaco in complete luxury and before his Brioni suit pants have time to crease. Bugatti intended this car as a sort of ur-Chiron, with all the qualities of the original, but near-unanswerable speed and power. They might have succeeded.
Ah yes, that speed and power. You’d need to be a neurological marvel to detect the difference over a standard Chiron on the road. A Pur Sport with its mere 1479 hp but 15 percent shorter gearing feels more feral, and Bugatti says it’s marginally quicker up to 124 mph. It’s only by its next acceleration metric of 186 mph that the Super Sport starts to pull away, taking 12.1 seconds to the Pur Sport’s 12.4 and the standard car’s 13.1.
But when do you ever get to witness that? On an autobahn? Maybe, but briefly and very rarely. You can on Paul Ricard’s 1.1-mile Mistral straight. In a wholly unscientific test, we exited Turn 7 at broadly similar speeds in both a Pur Sport and a Super Sport and went flat down the Mistral straight, braking early and in approximately the same place. The Chiron’s configurable displays in the middle of the rotary HVAC controls showed that we’d used all of the power and all of the revs in each car. Neither was remotely done after less than a mile, but the Pur Sport showed 206 mph at the braking point to the Super Sport’s 217 mph.
And there it is: For a few fleeting seconds you actually feel that marginal, usually academic difference that manufacturers fight over and geeks obsess over and customers pay for but seldom witness. The quicker car’s speed swells noticeably faster as it heads into the stratosphere of race-car speed and the exhaust note—a little muted in normal use—bellows like a god in anguish. The animal fear at what is being done to you is counteracted by the conscious knowledge that your car is tracking utterly straight and true and that the stuffy old Volkswagen Group has approved this seeming insanity. When you want it to stop, the rear wing springs up into its 39-degree air-brake stance, shifts the center of pressure rearward and lets you hoof the brakes, knowing you’ve experienced something few if any purely gasoline-powered road cars will ever be able to equal.
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