Between the Lines: Autocar's Sutcliffe on the Bugatti Veyron

Having watched Car & Driver fumble the Bugatti-shaped literary football, it s time to check out UK weekly Autocar s take on the big Kahuna. To go flat out in the fastest car ever, the august publication threw the keys to their Editor-at-Large, Steve Sutcliffe. As Autocar s top lead foot, Sutcliffe has driven every supercar extent: Pagani, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porsche, Maserati and all those commercially doomed, massively powerful misbegotten motors produced in English, French, German, Dutch, Swedish and Swiss sheds. So it s no surprise that Sutcliffe initiates his career capping Veyron review by comparing the Bugatti Veyron to the McLaren F1.

[In the interests of full disclosure, Autocar s Sutcliffe banned Jalopnik s Farago from Autocar s pages after our scribe publicly criticized the Brit for boasting about driving a Lamborghini Murcielago at triple digits with his eyes closed, and continuing to pilot the supercar despite being so tired he had circumnavigate the car four times to clear his head.]

So picture this. A long, long stretch of dual carriageway, two cars simmering beside each other at one end of it; a McLaren F1 plus a weird, insect-like machine with four huge tyres, an absurd number of scoops and winglets along the flanks and across the roof, plus a distinctive white-and-red badge on the nose that reads Bugatti.

Sutcliffe s imaginary race between the Bug and the Big Mac is an obvious and [ultimately] successful attempt to illustrate the Veyron s superiority over its spiritual forbearer. But surely the fact that Sutters spent actual seat time in an actual Veyron is impressive enough that he doesn t have to take his readers into the realm of fantasy. The device robs the lead of both immediacy and underlying authenticity. As for visceral punch, we get our first pay-off in paragraph four:
What there is is noise a peculiar kind of signature that sounds a bit like two TVR Griffiths on full reheat plus an industrial-strength air hose, all at once. And to accompany this cacophony there is mind-bending, heart-stopping acceleration the like of which has never been felt before in a road car.

Sutcliffe s stature within Autocar probably means Executive Editor Richard Bremmer can t touch his nominal employee s copy. Hence the clunky construction. More disappointingly, Sutcliffe s description of the Veyron s sound and fury fails to attain the rhetorical heights it deserves. Mind-bending and heart stopping are unforgivable clich s. The phrase has never been felt before in a road car is both needlessly passive and strangely, emotionally distant. Given Sutcliffe s supercar cred, deploying the personal pronoun would have been fully warranted and far more effective.

In paragraph six, Sutcliffe suddenly wakes up to what he knows is the most important aspect of his Bugatti review: himself. After admitting that he can t quite fathom the Veyron s rapidity, he contradicts himself and moves to reassert his authority.

Actually, I can, because I ve just driven it. For one full day around Sicily. And I can tell you it is sensational. Incredible. Unbelievable. Not merely the fastest and most powerful car the world has ever known but also, possibly, the best car ever.

I reckon enthusiasts longing for insight into the world s fastest production automobile deserve a little more literary flourish than sensational, incredible and unbelievable. And they are definitely not bound to be pleased by the next paragraph, which takes them out of the car and into Sutcliffe s sniffy, premature summation:
And yet I m not 100 per cent sure it is the car I d put in my all-time fantasy garage if literally it came down to a choice of just one. It should be, given that it costs 839,285 after tax, does 252mph and is technically the single most impressive car the world has ever seen. But for curious reasons there s also something clinical about the mighty Veyron that separates it from perfection, something almost too refined about its delivery that prevents it from wrenching on your heart strings in the manner that, say, a Ferrari F40 might or, whisper it, a Lamborghini Murci lago.

Talk about a downer; we haven t even gone for a proper spin and already Sutcliffe is already squashing the bug. Even worse, we re off into that arid editorial space known as backgroundland, as Sutcliffe presents the obligatory synopsis of the Veyron s difficult gestation. By the time we get back in the driver s seat, our interest has waned. So has Sutcliffe s; paragraph 17 is little more than a list of driving locations.

And then, finally, we get to the meat of the matter: a linear description of entering and driving the Bugatti Veyron 16.4. (A more independent/judicious editor would have cut the 17 preceding paragraphs.) Sutcliffe s account of his high speed explorations is both authoritative and interesting. That said, his writing is curiously flat, strangely punctuated and almost entirely bloodless.

This car handles; really handles. And boy does it stop and steer incisively as well. If you really start to lean on it there s a whiff of understeer engineered into the chassis to prevent the tail from taking over; eye-watering body control, too, which is astounding considering how much mass there is to keep in check. What s most impressive, however, is the pure composure it has, even over difficult surfaces.

Sutcliffe s final verdict denies the Veyron his personal imprimatur, slating the world s fastest passenger car for lacking emotional involvement. How ironic is that?

Bugatti Veyron Coupe 8.0 2dr [Autocar]

[Jalopnik s Between the Lines column parses the rhetoric of the automotive industry, and the media that covers it, from the point of view of that kid at the back of the class with ADD, a genius IQ and a thirst for mayhem.]

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