Between the Lines: Road & Track on the Bugatti Veyron

It s Road and Track s turn to test drive the Bugatti Veyron 16.4. Reflecting the impact of a two-month lead time on its vehicular priorities, Hachette Filipacchi Medias car mag consigns the world s fastest production automobile to a corner of their front cover (in favor of the slightly more accessible Shelby GT500). At least R&T s brought/bought a big gun for their shot at the top dawg: car designer Gordon Murray. Mr. McLaren F1 inaugurates his contract with R&T with a seven-page analysis of Veyron s mechanical challenges and charms. Meanwhile, helmsmanship falls to Patrick Hong, who demonstrates a fondness for figures that puts Don Eppes to shame.

Hong s lead hangs fire on the numerophilia — just. After two bizarre paragraphs that ask us to pretend that reading about a fast car endangers our driving privileges (a truly horrifying thought), Hong plays it by the numbers.

CASTELBUONO, SICILY - WARNING! DO NOT read on if: 1) Your right foot is heavier than your left foot, and 2) Your driver s license is one ticket away from being revoked.

Okay, you made it this far, which means you are probably sane enough to consider the following:

Forget the 660-bhp Ferrari Enzo, the 605-bhp Porsche Carrera GT, the 617-bhp Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren, or even the mighty 627-bhp McLaren F1. These supercars are simply slugs compared with the new 2006 Bugatti Veyron 16.4 (16.4 for 16 cylinders, 4 turbochargers). This $1.2 million hyper-exotic boasts 987 bhp (1001 metric horsepower) and 922 lb.-ft of torque, enough to propel the 4160-lb. beast to a top speed of over 250 mph. And according to the factory, a 0-62 mph acceleration run (0-100 km/h) can be done in 3.7 sec., and 0-186 mph in 16.7 sec., faster than you can re-read and comprehend the astonishing stats.

Car reviewers face a constant temptation to describe a machine s performance in purely objective terms. There s no question that mechanical descriptions and performance-related statistics help technically savvy readers comprehend, compare and contrast a car s character. Unfortunately, an over-reliance on technical data alienates and excludes non-gearheads. Anyone who hasn t been initiated in the holy sanctity of horsepower, torque, power-to-weight ratio, variable valve timing, etc. — which is the vast majority of the American motoring public — is automatically barred from the buff books boys club.

Even those of us who understand the difference between twist and thrust can only take so many stats before our brain s SAT-trauma emergency math avoidance switch instructs our fingers to turn the page. As we ve stated in previous meta-Veyron reviews, the big Bug is a gift to a reviewer. All the reader wants to know is, what s it like to drive? Screw numbers. You can stick those stats in a sidebar, or give em to Gordon. If ever a car writer had a chance to cut loose from the prosaic bonds inherent to their craft, and soar to literary heights, well, here it is. And there it goes!

Amazing!
Thrilling!
Un-be-liev-able!
So now you know. In paragraphs five, six and seven, Hong throws three spears at us and gives us the chance to bail. Obviously, we don t. This is the Veyron! It s fast! Really fast! With any luck, he ll give us a description of the experience that led him to such ecstasy...

In the next paragraph, Hong raises our hopes. He switches to the second person for the much-anticipated, long-awaited driving experience. We learn that forward vision is blocked by the A-pillars, and the Veyron doesn t stall like other high-horsepower supercars (whose brand shall remain Porsche). And then, in paragraph 12, after a quick mechanical refresher, Hong lets slip the DSG of war.

On long stretches of Sicilian highway, the Veyron can get up to speed so fast that the speed dial goes up just as quickly as the rpm dial. Cruising at 140 mph is effortless. Pedal to the metal and the Bugatti charges up to 170 mph in an instant, just as effortlessly. Unfortunately, the continual stream of local Sicilian traffic never allowed for any faster speed runs, as the Veyron s triple-digit closing speeds make even light traffic seem heavy.

After just one graph, Hong s jettisoned You are there! shtick, ignored his chance to provide emotion/drama and returned to the buff book bosom of empirical description. From there, we get another double-triple helping of technorati-pleasing info — from the Veyron's diffuser flap settings to the exact changes in ride height triggered during Top Speed mode. Hong's only subjective insights are offered with terse matter-of-factitude: the ride s harsh, the tires are noisy, steering feel is a bit light and shifting is a breeze.

Hong heads home with not one but two standard closes: I wish I could do it again and I better start saving up. After reading Hong s overly-dry exposition, it s hard to share his enthusiasm for his first aspiration. As for the latter, it would be best if Hong didn't follow Jackie Gleason s advice to Crazy Guggenheim, after hearing his fellow comedian's singing: don t quit your day job.

[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.]

Related:
Between the Lines: Csaba s Excellent Adventure; Between the Lines: Autocar s Sutcliffe on the Bugatti Veyron [internal]