Bugatti set themselves up for this one. They built their brand as the Very Impressive Builders Of The Fastest Cars In The World and now they got swept into the news that anyone buying their new car won’t go as fast as the last one. Earlier this month we, and the rest of the automotive blog universe, reported the new 1500 horsepower Chiron could do about 285 mph; we now know that’s not the case, and it’s a bizarre blow to the $2.5 million car’s primary selling point right out of the gate.
When the Chiron came out, Bugatti gave two not-quite contradictory statements about the car. The first was that it would be faster than the Veyron it replaces. (This makes sense, as the Chiron has more power than any Veyron ever had.)
The second was that the Chiron would be restricted to 261 mph, which is actually slower than the derestricted top speed of the last Veyron, the Super Sport. You can see how that’s a little confusing.
In any case, the world has been eagerly awaiting for Bugatti to issue the Chiron’s unrestricted top top speed, and speculating about how fast that ultimate number might be.
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Rumors circled around the 280 mph mark and spilled out into listicles and headlines about the car from when it debuted. Here are two from Automobile and Car Magazine. One from Autoweek. Another from Fox News. Top speed, on this car, is a big deal. It’s kind of the only deal in some ways.
‘The Speed Key’
Then a couple weeks ago, Bugatti’s head of engineering Willi Netuschil, sat down with popular car news website Autoblog to talk about the new Chiron. In its interview, Autoblog published that the Chiron can actually go as fast as we’d all imagine. Faster, even—Autoblog published that the Chiron could do 285 mph, a speed that could be unlocked with a second “speed key,” which is exactly how the Veyron worked.
Here is what they reported:
While other hypercar speed demons like the Ferrari LaFerrari, Porsche 918 Spyder, and McLaren P1 employ some form of hybrid electrification, Bugatti has forgone that route again in favor of sheer old-school grunt. Topping out at 261 mph with the use of a second “speed key,” it can actually go up to about 285 mph if you want Bugatti to electronically unlock the Chiron’s full insanity. However, there are only a few places on Earth where that can be done.
“You have to remember how much greater the braking distance needed is at those levels. The Volkswagen Group’s track near Wolfsburg has a specially designed long straight that can be used for these type of high-speed stunts,” says Dr. Netuschil. “There’s also a military base in Germany we can get access to that has a long enough runway.”
It was big news. We picked up on that news at Jalopnik, as did a litany of other automotive outlets. We wrote ‘Bugatti Chiron Optional Extra: 285 MPH.’ Road & Track did up ‘Bugatti Will Remove Your Chiron’s Speed Limiter If You Want to Do 285 MPH.’ CarScoops wrote ‘Bugatti Is Willing To Make The Chiron Reach 458 Km/h (285 MPH) - All You Have To Do Is Ask.’
Then we got an email from Bugatti’s external PR company, JMPR Public Relations, asking us to take out the line, that it wasn’t true, and that it needed a correction. Autoblog was wrong, Bugatti’s PR team told us. The 285 mph figure was speculation alone. The Chiron’s unrestricted speed would never be granted to customers. It would only be performed by Bugatti in private, and that test would not likely happen before 2018.
This was very odd. Had Netuschil said something he shouldn’t have and Bugatti was now walking back his statement? Had Autoblog misinterpreted something else Netuschil said? We figured that we would correct our story once we got some statement from Netuschil explaining what had happened, and not before. Bugatti’s PR was fine with the idea, and told us they’d get us in touch with Netuschil.
This did not happen. At first Bugatti’s PR said that they needed to approve our questions for Netuschil. Then they said that they didn’t like our questions, because Netuschil’s English isn’t very good. Then they said that it was difficult to schedule an interview because of the (six hour) time difference between here and Germany. Then they went on vacation.
In the midst of all of this, Autoblog altered their story. A few days after it went up and the information circled around the blogosphere, Autoblog took out its line about a speed key, and changed its other wording so that it no longer seemed like Bugatti was admitting the car would do 285 mph, but rather that it was speculated that the car would go about that fast.
I’ve spoken with Autoblog since the story was amended and they were clear that they had no intention of making it sound like Bugatti had officially confirmed any speed higher than 261 mph, only that they wanted to address rumors of this speed already circling the Internet.
Here is what the story now says:
The car is capable of about 285 mph but Bugatti has no plans to unlock the Chiron’s full insanity, in part because there are only a few places on Earth where that speed can be safely reached.
Despite the edit, Autoblog’s editor in chief Mike Austin and the original interviewer Matt Askari both said neither of them actually got a correction from Netuschil himself. Only Bugatti’s PR team contacted them.
And Autoblog maintains Netuschil did say that the Chiron can be unlocked to get to an unrestricted top speed, one that they haven’t yet specified.
Is it possible that Netuschil wasn’t clear in what he said, maybe not differentiating between the abilities of customers from Bugatti employees alone? Definitely! Is it also possible that Autoblog wasn’t entirely clear about the distinction of unlocking the 261 mph top speed with a key versus unlocking an even higher unrestricted speed electronically? Sure. Either way, any subtleties got lost as the story bounced around the rest of the Internet. We ran a definitive story, as did Road & Track, CarScoops, MotorAuthority, and every other tangentially-car-related publication from Maxim to The Myanmar Sun.
After a week of waiting, I got a call from a different Bugatti PR person. There was going to be no interview with Netuschil. There would be no clarification of what he said about its unrestricted speed.
The Most Important Thing About The Chiron
Remember, this top speed is the whole reason for the car’s existence! It’s the whole draw of the thing in the first place. That this car is faster than any other car (particularly the car it replaces) is what validates the Chiron’s price and status and presence. This is why someone pays $2.5 million or likely more for this machine: the bragging rights that come with owning the fastest car in the whole world.
Make no mistake, the Chiron is not a slow car. It has every indication that it is faster than the Veyron. The new Chiron, for instance, did 236 miles per hour at its first on-track outing, this time at Le Mans. The Chiron was a staggering 23 mph faster outright than the actual cars in the race. That is really quite fast, and the other stats that Bugatti itself has published (nobody has yet had a chance to independently test the Chiron’s performance) show that the new Chiron is a much faster car than the Veyron. Sure. The Chiron makes 300 more horsepower than the most powerful version of the Veyron ever did.
But the Chiron’s outright speed remains unknown. Bugatti has said that the car is “limited” to 261 mph. Now, the fastest Veyron, the Super Sport, was also limited, and that limit was lower, at 258 mph. However, Bugatti did take the Veyron Super Sport to a world record 265.7 mph without its limiter. As you will note, that’s faster than the Chiron.
So all Bugatti needs to do is remove the limiter of the Chiron and have it run flat out and it will be able to go faster than the fastest Veyron, right? Well, Bugatti hasn’t done that. And they won’t do that until 2018, so we’re stuck with this as the big news about the car. It more than likely will be the next fastest car in the world. But not yet.
All we had to go on was Bugatti’s interview with Autoblog, an interview with someone who clearly knew what he was talking about. That was what validated our expectations, but that’s all been scrubbed away. Now Bugatti has to deal with a different headline; their new car is “not as fast.”
This is how the internet works, annoyingly. One site runs a story, it looks legit, and everyone else runs with it. Everything runs minute-by-minute, and shooting for confirmation with human sources can take a week’s worth of work. (And to be very clear, we are among the guilty here.) Often nothing comes of it. This is how Bugatti got stuck in this position.
It’s hard to believe that a 261 mph car could be seen as slow, but unfortunately for this company caught up in the whirlwind of rumors and republications of the Internet, that’s the position Bugatti has found itself in.