The Bugatti Chiron Pur Sport is the fastest car I’ve ever driven. It’s expensive too, the one I drove was around $4 million dollars. From tip to tail, it’s a masterpiece. It’s fully, unequivocally worth the money. It’s an achievement the likes of which tend to inspire a certain type of guy to get wistful. Without question, it’s the most impressive car I’ve ever driven. But I can’t say I know what that means to me anymore.
(Full Disclosure: Bugatti wanted me to drive the Chiron so bad that they sent me an email asking if someone in the New York office wanted to drive one. But, I pulled rank, cashed in some airline miles and asked Raph to pick me up at the airport. Bugatti let me drive a Chiron and paid for gas.)
I wish I’d been in a place where I could keep it pinned forever and transcend all human knowledge, to truly see the world as it is, small and finite. The Bugatti Chiron has been described a million ways by people who are actually good at describing things and it’s all inadequate. It’s not like a jet, or a slingshot, it’s not “like” anything. That’s the point. And when I cashed in my SkyMiles for a ticket, that’s exactly what I was expecting.
A chance to do what I did in the Chiron in almost any other car would not have been enough to get me out of my house, to the airport, to Laguardia, where I met Raph and his bug for the drive out to Bugatti of Greenwich. I knew I wasn’t going to experience anything close to what the car was capable of. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to evaluate it in any meaningful way. But I also knew that even stuck in traffic, I’d be seated behind the wheel of what is arguably the greatest car ever made.
And from the way the car looks, to its widely known specifications, outrageous cost and rarity–that’s what it’s about. Even more than any specific part of the driving experience, the acceleration, top speed, whatever – it’s about having the ultimate form of the car. Even standing next to a Chiron is an occasion, not to mention sitting in it or driving it.
I went to drive the Chiron because I didn’t know how many more opportunities to drive a W16 Bugatti I’d be presented with. And because when the Veyron arrived, in a time when the contours of our decline were a little easier for me to ignore, I was captivated by it. A car faster than the McLaren F1? A special key? How many radiators? The story of the development, and the thing about selling them at a loss was mythic stuff. I’m still blown away by the technical exercise but today, I have to push a lot out of my mind to love an exercise like building the world’s best car.
When I got home to Michigan and started writing about my experience, I was distracted. I watched old Jeremy Clarkson segments about the Veyron, and wrote, and deleted, and let the story sit for a long time. I kept coming back to how, not long ago I would have tried to equate this car with some other incredible technical achievement like the moon-landing. In the present context, that seems silly. But how do I describe a car like this now? Especially when I can’t do two-thousand words on what it’s like to drive?
You’ve no doubt read that the Chiron, or really its predecessor the Veyron are the products of the monomaniacal will of Ferdinand Piech. That it was Piech who expended the resources of one of the world’s largest corporations on building a car to beat the world, to defy physics and to, kind of make a statement on the engineering supremacy of his family’s company. The Piech Bugattis are written about, and spoken about in the same way that the Blackbird, the Concorde and the Saturn V are—in dewy eyed, Clarksonesque reveries to the great and ambitious iron-willed men who conjured them when others would not have dared to dream the impossible dream, etc, etc…against all odds, the great men of history who dared fight god. We’ll never see a car like this again, not in the age of tin-can architecture in a tinhorn culture, yada yada. But all of that, the tall buildings, the fast cars and planes has lately started to seem a little trivial to me. They’re no less impressive, no less great, but they’re also relics from a time when most kindergarteners would not be able to name two or three obvious threats to our survival as a species.
How long has it been since we invented something that changed the world? Half century? More? We’re facing real challenges, with real stakes, and we’re doing what, exactly? I’m not asking for Bugatti to turn their attention to carbon capture, but the general state of things does make it hard to place a car like this.
Even if there wasn’t the war, the pandemic, the rapid erosion of democracy, an increasingly irrational economy, etc. I’m sure I’d still allow myself to get a little bummed when I thought about how much of what’s being made today is destined for a landfill or how all the energy in the economy is directed at various scams, because we’re too brainwashed to imagine anything better. We know to the penny that there’s hardly ever money in building anything meaningful, but that there’s plenty of money in just pretending you’re going to execute any number of the unwanted and transparently dumb ideas that consume all of our brainpower and resources. It’s a bummer to witness the beginning of the post-scam era where we’re skipping past the “idea” part, and the “making the thing” part, and just going straight to trading nothing back and forth on the assumption that we’ll have cashed out when the jig is up.
I still get bummed, but I don’t wonder why this is happening anymore. I think we’re at the end of a long process, and all of this was more or less the inevitable result of that process. But the process also threw off some incredible sparks like this Chiron Pur Sport. It wasn’t without its fun moments.
Because Piech’s Veyron was so monumentally expensive to develop that each one was supposedly sold at a loss, we got the Chiron which could be thought of as a reworking, or an optimization of the Veyron. We got the Divo, which is more or less a track focused version of the Chiron, a few incredible one-offs and Chiron variants like the Super Sport, the Chiron Sport and the Pur Sport. This one, the Pur Sport is set up for backroads. It’s got a revised suspension, lower top speed, more downforce and a reworked transmission with shorter gears compared to the standard Chiron. The rear wing is fixed, instead of active, which saves about 22lbs. Overall, the Pur Sport is 110lbs lighter than the standard Chiron. It also has lighter wheels that suck air beneath the car where it’s directed to a massive rear diffuser and tires designed to produce grip without consideration for the need to survive top speed runs in excess of 217 MPH. Every wheel is set to 2.5 degrees of negative camber.
It’s supposed to be better at cornering, more of a driver’s car, but I can’t say definitively whether it is or not because I haven’t driven the regular Chiron and in the course of driving the car, I didn’t get to do a lot of cornering at speed. It did feel eager to change direction, and looking at the massive bespoke Michelins that threw stones against the carbon tub even when cold, I could deduce that there’d be grip for days.
A Bugatti rep told me customers asked for a Chiron like this, but to me, the cool thing about a modern Bugatti is that gaudy top speed number. I guess if they’re already Bugatti customers, they probably have the top speed thing covered.
Rolling on the power isn’t like rolling on the power in another fast car. It’s a pure distillation of the sensation of speed. There’s no drama. No chirps, no squirming from the rear. No slingshot. Just immediate, relentless motive force and the sound of a lot of air being sucked into the engine. You’re steering, but you don’t get the sense that you really have to be steering. Maybe you could put your hands on your head and the thing would keep going. It probably would. It’s intoxicating. Jalopnik alum Jonny Lieberman got to drive one on some good backroads and he said it was the best car he’s ever driven. I don’t make a habit of doubting Jonny. Because he’s in LA, he had a more complete driving experience than I did. If you’re looking for a comprehensive review that’s free of naval gazing, go read his. It’s good.
Maybe I’m getting old and grumpy, maybe it’s time for me to leave this business, but as exciting and wonderful as this car is, I’m finding myself stewing on the “so whats?” People say we need a Manhattan Project for climate change, or renewable energy, but it’s clear the system can’t give us that, even if we all more or less acknowledge that in the absence of political imagination and will, the fate of the world depends on it. We know a new Covid variant could usher in the apocalypse before the really horrible parts of the climate catastrophe kick off, but what will there was to stop it has dissipated in the face of what amounts to complaining. We can’t muster the will or imagination to really do anything, so we get little extravagances like personal vanity space programs and these incredible cars.
Over the last few years, the idea that things cannot possibly go on like this forever has been my source of optimism. Surely, a big change will come, and there will be an opportunity to reorder our priorities. On the other hand, there’s the idea that nothing can derail this train and we’re doomed to ride it while things get a little worse all the time, until the end.
Maybe this is the last moonshot internal combustion car. If you’re close to the car business, or even if you read a lot about it, it seems like the transition to EV dominance is well underway, maybe a forgone conclusion. I generally believe EV adoption will increase, even if I don’t see exactly how it will happen. But I’m not certain we won’t see more cars like this. Bugatti is now part of a joint venture created by Rimac and Volkswagen, called Bugatti Rimac and owned in large part by Porsche, which is also part of Volkswagen. In the mold of other 21st century innovators, Rimac founder Mate Rimac’s record of delivering on promises is, at least as of now, mixed. But, he says the next Bugatti will have a gas engine. Maybe it’ll be a crossover.
Regardless of ownership, Bugatti is a company doing what companies do. I don’t expect, or really even want them or any other car company to start trying to save the world.
I don’t think it’s bad, or irresponsible to make cars like the Chiron. In the grand scheme of things, nothing they make gets driven enough to contribute meaningfully to climate change, even if they did, we’re talking about around 1000 cars in total for the whole run. They’re making a car that is a genuine testament to the potential of human ingenuity, unfortunately everything else is just making it all seem a little trivial, at least to me.
Right now, even though we’ll never own one and I’ll probably never drive one again, it’s fun for us to geek out over the little details of the Chiron, to imagine the million little moments of genius that made it real. I’ll enjoy it while it lasts and hope I get a chance to drive one hard some day. And, I’ll hope that brilliant trivialities aren’t the best we can do.