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Driving the Bugatti Chiron made me wish it was electric

The $3.8 million Chiron Super Sport doesn't need a 16-cylinder engine to make a statement.

Bugatti Chiron Super Sport
Total dream car.
Steven Ewing/Roadshow

Nobody asked me about the engine. I can't tell you how many people flagged me down during my morning with the Bugatti Chiron Super Sport. And while they all wanted to know how fast (273 mph), how expensive ($4.3 million as tested) and how the hell (it's my job, I swear), the Chiron's fabled 8.0-liter, quad-turbo, 16-cylinder bazooka of an engine somehow never came up.

This got me thinking: What if the Chiron didn't have the W16? What if it didn't have an engine at all? What if the Chiron was an EV? It's a weird thought, but not too far-fetched, especially considering Bugatti's recent merger with electric hypercar maker Rimac. Seriously, making the Chiron an EV wouldn't kill the buzz. It'd still be quick, it'd still be fast and it'd still look like a million -- OK, several million -- bucks.

Don't get me wrong, there's a lot to celebrate about the W16. For starters, this engine makes an absolutely unheard-of 1,578 horsepower and 1,180 pound-feet of torque. The Chiron Super Sport is effectively the "regular" version of the Super Sport 300 Plus, a car capable of hitting 304 mph. The normal Super Sport has the same extended rear bumper, larger diffuser and more gradually tapering roofline as the 300 Plus, and its specific front-end aero, huge active airbrake and special-compound tires all contribute to its ability to reach a still-crazy 273 mph.

But does top speed actually matter? 273 mph is an incredible feat of engineering, but where can you even do that -- legally or not? Instead, focus less on the v-max and more on the Super Sport's initial acceleration: 2.4 seconds to 60 mph. This is by far the more relevant figure in terms of stuff you can actually experience, and bonus points for the W16, flooring the Chiron Super Sport comes with a level of drama an electric setup cannot rival.

For a car so quick, the process seems so slow. You can hear all four turbochargers sucking in air as the 16-cylinder engine winds up. There's a surprising amount of turbo lag when you first nail the throttle, so much so that, for a split second, you'll wonder what's wrong before the full whammy slams you in the back. All four tires chirp as the world turns into a blur. There's a momentary lapse in power when the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission swaps first gear for second, but then it's back on full force for another hit of euphoria. You'll be in triple-digit territory before you can say, "Holy crap, that's quick."

The active airbrake keeps the rear end stable. Also, peep the W16 engine.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

The sheer brutality of this acceleration is an experience an EV could deliver, but the aural accompaniment won't be the same. However, once at speed, big batteries mounted low in the Chiron's chassis would be a boon for overall handling. Sure, weight would be an issue, but it's not like the Chiron Super Sport floats like a butterfly, tipping the scales at roughly 4,400 pounds.

As it stands, the Chiron's steering is heavy and direct, yet it's also easy to maneuver at low speeds and nicely damped to smooth out crummy roads. A Handling drive mode tightens everything up slightly for when you want to blast up into the canyons, and while the quad-turbo engine is a hoot to goose for a rush of power, there's a lot to be said for the sensation of immediate electric torque.

The Chiron Super Sport has stiffer spring rates than the Super Sport 300 Plus, and its dampers are electronically adjustable. The standard EB driving mode is best for normal, everyday stuff -- ripping between stoplights in Santa Monica, blissfully cruising along Pacific Coast Highway -- and the silence of an electric motor would add to the serenity. You can't hear the Chiron's engine or exhaust over the sound of jaws dropping, anyway.

The interior design is relatively simple, but the attention to detail is incredible.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

Autobahn mode makes the Chiron hunker down and repositions the airbrake for extended high-speed runs, and this is the one area where the range limitations of an EV powertrain would compromise Bugatti's everything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better ethos. That's kind of the reality of EVs in general, though -- for now, anyway.

The Top Speed mode would suffer, too, though I suppose it could be activated as a one-and-done party trick if the battery has enough power. Right now, this puts the Chiron into its most aerodynamic setting to open the performance envelope. You have to insert a special key into a special lock by the driver's seat controls to activate this mode, and doing so with an EV for a one-shot thrill ride would certainly befit the pomp and circumstance.

The final piece of the puzzle is design, and this is where the packaging of an electric powertrain could really shake things up. Bugatti could theoretically reduce the number of vents, since there'd be no gas-powered mechanicals to cool. Keep the awesome details like this test car's blue-tinted carbon fiber and the Chiron's iconic four-square headlights. But please, lose the chrome wheels. The longer I look at them, the more they look like something off a Boomer-spec C8 Corvette.

Truly the worst wheels.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

Keep the interior's design simple; I like that the Chiron's cabin is both modern and understated rather than overwrought for the sake of exotica. Customers will no doubt go wild with colors and materials, anyway, which is part of the fun of spending millions on a Bugatti. Maybe get some better tech, though -- that backup camera is way too low-res.

None of this should sound like blasphemy, especially since the march of progress is leading every automaker to an electric future, Bugatti included. The W16 will find a home in the extremely limited-run and track-only (and sold-out2024 Bolide, but beyond that, internal combustion will be left in the rearview.

The thought of an electric hypercar from a spare-no-expense automaker like Bugatti is both an exciting proposition and inevitable reality. It'll be wild and ridiculous, exclusive and expensive, and it'll turn heads and populate Instagram feeds like every Veyron and Chiron that came before.