Chateau St. Jean is on the outskirts of Molsheim in the Alsace region of France. In the 1920s and 1930s, it was home to Ettore Bugatti, a man who simply wanted to make cool cars that went fast. His dinners at the Chateau were legendary, his customers were either household names or were behind household products, and his cars were good looking, light and fast. He is reported to have said: "I build the cars I like, if someone wished to purchase one, then that could be arranged." Someone did, and it was.
The company didn't last long after WWII, closing its doors not too long after Ettore passed away. It was revived in the 1980s with limited success -- the EB110 supercar looked awesome, but not awesome enough that people wished to buy them during a recession, so the company went under again.
In 1998, however, the Volkswagen Group stepped in and bought the firm. The rest, well...you know the rest.
Early 2016 saw the unveil of Bugatti's latest creation, the Chiron. Like its predecessor, the fearsome Veyron, it's the new fastest car in the world. Bugatti says its 8.0-liter, quadruple-turbocharged, W-16 engine will produce 1,500 horsepower, and the car will hit 62 mph in less than 2.5 seconds. It should continue on to a limited 261 mph on the road, assuming you have a road long and empty enough to hit 261 mph. The numbers alone mean it's going to be a car that owners and petrolheads alike will gleefully chat about for years to come, just as they do about the Veyron more than a decade after its launch.
The Veyron remains one of the most impressive feats of automotive engineering ever created. The challenges involved with making a comparatively small car nail 250mph+ and not explode after (potentially) daily use are as brain-pain-inducingly tricky as you'd imagine. For the follow-up, Chiron, Bugatti had a solid start in Veyron. It provided a platform upon which to make...more.
The Veyron and Chiron engines may have similar specifications on paper, but it's not the same engine -- 95 percent of it is new, all of it having been reinforced over the old car to cope with the greater strain being put on it.
In the first instance, the turbos are 69 percent bigger than those in the old car. How else do you think it has so much more power and torque over the Veyron (1,500 horsepower versus 1,200, and 1,180 torques versus 1,106)? Ok, larger turbos and much, much more.
Those bigger turbos presented Bugatti with a challenge, though. A bigger blower means more turbo lag, and turbo lag means a potentially dicey drive (especially with 1,500 horses on board) and some very miffed Bugatti customers. To get around that, Bugatti's done something clever. Two turbos are permanently connected to the exhaust manifold of eight cylinders, spooling them up much more quickly, giving the car a more urgent boost. Once the motor reaches 3,800 rpm, the second set is unleashed, allowing the Chiron to keep its torque and power curves higher for longer.
Those larger turbochargers do have an extra side effect though: Weight. Now, the Veyron was hardly anorexic, and it still managed silly numbers, but Bugatti wanted to keep the weight as low as possible, so it went gangbusters with the diet. The Chiron's new carbon intake manifold saved Bugatti engineers over eight pounds, its exhaust system (made of many things, but the highlights are steel and titanium) saves more weight as well.
Swapping cogs is done by essentially the same transmission as before, but it, too, has been massively reinforced to cope with the additional torque. First gear will get you to 65 mph, second to 106 mph.
Power is one thing, but getting it to stay on the ground and go around bends is another. Aero is important in a car capable of more than three times the takeoff velocity of a Cessna 172.
Bugatti's engineers gave Chiron a flat underbody to keep it stuck to the ground, strakes to guide air out to reduce pressure and drag, a new front splitter that's more efficient than the Veyron's and a rear diffuser to up the downforce but eliminate drag.
Here's the thing, it's not a one-aero-fits-all situation. The Chiron's active rear wing is the most obvious change, depending on the car's setting. Transport, EB, Autobahn, Top Speed and Handling modes all have their own profiles, adjusting the car to suit the conditions.
Moving at those speeds requires a chassis that won't shake itself to bits at a moment's notice. Our chums at Bugatti have thankfully thought of that. They're not out to make a hardcore race car for the road, they're simply gunning for the best car. The fastest, the most comfortable, the best way to get from A to B. As such, Chiron has an adaptive damping system that allows it to be many things all at once. There's adjustable ride height, dampers, electric power steering, your usual hypercar stuff. But they're far from normal.
Chiron's new hydraulic adaptive dampers are designed to improve agility, ride and roadholding at high speed, though they've been calibrated to adjust themselves depending on the conditions and driving mode to ensure the car is peak condition.
Stopping is a huge task for a 261 mph, near 4,400-pound car. The Veyron's brakes, when it was new, were the largest ever fitted to a car before Bentley took the crown. To scrub speed, Chiron uses 420mm front rotors with eight-piston calipers and 400mm, six-piston rears. Thanks to a tie-in with AP Racing, they're as light as they can be while being as effective as possible.
In order to get this car in a good-enough state to go and stop, it takes really good rubber. Michelin stepped in with a set of Pilot Sport Cup 2 shoes designed especially for the Chiron. What's new here is how they're put on the wheels. In the Veyron, a complicated system involving essentially squeezing the tires around a rim slightly too big for them caused potential stress fractures in the wheels over time (which meant they needed to be replaced every few tire changes, as well). For Chiron, that's no longer the case -- technology has moved on in 11 years, and now it's less complicated to pop some new shoes on your hypercar.
Chiron is a touch easier to live with than its predecessor, then, and it won't be as hardcore as the McLaren P1 and hypercars of that ilk, but that's not to say there's no race car in there at all. You know how an LMP1 race car is super stiff so that it can go around corners and won't disintegrate in a crash? Well, Chiron is just as stiff as one. Which is a good thing, considering just how much a 200-mph crash would smart.
Bugatti has built-in optimized crash zones, and this is the first car to have an airbag deploy through a carbon fiber panel. It's even got knee airbags. Apparently 10 were crashed during development to see how safe it really is. Turns out, it's quite safe. If you do have a problem with your car, the factory can help you. Each Chiron (as with the Veyron) is linked to the Atelier in Molsheim. If you have a problem, either you call them, or they'll call you to let you know something might be up. Now that's service.
Bugatti set out to make one of the most advanced cars the world has ever seen. It didn't want to make a race car, it didn't want to make a limo, it simply wanted to make the best performance car. Judging by how epic it's looking at the moment, it may have have achieved that*.
(*Unless "best" to you means, "Something into which I can put a week's worth of groceries, seven people and a flat-pack wardrobe." Then it's probably not ideal for you. You have my deepest, deepest sympathies.)