This car cant be measured by traditional road-car standards. Its just too powerful, too extreme, too darn fast. Nothing, and we mean nothing, can prepare you for the feeling you experience deep within the pit of your stomach the first time you drive it with real purpose. Comparisons with other road cars do not apply, for there simply is no parallel. Not a fair one at least.
For a while we had felt comfortable, if not exactly at home, behind the beautifully crafted aluminum and leather steering wheel of the $1.2 million EB16.4 Veyron. Confident its limits were not beyond our control as we came to grips with it along Bugatti-parent VWs Ehra-Lessien test track, 30 minutes up the road from the German carmakers vast Wolfsburg headquarters. Not even a rain shower that drenched the long oval track earlier in the day had given too much cause for concern. In fact, the cool temperatures had proven a boon for the Bugatti engineers who feared it may get too hot to take a stab at its 250-mph top speed.
However, that was before we pulled into the makeshift service facility erected on the tracks perimeter and watched as Bugattis technical director, Wolfgang Schreiber, inserted a second key into a slot to the left of the drivers seat. Talk about transformation. In this configurationjust one of three in which the Veyron can be programmedthe chassis squats 2.5 inches at the front and 2.75 at the rear. The diffuser flaps in the front close, and the rear spoiler sits at a slight 2-degree angle. The idea is to provide the car with minimal drag as the electronic speed restrictor limiting the low-slung Bugattis top speed to 233 mph is sidestepped to release its full potential. It is described as the top-speed setting, though on second thought, it ought to be labeled hyperspace.
Every time we pull back on the gear lever to slot home another ratio in the closely stacked seven-speed double-clutch (DSG) transmission, all hell breaks loose. The 8.0-liter W16 engine mounted behind us bellows in anger as we hold the throttle down hard, the needle on its horsepower dial arching its way past the traditional four oclock position to indicate maximum power has been released as the all-wheel-drive Veyron slams violently forward as though it is mounted on a rocket sled. The sound the car makes, even from within the full-face helmet, makes us wonder how on earth it could ever be street legal.
If it all sounds like an exaggeration, consider the acceleration figures and you might, just might, begin to appreciate the brutality of it all from the thigh-hugging confines of the deeply padded drivers seat. Although the times are yet to be independently verified, Bugatti claims its new two-seater will hit 62 mph from a standstill in 2.5 seconds, 125 mph in 7.3 seconds, and amazingly, given it tips the scales at a rather portly 4300 pounds, 186 mph in just 16.8 seconds. The words battering ram come to mind.
For comparison, a Porsche Carrera GT needs 34 seconds to reach that last mark, and we dont recall anyone describing it as slow. No less than 987 hp delivered at 6000 rpmmore than any other road car on the planet, and by some margindishing out a time-warping turn of speed. That the EB16.4 Veyron requires less than half the time it takes the Porsche is a good indication of the sort of force placed on your body as you nail it hard and keep your right foot planted. In the first few degrees of throttle travel, things are quite unremarkable. But as the engines four turbo-chargers spool up, there is a violent surge of acceleration as the revs rocket up to the engines 6300-rpm cut-out point. When youre engaging in such action, the air is literally forced from your lungs as the forces build and build and build. This is road-car performance at its most potent. Its backed up by a thumping great 921 lb-ft of torque thats fed to all four wheels via a Haldex multi-plate clutch and DSG thats positioned ahead of the engine in a bid to provide the best possible weight distribution. Developed and built by British transmission specialist Ricardo, which claims the magnesium-housed unit takes just 150 milliseconds to shift and can be operated manually or left in automatic mode. The engine and gearbox weigh 1400 pounds, close to one-third of the Veyrons weight.
The suspension itself is fairly conventional, relying on a combination of double wishbones all around with conventional springs, dampers and antiroll bars. To ensure stability remains constant across the Veyrons wide speed range, it also incorporates a specially developed hydraulic system that varies the ground clearance in three distinct stages. In the standard setting, the cars carbon fiber body sits five inches off the ground, the front diffuser flaps allowing air to travel underneath the car remain open, and the rear spoiler sits flush with the rear bodywork. At speeds greater than 135 mphor when the driver chooses to engage it via a button on the center consolethe body adopts what is called the handling setting, automatically lowering to 3.14 inches of clearance at the front and 3.7 at the rear, the diffuser flaps stay open, and the spoiler motors out and is deployed at an angle that varies between 6 degrees and 26 degrees to provide up to 771 pounds of downforce.
Beyond this is the so-called top-speed setting dialed up by Schreiber during our run and allowing the new Bugatti to run all the way to 250 mph. Besides twisting the second key, you are also required to run through a safety list, which includes such things as a tire-pressure check. Overall, the Veyrons drag co-efficient varies dramaticallyfrom a low of 0.39 in the standard setting to a downforce-induced 0.42 in handling, and a slipperier 0.36 in top speed.
Although the $1.2 million price is breathtaking, Bugatti is supremely confident it can find 50 customers per year for the EB16.4 Veyron. Employees at the companys showcase factory on the outskirts of Molsheim in France are expected to produce no more than 300 cars in total during the next six years. North America is already proving a lucrative market, with the majority of the 16 confirmed orders to date.
BY THE NUMBERS
173 mph:Takeoff speed for a Boeing 737
229.9 mph: F1 speed record by Antonio Pizzonia in a Williams-BMW at the 04 Italian GP
240 mph: Top speed of an Andretti Green Indy Racing League car
241.428 mph: Closed-course speed record set by Gil de Ferran in his Honda-powered Penske Racing Reynard at California Speedway in 2000
250 mph:Top speed of the Bugatti Veyron. It goes from standstill to 250 mph in 55 seconds
11 hours, 9 minutes: Time it would take to get from Los Angeles to New York City @ 250 mph
To prove that theres always a bigger dog on the block... a nitro-burning Funny Car accelerates to 100 mph in 0.9 second, hitting 230 mph in 2.03 seconds and topping 260 mph in 3.25 seconds. But you cant do that and drive it to the grocery store, too.