New benchmarks are always interesting, and the McLaren F1 was undoubtedly the 20th Century’s benchmark supercar for 12 years. In supercar terms, that is an eternity.
In one performance test carried out by Bugatti, a McLaren F1 was driven past a static Bugatti Veyron at 160km/h, at which point the F1 accelerated full bore and the Veyron set off in hot pursuit.
The Bugatti caught and passed the McLaren before the latter had reached 300km/h, roughly three quarters of the top speed of either of these ultra supercars! The Veyron takes 7.3 sec to reach 200km/h, 16.7 sec to reach 300km/h, and tops out at 407km/h.
With inertia overcome, the speed gathering capabilities of the Veyron are equally awesome, and more than adequate to humble the Ferrari Enzo, Porsche Carrera GT or any other major league player of its era that you care to name.
Thanks to 4WD and its fabulously smooth and lightening fast DSG paddle-shift gearbox, the Veyron’s intergalactic performance is repeatable time and again by mere mortals who do not have the launch and gear shifting skills of a professional racing driver.
More than just raw horsepower, moving a car weighing as much as a six-cylinder Mercedes S-Class from rest to 62 mph in 2.5 seconds, requires both awesome torque and tenacious mechanical grip to deploy it.
With 1,001 horsepower and 925 lb-ft of torque from its hand-built, 7,993-cc, W16-cylinder, quad-turbo motor, and four-wheel-drive, the Bugatti Veyron 16.4 has all three.
Because of its significant kerb weight, it was the hard launch of the Bugatti Veyron that left me short of both words and breath when Bugatti test driver, Olivier Thevenin, suggested that I stop the car, do a full bore standing start to around 120km/h, and then hit the brakes as hard as I could.
With my left foot firmly on the brake pedal, I increased engine revs progressively until I felt the car bursting to be uncaged. Just before my left foot came off the brake pedal and I planted the throttle to the carpet, I heard Olivier say that I would feel my stomach wrench under the g-force when I let the Bugatti go.
His words were drowned out by a mighty roar from the big motor and the screech of four tortured rubber contact patches, each desperately trying to transmit 500 newly unbridled horses. In those scant few seconds, I discovered that the Veyron does exactly what it says on the tin.
With its Launch Control active, and the Haldex differential and rear limited slip differential all playing their own significant roles in the proceedings, it certainly felt like we passed 62 mph in the claimed 2.5 seconds. I have never encountered such explosive acceleration this side of an F1 racing car.
As the needle arced into the red-segment of the rev counter, I flipped the right paddle-shifter and the Veyron’s warp-speed charge continued seamlessly, the speedo needle arcing round the dial like it was powered by its own turbos. Then I hit the brakes as hard as I could.
Bugatti claim that the Veyron stops from 62 mph in just 2.3 seconds. I told Olivier that while my stomach was just fine, I felt my eyeballs first being bounced off the back of my skull under acceleration, and then popping out on organ stops under braking!
A car of this performance potential is never going to be easy to drive well unless you have a lot of experience of very fast cars. The counterpoint to its towering high-speed abilities is that whether tooling around in town or cruising on the motorway, the Bugatti Veyron is relatively easy to drive.
The power-steering is medium-weighted and responsive enough to give the car crisp and direct turn-in without nervousness at speed. The ride is on the firm side of comfortable, and like all good high performance set ups, improves with speed.
And herein lies another of the Bugatti Veyron’s strengths. While enthusiasts love the heroic scream of an Enzo or Carrera GT’s engine in full battle cry, and their frenetic race-car idle personas, such highly strung cars soon induce sensory fatigue, and are thus tenuous companions over distance.
By comparison, the Bugatti Veyron’s larger capacity, turbocharged W16 motor has a more normal 6,750rpm red-line, and its calmer idle can arguably be measured more in beats than revs.
Thundering with power when given its head, then settling back to a distant murmur at motorway speed, the Veyron plays the latent rather than overt power game. In this respect, it is the quintessential mailed fist in a velvet glove.
As formidable as the Veyron’s mighty heart is, its all-wheel-drive chassis and ESP stability system are not overwhelmed. Rather, the over-riding trait woven through the fabric of its make-up is balance.
The Bugatti Veyron simply annihilates the distance between corners with very little pressure from your right foot, while bends are eaten up just as effectively. Speed piles on so rapidly that the ratio of corner to straight, normally measured in seconds, ends up being quite different from almost any other car. I am a torque junkie, and the Veyron is the first road car to really satisfy my maxim, “too much power is just enough.”
While the car has a central carbon-fibre tub and is otherwise constructed from other exotic lightweight materials like aluminium, titanium, magnesium and carbon ceramic, it is no lightweight. Because the Veyron is designed for everyday use and not just as a ‘toy’ for high days and holidays, it has been over-engineered.
1,900kg is considerable heft in anyone’s books, and I approached the Veyron with some concern that this would seriously compromise its response to the helm. I need not have worried however, as the on-paper numbers seem to bear little relationship to how the car feels and responds on the road.
While weight does help a car ride better, it does not help acceleration, transient response to steering inputs and braking. Yet the Veyron responds as rapidly as you want in all these aspects, feeling much lighter on its feet than the scales would indicate. Had I not known its kerb weight and was asked to guess based on my drive, I would have said 1,500kg, which is around the weight of a Porsche 997 Turbo.
Equally impressive is the carbon-ceramic brake system. It is no mean feat to stop a heavy car from 400km/h in 10 seconds, and Bugatti say these brakes have the staying power to match their bite. Easy to modulate in normal driving, they give tremendous confidence when you use them hard and often from big speeds.
For all the power that the Bugatti Veyron’s engine makes and the fantastic traction of its 4WD system, the star of the show is the bespoke seven-speed DSG gearbox built for Bugatti by Ricardo in the UK. Reputed to cost more than a well-equipped VW Golf R32, it is best operated by the steering wheel paddle shifts, which I found totally instinctive.
Even full-bore upshifts are as fast and seamless as you could wish for. Pulling the left paddle to go down the box under braking is totally natural, and for the experienced driver, better than letting the electronic brain try to sort things out.
The reason for this, as Olivier pointed out, is that if you leave the system in Auto mode, it can catch you out when you force a full-throttle kick down from a high gear. Should the system drop two or three gears, 1,250Nm of torque suddenly tries to escape through the four contact patches, with results that can catch out the unwary!
At this level, art is just as important as engineering, and the Veyron is blessed with some of the most exquisite detailing ever applied to a motorcar. The fittings in the cosy cabin delight both the eyes and the fingertips, and quality shines through thanks to an obviously very rigorous remit to design and build every part of this car to perfection, regardless of cost. Even the bespoke Burmester audio system points to the concept of the very best possible in every respect.
Rising expectations mean that someone accustomed to the fantastic blend of comfort and pace from everyday super sedans like the Audi RS6, BMW M5 and E63 AMG might be disappointed by a drive in a classic supercar. Cars like this more than any other genre have forced supercar makers to raise their game.
At this level, only the Veyron has practically every aspect nailed down tight. But it is also the most refined of its kind, and we have to ask if civilising the supercar to this extent has not also expurgated a chunk of the raw involvement that makes the driving experience of such cars such an epic event.
However, in the final analysis, while the Bugatti Veyron 16.4 may do without the ultimate spine tingling engine note, the most feel in its steering or even the most dramatic shape, in its ultimate 431km/h Super Sport form, it is indisputably the fastest and most capable all-round production supercar ever. As an engineering tour de force, the Veyron is a towering achievement the likes of which we will likely never see again.