If there’s any doubt about the Bugatti Chiron’s raison d’être, it’s written right on the steering wheel, on a large blue button emblazoned with one word: ENGINE. Sure, we could wax poetic about the marriage of modern technology to the ancient human craving to express vanity and wealth. Or about how the 1500-hp Chiron is metaphorically the 700-room Château de Versailles with tailpipes, how the $3 million price means it is no crazier than hiring an artist to spend four years painting God and Adam and angels and saints on your chapel ceiling. In other words, we could go on and on about how it is an exuberant, untethered overstatement in the service of generating delirious stupefaction, both in the nobles who luxuriate in it and the peasants who revel in its reflected glory.
All Ate Up with Motor
But the new 261-mph Bug is really just about being all ate up with motor. It’s about old-fashioned combustion in 16 furnaces amidships that are blown into a furious conflagration by quad turbo fans. Push that ENGINE button and the 8.0-liter W-16 lights, not with the ear-bending bark of an Italian supercar—Bugatti figures it is above those kinds of bad-boy theatrics—but with the manly burble of a lazy 650-rpm idle. To paraphrase Theodore Roosevelt, “Speak softly and carry a suitcase nuke.”
To be brutally cynical—for that’s the last refuge of plebeians who cannot now and never will be able to afford a Chiron—this car is a do over. It’s a reboot of a last-decade idea for reviving a slumbering auto boutique with a moonshot engineering project intended to create shock and awe. The 1001-hp Veyron 16.4 was the busted sound barrier, the Everest summit, the four-minute mile. It was the car that went 1 mph faster than a Peugeot P88—the fastest race car on the Mulsanne straight—just because. The benchmarks have all been bested, the hyperbole all belabored. It seems pointless to raise the bar again with another mid-engined two-seat coupe, like enrolling Superman in a CrossFit class in the hopes of widening the gap over those speeding bullets.
The Art of an Art Object
Perhaps Louis Chiron’s biggest achievement was being the oldest driver (55) ever to compete in a Grand Prix. The big C that defines the Chiron’s side profile, as well as the spinal ridge and the extravagant sweep of LED accent lighting that cleaves the cockpit, is either a tribute to his name, to the rather expansive way Ettore Bugatti rendered the E in his personal signature, or to the Type 57SC Atlantic. The company leaves it up to you to decide, but the Chiron is an altogether more purposeful shape, the horseshoe grille pushed forward into the wind to initiate a sleeker and somewhat tenser profile. The eight LED headlights, which illuminate sequentially inward on startup, and the 82-LED taillight blade are riveting elements, the latter housed in a thin scythe milled from a 441-pound block of aluminum.
As in the Veyron, the cockpit exudes artful minimalism, but the Chiron takes it even further. The center stack looks like the four fingers of a metal sea anemone, the tips of which are digital readouts that can tell you everything from the oil temperature to the max speed achieved and the horsepower tapped on the current trip.