First drive: 2018 Bugatti Chiron in the UAE
There are certain things that happen only once in a lifetime. One of them is the chance to drive a Bugatti of any sort. When the Veyron was new in 2005, George W. Bush was still the U.S. president and the iPhone was still a passing thought in Steve Jobs’ mind. Of course, now we have the Chiron. Our resident journosaur Gautam Sharma drove one at the global launch event in Portugal last year. And this winter, I was offered an exclusive drive of the exact same car right here on the roads of the UAE, with 1988 24 Hours of Le Mans champion Andy Wallace as co-driver.
We won’t bother you with the technical achievements of this car, because it was covered before very well in our previous story. What we will tell you is what it’s like to drive on our home turf, from Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai all the way up Jebel Hafeet in Al Ain.
Let’s start with the looks. The Chiron actually looks great, while being unmistakably Bugatti. The Veyron wasn’t particularly good-looking, but garnered respect simply because of the 1000 hp promise it held. It went up to almost 1200 hp in later variants.
Even overhyped “junior” hypercars such as the Ferrari LaFerrari, the Porsche 918 Spyder and the McLaren P1 haven’t been able to top the Veyron. But the 8-litre quad-turbo W16-powered Chiron trumps the Veyron with a full 1500 hp. The Chiron’s top speed is electronically limited to 420 kph because tyres haven’t been invented yet to handle more. Already, the current tyres have to be glued to the alloy wheel, to stop the wheel from turning faster than the tyre! Otherwise, it is expected to be capable of 460+ kph, more than the likes of Koenigsegg et al who have thrown up recent challenges. The Chiron really is the current king of hypercars.
It’s easier to step in and out of the car because of the conventional doors. We were initially given a warm-up ride by Andy, who went over the details of the car. The fully leather-clad interior is minimalist, and noticeably missing a screen in the centre console. Andy says it’s because the car will be built over the next decade, and a screen would become outdated quickly. Instead, there are smaller LCD screens in the gauge cluster that also holds a physical speedo. Along the centre console are three little knobs that can display various information, including a setting that shows the maximum speed you’ve hit as well as the maximum horsepower you’ve used. Hmmm.
Once Andy pulled over and we switched seats, I flicked the gear-selector into “D” and drove off. It wasn’t intimidating at all. The throttle and gearbox are very responsive, and it’s actually easy to drive the car slowly, without the expected jumpiness. Forward visibility is also pretty good, while the reverse view is handled by a camera. The ride is firm, but very bearable on a long drive, no worse than a BMW M2. The engine is audible all the time (with tremendous turbo wastegate whooshes on throttle application), even as we cruised at highway speeds at near-idle engine speeds, but it is still possible to have a conversation without shouting.
After we reached a private road, I finally had the space to gun it. Now, I’m very familiar with fast cars — Dodge SRT Hellcat, Nissan GT-R, Ferrari 812 Superfast, Lamborghini Aventador SV, I’ve driven them all. But flooring the throttle in a Chiron is, literally, like nothing else in this world. Already rolling at maybe 80 kph, I then put my right foot flat on the floor, and was already doing “somewhere below” 300 kph in a matter of seconds, with the accompanying aircraft-like soundtrack to match. It’s not the speed that matters, but how quickly I reached that speed that blew my mind. I backed off without Andy actually asking me to, because the car was still accelerating hard when others would be running out of wind. And after I floored the brake pedal, the car came to a quick stop without any drama, aside from the mildest of wiggling from the back-end as the rear spoiler turned into an air brake.
Moving on from there, we continued our journey to the mountain road. On the highway, it was ridiculous how, at the twitch of a toe, you could accelerate from 120 kph to 140 kph for an overtake in a split-second. Best to leave the cruise control on if you’re of the inattentive kind.
Once at the mountain, I did a conservative run uphill to get a feel for the handling. Needless to say I was driving it well under its limits, but even at my “conservative” speeds, we were still quicker than most sports cars at full tilt. Pump the throttle on the short straights, hit the brakes and steer around the tight corners — simple, except the straights were covered mighty quick, while the immense grip was giving us more confidence than any other car.
The all-wheel-drive system allows no understeer or oversteer — just neutral point-and-shoot cornering. The well-weighted steering even offers good feedback, while the carbon-ceramic brakes were completely fade-free. Think of it as driving a go-kart, dialled up 100 times in terms of speed and 1000 times in terms of comfort.
And that’s what it’s like to drive a hypercar worth Dhs 10 million to your own limits. There’s good news on the maintenance front too — the Veyron required the entire wheels to be replaced with the four tyres every 4000 km at a cost of Dhs 150,000, but the Chiron’s tyres can be changed at the local dealer without sacrificing the wheels, so it will be “much cheaper” now! And already-built Chirons are already climbing in value due to their rarity, as production will be limited to 500. It’s a win every way you look at it.
Photos by Bugatti.