First drive: 2020 Bugatti Divo in Italy
If ever there were roads least suited to a hypercar, here they are. The ribbon of tarmac that stretches ahead is littered with an assortment of lumps and bumps, with some sections of bitumen having crumbled away altogether. The snaking route is also so narrow in parts that there’s just enough space for two cars to pass in opposing directions without rubbing shoulders.
In this rustic and remote setting, the 5 million euro (Dhs 21.7 million plus taxes) Bugatti Divo seems as out of place as a great white shark prowling in your neighbourhood park pond. Yet, there’s history at play here, in far-flung Floriopoli – about an hour out of Palermo, Sicily. This is the scene where the Divo’s almost-century-old ancestor, the Type 35, recorded some of its most memorable triumphs. Undoubtedly one of the most instantly recognisable historic race cars, the Type 35 scored no less than five victories in the treacherous Targa Florio – twice in the hands of Albert Divo, after whom the sinister blue hypercar we’re about to drive is named.
To quickly recap, just 40 examples of the Divo are being built and sold (five units are bound for the Middle East), with the entire production run already spoken for well before the first car rolled out of the Molsheim factory. The Divo was offered only to existing Bugatti customers, for whom the 5 million euro asking price was clearly not a bank breaker. According to the company, the average Bugatti buyer owns 42 vehicles, five homes, three private jets, three helicopters and a yacht.
Apart from the Divo’s low-volume status – which could make it a future collectible – its main drawcards are bespoke bodywork that reprises Bugatti’s coachbuilding tradition, plus sharpened dynamics that stem from fettled suspension and a comprehensive aero package that delivers almost 500 kg of downforce at the car’s 380 kph v-max.
Wait, what? The Divo is actually slower than the 420 kph Chiron it’s derived from? Yes, in terms of outright straight-line speed it is, as its high downforce and the aggressive negative camber it runs on the front and rear tyres necessitated a drop in ultimate velocity. But the payoff of these modifications, in addition to stiffer springs and dampers, is that the Divo serves up razor-sharp steering response and corner-devouring capabilities that eclipse even the stupefying Chiron – it’s eight seconds a lap quicker than the latter around the 6.2 km Nardo handling circuit.
However, the design brief stipulated the Divo should not sacrifice anything in terms of comfort and refinement, so its suspension tune is less hardcore than the overtly track-focused Pur Sport revealed earlier this year.
The Divo’s aero package includes a 1.83 metre wide rear wing (23 percent wider than the retractable wing on the Chiron) and a NACA duct on the roof that channels air to the rear of the car along a central fin and ultimately on the rear wing for improved downforce. In addition, there’s a large front chin spoiler culminating in vertical fins at each flank, re-profiled side skirts, larger air intakes in the thrusting nose, slit-like LED headlamps and tail lamps, vents in the bonnet for improved radiator cooling and front wheel-arch vents to cool the brakes.
The gargantuan 8.0-litre quad-turbo W16 and seven-speed dual-clutch transmission have been left untouched, but with outputs of 1,500 hp at 6,700 rpm and 1,600 Nm from 2,000-6,000 rpm, there was hardly any deficiency there. The only minor engine-related tweak is a redesigned exhaust system featuring quad exhaust pipes.
The two-tonne Chiron is hardly a lightweight, but the Divo manages to pare at least 35 kg from its bulk, thanks to carbon-fibre trim inside, carbon-fibre wiper blades and intercooler shroud, reduced sound insulation, a lighter audio system and removal of the storage lockers in the doors and centre console.
Visually, the Divo is undoubtedly the most dramatic of all the Chiron spin-offs – barring the one-off La Voiture Noire. Parked across the road from the now dilapidated Targa Florio pit garages, the Batmobile-esque coupe prompts drivers of passing cars to stand on the brake pedal and bolt across to get camera-phone pics of the car.
The Divo is the first Bugatti to be created digitally, with designers and developers making extensive use of VR goggles and hard-foam 1:1 models to fast-track the development process to just five months. Arguably the Divo’s most gob-smacking element are its elaborate 3D rear lights. A total of 44 of these fins light up to form the taillights, which are neatly integrated into the rear grille that extracts heat from the engine bay.
Right, time to hit the road. Four-time La Mans winner and Bugatti factory driver Andy Wallace initially slides behind the wheel for a quick demo. He sets the drive mode knob to ‘EB’, which is the default setting in which front/rear ride height is 115mm/116mm respectively. It drops to 95mm/115mm in ‘Autobahn’ and ‘Handling’ modes, but Wallace explains that’s too low for the diabolically patchy tarmac ahead of us. About 10 km down the road, we swap seats – incidentally the left and right pews are of different hues to clearly demarcate the driver’s compartment from that of the passenger.
Threading a 2,018mm wide hypercar – especially one that’s as potent, rare and expensive as this – down these narrow, unkempt roads is a daunting prospect, so my game plan is to take a measured, steady approach. That plan almost immediately goes out the window as the tactility and user-friendliness of the Divo entices you to fling the car around like a hot-hatch. In fact, the steering feels even more direct and alive in my fingertips than that of the Chiron, and the 2m-plus girth of the car no longer seems an issue.
Front and lateral visibility is surprisingly good for a vehicle of this genre, which helps in accurately placing the Divo on these sinuous, threadbare roads. There’s one hairy moment where an Audi suddenly looms from the opposite direction in the midst of a blind corner that tightens in radius and width, but there are no other nasty surprises. There’s a few chirps from the tyres and a series of micro lock-ups under heavy braking on a couple of occasions, but Wallace, who’s now in the passenger seat, explains it’s because the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres (massive 285/30ZR20 boots at the front and 355/25ZR21 at the rear) are brand-new and the surface sheen still hasn’t worn off them.
As with the Chiron, there’s a chorus of bellowing, whooshing and growling noises emanating from that W16 engine and its four turbochargers nestled directly behind the cabin, and my eardrums suggest the Divo’s bespoke exhaust system has upped the decibel level slightly. Even so, it’s remarkably civilised at cruising speeds, and the suspension is proving surprisingly compliant at soaking up the assortment of surface blemishes on this awful road.
Given the short straights between corners, there’s barely an opportunity to liberate even half of the Divo’s 1,500hp quota, but the rapid rate at which the Bugatti devours this roughly 20km stretch – which we traverse back and forth a couple of times – is still an eye-opener. Just as much as its raw speed, it’s the crispness and immediacy with which the Divo responds to steering, braking and throttle inputs and tugs on the transmission paddles that make it a joy to pedal briskly.
There’s also the fact that we’re on hallowed ground. It’s hard to imagine the brutes of the World Sportscar Championship raced here until 1973. At the time, Helmut Marko, now advisor to the Red Bull Racing F1 team, called the Targa Florio race “totally insane”, and that was no exaggeration.
The Divo would be able to showcase much more of its formidable performance envelope on smoother and more flowing roads than the one we’ve covered today but, even so, our short, sharp stint behind the wheel provided at least some proof its titanic capabilities and surprising versatility. However, the question you’re probably silently wondering is whether the Divo is twice car the half-as-expensive Chiron is? Undoubtedly not, but that would be like splitting hairs for the 40 prospective owners who will eventually have one parked in their multi-car garages.
Photos by Bugatti.