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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Bugatti Veyron 16.4 - Road Test- When your Mission is to find out what is possible to do instead of what we know how to do

Driving a Bugatti Veyron is like carrying a 14.6-foot-long open wallet that is spewing 50-dollar bills. Drivers rush up from behind, tailgating before swerving into either of the Veyron’s rear-three-quarter blind spots, where they hang ape-like out of windows to snap photos with their cell phones. They won’t leave, either, because they know the Bugatti, averaging 11 mpg, can’t go far without refueling and that its driver will soon need to take a minute to compose himself. And when you open the Veyron’s door to exit—a gymnastic feat that requires grabbing one of your own ankles to drag it across that huge, hot sill—you will be greeted by 5 to 15 persons wielding cameras and asking questions. If you’re wearing shorts or a skirt, here’s a tip: Wear underwear.

Describing hyperbole with hyperbole is not a useful pursuit. In the Veyron’s case, the facts are sufficient. Let us look at a few:

It takes five weeks to build each car. Counting the heater core, the Veyron has 12 radiators. Sixty mph is yours in 2.5 seconds. The Bug will reach 150 mph 8.3 seconds sooner than a Nissan GT-R. At its top speed of 253 mph [as tested by C/D, November 2005], it is traveling 371 feet per second and will empty its 26.4-gallon tank in 19 minutes. If you can’t locate fuel of 93 octane or higher, your dealer must detune the engine. Service, in general, will be expensive because it takes two persons—one of whom won’t be you—to remove the rear bodywork just to get at the engine. Four of this car’s Michelin PAX Pilots will set you back $25,000. If they’re mounted on wheels—a process undertaken only in France—well, that’s $70,000. The hydraulic rams that raise the rear wing at 137 mph are identical to those that raise flaps on aircraft. During the Veyron’s prototype days, a bird crashed through its aluminum grille—the car was humming along at 205 mph—so now the grille is titanium. The windows automatically rise and lock in place at 93 mph so your dog doesn’t lose his tongue. You thought the engine made 1001 horsepower? Nope. “They all make more than 1010,” says Bugatti’s Jens Schulenburg, who works in the “Gesamtfahrzeugentwicklung” department.

Over Labor Day weekend, we drove the Veyron to the 5000-car Kruse Auction in Auburn, Indiana, where it could repose amongst other supercars and elicit reactions from enthusiasts whose wallets were as wide as the Bugatti’s doorsills. We parked next to a racing-blue 1948 Talbot-Lago. A French car next to a French car. But the Bugatti killed all interest in the magnificent Talbot, making us feel sorry for its owner. So we parked in a line of a dozen Lamborghinis. This lasted 15 minutes before the Lambo salesman began looking ill. “We’re trying to sell here,” he pleaded. “You’re killing us.”

All persons who stumble upon a Veyron are moved to speak:

“I’ll bet that car has more moves than a monkey on 18 feet of grapevine,” said one.

“If that’s your car,” said a blonde, “I’ll marry you.”

“That thing’ll rip your nuts off,” opined a teenager with numerous facial piercings.

“It’s like a good movie,” said another. “Contains violence, obscenity, possible nudity.” (We’re not sure what that meant.)

“I do believe this is the most beautiful car I have ever seen,” said a Southern belle who’d driven to Auburn in her Ford GT.

They ask questions, too. Mostly, “What happens when you flatten the accelerator pedal?” Here’s the best we can explain it. From rest, the car leaves civilly, gentlemanly, with almost no wheelspin or tire squeal. It accelerates briskly for roughly one second, until the turbos understand that you mean business. Then there is a deafening roar, the nose lifts, and the car feels as if it’s making a serious attempt to claw itself into the air. The first time you’re about three seconds into this experiment, you, too, will lift. For one thing, you’ll be close to rear-ending a family in a Ford Explorer. For another, you’ll need a moment to recalibrate what you’ve hitherto considered cheek-rippling forward thrust. Analogies, here, are often futile, but in the time it takes a thundering Audi S8 to attain 60 mph, the Veyron will be going 100.

The somewhat disappointing news is that despite accurate, nicely weighted steering and 1.00 g of skidpad grip, the car isn’t particularly nimble in the hills, where it is taxed by its 4486-pound heft. It feels more like a Benz SL63 AMG than, say, a BMW M3.

The Veyron’s weird shifter, which we named Klaatu, is as alien as the rest of the car. Push down for park. Push once to the right for drive. Twice to the right for sport mode. Left for neutral. Left and down for reverse. No matter where you shove it, it instantly returns to its original position, à la BMW turn signals. This is annoying, but resist the urge to abuse any gears. A new transmission costs $123,200. Speaking of abuse, within the 366-page hardcover owner’s manual, there are 190 boxed messages headlined “WARNING!”


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