Test Drive: 2018 Bugatti Chiron

Courtesy Bugatti

The combination of speed and beauty in this rare, $3-million car is unparalleled.

I turn the Bugatti Chiron off a side street in Greenwich, Connecticut, and onto a long highway entrance ramp. With a clear road ahead of me, I floor the accelerator. I’m aware that the car's turbocharged V16 engine puts out 1500 horsepower, for a top speed of 261 miles per hour, but I’m not fully prepared for what that means in real life. The Chiron surges forward; the turbochargers work like a two-stage rocket shooting into orbit. A millisecond later, it's more like I’m about to slip into hyperspace: zero to 62 miles per hour in 2.4 seconds is beyond quick. I remember to blink at the end of the ramp, touching the Formula One racing-spec’d brakes slightly to ease into interstate traffic even as my senses are telling me I’ve just missed an interplanetary exit. I steal a glance in the rear view mirror, where I can see the engine behind me, and send a small nod its way. Yes, I’m impressed.

Perhaps I’ve seen too many sci-fi films, but the Bugatti Chiron is otherworldly in so many ways that I think I can be forgiven for imagining I’m driving a car made on another planet—at $3 million, the price tag is certainly astronomical. The Chiron’s speed alone might justify the cost in the eyes of some. But the French-made two-seater is so much more than just its engine performance: it's an incredibly well-designed car.

Courtesy Bugatti

Take the eye-catching exterior: While the aerodynamic front end and the rear light strip that extends across the width of the car are distinctive in and of themselves, the design element that most grabs my attention is the C-shaped bar that starts from the roof line and curves down behind the passenger door of the lightweight carbon fiber chassis. The two-tone paint job of the Chiron I’m driving makes it look like a light blue car is exploding from what remains of a darker blue rear section. It’s dynamic and gorgeous, bordering on sculpture, but the design is driven by the practical necessity of moving more air into the engine compartment to keep it cool.

That C-bar design element defines the interior as well. A light bar made from a single strip of aluminum extends upward from the center console and curves overhead along the roof liner, separating the driver and passenger compartments. Given the Chiron’s engine performance, I half expect an interior with the complexity of an airplane cockpit, so I’m pleased to see how simple and uncluttered the car actually is with regard to controls. There is no need to take my hands off the steering wheel to operate any essential functions. A blue starter button on the right side of the wheel fires up the engine while a matching blue dial on the left lets me cycle through its five driving modes—the most notable of which is an “autobahn” selection for highway driving that lowers the car’s profile for better aerodynamics. Additional buttons on the inside rim of the wheel let me control navigation and entertainment options (this may be the world’s fastest concert hall). At the bottom of the wheel is a launch control button for maximum torque and acceleration; if you happen to be driving under racetrack conditions, a key that fits into a slot on the left side of the driver’s seat unlocks a little extra speed. The shifter for the seven-speed transmission is within easy reach on the slim center console, with four climate control knobs elegantly positioned above it.

Courtesy Bugatti

After driving for about an hour, I start to appreciate the car's additional performance details, like a smooth, easy ride and an adaptive chassis that makes the Chiron agile on curves. But all I have to do is glance around the interior cabin to realize that it’s all those performance characteristics wrapped into a beautiful package that makes the Bugatti Chiron such a special car to drive. And with only 500 to be manufactured, it will stay that way. bugatti.com