And so this week, we finally got to see the Bugatti Chiron, the $2.6-million supersonic follow-up to the Veyron. The press release that accompanied the reveal was plenty revealing itself. It included a classic Bugatti sequence of superlatives, offering up the Chiron as the "most powerful, fastest, most luxurious and most exclusive" super sports car, like, ever.
And that was just the first line. The second: "Bugatti has made the best even better." Modest chaps, aren't they?
Forgive me if my reception is reserved, my excitement muted. Because when it comes to Bugatti and hyperbolic modifiers, this one sticks out in my mind: The Veyron was the most boring hypercar ever produced.
Come on, admit it. The Veyron was a cold-blooded creature. If a LaFerrari bleeds crimson red, the Bugatti would seep an arctic blue. It was a vehicle drawn up on paper by the most hubristic suite of executives, aimed at a single, banal idea: The fastest car wins.
That simple-minded concept was ruthlessly pursued by a squadron of VW Group engineers. Excellence would be achieved no matter the cost. Speed records would crumble and other carmakers would fall on their knees and weep. Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair.
Except the stuff we really love about exotics—the beauty, the volume, and yes, the handling—got lost in the process. Records did fall. And a world shrugged. Ozymandias, your empire is a bore.
The Veyron wasn't a car for drivers. It wasn't meant for the racetrack, and it didn't excel on windy roads. It was the ultimate valet car, the braggart's shiny jewel. Sheiks filled their garages with them. Floyd Mayweather reportedly owned four of them. Bieber posted about one in his Instagram account, hinting that it was a pricy gift from a music producer. (It was actually a Miami loaner.) You're as likely to hear about a Bugatti on TMZ as you are in a legitimate automotive publication (this week notwithstanding).
The Veyron wowed not by its beautiful design (it simply wasn't very good looking), but by force of its numbers. The price of its tires, how quickly it would empty its tank at full blast, the amount of air its turbos sucked in per second, the number of fuel pumps and radiators, and of course, the price. The car simply had to be amazing, right? The best of the best, because the numbers said so. The ultimate enthusiast clickbait.
And then along came a regular ol' guy, John Hennessey, in his shop in Houston, who took a customized car to 270 mph and broke the Veyron's record. In a heavily modified Lotus Exige, of all the damn things. You can get caught up in the byzantine arguments about what is or isn't a production car, or what is or isn't an official run. But by that point, David was sitting a whole lot prettier than Goliath, and at a fraction of the development costs. The VW minions must have been steamed.
In hindsight, the marketplace wasn't exactly wowed either. Only 450 Veyrons were built in all. Initially the 16.4 and the eventual Grand Sport moved off the production lines briskly. Then the sheiks and hedge funders already had theirs and sales slowed. And so began the steady, maddening, Chinese-torture drip of special editions. The Middle East and Hermes and Rembrandt and Lang Lang and Wei Long and Merveilleux and Bijan Pakzad and L'Or Blanc. (Can you spot which one is made up? Trick question. They're all real.) And, finally, the La Finale, was shown last year in Geneva. The Veyron was sold out after a decade.
Compare that with the McLaren P1 and P1 GTR, the Ferrari LaFerrari and FXX, the Koenigsegg One:1, the Pagani Huayra, and various special one-off Lamborghinis. They all sold out in an eye-blink, proving the crazy-expensive hypercar market wasn't played out—but the Veyron was.
I've driven them. The 16.4, the original Grand Sport, and eventually the Grand Sport Vitesse. And at first, the Veyron was pretty damn exciting. You belted into the cabin, stepped into the gas, and the massive turbos whiffed and snuffled behind you, sucking in gutfuls of air. And you transported into the next zip code. It was very, very fast. There was no apparent lag that came between shifts, just an inexorable forward moment. You would giggle and be slightly terrified. It was fun the first 15 times. Even 20. But eventually that thrill dulls, especially as every forward warp puts your license in jeopardy. There are no roads around for you to get anywhere near 200 mph, let alone 260-something. So the rest of the time you just cruise around in your big-bucks-mobile, telling passengers what it could do, if only.
Attack the curves, and the cars tended to understeer (though later versions the handling improved). The car was heavy and not that lively and not nearly as fun as, say, a Corvette Z06. The steering was rather dull and the engine only sounded good while under attack and . . . Well, there were better ways to spend a million or two.
One can't help but wonder if members of the VW Group aren't experiencing some trepidation over the Chiron's release. The company reportedly lost money on every single Veyron, and since the diesel scandal, money is tight. So is environmental credibility. I'd be curious to talk to a pissed-off VW TDI owner about the Chiron and the VW Group's current priorities.
In the meantime, the automotive press will be aflutter, writing about the diamonds in the speakers and the theoretical top speed. And I have no doubt that it will be an absolute gas to achieve 62 mph in 2.5 seconds and 125 mph in 6.5. (The car apparently comes with some kind of drift mode, too, so there's that.)
But I also don't expect it to be nearly as entertaining as, say, the Pagani Huayra, with its front aero flaps that rise and fall as you brake and turn. I've driven that million--dollar monster, and it is pure theater. The back wheels slide around more often than you'd like, and the twin-turbo V12 makes blasphemous belches behind your head. You exit the gullwing doors thankful to be alive and not to have damaged the damn thing. Plus you can stare at it for hours. Now that's a supercar.
More speed records will surely fall to the Chiron. But as the number of hypercars multiplies, and outrageous become the rule, Bugatti needs to stand for more than outright, outrageous speed. This time, I hope that the engineers paid attention to more than one formula. That drift mode has potential, for instance. Fifteen-hundred horsepower sideways sound pretty fun.
(Jason Harper, a contributing editor to Road & Track, has tested and written on cars for two decades. His scariest drive was a rally race in an original Lancia 037, his first drive of a supercar was the Porsche Carrera GT, and the only time he's gotten a speeding ticket was in a base Mini Cooper. His column, Harper's Bizarre, runs every Wednesday.)