How do you improve on a car that already has a 1500-horsepower, quad-turbo W16 engine and a top speed limited to 261 mph? That's what Bugatti set out to do with the Chiron Sport, an advancement on the already outrageous Chiron. But unlike the Veyron Super Sports, which boosted the 1000-horsepower Veyron's output by 200 horses, the Chiron Sport doesn't offer any more power than the base model. Instead, the supercar maker opted to focus on handling.
"The focus for the Chiron Sport was to keep the capabilities, and see what we could do in terms of improving the handling," Jachin Schwalbe, Bugatti head of chassis development, told me. The goal: Shave five seconds off the Chiron's lap time at Nardo.
"A performance package is nothing without lightweighting," Schwalbe said. The team searched out components on the nearly 4400-lb supercar that could shed weight. A new forged aluminum wheel design shows a subtle difference from the normal Chiron's rolling stock: The thick wheel spokes are now thin and doubled, shaving away nearly seven pounds per wheel. "That gives the dampers an easier life," Schwalbe told me. It improved the car's lateral dynamics, and also paid a benefit in comfort: The lighter wheels transmit less jounce on bumpy roads, Schwalbe said.
Elsewhere, the lightweight philosophy is evident. The rear window is made of lightweight material. The quad-pipe exhaust is lightened. The Chiron Sport uses carbon fiber stabilizer bars with carbon fiber attachment levers, a first for series production cars that cuts nearly five pounds from the chassis. And take a close look at the windshield wiper arm: It's carbon fiber, designed with the perfect amount of flex and tension to press the wiper blade onto the windscreen without using the traditional tension spring. It's a world's-first for a street car.
All told, Schwalbe's team trimmed nearly 40 lbs from the Chiron. While that may not seem as extreme as some other automakers' lightweight packages, the Chiron Sport asks no compromises from its driver. The interior is still opulent in alcantara; the Sport still offers the same infotainment luxuries, the same sound-deadening, the same all-day comfort behind the wheel. "Even in the new handling setting, you can do everyday driving on normal roads," Schwalbe told me. "In the Handling setting it's a little bit stiffer, but for me it feels very good."
To take advantage of the lightened Chiron, Schwalbe's team blessed the Sport with stiffer dampers and revised steering. A new Dynamic Torque Vectoring system brakes the inside-rear wheel in low speed corners to mitigate understeer without altering the Chiron's high-speed stability. The benefits paid off at Nardo. "It's a wide range of speed," Schwalbe said of Bugatti's favored test track. You have turns and jumps that you hit at more than 200 km/h [124 mph] with our car. The challenge, from the chassis side, is to be fast in the tighter turns. Especially in those turns, we have the advantage with the new Dynamic Torque Vectoring. That means the drivability still offers a very wide range."
Schwalbe assures me that the handling changes to the Chiron won't affect its top speed—a number that is still not known. Bugatti limits the Chiron, including the Sport, to 261 mph. As for what it can do with the limiter removed? "We haven't tried," Schwalbe tells me. According to him, the automaker hasn't even tried to calculate a theoretical max speed. "In this range of speeds, it's difficult to calculate," he tells me.
I ask whether Bugatti is feeling the heat from Koenigsegg, after the Agera RS notched a 278-mph top speed on a closed US highway. "It's not a competition," Schwalbe told me. "I fully respect what Koenigsegg does, of course. In the end, our philosophy of creating and building cars is different. It's difficult to compare."