The Bugatti Chiron is the car you’ve been waiting for. It’s an apex testament of engineering, a $2.8 million supercar that has no peers.
At Bugatti headquarters in Molsheim, France, we took part in a deep-dive investigation into the Chiron’s development, from both a design and engineering perspective. And believe me; when you’re talking about a 1500-horsepower automobile with a ludicrous top speed of 288 mph, that information is dense. Here’s what we learned:
The Word of God
The mandate for the Chiron was simple: Make it everything the Veyron was, but 25 percent better. No easy feat. The ultimate goal? To have Bugatti regain the mantle as the World’s Fastest Production Car.
Bugatti solicited feedback and learned its customers wanted the same character as the Veyron, but more. As in more power, still delivered with a smoothness that can’t be matched by the LaFerrari, McLaren P1, Ford GT, or Porsche 918 Spyder. Bugatti wanted to create not just the fastest production car in the world, but also the ultimate Grand Tourer. The Chiron is not a mid-engine racecar, mind you, as comfort was a top priority.
The heart of the Chiron is a second-generation version of Bugatti’s mythical 8.0-liter W16 powerplant. It’s massive; on the factory floor it looks bigger than a whole smart car. While it’s an evolution of the Veyron’s powerplant, 95 percent of the Chiron’s engine is new, reinforced to handle the extra power.
Many steps were taken to lighten the powertrain, including the use of a pure titanium muffler. To help compensate for the weight gained from the enlarged turbochargers (of which there are four), Bugatti has employed a carbon-fiber intake manifold.
Blowing Hot Air
About those turbochargers: Bugatti has increased each turbo in size by 69 percent. But bigger turbos unfortunately mean more lag. How did Bugatti counter this?
Each bank of eight cylinders has two turbos, but at low revs the second turbocharger does not function, so the eight cylinders drive the first turbo first. This means the turbocharger spools up quickly. When the rev counter hits 3800 rpm, though, the second turbo kicks in for full accelerative effect.
With peak boost of 26.8 psi (1.85 bar), the Bugatti W16 produces 100 Nm (74 lb.-ft.) more torque than the Veyron Supersport (1600 vs. 1500). More important, it arrives at only 2000 rpm, which is 1000 rpm lower than in the Supersport. Also worth considering: The new Chiron has a whopping 350 Nm (258 lb.-ft.) more torque than the regular Bugatti Veyron (1600 vs 1250).
Bugatti Customer Lounge
The Bugatti estate in Molsheim underwent a massive renovation between the termination of the Veyron and the debut of the Chiron. The idea was to create an exclusive environment to submerge clients in an all things Bugatti. There’s a visit to the Classic Car Center (museum), and a detailed walk-through of the brand’s history.
Customers are invited into the vast white-floored “Atelier” to see Chirons being built. In the newly constructed Bugatti Customer Lounge, they will configure their own Chiron. With the help of on-sight designers, customers are greeted with piles of leather swaths, carbon-fiber samples, and color swatches. On a huge high-definition screen, customers can play with colors and finishes, wheel designs, etc. and see how the different combinations look on their Chiron.
Of course, an on-sight chef ensures that every Chiron customer gets the billionaire treatment.
The signature Bugatti Horseshoe grille is the Holy Grail of the Chiron. It’s where the design is anchored, expanding from there with the “8-Eye Face” of the LED headlamps (each side with four lamps). The Chiron is only a few millimeters wider than its predecessor, but perception is huge; every trick in the book is employed to make the Chiron appear wider: Bugatti uses a single color across the full body width, and extends lines out as much as possible at the corners to optimize road presence.
It’s a modern design, but Bugatti wanted to pay homage to heritage. Adapted from the Type 57 Atlantic, a centerline starts from the tip of the Horseshoe, rises up over the hood and roof, and continues strongly over the boot.
The Chiron rear end appears cut off, as if sliced by a knife. This truncated shape reduces drag and creates a low-pressure zone that helps suck hot air from the engine.
Two other features highlight the rear. The first, a full-width rear wing, acts like an Airbrake. Depending on what Driving Mode you have selected on the steering wheel (Transport, EB, Autobahn, Handling, or Top Speed), the rear wing changes position to minimize drag (for top speed) or add downforce (for stability).
The other is the stunning 1.6-meter-wide (63 in.) tail lamp—with 82 LEDs, it’s the longest in the automotive space. The single continuous homogeneous structure is milled from a solitary aluminum block. It’s the most salient aesthetic feature on the Chiron.
Aerodynamics + Cooling
It’s not just about aerodynamics, or how the air moves around the car. It’s also how air goes through the car to cool it. The “Air Curtain” duct found in the front of the Chiron channels air within the body, creating a much cleaner and tighter flow around the car’s body; it’s one of the reasons that incredible 288-mph top speed is possible.
Also, with those four turbochargers and 16 cylinders at full boil, 25 percent more power means 25 more cooling is needed. But designers wanted as few air intakes as possible, so the Air Curtain, as well as vents on the “Bugatti Line” and a dozen extractor ports in the rear, all extract heat from the hot-running W16, plus the massive carbon-ceramic brakes.
A flat underbody, enhanced rear diffuser, underbody strakes, and revised front-splitter all improve the Chiron’s aerodynamics.
A Womb of Furious Luxury
The giant “C” design on the profile of the Chiron—dubbed the “Bugatti Line” by designers—also defines the main character of the interior. Viewing the cockpit from above, one can see two “Cs” outlining each of the passenger areas. There’s also a very thin center console following a vertical centerline. Its thinness allows for more horizontal leg and hip room, and instructs the entire make-up of the cabin.
The Horseshoe was removed from the center console in the Veyron and moved to the Chiron’s steering wheel, which is milled from a block of aluminum. Multiple functions are applied to the wheel, including media controls, shifters, and launch control (a true time-warp switch if there ever was one), plus blue buttons for the Start and Drive Modes.
Testing, One, Two Three Hundred MPH
The Chiron spent more than 300 hours in the wind tunnel. Some 30 pre-series vehicles were built, and more than 200 sets of tires were used in the 500,000 kilometers of testing. Beyond countless bench tests and simulations, Chirons were made to suffer in two weeks what they would normally experience in 50,000 miles. At the Atelier, we saw videos of a Chiron strapped to a machine that simulated a complete lap of the Nürburgring, its body shaken and stirred as if driven by Niki Lauda.
The Chiron has so much raw power, Bugatti had to develop its own rolling road dynamometer, because none could handle its torque. The first 60 kilometers of every Bugatti are logged on this dyno to ensure all parts and systems are communicating correctly. Afterward, the vehicles are driven on public roads for about 500 kilometers to work out any remaining kinks.
The speed limit in France is only 130 km/h (81 mph), but the Bugatti has safety features that don’t even activate until 250 km/h (155 mph), which means the Chiron has to be tested on airstrips. Of note: Bugatti harnesses all the energy spent on the dyno and feeds it back to the factory’s power grid.
Overall Design Package
The Chiron makes a more powerful, cohesive statement than the Veyron. It’s not just a giant two-tone computer mouse—it will be remembered as iconic.
Sasha Selipanov, lead exterior designer, explains: “A lot of the cars that are coming out today from our competitors or other manufacturers, I personally don’t find them terribly attractive because I don’t remember what they look like the minute after I close the magazine. And the point is that with advancements in aerodynamics and material philosophy, all those complex shapes and advanced complex geometries are possible to produce now—and we can do them.
“But the question is: As a designer, should you not restrain yourself, and try to come up with something that is as modern as it can be? As performing as can be, but nevertheless simple and memorable. Something that a viewer can walk away from and be able to sketch it, or to explain to someone what they saw.
“There’s immense complexity in this product, but the challenge was to bring it all together in a memorable, clear, almost inevitable way… That was for me, for us, a goal.”
Photo Credit: © 2016 Bugatti