The $4 Million Bugatti Chiron Review
All 500 Chirons have to look awesome in 50 years. That’s why there are so few screens.
The Takeaway: The Bugatti Chiron Pur Sport is a shorter-geared, lighter-weight variant of the Chiron, tuned for driver feedback and agility through corners. To make sure each of the 60 examples look good in car collections decades from now, the interior is superficially lower-tech than a new Toyota or Hyundai.
The Chiron has held a few superlatives among production cars, such as most expensive and fastest (both acceleration and top speed).
New electric cars, like the Tesla Model S Plaid, almost match its acceleration.
Even as EVs get quicker, the Chiron won’t lose any prominence.
Base price: $3,699,000
Top speed: 217 mph
Zero to 60: under 2.5 seconds (claimed
Engine: Quad-turbocharged 8.0-liter W16
Rear spoiler (width): 6 feet 3 inches/1.9 meters
Tailpipe material: 3D-printed titanium
The $131,190 Tesla Model S Plaid accelerates to 60 mph in around two seconds. That’s about as fast as a Bugatti Chiron, holder of every automotive superlative except sales volume.
You’d think that, if you were a Saudi prince or Russian chemical tycoon who bought a $3 million Bugatti Chiron Pur Sport, you’d be upset that a mere millionaire in a Tesla could keep up with you off-the-line. But I doubt that prince or tycoon cares. Because pure speed is not the point of a Bugatti,or any hypercar. Like vinyl records or mechanical watches, the Chiron is meant to be a relic. It’s packed with futuristic tech, but that’s mostly hidden underneath an experience that’s designed to feel like a bespoke product from before the era of mass production. You can see it in the details.
Among those details: that acceleration experience. The g-forces are similar to what I’ve felt in a Tesla Model 3 Performance or Porsche Taycan. But the noise and vibrations are obviously gasoline-powered, which is part of what you’re paying for.
The Chiron Pur Sport’s 1,500 horsepower, quad-turbocharged 8.0-liter W16 engine.
I’ve achieved my childhood dream of driving Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and McLarens, all of which are effective tools for terrifying yourself with speed. But none of them feel or sound like the Chiron’s 8.0-liter W16 engine. Mash the accelerator, and what you hear is like a huge, really precise woodchipper. It’s wonderful, but belittling, a piece of heavy machinery you don’t feel qualified to control.
The acceleration is also different from anything electric, or anything automotive, really. Even the fastest electric cars stop accelerating ludicrously a bit above highway speeds. And modern turbocharged Ferraris and Lamborghinis require gear changes that give you space to breathe. But the Chiron’s propulsion and noise just never wanes. If, as a kid, you ever took a bicycle or skateboard down a hill that was just a bit too steep for you to feel safe, you’ll understand. Your superego says to let off, that this car is very expensive. But your id wants to see if the thing will keep going.
Whenever that happens and you go to brake, another gasoline- and Chiron-specific sensory experience happens: the turbos stop. Four of them have been spinning fans to build up pressurized air for the combustion chambers. When they stop, that excess air evacuates, which sounds like someone exhaling. It’s novel to be able to link a sound to a specific analog function.
Behind the wheel of the Chiron Pur Sport.
As you accelerate and shift gears—though you can let the car competently shift itself—you watch a center-mounted speedometer, which is not a screen. It’s a physical needle that sweeps over numbers. The idea, the former race driver and Bugatti spokesperson chaperoning my test drive says, is so that decades from now, someone can look inside this Chiron and understand the car better than you would if you saw a black screen. (The speedo’s numbers go up to 300 mph, a reference to the Chiron Super Sport 300+, which hit 304.773 mph).
There are small displays on either side of the speedometer, and the small center-mounted gauges are actually screens. But unlike almost every other modern car, there’s no tablet glued to the interior. As design languages change, those small displays will eventually betray their age. But the speedometer, shift lever, the rearview mirror, the knob for choosing the drive mode—by being already antiquated, they’re future-proof. Every use a navigation system from the 2000s? Or a junk drawer phone that hasn’t been updated in a while? The goal is to avoid that look.
The Chiron’s future-proof interior.
But all of that old user interface is a cover-up for the modern technology at work inside the Chiron—some of which is there to actually make the Chiron feel like a sports car of yore. Take the steering feel. Like most modern cars, the steering wheel isn’t connected directly to the front wheels, but electronic trickery makes it feel like it is. The steering system’s computers combine decades of testing and real-time data about speed, tire spin, and g-forces to make the steering wheel resist and vibrate like it’s the 1990s. Even to an inexperienced driver (me), that tactile feedback combines with engine noise and other vibrations to make you feel like the car is talking back to you.
That’s astonishing for a vehicle that’s otherwise pretty luxurious. After I exit the highway onto potholed streets and 20 mph traffic, the system tells the steering wheel to absorb the rough road. In unglamorous daily driving, the Chiron is every bit as pleasant as a Volkswagen Golf—which is built by by their shared corporate overlord, VW Group.
But driven slowly, the Chiron will do something that Teslas can’t do any more: attract an audience. Cars this expensive and scarce (the Pur Sport we drove is one of 60, and one of 500 Chirons total), function kind of like a painting. The few people who ever get within proximity of a Bugatti are likely to experience it as an observer—visually, maybe aurally. From that perspective, few objects can match a Chiron’s specialness. Like Versailles or expensive watches, it’s beautiful and mechanically marvelous enough to make you forget its obscenity.
But there’s wisdom in chasing a timeless ideal that, hopefully, other auto makers consider. Responsive knobs will always beat a laggy screen, especially as cars get more reliable and people hold onto them for longer.
Level 4 Autonomy is still far away, and most of us drive the same way we did in the eras on which the Chiron’s design elements are modeled. Is it so much to ask for other companies to steal a few ideas from a hypercar?