Let’s think about that for a moment: 253mph is faster than a Formula One racing car or Concorde at the point of take-off. The Veyron’s power unit, open to the air behind the driver, is four times the size of the engine in your regular family saloon and, boosted by four turbochargers, 10 times as powerful. And the price is 50 times that of the average car.
Of course it doesn’t make sense. Nobody needs a Bugatti Veyron. But that doesn’t diminish its status as an ultimate in technology. It is a billionaire’s prized possession, the automotive equivalent of one of those hideously expensive Swiss watches. And it will be the stuff of dreams, the bedroom poster for a generation of young boys.
Everyone wants to know what it can do. Last week I was one of the fortunate few to find out first hand.
I drove the Veyron on motorways and mountain roads in Sicily and experienced it on the Enna-Pergusa racetrack. I reached no more than three-quarters of its top speed but that’s okay; my American colleague Csaba Csere of Car and Driver magazine had verified its 253mph maximum at the VW test track in northern Germany.
Within the limits of normal if lightly populated roads and sympathetic local police this is still a car that transcends previous experience; there has never been a 1000bhp production model. Yet it has none of the temperament of supercars that are derived from racing machines.
Climb in, press the starter button, engage D on the gear selector lever and off you go. Neither accelerator nor brake is fierce, the steering is accurate but requires no great effort. The engine dawdles if you want to, docile and undemanding, yet when a clear road opens ahead it is ready for acceleration that is beyond normal comprehension.
The Veyron can reach 62mph from a standstill in 2.5sec and 122mph in 7.3sec. When 0-60mph in 7sec is the mark of a quick car, this one is out of the world as we know it — all two tons of it.
When you press the accelerator to the floor — and you had better be prepared for the rocket-like response — the needle on a dial to the left of the instrument panel flicks round to 1001. It’s a power indicator and it has absolutely no use except to give the driver a sense of awe. It should be called a “boast gauge”.
The 240mph McLaren F1, the previous speed champion among road cars, is much lighter but was designed in the 1990s with a different philosophy that deleted all non-essential features, including many of the safety systems that VW made obligatory in the Veyron. The F1 is an expert’s car.
The Ferrari Enzo, Porsche Carrera GT and other recent pretenders to the supercar throne are essentially racing cars adapted for road use. The Bugatti Veyron is not intended for racing but holds a trump card compared with these: its seven-speed DSG transmission. It works brilliantly and contributes to the Bugatti’s ease of progress and level of driving refinement.
So, the best car in the world? It depends on your attitude. For all its phenomenal range of capability this is not a car for the shopping run (do billionaires go shopping?) or even a weekend away. Its boot can carry just a briefcase, the engine is always noisy, visibility anywhere but directly forward is restricted, it is more than 6ft wide and parking is a nightmare. Oh, and there are no roads where you can do 250mph.
You could also argue that a car that costs so much should be perfect. To do so would be churlish. The Bugatti Veyron 16.4 is a magnificent achievement.