I recently drove the Bugatti Chiron, which is the most expensive and fastest new production car in the world. I drove it in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, which is a place where there are a lot of very cool cars. But for a few hours on one single day a few weeks ago, I had the coolest car of them all.
This whole experience came about courtesy of Grand Touring Automobiles, a dealership in Toronto that sells Jaguar Land Rover, along with a lot of exotic brands: Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Lamborghini and Bugatti. The dealership reached out and mentioned they were opening a brand-new location, and they’d have a Bugatti Chiron there for the event. The event was in the evening; I could drive the Chiron in the morning. This meant I could not crash it. Of course, I already could not crash it, considering that the base price of a new Chiron is $3 million in U.S. dollars (a figure that changes with exchange rates), and plus I didn’t want to make the local Toronto news as “Man Crashes Million-Dollar Supercar.”
And so I spent the day with the Chiron, and I did not crash it. What I did do was drive it for a little over an hour, ride in the passenger seat for about 45 minutes, fill it with fuel at a regular ol’ gas station, and then spend about 4 hours going through all the quirks and features, which were plentiful.
But since you can see all of those in the video above, I’m going to spend most of my column discussing the experience of driving a Bugatti Chiron. So here’s what happened. The vehicle I drove was Bugatti’s North American press car; apparently they have two. This particular one had around 10,000 miles on it, so I can imagine hundreds of journalists have driven it before me. Bugatti doesn’t let you take out one of its cars on your own; instead, I drove with a nice, soft-spoken man named Butch, who lives in Pennsylvania. I asked Butch what he drives normally, and he told me he has a Volkswagen Passat. Butch used to be a race-car driver, and his entire job involves taking people out in the Chiron. Butch doesn’t need to prove anything to anybody.
Before you drive the Chiron, the Bugatti PR people — there were two, Butch and a woman named Marie who had flown in from Germany both to show me the car and attend the dealership grand opening — have you sign two documents. One is a form stating that if you’re at-fault in an accident, you pay a deductible of 5,000 Euros. The other is a ledger — really a beautiful hardback book — stating you’ve driven the car. I imagine the ledger contains the names of everyone who has ever driven the car. I didn’t leaf through it. I was too excited.
So we started with Butch jumping into the driver’s seat and taking the car out of the city and into the suburbs, then the country, about 45 minutes outside Toronto, which is where we stopped at a Petro-Canada gas station next to a Dodge Journey. I’m not kidding. This gas station had fuel from a particularly high octane rating, which allowed Butch to go into the car’s gauge cluster-mounted screen and select the highest possible octane rating, meaning it could give me the full 1,500 horsepower, rather than just a mere 1,100. Then Butch handed over the key and I started driving.
The first thing you learn about the Bugatti Chiron is that it’s supremely comfortable. When you think about a 1,500-horsepower car that can do 0-to-60 in like 2.3 seconds, you think it will be a crazy, loud, obnoxious sports car. But the Chiron isn’t that: On the inside, it feels like a Bentley or a Porsche, or maybe even nicer, with absolutely the finest materials everywhere. Marie told me there is not one iota of plastic anywhere inside the car, except the seat-belt buckle, which they’re required to do by law.
And that brings us to the interesting thing about the Chiron, which is this: It’s faster than any car I’ve ever driven. But it doesn’t necessarily feel faster. In the 918 Spyder, you have the roof off and the thing is loud and crazy and mean and you’re right next to the road, and you just feel like you’re driving the closest possible thing to a race car. The Chiron, meanwhile, delivers you to insane speeds and back in shocking comfort, and with impressive insulation from the road. It feels like you’ve merged a supercar with a Bentley: You have Bentley interior comfort and supercar performance.
I was especially impressed with the transmission, which I think best illustrates the reason behind the Chiron’s massive price tag more than any single component. Here’s why: Most automakers are having trouble developing dual-clutch transmissions that can handle the massive power of some new cars; the latest BMW M5, for instance, uses a torque-converter automatic rather than a dual-clutch, because BMW was concerned about longevity of a dual-clutch transmission given the sedan’s power and torque.
But the Chiron has 1,500 horsepower — and yet it uses a dual-clutch. And not just any dual-clutch: Bugatti developed a dual-clutch solely for this car. And it doesn’t just do its job — it’s probably the smoothest, fastest-shifting, most effortless transmission I’ve ever experienced. So there’s a bespoke transmission designed solely to go into this one single car — which is limited to just 500 units globally — and it’s maybe the best transmission I’ve ever used. Such is life when you spend $3 million for a vehicle.
Anyway, back to the drive. Another interesting thing about the Chiron is that you have supercar handling. I didn’t get the chance to drive the Chiron on especially twisty roads, but I took it on a few curves and highway loop on-ramps, and I was surprised at how well it cornered, how quick and precise the steering is, and how flat the car stayed. In the Chiron, you can easily get lulled into thinking you’re driving a Bentley or some other luxury car, but then you launch the car around a corner, and you’re right back to thinking it’s a sports car. Steering is light — more like a luxury car than a supercar — but otherwise, handling is among the best. And the car always feels tremendously stable and planted to the road, with its wide track and massive tires giving you confidence in all situations.
I later had the Chiron in bumper-to-bumper traffic, where I made use of the HOV lane, given that I was in the car with Butch. Still, even that grinded to a standstill, and it revealed yet another impressive Chiron characteristic: It’s comfortable, even in city traffic. As I sat there, the air conditioning kept the cabin nice and cool, the seats felt nice, I had a lot of room in the interior, and I relaxed, driving the thing through traffic as if it were a regular car. This shocked me; when you’re in traffic in a McLaren 720S, for instance, the transmission is jerky and you can tell the car wants to be going faster, like it would be more comfortable at higher speeds. The Chiron is comfortable wherever you’re comfortable. And inside a Chiron, you’re always comfortable.
Admittedly, the Chiron is a bit of a pain in the sense that it draws massive amounts of attention from anyone on the road. Some people don’t notice it — especially in Toronto, where supercars are pretty common, particularly as the weather warms up; at one point, while I was riding in the Chiron, I was passed by a McLaren 720S. But many people do notice it, and they ask about it, and inevitably the question is: “How much?” and then they freak out and they have to take photos, and can we take a photo of them with it, and do you own it, and how fast is it? If you own a Chiron, prepare yourself for some gas station Q&A sessions.
But if you own a Chiron, also, prepare yourself for one of the best cars in the world. It drives like a supercar when you want it to — except faster. It drives like a Bentley when you want it to — except even more luxurious. It drives like a regular car when you want it to — except you know the potential is always there to drop the hammer and go 260-plus miles per hour. And while some car enthusiasts decry the Chiron as a car that’s “all engineering” with “no soul,” or they call it too expensive or too heavy, I mainly hear this criticism from people who are clearly miffed that they’ll never own one, or drive one, or maybe even see one. Well, I’ve driven one. And it’s amazing. And while $3 million is a truly enormous amount of money, it is, quite simply, the ultimate car. Period.
Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.