Sometimes you just have to do what you have to do. As the only member of the Octane team who’d not actually driven a Bugatti Veyron at the time, I took it upon myself to ensure that, when a drive of the latest iteration – the Grand Sport Vitesse – came our way, it was my name that was on the RSVP. Not, you understand because I craved a drive of what was clearly one of the car world’s most most irrelevant cars – but because I’d give my left testicle to find out what it’s like to drive a car with 1000bhp+ on public roads.
As it happened, the launch event’s public road section was all too short, while the maximum speed run held at the IDIADA testing circuit in Spain was, if anything, a little too drawn out. And that’s a shame because, as it happens, this car’s 260mph maximum is not it’s most impressive aspect. Not by a long chalk… But here it is – a car designed for those who couldn’t get enough power, and also wanted to combine this thrill with the feeling of the wind tearing your hair out.
That’s because, thanks to the Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Grand Sport Vitesse (great name, by the way), it’s now possible to buy an open-topped car that banishes those cravings for good. One slight hitch: the £1.4m price tag (before taxes) but, then again, if you can afford to buy – and much more importantly, run – a Veyron, you’re in the privileged position of being able to experience sheer, unadulterated, narcotically addictive acceleration like no other car can offer. But more impressive than this is the fact that it’s all so controllable and easy to drive when you need to mix with other cars on real world roads.
The Vitesse is no quicker than the hardtop it’s based on, but the detachable roof means you get to really enjoy the soundtrack of its epic quad-turbo W16 powerplant. Think gulping induction noise and a vocal wastegate atop a multi-layered, bass-heavy V8 voice and you’re some of the way there. And if you’re a railway fan, then there’s a subtle hint of V16-engined British Rail HST thrown in for good measure. Although I think Bugatti won’t be shouting about that.
Torque is rated at 1106lb ft, and delivered from 3000rpm to 5000rpm – making it slightly peakier than the ‘standard’ Veyron – and the drivetrain remains familiar, with four-wheel drive and the seven-speed DSG twin-clutch gearbox but, as with the Super Sport, its internals have been beefed-up. There are new springs and dampers, and the carbonfibre monocoque has been treated to additional layers of weave. You can see that through the paint, should you so wish.
The acceleration dominates your first encounter. It’s hard not to, given that it’s quicker than anything else you’ve encountered on the ground. Absurdly so… Here are some numbers: 0-60mph in 2.4sec, 125mph in 7.5, and it will cover the standing quarter-mile in 10sec dead and before maxing out at 255mph. What these figures fail to convey is how that feels on the road. Overtaking ceases to be a chore and opportunities open up in the tightest of spaces – in utter safety.
Just select your gear, and push the throttle – but do consider the road surface, because while it has traction and stability systems, you’ll lose control ridiculously easily of you take liberties. However, once you’ve tempered your enthusiasm to mash the throttle to the floor and squeal, you can haul the horizon towards your windscreen with gay abandon. It’s joyous and more than a little pornographic.
What’s really clever is the dismissive way in which the chassis handles all that power and torque. You’ll thread A- and B-roads unfeasibly quickly, but in a manner that reflects sheer effortlessness for the driver. The throttle is light and progressive, the steering is accurate and well-weighted, the brakes are strong and impossible to fade (on the road) and the handling is of the point-and-squirt variety with no discernible roll.
In fact, so easy is it to drive at 3/10ths that you’ll not realise just how quick a lick you’re moving at until another car hoves into view – which you catch alarmingly quickly. But then, just press, go, pass, and carry on. You’ll laugh like a dictator. It feels like it will rewrite the laws of physics, but push hard and you’ll encounter nice, safe understeer… which you can kiss goodbye to once you reach the apex of the bend and call a great deal of all that power and torque for the exit.
It even goes slowly well. For Monegasque customers, its easy controls and ability to trickle will mean a lot. And for those who just want to get from A to B legally, the Vitesse hums along nicely – with the roof off – in a perfectly long-legged and relaxed manner. It has all that power, yet your grandmother could drive it. Topless…
On the track, it does do something else remarkably well – it makes 200mph an achievable goal for (very rich) mortals. Write your cheque for £1.4m and book a day on a high speed bowl, and you’ll fall helplessly in love with your Veyron. After a long lunch and even longer briefing, I climbed in for what was promised to be a not-quite maximum speed run, given a journalist’s inability to follow rules the day before. I’d get four laps – roof off – with test driver Pierre-Henri alongside to see what we can do. But only at 8/10ths. After two warm up laps on the huge, sausage-shaped track, I was told to nail the throttle on the exit of the banking onto the long straight ahead.
Hair now being torn out of its roots, I hunkered down and did just that. And from 180mph, it pulled in largely the same way a quick hot hatchback would from 60mph. The speedo in km/h swept across disarmingly easily – 300, 320, 340… 350… then off the throttle for a slower lap, and followed by a cooling down lap. Sensations? I remember the ease of acceleration, the impressively well-engineered targa top, which meant minimal buffeting and, on this huge, clinical test track, the sheer ease of the experience. It was utterly planted at what I later found out was 220mph.
When I rolled into the pits at the end of my first and undoubtedly last drive of a Veyron, the engineers were grinning while they asked me what I thought of that? My exact words: ‘Impressive – it feels like a Volkswagen Golf at 100mph.’ Probably not what Bugatti wanted to hear. But still…
There are those who would say that any new car costing this much and which consumes Earth’s resources at such a rate should be considered an obscenity. And we may well not see its like again. But what an engineering achievement. An intercontinental ballistic missile of an achievement. And for that alone, it’s impossible not to love the fact that it exists at all.
- Opinion : Anything we can do… they can do worse? – Renault 14 - 7 December 2021
- The cars : Innocenti Mini 90/120 (P53) development story - 22 November 2021
- Concepts and prototypes : Rover Metro SP (1991) - 21 November 2021