On July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 landed on the moon, marking one of the most significant achievements in human history. The final steps on the moon were taken on December 14, 1972, and the Apollo program was cancelled shortly thereafter, citing among other things (financial and engineering concerns among them), public indifference. In less than three years, moon missions had gone from a marvel to the mundane. We wouldn’t dare compare the Bugatti Veyron to the Apollo program, but it was an landmark car that went from technological milestone to boring status symbol faster than it could hit its 267-mile-per-hour top speed.
But that almost seemed bound to happen for the Bugatti; after all, it was a hypercar with the complexity of a Learjet with a million-dollar price tag that more than doubled over its 10-year lifespan. Plus, there were the obnoxious 21 “Special Edition” cars that amounted to little more than a different paint job and interior. Add the annual operating costs that can cost nearly as much as a Mercedes-Maybach S600, the lack of roads anywhere in the world that can handle the car’s power, and their propensity to congregate in places like South Beach, Rodeo Drive, and the main drag in Dubai, and the Veyron begins to feel as crass as a 20-year-old Civic on rims that cost more than the car.
But let’s go back to that shining moment in 2005 when after years of misfires and engineering dead-ends, Volkswagen AG delivered on its promise to build a 1,000-plus horsepower hypercar that could be comfortably driven — a feat that was long thought impossible. A time when we all looked in awe at its sculptured, quad-turbocharged 64-valve W16 engine, when Top Gear called it our — collectively our, the entire automotive world’s — “Concorde moment.” Before we let our well-earned and justified cynicism take hold here, let’s go back to that more innocent mindset and look at the Veyron’s successor, the 1,478 horsepower, 261 mile per hour, $2.6 million Chiron. It’s quite a car.
By 2015, the Veyron looked as dated and boring as a $2 million car could look. We got our first look at the Chiron’s styling with Bugatti’s Vision Gran Turismo Concept last fall, and since then, the company hasn’t exactly been discreet in testing the car on public roads. But in its final form, it really does look good. Its C-pillar/side intakes are a graceful arc that recalls the paint schemes used on the big Bugattis of the 1930s, and its front end takes the design of the Veyron to its logical conclusion. We might be tired of it by 2026, but for now, we like it.
Along with the 261-mile-per-hour top end and 1,478 horsepower generated by the 8.0-liter quad-turbo W16 (an updated version of the Veyron mill), the 4,400-pound car goes from a standstill to 60 in 2.5 seconds, and cranks out 1,180 pound-feet of torque, which probably makes it the best hypercar to use if you need to pull a tree stump out of the ground.
So before you remember that the Chiron’s innovations will likely be lost on the majority of its owners, that they’ll rarely if ever be driven in anger, probably won’t ever hit their top speed on an open road, are ludicrously expensive (we don’t want to think about how much they’ll cost in five years), and will ultimately become the loudest fashion statement in the automotive world, remember this: 15 years ago people said the Veyron couldn’t be done. A decade ago, 1,001 horsepower was a milestone celebrated by gearheads around the world. Today, there are production cars that are pushing the envelope towards 1,500 and beyond, and Bugatti is still leading the way. So before we let out a collective groan over the new Bugatti (remember, we’ll have plenty of time for that), let’s celebrate it for what it is: an engineering marvel.