Power charged

Wed, Dec 13, 2006, 00:00

FirstDrive/Veyron 16.4:The Bugatti Veyron has monumental power and, writes Kyle Fortune, can seemingly bend time as it carries you down an open road.

Of all the huge numbers associated with the Bugatti Veyron the one that sticks in my mind is paltry in comparison - nine. Why nine? It's the number of months it's taken me to arrange getting into the driving seat of the "world's fastest car".

So I can still barely believe it when I eventually arrive at the gates of Bugatti's Molsheim base. It's a trip usually reserved for gazillionaires with intent to buy - the million euro price of entry ensuring Veyron ownership is a very exclusive club indeed.

Seeing several Veyrons in various states of build before I drive one underlines its enormous complexity. The engine, with its 16-cylinders and four-turbochargers famously produces 1001bhp. Bugatti admits in reality the output is some 50-60bhp higher, that 1001bhp figure a minimum output. It's delivered at 6,000rpm, peak torque of 1,250Nm spread between 2,200 and 5,500rpm. The 8-litre powerhouse features an unusual W configuration of its cylinders to make it more compact.

Even so it's still huge, fittingly so given its enormous output. What's more extraordinary is the amount of plumbing required to keep it from melting itself and the car surrounding it. The cooling needs for the engine and its turbochargers are so vast that the Veyron has two water-cooling systems, and more radiators than a large house.

Those radiators allow the Veyron to cope as easily with a Wolfsburg traffic jam, as or a sustained autobahn blast; one of the development goals for the Veyron was to produce a car that anyone could drive. As easy as Bentley, albeit a ridiculously fast one. Whether they've managed I'll soon find out, but before I get my drive I've a passenger ride with Pierre-Henri Raphanel, Bugatti's "Pilote officiel". Cool job.

Approaching the idling Veyron it's remarkably civilised. Its W16 engine emits a noise that's unlike any piston engine I've heard before. Rushing like a turbine I imagine that's more to do with all the pumps attached to it keeping it cool than the big pistons moving in their cylinders. Inside, the interior is beautifully appointed with leather and knurled and polished aluminium; it, like the exterior all relatively understated. Raphanel turns, smiles and selects first on the seven-speed DSG (Direct Shift Gearbox) trickling the Veyron out past the gates.

It's the only trickling we'll be doing for a while, Raphanel flooring the accelerator as soon as the road is clear. What happens next is difficult to describe, Raphanel laughing at my reaction as the Veyron seemingly bends time as it sets off down the road. Somehow, the four-wheel-drive system manages to transmit the Veyron's monumental power, and, crucially, torque to the road with no drama, the sensation extraordinary. There's no let up in the force, no momentary jolt or respite as the gear changes, just a surging stream of thrust that's difficult to comprehend. I've experienced plenty of fast cars, but none have felt so other-worldly in their pace, or been so physical yet, bizarrely, so civilised at the same time.

100km/h arrives in 2.5 seconds, 200km/h in 7.3 seconds and 300km/h in 16.7 seconds. That's insane pace. The previous top-speed king, the McLaren F1 would be comprehensively beaten to 300km/h by the Veyron - even with a 100km/h head start. And the brakes are just as extraordinary, they're powerful enough to hurt, the carbon composite discs and their titanium callipers are able to repeatedly haul the Veyron down from huge velocities with 2G of force. At the rear, an airbrake helps by adding downforce and stability at the rear axle.

That air brake isn't the only active element of the Veyron's aerodynamics, either. The spoiler changes its angle and diffuser flaps open and close depending on whether you've selected the Veyron's Standard, Handling or Top Speed settings. And the suspension drops to match, from a 125mm ride height in standard to 65mm front and 70mm rear in Top Speed. To access that last mode you need to insert an additional key in a slot beside the driver's seat. It's there when Raphanel pulls over and lets me climb behind the wheel.

Tempting as it is, I'll not be going for any 400+km/h runs on the French roads today. Not least because I've not the funds to fill the 100-litre fuel tank I'd drain in 12 minutes if I managed to maintain its maximum speed, nor to pay the fines of the French police who are seemingly everywhere today. Maybe you just notice the police more when you're driving such an obvious licence-loser.

What's so impressive is not the power, but the Veyron's steering. If there's another car in the VW portfolio with steering this good I've yet to drive it. It's beautifully crisp, feeling unassisted, quick and light.

Combined with the smooth shifting seven-speed gearbox and supple ride and cosseting seats and the Veyron does a remarkable job of impersonating a luxury car. The poor visibility reminds you of its supercar shape though, the thick a-pillar and poor rear visibility true to the genre. The simple gauges in front of me show tantalising numbers too, the power one reading up to 1001, the speedometer boasting up to 420km/h.

While I'm not in a position to get the needle to 400+km/h, it'd be rude not to have that power needle spin around to the maximum. So I push the accelerator to the floor, the Veyron's response not as immediate as I'd expected due to momentary lag, but utterly ludicrous once it gets going. Even cruising well into triple figures the force a few centimetres of ankle flex provides is absolutely astonishing. Yet it's remarkably easy to drive, the gearbox no hassle, simply shifted either by paddles or left to its own devices, the steering just brilliant.

Worth a nine month wait then? Absolutely, but even so the Veyron feels oddly aloof, the drive dominated by its pace, and, dare I say it, almost too easy to drive.

Just push the accelerator and hang on. There's none of the intimacy and involvement that you'll get from, say, a mere supercar like a Ferrari 599 GTB.

Instead you get a stunning demonstration of what automotive engineers can achieve. It's an extraordinary car, and certainly a landmark one, but for all its monumental power and headline grabbing top-speed, it's bettered by others in many ways. And with a price tag of over €1.1 million before you add Irish VAT and VRT - thereby probably pushing the price close to €3 million - you'd expect it to be better than anything on earth.

Factfile

ENGINE: 16-cylinder W configuration engine, 8.0-litre capacity

Power - 1001bhp @ 6,000rpm

Torque - 1,250Nm @2,200-5,500rpm

Gearbox - seven speed DSG

Drive - all wheels

Suspension - double wishbones all-round

FUEL CONSUMPTION:

Urban - 40.4 l/100km

Extra Urban - 14.7 l/100km

Combined - 24.1 l/100km

CO2 emissions - Combined 574g/km

PERFORMANCE:

Top speed- 407km/h

Acceleration -

2.5 sec 0-100km/h

7.3 sec 0-200km/h

16.7 sec 0-300km/h

Length 4462mm

Width 1998mm

Height (normal position) 1204mm

Wheelbase 2710mm

Kerb weight 1888kg

Tank capacity 100-litres

PRICE: €1.1 million excluding Irish taxes - in other words, if you have to ask...