Bugatti Veyron 16.4

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What, then, will the skeptics make of the Bugatti Veyron 16.4, the fastest, most powerful and – no surprise – most expensive production car in the world? Bugatti is owned by VW, and the Veyron’s engine is related, if distantly, to the W-8 power plant available in the last-generation Passat.

Not to worry; the Veyron’s credentials speak for themselves. A 1,001-horsepower two-seater that blasts to 60 miles an hour in 2.5 seconds – and continues pulling all the way to 253 m.p.h. – the car is a sheer technological wonder.

Still, nothing prepares the newcomer for the reality behind the bald performance statistics. The Veyron is blisteringly, and effortlessly, fast. Other vehicles on the road appear to stop as the Veyron whooshes past with the ease of a Formula One car. It is a sobering realization that the grand prix racer is not as fast as a Veyron.

Even stationary, the Veyron looks like a car that takes no prisoners. Slightly less than 176 inches long (no longer than a Kia Spectra) and almost 79 inches wide, it is surprisingly compact. Most of the space inside seems to be occupied by an enormous 16-cylinder engine, a seven-speed transaxle and an all-wheel-drive system. Ten radiators are required to disperse all the heat the Veyron’s mechanical systems generate.

The car’s two-tone paint, horseshoe-shape grille and center dashboard panel of engine-turned aluminum reach back to Bugatti’s design heritage. The interior is exquisite; details like vents and door pulls are made of machined and polished aluminum.

Over all, the car represents an extraordinary blend of opulence and power. As luxurious as a Maybach, the Veyron provides a level of comfort far beyond that of quasi racers like the Ferrari Enzo and Porsche Carrera GT, neither of which can match its acceleration, top speed or braking.

Thomas Bscher, president of Bugatti Automobiles, is just as proud of the car’s refined manners. “This car can be driven by anyone,” he said, a statement clearly begging to be substantiated.

The mighty motor rumbles to life at the touch of the starter button. Despite its placement just a few inches behind the driver’s shoulders, the engine produces a muted growl that is music to the enthusiast.

Venturing onto the highways here, near Bugatti’s headquarters in the Alsace region of France, the car’s rarity and value generate considerable apprehension. Embarrassment, injury, a big repair bill or worse await a driver who does not show proper respect.
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The mighty motor rumbles to life at the touch of the starter button. Despite its placement just a few inches behind the driver’s shoulders, the engine produces a muted growl that is music to the enthusiast.

Venturing onto the highways here, near Bugatti’s headquarters in the Alsace region of France, the car’s rarity and value generate considerable apprehension. Embarrassment, injury, a big repair bill or worse await a driver who does not show proper respect.

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The automated seven-speed transmission shifts gears so seamlessly that the only clue is a change in the engine note. The car’s unfamiliarity erodes with the miles; speed simultaneously increases. It seems entirely natural to shift using the gearshift paddles mounted on the steering wheel .The ride over poor surfaces is amazing for such a taut high-performance car. The steering is so precise that the Veyron feels almost as nimble as a Miata.

It would be nice to relate that this reporter’s driving skills are capable of wringing the maximum from the Veyron. They are not, but they were enough to determine that at really high speeds the car is quiet, comfortable, refined – and as easy to drive as Mr. Bscher says. The car’s everyday top speed of 234 m.p.h. is enough to make it a king of the road. To be the performance emperor, though, the driver must resort to a second ignition key to the left of his seat.

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The key functions only when the vehicle is at a stop. A checklist then establishes whether the car – and its driver – are ready to go for the maximum speed beyond 250 m.p.h. If all systems are go, the rear spoiler retracts, the front air diffusers close and the ground clearance, normally 4.9 inches, drops to 2.6 inches.

To appreciate the Veyron’s performance extremes, ride along with Pierre-Henri Raphanel, a former professional racer who demonstrates the car to potential buyers.

Mr. Raphanel looks relaxed as he blasts the Veyron to almost 180 m.p.h. Other traffic and roadside objects appear and vanish in a blurred, real-life re-enactment of a computer game before he eases off.

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When the freeway empties, Mr. Raphanel demonstrates the Veyron’s brakes. The car’s speed simply vanishes – braking to a stop from 250 m.p.h. takes less than 10 seconds, he said – but for the passenger, there is an equally astonishing experience: the driver is holding both hands in the air and wearing a big grin. The car has stopped in a straight line with no corrections at the steering wheel. If anything, the giant carbon-ceramic brakes and the rear air brake are more impressive than the acceleration.

Everything about the Veyron is shaped by superlatives, but even Mr. Bscher acknowledges, “Nobody needs a car like this.”

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Scribbled on December 24th 2006 in Bugatti, Bugatti Veyron 16.4
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