Bugatti Veyron Road Test

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Bugatti Veyron Road Test

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Bugatti Veyron

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Obviously it isn't for the shy and retiring, but neither does it look like a monument to excess. It's taut, stubby and most shapely.

The first thing that struck me about the Bugatti Veyron was not, fortunately, the Bugatti Veyron itself. But only just.

I was standing in the middle of the small and deliberately darkened hotel courtyard when a German voice in the darkness advised me to move, 'schnell'.

The Veyron swept in and I narrowly avoided becoming the first person in history to be run over by a road car developing more than 1,000 horsepower.

That would have put me up there with that bloke who fell under the wheels of Stephenson's Rocket.

Then the lights came on, to subdued cheering, and something else struck me. The Veyron is not ridiculous.

Whenever manufacturers talk of a money-no-object ultracar, I brace myself for a welter of carbon-fibre fatuousness and broken front air dams: but here was something quite classy looking.

I still think the Bugatti grille at the front is an aberration, and it seems odd that the engine is mounted outside, like it is on a Morgan three- wheeler.

Obviously it isn't for the shy and retiring, but neither does it look like a monument to excess. It's taut, stubby and most shapely.

By the standards of its coevals it's positively discreet, and comes in a Royale-style two-tone paint job, as befitting 'the fastest car on earth with comfort you would not believe.'

Even the interior is perfectly agreeable. A bit bling, maybe, but at least made from proper materials and not plastered with pseudo space-age trim.

The controls really do fall easily to hand, even if the arse falls rather clumsily across the wide sill and into the 'sports' seat. A 'luxury' seat is available for the less committed.

I'm not sure which is the most significant of the three Top Trumps figures attending all talk of the Veyron: one million euros, 1,000 horsepower, or 400kmh.

They're all winners, unless you play the traditional 'price is low' rule, in which case the Bugatti can be won with almost anything in your hand, even the Pagani Zonda Roadster.

One million euros? That's as near as makes no difference (at least to the sort of people with that much money to spend on what is probably - let's be honest here - a second car) 700,000.

But it will be made in small numbers, to order, and the attainment of great personal wealth is not really Volkswagen's concern. The other two numerical attributes have been very much their concern, and for a long time.

"Why should it be easy?" boss Piech is reputed to have retorted when VW's engineers complained that it was all too difficult. Why indeed? Brunel didn't achieve what he did just by smoking cigars.

A thousand horsepower in itself is actually not remarkable, either. It's been available in aero engines since before the war, and is a fairly simple matter of burning fuel at a sufficient rate, since fuel is where the power comes from.

Achieving it in a 'relatively small' eight-litre car engine is another matter (just so you know, the 1,030hp Rolls-Royce Merlin in a MkI Hawker Hurricane was a 27-litre V12) and keeping it cool is yet another one.

The Veyron might be nudging 200mph-plus around a circuit, but it might be sitting in a traffic jam.

One outcome of the cooling issue is that over its six-model evolution, the number of radiators in a Veyron has grown to 10, or one more than I have in my house (which, oddly, is always freezing cold).

Accommodating all these has meant that there is now virtually no luggage space in the front, but then, as Ettore Bugatti himself might once have said, this car was made to go, not to shop.

Here's another interesting conundrum for purveyors of 1,000hp cars. The 'power tolerance' of a VW engine is five per cent, which is all but irrelevant in a 1.2 Polo but in a Veyron gives a variation of some 50bhp, or the total output of the basic one-litre Lupo.

So it's been designed such that the least you will get is 1,001 horses. You might be lucky and get 1,050. Wahey!

But it's a bit academic, to be honest. Power is merely the rate of doing work, and 1,000bhp is the maximum power available.

As well as a rev counter, the Veyron has a horsepower meter, graduated in hundreds, and the most I saw in a day of driving was just under 900 and for about half-a-second at that.

The ability to do work comes from torque, and power is merely the product of torque and engine speed.

The more impressive figure is 922lb ft or 680Nm, but that's not so satisfying to a culture that craves round figures - despite having stormed to pop success with 99 Red Balloons.

No, the really impressive bit is the claimed 400kmh. In fact the Veyron is electronically limited (I kid you not) to 407.5kmh, since that is the speed its makers have been confident of achieving in testing.

If you want to go faster than that, you'll just have to resort to the Demon Tweaks catalogue. 407.5kmh, that's 253.20827 of our British miles per hour.

Consider that our one-litre Lupo will do 94mph with just 50bhp, and that the new Porsche 911S needs 355bhp to do slightly less than twice that, and you will begin to understand the magnitude of VW's achievement.

The problem is that aerodynamic drag increases as the square of the car's speed and, more significantly, that the power needed to overcome it increases as the cube of the speed.

To put it in simple terms, the Bugatti engineers reckon that every kmh over the target 400 required, in effect, another 8bhp. So the extra 7.5kmh required the power found in a small hatchback. And that had to be found in the existing engine. They weren't allowed to put another one in.

But again, I'm afraid, it's all a bit theoretical. In its normal configuration, the Bugatti Veyron does a piffling 370kmh, or 229.9069mph.

A downforce of 350kg sees to that, since down-force, like lift, can only be achieved at the cost of induced aerodynamic drag. For a Vmax run, a second, special key must be inserted.

This changes the parameters of the computers controlling the variable rear wing and the underbody diffusers, and reduces downforce to just 50kg. This must only be done on a road with no bends, a Bugatti engineer tells me, earnestly.

But, inevitably, there are still issues. The low rolling resistance of the specially developed Michelin tyres - 365mm section at the back, and bigger than even the Countach's fabled back boots - are said to contribute some 15kmh to the top speed quest.

But they cannot do it for long. Maybe 15 minutes. After that, they might disintegrate, and they cost 1,200 each.

Then again, at maximum speed the Veyron is consuming a litre per kilometre, so with luck you'll run out of petrol first. And at 407.5kmh, think how far you'll go in 15 minutes. I'll tell you - it's 63.302067 miles.

However, you have to go to Australia's Nullabor Plain to find a dead straight road that long, and at that speed a stray kangaroo is going to attain the permanence of York Minster.

Even a 0-400kmh-0 run needs a 2.8-mile stretch. Empty, ideally. And people think my Boxster is unusable in the real world.

But here's the real bombshell, and which I've deliberately saved until now. And I'm not quite sure how to say it. Um. It doesn't actually feel that quick.

Not like a Noble M12 or a Ferrari F430. Third-gear acceleration in those cars is like being inside the football at kick-off. But in the Veyron it's more of a hefty shove, more indomitable than shocking.

It's a torquey car with a relatively low redline of 6,500rpm that thunders rather than screams.

A weight of almost two tons doesn't help and neither does turbocharging, which, no matter how many of them you've got, doesn't give the instant crack of a normal engine.

Don't misunderstand me; it's certainly not tardy, it's just that I was expecting my face to peel away and end up all over the rear window. But I've still got it. It's an easy car to operate.

The DSG gearbox - a twin-clutch job like the Audi TT's - works superbly via fingertip controls. The pedal offset is not too debilitating. The ride is a bit hard over sharp bumps but the seats are good, the aircon works and there's a radio. My complaints are all predictable ones.

Firstly, there are huge blindspots. One is created by the otherwise excellent door mirrors, which perfectly obscure the road through tight bends.

And trying to look over your shoulder at an angled junction is like relying on David Blunkett to tell you if anything's coming.

You really need to send a man ahead with a red flag. Finally, at two metres it's just too wide. Anything much wider than a 911 becomes intimidating on the winding roads where you want to drive a really powerful car.

It may have 1,001 horsepower but, at times, half of it feels rendered useless by girth.

So in many ways the Veyron is a dinosaur, prey to the same deficiencies that have rendered so many of its forebears virtually extinct; the way the pursuit of ultimate power and speed generates weight, bulk and complexity until the whole philosophy implodes into uselessness.

But at the same time it is a marvellous and very special thing. Maybe one to be appreciated on an intellectual rather than practical level, much in the same way that no one actually eats caviar to stay alive.

It's a great technical achievement: the world's fastest car, which is still pretty conclusive in any pub debate.

Over a decade ago, in the era of the F1, the Ferrari F40 and the fated Jaguar XJ220, people were saying that the era of the supercar had passed, that the point had been made, in the way it had been with the moon landings.

But it wasn't over then. And, I suspect, it's still not over now. Good.



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