Photos copyright ©2010 Rex Roy / AOL
Parked in the driveway of a small private hotel outside of Seville, Spain, the three cars before us represented an insurance loss close to 10 million dollars.
Pierre-Henri Raphanel, the seasoned racer who piloted the record-setting Super Sport to an uncorked 268 mph
admonished the three assembled journalists with, "A minor shunt in this will likely cost €500,000 (nearly $700,000 USD). You would feel very bad to be responsible for such a thing." Raphenel continued darkly, "The people here are not used to seeing these cars on the road, and you become a target as drivers fixate on you."
Never before had I so badly not wanted to become the subject of a YouTube video. And simultaneously and schizophrenically, never before had I wanted to drive any car more quickly. This would be an interesting day.
Walking around the three cars, the all carbon fiber bodywork showed its depth of finish in the bright sun. The monochromatic example – a $428,180 option
– showed this Super Sport upgrade best because the weave is never covered by paint as on the black-over-orange, World-Record commemorative edition (the Halloween car). "You have no idea the work it took to make the weave on the panels line up," said Florian Umbach, Bugatti chassis development engineer.
The blue carbon fiber finish also seemed to amplify the Super Sports smooth hewn-from-a-block look, a characteristic best gazed on from the rear.
For anyone familiar with a Veyron, the exterior features unique to the Super Sport are easy to cipher; NACA ducts replace roof-mounted engine air scoops, the more open front fascia is necessarily more vertical due to the plethora of required coolers and ducting, and the rear is reshaped for aero. A new wheel design provides better exhausting and improving brake cooling while weighing about six pounds less per corner. The net result is a more integrated, aggressive and arresting exterior.
Inside, little has changed and the cabin remains beautifully straightforward. Compared to the Grand Sport
we drove last year, the Super Sport felt less elegant, likely the result of a more businesslike color scheme.
A Bugatti quality tidbit worth noting; the exposed color-dyed aluminum instrument panel structure (it surrounds the center stack, tracks along the base of the windshield and extends to the sides of the dash) is a single piece of metal. Because different batches of metals absorb color with unique results, Bugatti purchased enough aluminum from the same batch to build all the aluminum interior pieces required for the expected run of Super Sports. While money can't buy you love, it can buy other-worldly quality.
Under the hood? Well, there is no hood, but things have changed in regards to the powertrain. To make 20 percent more power, the 8.0-liter W16's intake system features 10-percent larger turbochargers and new intercoolers capable of flowing more boost (1.5 bar vs. 1.2). The engine's 1,200 horsepower peak comes at 6,400 rpm with a regulated max torque at 1,106 pound-feet between 3,000 and 5,000 rpm (a grand higher than the smaller-turbo'd Veyron).
The hydraulically controlled seven-speed DSG features improved cooling, stronger cogs (2nd and 3rd gears), a taller 7th gear, and revised programming. Oh, and AutoblogGreen readers, take notice: efficiency is said to be up by 10-percent on the highway. Supplied by racecar transmission builder Riccardo, the gearbox retains its uncanny ability to deliver shifts you hear but don't feel, while the standard all-wheel drive system is fortified with stronger half-shafts.
Curiously, the suspension is sprung softer than the standard Veyron. New progressive rate dampers with external reservoirs operate with half the friction of the standard shocks. Roll, however, thanks to stiffer bars is nearly non-existent, measuring only 1.5-degrees per 1.0-g of lateral acceleration. Even at the Super Sport's max-lat of 1.4 g, you're unlikely to notice the 2-degrees of roll.
Racer Raphanel explained the suspension, "If I gave you a car that felt like a Ferrari (meaning as stiff) with 250-percent more torque and 100-percent more horsepower, you will kill yourself. It would be crazy. We had to make the car civilized." Although less civilized than the Veyron or Grand Sport.
Brakes remain carbon ceramic discs (15.7-inch front, 11.8-inch rear) with eight-piston calipers up front and six-piston ones out back. The units benefit from better ducting and cooling, but more importantly, they have 110 fewer pounds to stop due to many small weight-shedding choices made during the Super Sport's development. Nevertheless, the SS still weighs nearly 4,100 pounds.
The hand-made 20-inch tires from Michelin measure 265mm in front and a steamroller like 365mm at the rear. They cost $42,000 per set
. By design, they have 5mm of useful tread giving them 10,000 miles of life in normal (light) use. The dearth of tread makes running at ultra high speeds possible because it minimizes the mass madly trying to fling itself free from the tire carcass. The downside is that a day of gleeful driving on a road course would likely consume the tread, rendering them unfit for road duty.
Capable of 258 mph, any of the three testers were nearly capable of duplicating the world record run that Bugatti set earlier this year at Volkswagen's Ehra-Leissen test track in Germany. Unexpectedly, the Super Sport has an electronic speed limiter to prevent World Record velocities, a move made in deference to keeping the wheels shod in functional rubber. No matter. It's been made clear to us that the Super Sport isn't strictly about top speed runs around a banked circuit. It's about the overall package – something we're aching to experience.
The W16 fires with a magnificent cacophony of mechanical sounds. You hear the whir of the transmission hydraulics first, followed by the starter motor and then the loud, crisp exhaust note. The cadence is that of a well-tuned racing V8 at a fast idle.
Inside, the cabin is full of aural inputs, including that constant ringing of the gearbox hydraulics. At very light throttle, air whistles loudly past the throttle body blades. Heavier throttle engages the quad blowers, while lifting causes them to huff out the wastegates. This is not a Rolls-Royce where all you hear is the ticking of the clock.
With development engineer Umbach riding shotgun, we headed out for a country romp. Compared to the Grand Sport, the differences were immediately identifiable. Everything about the Super Sport felt lighter and more eager. The steering delivered more feedback and there's a sense of eager balance.
So confident were we that in one wide open 90-degree right-hander, we stood on the throttle after the apex. The rear end gracefully power slid out a few degrees. We countersteered through the event with no intervention from the electronic stability control system we were happy to leave engaged. Umbach smiled. "We designed it to do that. The car knew you were in control. But that would not have happened in a Veyron."
This was one aspect of the "more exciting" personality current Veyron owners requested.
Umbach then suggested we try a wide open throttle launch to feel the full fury of 1,200 horses. While the Super Sport's ESP does offer a smokin' launch mode that will lay down 100 yards of rubber (remember the $42,000 tire replacement cost), we left the system on and simply planted our right foot on the right pedal and let the Bug do the rest.
The acceleration was chest crushing. Before we knew it, the digital speedometer read 245 kph (152 mph). Figure around nine seconds for that dash of about a quarter mile.
Our pace through rural Spain was not all at warp velocities. Many of the country roads were too rough to travel at speeds over 112 mph because that triggers the Super Sport's "handling mode." The ride height drops from a usable 4.5 inches to a ground-hugging 3.1 inches in front. The rear wing also deploys to provide downforce and brake-assisting drag. (The ride-height drops to just 2.6 inches in top speed mode, a setting activated with a special key located on the floor next to the driver's seat.) The sub-warp speeds did not kill the fun and we enjoyed the numerous corners afforded by the hilly terrain.
On unfamiliar roads, running the powertrain at about 2,000 rpm makes things smooth and easy, but no less rapid or exciting. The engine relies on its torque and the boost builds smoothly when the hammer goes down. The more you drive, the smaller the big Super Sport feels. After an hour, we stopped flinching as vehicles passed in the opposite direction. The steering is so direct and precise we felt as if we could position the car within a fraction of an inch.
After an expensive encounter with the Spanish police for, you guessed it, making an illegal left hand turn into a petrol station, Umbach pointed us toward some higher speed roads on which we could rightfully earn a ticket worthy of the €100 I was forced for fork over.
Down a gentle grade affording long-distance visibility, we accelerated hard from 140 mph (not to
140 mph, from
140 mph), causing my internal organs to squash against the backside of my ribcage.
The SS is destined to play the game "Grab the $20 off the dash before I hit 60 mph." Or 160 mph. Passengers don't have a chance.
As speeds rose, the sensation that the chassis became magnetized to the pavement increased. This makes sense once you know that the revised body and active rear spoiler produce nearly 900 pounds of downforce.
In one unbridled dash, I eclipsed the magic 300-kph mark (a tidy 186.4 mph). A post-drive study of telemetry data noted that we hit 301 kph in sixth gear with the motor spinning 5,210 rpm. In the middle of its power curve, the Super Sport was pulling like a F-18 on afterburners.
Unlike what it could have been, the experience was far from a white-knuckle ride. In reality, it was calm, secure and measured, but not removed or dull.
This reality helps make the Super Sport define "amazing" in the automotive world. Yes, it costs a fortune, but in these days of the diminishing mean regarding automotive quality and speed, it takes cubic dollars to deliver performance that is truly outstanding. Let's hope the people with the means to afford the car can appreciate it.