Fine Art Masquerading As A Sedan

Bugatti 16C Galibier Concept – Click above for new high-res image gallery

Bugatti invited us to the first unveiling of its new 16C Galibier Concept on U.S. soil at a special event in Southern California last week. While we have all seen the press images from its debut in Molsheim last month, the select in-person preview gave us an excellent opportunity to talk with Bugatti about the concept, scrutinize the vehicle up close, and to actually spend some time sitting inside the passenger cabin.

The first modern four-door from Bugatti is absolutely striking in the flesh.
Introduced as the automaker's first modern four-door sedan, the 16C Galibier Concept is a close look at what the production 16C Galibier will resemble when it goes on sale in about three years (with a sales price estimated to be about $1.6 million). While it's engineered to be a sedan without peers – and we have no reason to question Bugatti's ability to accomplish this objective – the mechanical aspects of the Galibier will have to take a back seat to its design until the production model arrives in 2012.

In this rarefied automotive segment, the utilitarian value of the vehicle is absent. Vehicles are purchased for their design – that physical aura – and their historical distinction. Performance is expected. Understanding the connection, Bugatti chose a prestigious Beverly Hills gallery to host the event. After a brief introduction, the fabric cover hiding the concept was removed. Follow the jump to find out our reaction.

Standing three feet from the exposed deep blue carbon-fiber and polished aluminum bodywork of the 16C Galibier Concept, our jaws dropped. The first modern four-door from Bugatti is absolutely striking in the flesh.

It starts up front. If a person's eyes are the windows to his or her soul, the sculpted headlamps of the Galibier speak volumes about the company's century-long history and attention to detail. Set deep within their buckets, miniature LED bulbs circle the main lens. Bracketing the perimeter of each lens are two more rings emitting a bluish light – these irises are emblazoned with the illuminated Bugatti logo. Each headlamp bucket is detailed by a softly glowing white frame. The detail is mesmerizing, and it continues throughout the vehicle.

Take that prominent Type 57 Atlantic "spine" for example. It runs from the nose to the tail and intersects no fewer than three different body construction materials. Unfettered, Bugatti designers whisked it off the trailing edge of the bonnet as a tiny barb, continued it up the windshield in the form of a polished metal rod supporting the mirror, and then dropped it back down the rear hatch as an illuminated third brake light. It is unique, and it integrates extremely well with the flowing lines of the teardrop theme.

The most controversial styling of the 16C Galibier is found in the rear. Admittedly, in photographs it does look a biological twin to the Porsche Panamera. However, the additional sculptural detailing in the Bugatti – including a prominent taper as the "spine" drops below the beltline – differentiates the two quite smartly in the flesh. Eight individual polished exhaust pipes, and tail lamps as hypnotizing as the headlamps, incontestably define the Galibier as the prize horse at the show.

The cabin of the 16C Galibier is presented with four bucket seats – each with an artfully sculpted aluminum headrest support. Primary analog instrumentation (speedometer and horsepower gauge) prominently occupy the center of the dashboard for all passengers to see. Secondary digital instrumentation is contained on a large display set behind the steering wheel. The center console housing the flush transmission selector is rather uncluttered. It continues into the rear passenger compartment where it mimics a flying buttress – open at the bottom. It is both functional, and elegant.

Our six-foot two-inch frame fit well in all seating positions. Settled into the Concept's comfortable front seat, outward visibility is better than average. No doubt, most of the credit goes to the oversized exterior mirrors that eliminate much of the guessing and make the blind spots manageable. While passengers in the rear won't get to enjoy driving the sedan, the back seats are very accommodating and offer plenty of room. Large windows add to the airy feel and dispel any thoughts of claustrophobia.

As a concept – albeit one rather smartly-finished prototype – the 16C Galibier is very much a work-in-progress, says Bugatti. While the vehicle appears close to production, there are still countless details continuously being refined.

As of now, we know that the powerplant shares its 8.0-liter W-16 architecture with the Veyron, but the quad-turbo arrangement has been dropped in favor of twin superchargers. In addition, a new 8-speed transmission is expected to replace the 7-speed DSG. The final horsepower figures for the all-wheel drive Galibier have not been released, but Bugatti promises that when it arrives in the next few years, it will be the fastest and most powerful four-passenger sedan on the planet – and one stunning piece of fine art.

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