The Bugatti Chiron
The upcoming Bugatti Chiron is expected to set a new production-car top speed record, but there’s more to this multi-million-dollar hypercar than an ultra-elastic speedometer. The Chiron builds on the ultimate performance of the Veyron – a car that redefined Bugatti for a new era while also redefining superlatives across the industry – and of course adds new style and technology.
While the 1,500-hp, 8.0-liter, quad-turbo W16 engine has everyone’s attention, the key actors behind the Chiron have given us some fascinating tidbits and facts that pique our interest in the car even further. We talked to the Chiron’s engineers and designers to learn more about the world’s newest land rocket. Click through to learn more.
A Four-Pack of Turbochargers
One key to the Chiron’s absurd performance stats is its turbocharging system. There are four turbos like on the last car, but they're 69 percent larger than the Veyron’s. The larger compressors have higher inertia, and that means more turbo lag. To counter that lag and make it essentially imperceptible, Bugatti developed a two-stage system: The first two turbos engage at 1,900 rpm, and exhaust is then funneled directly into a flap that activates the other two at 3,800 rpm, putting it in the quad-turbo stage. That’s how you get 1,180 pound-feet of torque out of a production engine.
Active Aero: The Rear Wing
With its sights on a new speed record – Bugatti CEO Wolfgang Durheimer has said the Chiron will make its attempt in 2018 – strategic use of active aerodynamic features is essential. The most notable item is the Chiron’s fully adaptive rear wing, which weighs less and has lower drag levels than the one on the Veyron and can move to one of four main positions, depending on what’s needed at the time. Beyond a fully retracted mode, it can slightly extend when in Top Speed mode, or completely extend for Handling or Autobahn modes. Within each, the wing can also tilt to a variety of angles for optimum dynamics. When tilted forward it can act as an air brake to help the huge brakes slow the car.
Engineers tell us that because wind tunnel testing was limited to a maximum of 186 mph – far from the Chiron’s limit – Bugatti had to use the Volkswagen Group’s track near Wolfsburg to complete top-speed analysis. With testing done at speeds greater than 250 mph, engineers say the Chiron is in its own class of development.
Plenty of Passive Aero, Too
Beyond the wing, the Chiron boasts a sophisticated and enhanced air-intake management system. The entire front of the car was designed with airflow in mind, especially in high-pressure areas such as the grille and wheel air curtains. The effective drag area around the wheels was reduced to minimize turbulence from the fierce rotation of the wheels. Three air intakes on each side of the car are used specifically for brake cooling.
Some very important and deliberately designed features are hidden from view, such as a flat underbody and underbody strakes to help channel air flow. The Chiron also boasts an enhanced rear diffuser as well as improved front splitter geometry, which adds downforce in front without adding much drag. To keep the engine cool at full load, the car needs 60,000 liters of air per minute, or the equivalent of what a human breathes in 5 days.
Carbon Fiber Makes It Stiff (And Expensive)
With its great strength and stiffness, coupled with its relatively low weight, carbon fiber is an ideal, if expensive, hypercar production material. “We really created some expertise here. Carbon fiber is an art of itself,” says Bugatti’s design director Achim Anscheidt, who believes this is one place where the company is as an industry leader.
The Chiron’s carbon-fiber monocoque is extremely rigid for a road car, boasting 50,000 Nm per degree of torsional rigidity. That’s the stiffness of an LMP1 car, or about three times the stiffness of a traditional steel car. An especially cool fact we learned at Bugatti assembly: If you put all the single fibers from the Chiron’s carbon end-to-end, it would stretch nine times the distance from the Earth to the moon.
Okay, we can’t put together a list of things that make the Chiron special and not address speed. While other hypercar speed demons like the Ferrari LaFerrari, Porsche 918 Spyder, and McLaren P1 employ some form of hybrid electrification, Bugatti has forgone that route again in favor of sheer old-school grunt. It tops out at 261 mph with the use of a second “speed" keep. The car is capable of about 285 mph but Bugatti has no plans to unlock the Chiron’s full insanity, in part because there are only a few places on Earth where that speed can be safely reached.
“You have to remember how much greater the braking distance needed is at those levels. The Volkswagen Group’s track near Wolfsburg has a specially designed long straight that can be used for these type of high-speed stunts,” says Dr. Netuschil. “There’s also a military base in Germany we can get access to that has a long enough runway.”
An Extreme Customer
With a car this extreme, the exclusive clientele also boasts some interesting statistics. For starters, they’re living the enthusiast’s dream, with an average of 42 cars (yes, forty-two) in their garage. “Many of these guys have 10 Ferraris, all the McLarens, they have all of the other supercars. The Bugatti is often the cherry in the collection,” design director Achim Anscheidt tells us.
With all those rides, it’s hard to put any serious mileage on any one. The average Bugatti is only driven about 1,600 miles every year, and after a decade on the market, the highest-mileage customer-owned Veyron had only 24,800 miles on it. Bugatti’s own service and test car has the most, at 55,800 miles.
Fun fact: In addition to the ludicrous garages and car collections Bugatti owners, on average, own 1.7 jets and 1.4 yachts each.
Things That Couldn’t be Done
While the Bugatti Chiron is a rolling hyper-performance sculpture, there were a few things Bugatti wanted to do that it just couldn’t quite pull off.
“We originally wanted to have an invisible door handle for Chiron, and digital mirrors. Those were some things we couldn’t do, because of regulations. When we were driving the XL1 a few years ago,” Anscheidt says referring to Volkswagen’s ultra-efficient futuristic concept, “we realized that in the rain the digital e-mirrors didn’t have the standard we needed for Bugatti. Legislation would be yet another thing.”
Not Your Average LEDs
One of the most distinctive styling elements of the Bugatti Chiron is its “Eight-Eye” signature headlight design. “We decided on that really early on,” says Sasha Sepilov, head exterior designer for the Chiron. “It was 2011 or 2012, and we thought it added to the purposeful, attractive look we were going for.” The four LEDs in each headlight create horizontal width perception – one of the visual tricks used to help the Chiron look much wider than the Veyron, though in reality it’s only a few millimeters wider. It’s not just aesthetics though.
“There’s actually an active air intake in the headlight, so there’s real function there too, it’s not just a showpiece,” says Sepilov. The taillight is also worthy of our attention, as Bugatti says it is the single longest LED light in the industry, at 1.6 meters in length. It contains 82 LED lights connected on the taillight panel.
Because of the sheer power and torque levels of the new car, the rolling road test rig in Molsheim had to be redone. “We developed it for Veyron, but the Chiron’s torque was too much for the existing road and the testing we needed to do,” says Christophe Piochon, head of production and logistics for Bugatti.
In addition to the approximately 37 miles of rolling-road tests, each Chiron is driven another 217 miles on actual roads, including mountain roads in the region. Further high-speed acceleration and braking tests occur on the runway at the nearby Colmar airport. The last phase is the drive back – 80 mph on the highway as a cool-down.
Fun fact: Bugatti has 30 “pre-series” cars that are currently on the road right now. These are the ones that have been spotted testing in various places, and are also used for marketing to show the car to prospective buyers. They’ve logged in excess of 300,000 miles so far, and have gone through 1,000 tires.
Serious Wheels and Tires
As it did with the Veyron, Bugatti partnered with Michelin to create the optimal tire to handle the Chiron’s grunt. In this case it’s specially developed 285/30 R20 front and 355/25 R21 rear rubber.
Bugatti opted for 20-inch wheels in front and 21-inchers in the rear because the setup offers better proportions and dynamics. The rake changes, and the larger tires not only look good but allow for larger brakes – Chiron’s massive calipers boast eight pistons up front and six per caliper in back. They’re also a key component to allowing the performance and cutting supernatural speed in a hurry.
Anscheidt says there’s another reason the fronts are an inch smaller: “by law, the driver needs to be able to see four degrees down. The larger the wheel up front, the higher you sit, which you don’t want as a designer, or for performance.”
In approaching the Chiron, the exterior design team had to make sure the aerodynamic and cooling needs were met to match power. “In the beginning, we would write ‘+25% more’ on all of our sketches, we kept this in mind from the start,” says Frank Heyl, Bugatti’s head of exterior design. The 25 percent more can be numerically seen in the Chiron’s 1,500 horses versus the 1,200 hp made by the later Veyrons.
Beyond the technical needs, designers looked to add more aggression. “Personally what I tried to do is put a lot more beastliness in the car,” says Sasha Selipanov, who took the lead on the Chiron’s exterior design.While a more aggressive look was favored for Chiron, luxury and elegance were still top priorities on the interior. But don’t let the finery fool you. Dead center on the speedometer is a reminder of the brute power, sheer force, and unearthly speed the Chiron is capable of: A numeric 500 kph or 300 mph figure serves as a uniquely impressive showpiece.