Wheels - Opera, Symphony, Bugatti

Check the power meter: The sleek, $1.2 million Veyron can light up a small town.

The Bugatti Veyron

Photography by Andrew Yeadon

There are quick cars, fast cars, even super cars, but there’s only one production ultracar — the Bugatti Veyron. The product of Volkswagen boss Ferdinand Piech’s ego and some calculator- melting mechanics, it defies all normal classification and strains your brain as much as your neck muscles.

With a minimum of 1,001 bhp available for use at any given time — nearly twice the power of a Bentley Continental GT, another product of the VW group — the Veyron explodes from 0 to 60 mph in 2.46 seconds. That’s as faint-inducingly fast as a Formula One car, despite weighing three times as much as one of the anorexic racers.

As impressive as that figure is, it’s probably the least remarkable the Veyron has to offer. Where it really shreds the rulebook is in the way it accelerates not only to 60, but also to 125, 200, even 250 mph. For the record, the numbers for each are 7.3 seconds, under 20 seconds, and 55 seconds. When the Veyron is flat out — 253 mph — it covers over 375 feet, more than a football field, every second.

How it moves its 4,299-pound bulk to extraordinary speeds is the job of a special engine. Like the rest of the car, it’s unlike anything you have ever seen. It doesn’t have 8 or 12 cylinders; it has 16, arranged in a W formation. They have a capacity of eight liters controlled by 64 valves and a bank of no less than four turbochargers forcing the fuel into them. You could power a small town with something smaller.

So you’d expect it to be quite a handful to drive. But you’d be wrong. Open the door and install yourself in the aluminum and leather-swathed cabin and it feels remarkably user-friendly. Unlike most super cars in which you have to load yourself like a CD into a player, you just step into the Veyron, adjust your legs to allow for the offset pedals, and go.

There are very few trinkets, gadgets, and extra switches to complicate the driver’s view. The center dash has the minimum of controls, and the dial cluster in front of the driver is dominated by a large tachometer. A dial to the right shows the speed and, more interestingly, the dial on left shows how much of the car’s 1,000- plus bhp is being used.

It might seem self-indulgent to have a power meter; but if ever a car deserved one, it’s the Veyron. Turn the key, push the start button, and — after the briefest of whines from the starter motors — a full-blown automotive opera starts in the engine bay behind you. The exhaust note is smoother and more even than a couple of V8s stitched together, but there’s a baritone rumble that is unique to the Bugatti.

Over that thrum, there’s a chorus of hissing and gurgling as all the engine’s vital systems surge to life, frantically trying to power and then cool the inferno. The engine produces so much heat that it needs every one of 10 — yes, 10 — radiators in the car.

Selecting first gear in the seven-speed, semi-automatic gearbox through the column-mounted paddle, you move away gently at first, waiting for the car to rear up and disappear into the distance with you clinging to the steering wheel for dear life. But that doesn’t happen. It drives away smoothly, without fuss or drama, and wafts easily down the road. It might have more than 1,000 bhp, but if you treat the throttle gently, the Veyron happily takes it easy.

Tread heavily on the go pedal, though, and you’ll think you’ve just stood on a hand grenade. The Veyron doesn’t just accelerate, catapult, or even rocket. It explodes from whatever speed you were doing and arrives immediately at the next without any real sense of time passing.

There’s a loud roar that envelops the cabin and makes you feel like you’re sitting in the middle of the engine, pistons thrashing, turbos spinning, and gas freefalling. And then you’re there, cruising at a speed several times faster than the one you were at a moment ago. The noise subsides as quickly as it built, and the power meter relaxes into the first half of its range. You look down, look at the speed, and can’t help smiling. You make a resolution to do that again sometime soon.

First you have to deal with threading this big wide car down the road at your newfound rate of knots. This isn’t as hard as you might think, as Bugatti engineers spent as much time on the Veyron’s chassis as they did on its engine. With four-wheel drive, there’s plenty of grip; and with the driver’s clear view of the front wings, you can securely and easily place the Veyron on the road. It’s far easier than you’d ever imagine it would be.

It doesn’t have the precision or involvement of a Lotus or a Ferrari — both a better choice for a quick drive on a choice stretch of road. But then neither of those cars has the Bugatti’s brute force or extraordinary sense of occasion.

Or its price. As boggling as the Veyron’s performance figures are, the cost also takes your breath away. At $1.2 million, the Bugatti proves it is an ultracar in every possible way.

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