It might seem excessive to devote a separate road test to an opentopped version of a car we drove more than a year ago. But in the case of the Bugatti Veyron, still the fastest production car you can buy, it’s worth it.
That’s because the work done to make the Veyron Grand Sport such a vibrantly different driving experience needs detailed explanation. The engineers and designers at the car’s Molsheim, France, home did more than peel off the roof of the existing car and fabricate a removable roof panel. They completely, subtly redesigned and reinforced the whole car so that it would, as we have come to expect from Bugatti, perform above and beyond any other open-topped car in the world.
Let’s start with the stuff you can’t see: The car’s carbon-fiber monocoque has been strengthened, the doors are now also made of the super-strong black weave, the air intakes behind the driver and passenger’s heads now provide rollover protection, and there’s a huge brace beneath the transmission. So, unlike most roadsters, it remains rigid as a safe and not half as heavy.
On the outside, you will notice that the windscreen is slightly higher, new slim-line LED units replace the headlights, and the wheels are now diamond polished.
Other than that, the big news is the removable polycarbonate roof panel. It requires two people to displace, and the car has no place to store it. You have to leave it where you remove it, but the effort and potential inconvenience seem worth it.
With the top removed, you are fully exposed to the whole theater of the beast you are driving. In the fixed-roof Veyron Coupe, you are only faintly aware of the extraordinary W16 engine’s actions, a flat mechanical thrum being the only audible indication of the unit’s exertions. But in the Grand Sport, you hear and savor every part of the quad-turbocharged 8.0-liter orchestra. It’s like watching a film in 3-D or listening to your favorite piece of music in surround sound with headphones for the first time.
Apply a light pressure to the gas pedal and you can hear every fuel injector, piston, and turbo spool up as the engine takes a sharp intake of breath and prepares to do what it does better than any other car: go. With the roof installed, the Grand Sport will catapult you all the way to the same 253 mph top speed of its hard-topped brother. With the panel removed, max speed drops to a still-ridiculous 217 mph, presumably due to the inferior aerodynamics of the human head versus a wind-tunnel-smoothed panel.
The only time the car (not the law or self-preservation) asks that you travel any slower than this is when the temporary roof is installed. Looking like a square carbon-fiber umbrella, it easily slots into the roof void. The one caveat is that you don’t travel more than 100 mph with it in place, as it’ll be sucked out and lost to the wind.
Once you have selected your roof option, the next part of the Grand Sport concerto is to choose the chassis mode. If you are only cruising around, the standard setting is enough for any speed up to 137 mph. If you have access to a race circuit, performance mode lowers the car closer to the track and sets the rear spoiler to 15 degrees — unless you have the roof off, in which case it kicks up to 20 degrees to correct the car’s aerodynamics.
If you want to set speed records, a second key has to be inserted before starting the car. Turning it sinks the Grand Sport down onto the tarmac like a crocodile, and the rear wing chips in with only two degrees of trim.
As impossible as it sounds, the Grand Sport’s vast carbon ceramic brakes remove the 4,387-pound Veyron’s speed as fast as the 1,001 bhp, 16-cylinder engine manages to accumulate it. The Grand Sport can accelerate to 60 mph in 2.3 seconds and bring itself back to a stop in only 105 feet — less than half the distance of a regular car.
And it sounds 10 times better while it’s doing it. As thrilling as it is to be squashed back into your seat by the jet-fighter thrust of the engine, it’s when you lift off that the engine’s fabulously mechanical noises stop being blown into the slipstream and wash into the cabin. At this moment, you understand why Bugatti thought some people — only three in the United States to date — would spend nearly $300,000 more on the Grand Sport than a regular Veyron 16.4.
It might seem excessive, but all other things being equal between the coupe and the roadster, if you had the money, I know you would, too.
Bugatti Grand Sport, from $1,990,064.