“THAT! THAT IS WHAT MAKES THE VEYRON, YESSS!?!?”
Loris Bicocchi’s tan, cherubic face leers at me from the passenger seat, his eyes wide behind Prada shades. It is the most animated I’ve seen my oh-so-cool Italian co-pilote since our drive began.
“VOW! From this seat, it just feels… so different. So AMAZING!”
And to think, all I had to do was pass a slow-moving farm truck in the most modest way possible. Rather than toggling the lever from Drive to Sport, or clicking the downshift paddle back in a come-hither motion, I overtake the truck the old-fashioned way: by burying my right foot.
For half a beat, nothing happens. Then there is an explosive lurch from the hindquarters, as the 20-inch tall, 365 rears engage in a brief, but victorious, battle for traction. All four wheels hook, leaving our stomachs and the Spanish countryside behind us in a hot wake of exhaust gas. I lift my foot and the wastegates reply with a full-bodied belch as we coast back down to a high-double-digit cruising speed.
Loris and I make an odd couple. I’m a Veyron virgin, while he’s the godfather of this 1200 hp cherry-popper. Loris is Bugatti’s lead development driver — the man who signed off on the handling and performance of the original Veyron and each significantly tweaked model since. Though a topic for another time, Loris is also the guy responsible for a few other stratospheric supercars from a variety of manufacturers, including Lamborghini, Pagani, and Koenigsegg.
But today he’s the Super Sport’s super babysitter, intent on giving me the rundown on his latest and greatest creation. But I can’t hear him right now. I’m struggling to wrap my caper-sized brain around this mightiest Bugatti.
First question: How do you make a regular Veyron into a Super Sport?
The same way you make any standard road car into a higher-performance variant. Add more power and more torque, and remove weight. Not exactly rocket science — except when you start with a car that already has four turbochargers, 16 cylinders, and 1001 horsepower.
The list of upgrades and modifications reads like something out of our sister magazine Super Street. On top of the regular 16.4, larger turbochargers and revised intercoolers, and a revised exhaust system to reduce back pressure, have been added, along with revised ducts, air dams, and diffusers for improved cooling and aerodynamics.
The latter is helped greatly by a redesigned front splitter that provides more downforce, and a completely revised roofline. Instead of the Veyron’s tubular ducts and exposed engine bay, the Super Sport has a new, slippery, bar-of-soap profile, with a mostly covered rear deck.
With the ram air ducts gone, just how does it feed enough oxygen to that mid-mounted, quad turbo, 8.0-liter W-16? Through two huge NACA ducts cut into the carbon fiber roof. Bugatti says they create a better ram air effect and smoother airflow over the car.
On the weight reduction front, the Super Sport utilizes higher modulus carbon fiber in the monocoque that makes it both lighter and stronger. Repositioning one of the differential intercoolers and eliminating its puller fans also helped shed several pounds. In addition, the new, open-faced forged wheels not only help channel airflow around the brakes, but reduce rotating mass. Hope you like them, because you can’t get the Super Sport with any other wheel design.
All told, Bugatti’s Super Sport diet removed just over 100 pounds from the regular Veyron, while increasing output by 199 horsepower and 184 pound-feet.
What all is this good for? An impressive list of physics-defying feats, if you believe Bugatti. According to its test team, the Super Sport can achieve the following clock-stopping stats:
- 0-60 mph in under 2.5 seconds
- Quarter mile in 9.7 seconds
- 0-100-0 mph in 9.2 seconds
- 0-200-0 mph in 25.6 seconds
If that’s not enough, the Veyron SS will hit 268 mph — the world land speed record for a production car. Official pilote Pierre-Henri Raphanel proved this on June 26, 2010, at VW’s Ehra-Leissen test track in Germany. To put 268 mph in perspective, that is 393 feet per second, or 33 feet more than an entire football field, including both endzones.
But what is it like to drive?
Well, you get in it like any other car. No scissor or gull wing tomfoolery here; no super-wide sills or tub-like cabin. You do sit low, though, in a racing-style seat of exquisitely stitched leather.
As supercars go, the cabin is refreshing spare, with a traditional layout. There is a real slot for a real key, but also the de rigeur start button. HVAC and stereo controls are easy-to-master dash dials.
There is no navigation in the $2.6-million Super Sport, not even as an option. In a surprising moment of candor, Bugatti flacks admitted that adding a navigation system worthy of the Veyron would be cost prohibitive for such a low-volume vehicle. They recommend units from a Garmin or TomTom and will even install a custom bracket to eliminate any dangling wires. Seriously? Yup.
As manu-matics go, the shifter in the Veyron is a joy to behold. It has a BMW-esque throw to it — in that you’re not mechanically engaging anything, just toggling between drive modes — yet it feels fantastic. The action is a tight pivot (versus the slots or gates of other makes), and there are no buttons, save Park on the top. To engage automatic drive mode (D) after starting the car, simply slide the lever to the right. Push it again for Sport mode, but watch out — in motion, the revs jump up as the trans shifts down to the lowest gear available to unleash maximum thrust.
Shifts via the paddles are as crisp as you’d expect (the 7-speed dual clutch is made by race car transmission supplier Riccardo), though I was disappointed to find the paddles themselves are not made of gold, the bones of Christ, or even metal — just black plastic.
The other thing your hands touch is a button-free steering wheel covered with what appears to be the fuzz of ripe peaches picked from the garden of Eden (before the fall of Eden and the subsequent switch to non-organics). At 12 o’clock on the wheel there is a ring of polished metal — a sighting notch to ensure the front tires are pointed straight ahead when you call forth the hooves of 1200 horses.
Enough parking lot drool already. What is it like to drive? Well, if you listen to the folks at Bugatti, they’re quick to say, “Like nothing else on the road.”
That is almost right.
I struggled mightily with what I’m about to write next. I said it a couple of times in the car to my dear Loris, who took it quite well. But the same observations went over like cold garlic soup with his colleagues back at the hotel. As the only Veyron virgin at the event, there was some curiosity as to what I thought about the car.
Well, it kinda feels like a giant Nissan GT-R.
What else would the Asian guy say, right? You’re outraged; I get it. But hold off on the angry comments and let me expand upon that revelation by briefly telling you what the Veyron Super Sport does not feel like:
It does not at all feel like the Ferrari 458 Italia I drove recently. The way that mid-engine carbon fiber-intensive Italian slices up a road, you’d think it was 2000 lbs lighter and partially composed of laser beams.
The Veyron Super Sport has next to nothing in common with any recent Lamborghini I’ve driven, but you don’t need to drive either to know that. Fire up a Gallardo or Murcielago, and the signature exhaust bark and fast-running idle make the Veyron sound civil and sophisticated in comparison.
Around the office, we’ve taken to calling the latest 911 Turbo a “baby Veyron” because its 0-60 time is just a couple of beats behind. But the similarity ends there. Veyron and Turbo PDK are in the same supercar universe for sure, but about as close as the moon to Uranus.
Of course the Veyron bears no similarity to the Bentley Mulsanne or Rolls Royce Phantom, but I only make that comparison because of the massive torque and luxury offered. Aston Martin Rapide, Bentley Continental Flying Spur Speed, and GT-C Speed also have nothing on the Big Bug. Nor do the 750-horsepower Shelby Cobra Super Snake, 650-horsepower Hennessey Camaro, or any other hyperactive tuner car whose tiller I’ve manhandled. Believe me, I plumbed my memory banks of all the super exotics and downright ridiculous cars I’ve driven recently, and found no similarities but one.
So why the humble GT-R? How dare I say an $80,000 Japanese supercar bears any resemblance to a multi-million dollar Super Sport? Three reasons: They’re both noisy (inside), heavy (feeling), and slow (shifting).
The Super Sport’s 7-speed dual-clutch hums and whirs with a similar dissonance found in the GT-R, though in defense of the Veyron, the Riccardo is smoother, with none of the GT-R’s mechanical clicks or rattles.
“It sounds like they took 50 kilos of sound deadening out,” a fellow journalist murmured — an observation I cannot confirm, as I never drove the first one.
But I can confirm the same ear-filling sensation the Super Sport provides. It’s mostly gear noise, which leaves your ears feeling as though there were a bit of cotton in them. Some of that roar comes from tire noise as the 265 front and 365 rear profile tires pick up a lot of pavement.
Despite the focus on weight loss, the Super Sport still swings past the 4000-pound mark. Although a lot of this mass is surprisingly well-hidden, via new shocks with independent compression and rebound valving, this is not a flickable mid-engine exotic (like that 458). Instead, the feeling is of constant amazement — that a car of such gravitas can float neutrally through fast sweepers and cut around tight corners. But you can’t be surprised at the Super Sport’s incredible transitional performance unless you’re at first cognizant of how weighty it feels. Such is the case with the GT-R.
We circle back to the transmission for the final similarity, one shared by many sports cars, not just the GT-R. Most automatic transmissions attempt to get to the highest gear as soon as possible because of strict emissions regulations and fuel economy goals. The Super Sport is no different. But because its larger turbos take more revolutions to produce maximum boost than those found on the regular Veyron (peak torque occurs at 3000 rpm vs 2200 rpm), it takes a heartbeat for the transmission to drop from seventh gear to whatever is needed to bring on the power. For immediate response you need to paddle down a few gears or slot the lever over to S, which immediately finds the sweet spot. Otherwise, mat your right foot in plain old D, and you’ll have to wait for Riccardo and The Revolutions to warm up. Once they start singing, prepare to have your head blown clean off.
That is when the Super Sport behaves like no other. Once underway, the monstrous pull never stops — and I mean never. I have felt powerful cars run out of both breath and gears, or into the invisible wall of drag, but I never felt the slightest twinge of such weakness in the Super Sport. At speeds that start to bleed momentum from less-super cars, the Bugatti feels invincible, limitless. In fact there are few roads in the world upon which mere mortals can drive that can even begin to tax this (or any) Veyron’s potential.
We tried in Seville, but even with light traffic and some fine roads, the Super Sport’s supreme focus on performance conspired against us. Up to 112 mph (180 km/h) things are fine, but head farther around the speedo and the Super Sport goes into to “handling mode.” The rear wing and spoiler combo pop up to 18 and 27 degrees respectively, but more importantly, ride height drops from 4.5 inches to 3.1 inches in the front and 3.7 inches at the rear. Despite constantly scanning Andalusia’s impressively smooth roads, I had many brake-slamming close calls, and one very expensive-sounding scrape in my few hours of driving. I shudder at what 10 minutes on Mulholland might wreak.
But wait, there’s less. Insert the special key for “top speed mode” and the car nearly hits the floor, dropping to 2.6 inches at the front and 2.8 in back. Sure, the car will get you to 200+ mph in less than a primetime commercial, but where could you ever fool around at that velocity? We did a quick count with the Bugatti folks and came up with maybe five spots in the world that are smooth enough, including the test tracks Ehra-Leissen, Nardo, and perhaps a couple of secret roads outside of Abu Dhabi.
And for all of these reasons, the Veyron Super Sport remains a NACA-ducted, 1200-horsepower, $2.6-million enigma. After driving it for the first time and thinking about it for many days after, I still can’t tell you exactly what it is. It is definitely not a race car — Loris and Pierre-Henri will confirm that. Yet it clearly is not a grand tourer. either. (Forget about the lack of nav — the tiny front trunk has only enough room for an American Express Black and your mistress’ topless bikini.) No, the Veyron Super Sport is the fastest, most technically capable vehicle I’ve ever driven, without equal on this planet. Yet it leaves me hollow and wanting, with more questions than it answered.
So, I know what it is not, and a bit about what it is like, but I still don’t know what it is. I’m sorry, guys. I’m just going to need more time with this car.
|2011 Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Super Sport|
|Vehicle layout||Mid-engine, AWD, 2-pass, 2-door, coupe|
|Engines||8.0L/1200-hp/1106-lb-ft quad-turbo DOHC 48-valve quad-turbo W-16|
|Transmissions||7-speed auto-clutch manual|
|Curb weight||4100 lb (mfr)|
|Length x width x height||175.7 x 78.7 x 46.9 in|
|0-60 mph||2.5 sec (MT est)|
|EPA city/hwy fuel econ||6/16 mpg (MT est)|
|CO2 emissions||2.32 lb/mile (MT est)|
|On sale in U.S.||Currently|