First Drive: 2007 Bugatti Veyron luxury cars first drives bugatti
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Review and photos by Michael La Fave

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For 47 years, Bugatti built race, touring and luxury cars that were, and still are, thought by many to be the finest automobiles of their time. Ettore Bugatti’s company went bankrupt in 1956 less than a decade after his death, but not before producing almost 8000 automobiles – some with impressive race provenance. Almost 35 years later, the company re-surfaced under Romano Artioli, a wealthy Italian car distributor who had acquired the rights to Bugatti’s famous name, and the hallowed marque set out once again to build the most amazing cars in the world.

Artioli introduced the EB110, named for the 110th anniversary of Ettore’s birth. It was the fastest and one of the most expensive production cars the world has ever seen. In 1995, after building 126 of the ultra-exotic 550-horsepower EBs, the company once again closed its doors leaving a dozen or so cars in various stages of assembly entombed until creditors decided what to do with them.

In 1998, Volkswagen bought the Bugatti name and a new era began amidst speculation that the cursed brand and VW’s incredible dream of rebuilding it would again end in tears. In 2001, Bugatti showed the Veyron 16.4 concept car and announced that it would bring it to the market as the fastest and most powerful car in the world. Years passed and the Veyron finally seemed to be ready to enter the public stage as the world’s ultimate road car. An embarrassing spin on a demonstration lap at the 2003 Pebble Beach Concours D’Elegance confirmed rumours that the 1001-hp car was un-driveable and that it would require massive re-engineering.

First Drive: 2007 Bugatti Veyron luxury cars first drives bugatti

First Drive: 2007 Bugatti Veyron luxury cars first drives bugatti

First Drive: 2007 Bugatti Veyron luxury cars first drives bugatti

First Drive: 2007 Bugatti Veyron luxury cars first drives bugatti
Click image to enlarge

Bugatti’s new president, Dr. Bscher, was determined to see the Veyron come to market and led the company with the help of head of engineering, Dr. Schreiber, in a massive re-design of over 85 per cent of the Veyron’s parts.

The result, named after Pierre Veyron who drove a Bugatti Type 57 to victory in the 1939 LeMans, is just as promised: the most powerful, fastest and most expensive production car ever built. Period.

It is difficult to describe the experience of driving this car because it is simply without comparison, rival or peer. How is one to convey the experience of piloting a 1001-hp, 407 km/h, 1 Million Euro supercar?

For example, the price is a staggering sum of money (about 1.5 million Canadian when this was written) for what is by all accounts a car. The best selling car sold in Canada, which happens to be a Honda Civic, costs almost one one-hundredth what the Veyron does. Even in Vancouver or Toronto, $1.5 million buys a very nice house, boat or retirement in Boca Raton. But to those who can spend $100-million plus on a house, $200-million on a yacht, or $20-million to take what, by all accounts, might be a one way trip to the moon on a Russian space ship – the cost of the Veyron falls well in line with the best of what the world has to offer. Which is, after all, exactly what it is.

First Drive: 2007 Bugatti Veyron luxury cars first drives bugatti
Click image to enlarge

Many will openly question the necessity for this car’s power and astonishing maximum velocity but perhaps they don’t understand or appreciate what a technological achievement the Veyron actually is. Humankind has always pushed to travel faster, fly higher, design better, etc, etc. The Veyron takes automobiles to the next level. Even for a company with seemingly limitless resources, the Veyron wasn’t easy to develop. Dr. Karl-Heinz Neumann, former president of Bugatti, stated in 2001 that the Veyron, which was but a concept car at the time, would make 1001 horsepower and would top 400 km/h. He really had no basis on which to make this claim especially considering that it wasn’t he, as he was replaced not two years ago, who would spend 70 hours a week for the next five years figuring out how to make such an audacious machine comply with environmental, safety and internal VW requirements.

First Drive: 2007 Bugatti Veyron luxury cars first drives bugatti
Click image to enlarge

Dr. Neumann’s comments set wheels in motion and the result is a car that topped the un-toppable. In March 2005, the Veyron set the production-car top speed record at 407 km/h, besting the 1998 McLaren F1 supercar (itself $1M at the time) by 17 km/h. The biggest difference between the McLaren and the Veyron (or any other supercar and the Veyron) is that the Bugatti is a real car that you can drive every day.

Our driving impressions were in some ways confirmation of what we expected, and in others a true revelation. Obviously the Veyron was going to be fast – 0-100 km/h in 2.5 seconds, 200 km/h in 7.3, 300 km/h in 16.7 and on to its top speed of 407 km in just under a minute! We also knew, however, that it was heavy and wondered, “Would it be ponderous?”.

First Drive: 2007 Bugatti Veyron luxury cars first drives bugatti

First Drive: 2007 Bugatti Veyron luxury cars first drives bugatti

First Drive: 2007 Bugatti Veyron luxury cars first drives bugatti

First Drive: 2007 Bugatti Veyron luxury cars first drives bugatti
Click image to enlarge

Our drive route was a combination of winding countryside and long stretches of Italian autostrade. On the tight, undulating, poorly paved roads that crisscross the Sicilian countryside, the Veyron could not be used to 100 per cent of its capability or at least not by us. We find it rather appealing in fact that the car has more power than can be used in 99 per cent of situations. Driven as fast as some of the most capable cars in the world it is barely stressed. Completely uncork it and it will blow every other road car away.

There’s even a power gauge on the instrument panel that shows how much of the 1001 horsepower you are actually using. It’s particularly amusing that although the gauge tracks power usage in 100 horsepower increments it ends at 1001. We were often only tapping 300 to 400 hp and still passing everything in sight, but dropping the car into second gear via the steering-wheel mounted paddles or shifter and flattening the accelerator causes the power meter to flip to 700-800 hp or so producing a rush of speed unlike anything we have experienced before. The shove in your back, which incidentally is but inches from the massive 8-litre, 16-cylinder, four-turbo engine, is akin to the sensation of being in a jumbo jet at take off. The scenery literally blurs past and the next corner approaches like a cinematic car chase on fast-forward.

First Drive: 2007 Bugatti Veyron luxury cars first drives bugatti
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Such manoeuvres are often met with a blinking ESP light, letting you know that at least one, if not all of the massive tires are spinning. If you want to impress the crowd from a standing start there is a launch control feature that executes perfect acceleration runs with smoke pouring from all four tires. The engineers are so certain of the powertrain’s durability that they unreservedly stated that the clutches (of which there are two wet-clutch-packs in the seven-speed DSG transmission, each with 7 friction plates) would last the life of the vehicle. It helps that the oil in their housings is cooled and that the 150-millisecond gear changes are smooth and seamless.

As expressed earlier, we had some reservations about the Veyron’s massive 1950-kilogram weight. You could imagine how pleased we were to discover that the Veyron steers like a go-kart.

First Drive: 2007 Bugatti Veyron luxury cars first drives bugatti

First Drive: 2007 Bugatti Veyron luxury cars first drives bugatti

First Drive: 2007 Bugatti Veyron luxury cars first drives bugatti

First Drive: 2007 Bugatti Veyron luxury cars first drives bugatti
Click image to enlarge

Light and direct with a similar feel to a Porsche 911, the steering points the car’s nose in quickly and accurately and, though the car will understeer, if you barrel into a corner too fast and are smooth enough to transfer the weight correctly, there is massive grip. Be careful, however: this car needs to be respected and carrying too much brake or getting into the power too soon will snap the rear end loose as we discovered – not entirely on purpose. Driven smoothly with metered inputs rewards the driver with an effortless, secure and nimble companion for country roads. When driven sedately the Veyron is placid and comfortable – your mother could take it to fetch a bag of milk.

Next up was a blast down the Italian autostrade, and on the gently curving elevated motorways that arc through the Sicilian countryside, we quickly exceeded 250 km/h. These less than perfect roads often caused the carbon fibre undertray to scrape the ground but the chief electrical engineer (Wolfgang Bäker) in the seat beside me seemed completely unconcerned. For anyone from North America, cornering at 220 km/h should seem daunting – even frightening – but the car’s multiple automatic aerodynamic devices (the suspension lowers and the rear wing deploys with switch-blade speed at 220 km/h creating real front and rear downforce) make the car more secure at 300 km/h than most are at 140! This posture, with the car slightly lower, the rear wing fully deployed and a secondary wing elevated as well, is called the ‘handling setting’. It can also be set manually should the driver wish.

First Drive: 2007 Bugatti Veyron luxury cars first drives bugatti
Click image to enlarge

Even with such prodigious power, the Veyron needs a fair amount of space to reach 407 km/h, and on these public roads we couldn’t safely reach the top speed. We did hit 307.8 km/h, which is by far the fastest this journalist has ever driven, and we cruised at speeds between 220 km/h and 280 km/h for a while and the car was barely budged by pavement irregularities or expansion joints. The engine is relatively quiet except for its deep baritone under hard acceleration. Often the whirring of the transmissions gears is louder than the intake or exhaust.

If we had really wanted to try for V-max, we would have had to come to a complete stop and use the ignition key to set the car into top-speed mode. In this setting, the Veyron drops its body snugly over the wheels (only 65 mm front and 70 mm rear of ground clearance remain), the wing retracts to a low-profile setting just above the rear fenders and various vents are closed to smooth airflow around and under the car. Without these aerodynamic adjustments the car’s 1001 hp will push it to only 375 km/h. If at any time the driver jumps out of the throttle, makes a significant steering input or touches the brakes, the car defaults to the handling mode.

First Drive: 2007 Bugatti Veyron luxury cars first drives bugatti
Photo: Bugatti. Click image to enlarge

One of Dr. Shreiber’s requirements for the Veyron was that it’s capable of stopping faster than it accelerates. Deceleration from 100 km/h takes but 2.3 seconds and from 407 km/h it takes only 13 seconds! The force of the brakes has to be experienced to be believed and at elevated speeds the large rear spoiler tips forward to act as an air brake, thereby doubling the cars aerodynamic drag. The ceramic-reinforced carbon brakes measure 400 mm in diameter up front and are gripped by eight, piston calipers with four pads each. At any speed their awesome bite required mental re-adjustment and you have to hold yourself back in your seat by bracing against the steering wheel if you don’t want to be bruised by the seatbelt.

First Drive: 2007 Bugatti Veyron luxury cars first drives bugatti

First Drive: 2007 Bugatti Veyron luxury cars first drives bugatti

First Drive: 2007 Bugatti Veyron luxury cars first drives bugatti
Photos: Bugatti. Click image to enlarge

After a few corners of the Pergusa racetrack, I decided to amp up the speed a bit and found out just how incredibly fast this car is. In even the fastest car, we would have been travelling at 75 per cent of the speed we were travelling in the Veyron as we approached a right-hander. Under heavy braking and simultaneous turning, the Veyron stepped out to the left approaching the corner, but the lightning-fast steering required but a simple flick of opposite lock, and a bit of ESP intervention had us safely on our way again.

On the track’s smooth surface, the Veyron felt even more secure than on the road, which is saying a lot. Comparably, it was similar to the cornering forces we experienced at Mosport with Hurley Haywood at the wheel of a Porsche Carrera GT, but with far more urge coming out of corners and blasting down the straights.

A big part of what makes a car with 925 lb.-ft. of torque even remotely driveable is the AWD system and that the tires measure a rather large 265 mm in front and a truly massive 365 mm in the rear on wheels that are roughly 20 inches in diameter. We say roughly because the tires are from Michelin’s PAX run-flat system and the actual wheel measurements are not comparable to conventional wheels. It’s also worth noting that it costs about $8,000 to replace one rear tire.

First Drive: 2007 Bugatti Veyron luxury cars first drives bugatti
Photo: Bugatti. Click image to enlarge

If you study the images, you will notice that the Veyron is essentially a massive engine with four-giant wheels pushing a passenger compartment. And what a passenger compartment it is. Every surface is either leather or metal and the machine-turned centre stack is simply stunning. The driver and passenger sit almost entirely in the front half of the car giving it its plump sensual form. There is in fact a remarkable amount of room inside – the cabin was designed to accommodate six-foot seven-inch drivers. Hey, if you want to sell 300 cars for almost $2M apiece after taxes, you better not alienate anyone. The view straight out the back is okay, but out the sides are massive blind spots. Good thing you don’t have to worry about anyone passing you.

First Drive: 2007 Bugatti Veyron luxury cars first drives bugatti

First Drive: 2007 Bugatti Veyron luxury cars first drives bugatti

First Drive: 2007 Bugatti Veyron luxury cars first drives bugatti
Photos: Bugatti. Click image to enlarge

It seems almost pointless to mention, but as you can imagine fuel consumption is significant. On our drive, the car averaged a staggering 44 L/100 km, which is truly impressive. Admittedly, we were travelling rather, um, briskly, but sedate driving will only return 30-ish anyway. While on the subject of fuel economy, it’s amusing to note that at V-max the Veyron’s 100 litres of premium fuel will be consumed in about 12 minutes or 81.4 kilometres. If you don’t have a calculator handy that’s 125 L/100km!

Unlike many AWD systems, the Veyron’s is capable of directing up to 100 per cent of the engine’s power to either the front or back wheels. Imagine, in some circumstances the Veyron is a 1001-hp front-driver! According to Dr. Schreiber the split varies depending on how hard the car is accelerating and/or cornering with the system constantly working to maximize stability. You can’t actually feel the power shift, but if it wasn’t working there’s no way the Veyron would be as effortless to drive as it is.

The saddest thing about driving the Veyron is the fact that it is unlikely we, or any of our colleagues gathered in Sicily, will ever get to do so again.

First Drive: 2007 Bugatti Veyron luxury cars first drives bugatti

First Drive: 2007 Bugatti Veyron luxury cars first drives bugatti

First Drive: 2007 Bugatti Veyron luxury cars first drives bugatti
Author, Michael La Fave at the wheel of the 2007 Bugatti Veyron. Click image to enlarge

It’s almost certain that it will be quite some time before five examples of this impeccable automobile are gathered in one place again. At the end of our test day, the hard-working Veyron team took the five cars around the Pergusa circuit for several parade laps and had them filmed from a helicopter.

Though the Veyron is an incredible machine, it begs the question of what will be next for Bugatti. Rumours of VW-based, V6-powered cars are inaccurate. We suspect that the next Bug will be a car that brings back the grand style of the Royale, a luxury limousine to end all luxury limos. It would have to retain the same 1001 hp engine and transmission, but the rest would be entirely new and bespoke. Beyond that, a smaller sedan that you would actually drive every day and a sports car that leverages the Veyron’s engineering advancements. We see a market for a three or four model line-up all priced over the $300,000 mark.

In all, only 300 Veyrons will be made even if demand is greater. If demand is lower, the final number (of units produced) will be lower as well, but that would be a shame. What will also be a shame is if too many of these cars end up sitting in garages or bolted to den ceilings. The Veyron is an automobile that must be driven. It brings joy to those that see it even if they just got their doors blown off and their front grill sucked out.

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