Test Drive: Bugatti Chiron

“I know you won’t believe me until you start to drive, but it’s a very docile car,” Bugatti pro-driver Butch Leitzinger, tells us as we get behind the wheel of the brand new Chiron. Without even starting the engine, the car is a dream—with its devastatingly soft, free-range cattle-upholstered seats. “People expect it to have a bite, but it’s friendly,” Leitzinger continues, “It’s like driving a Bentley around town.”

But the Bugatti Chiron is no Bentley. In fact, it’s the fastest, most powerful and, at $3 million, most expensive production car on the market. And we were asked by Bugatti to drive the car—with its 8.0-liter, quad-turbo 16-cylinder engine and 1,500 horsepower—from the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance (as part of Monterey Car Week) down to Los Angeles. These cars are not only spectacular, they’re also rare. Bugatti is only making 500 of them. So far, about 100 have been delivered, and most of them are kept in their owners’ garages. That makes even a sighting special. “You’ll see a lot of cellphones pop up,” Leitzinger warns. Marked by a distinctive C-shaped air-intake encircling the low-slung coupe’s doors, these cars are hard to miss. 

“After a mile, you’ll relax,” he says. Less than a minute later, that insight is evident. Despite the power propelling it forward, the Chiron tracks straight when other supercars would falter, and the Formula 1-style, 16-inch brakes bestowed an unshakeable sense of control. Even at high speed (the car’s maximum being speed of 261mph) the car feels planted squarely within the lane, hugging the markings with aplomb.

Until the Chiron came along two years ago, the world’s fastest, most powerful and most expensive car was a different kind of Bugatti: the 1,000-horsepower Veyron, with a top speed of 253mph. But history repeats itself, in a way—and soon the Chiron will be supplanted by yet another Bugatti, this one at twice the price. Named after two-time Targa Florio-winner Albert Divo, the $5.8 million Divo possesses as much horsepower as its predecessor but with more downforce. The French marque is making 40 of them, and they’re already sold out.

Gliding down the 101 in the Chiron is incredibly quiet‚ thanks to its dual-panel windows. And all through the cabin, there’s nary a piece of plastic to be found; the interior boasts leather from cattle raised at an altitude high enough to keep their hides healthy—never snagged on fences or bitten by mosquitoes. And of course, the four tweeters feature a one-carat diamond membrane for sound clarity.

While it might seem to be an oversight at first, the lack of a touchscreen or any display in the center console in the Chiron is well-planned. “A screen is the fastest way to date a car,” Leitzinger explains, “And this car needs to remain timeless.” Instead, a small infotainment screen for scrolling through radio stations and other settings sits on the right-hand side of the gauge cluster behind the steering wheel. 

The Chiron could top the list of ultimate road-trip vehicles, if it weren’t for the fuel economy (at times, managing 15mph on the highway; not terrible for a supercar) and minuscule trunk under the hood, barely big enough for a single carry-on. But the most trenchant of the Chiron’s shortcomings is that driving a luxury supercar ruins you for others. As we neared our destination, a cloud of regret descends, and we tell Leitzinger, “I almost wish I’d never driven this car.” He laughs as though he’s heard it before.