Sunday, May 9, 2010
Bugatti Veyron review
When you're ripping along at 253 mph, your mind is not drifting aimlessly. Your senses are cranked up to full volume to detect any hint of impending catastrophe in the maelstrom of wind rush, tire thrum, mechanical thrash, and exhaust roar that surrounds you.
Is that slight shift in the whistling wind caused by a body panel coming loose? Does that vague vibration signal a tire starting to delaminate? Does that subtle new mechanical whine presage a failing bearing that's about to lock up the powertrain?
No such problem developed on the Bugatti Veyron 16.4, because it is not a half-baked aftermarket or boutique road burner. It is a production car developed and tested to the standards of Volkswagen, Bugatti's parent company. With a top speed of 253 mph, it is also the fastest production car ever built.
Production, of course, is a relative term. In the case of the Veyron, Bugatti plans to build only about 50 cars a year at a price of €1 million, which is about $1,250,000 as this is written. To this rarefied market Bugatti has brought an unusual level of sophistication and engineering necessitated by the promise of 1001 metric horsepower (or 987 American horses) and a top speed of 252 mph, a pledge from former VW boss Ferdinand Piëch when he unveiled the production-intent Veyron at the 2001 Geneva auto show.
Achieving 1000 horsepower in a racing engine is one thing, but to do so in a reliable, refined, durable, and emissions-legal configuration is much harder. The energizer in the Veyron is a WR16 displacing 7998cc and turbocharged with 15.8 psi of boost. You can think of it as two Passat WR8 engines put together and pumped up by four turbos.
But the Bugatti engine has more cylinders, more displacement, more power per liter, and more output overall than any other engine in the WR family tree. When I ask Bugatti development boss Wolfgang Schreiber to explain how the same engine can be rated at 1001 SAE net horsepower at 6000 rpm for the U.S. but only 987 horsepower (1001 PS) for Europe, he laughs, saying, "The production engines are all putting out between 1020 and 1040 PS—enough to cover both promises."
The engine's torque peak is equally mighty at 922 pound-feet, developed between 2200 and 5500 rpm. The four small turbos minimize throttle lag, and the 9.3:1 compression ratio ensures reasonable torque even before boost develops.
All that twist required a dedicated transmission. The Veyron gets a King Kong seven-speed version of VW's twin-clutch gearbox, called DSG. Like the DSG available in the Audi TT, it operates with an automatic mode or a full manual mode via paddle shifters. Because gearchanges occur with one clutch disengaging as the other engages, shifts are uniformly smooth and swift.
With about as much engine output as two Corvette Z06 V-8s, it's no surprise that Bugatti engineers decided to go with all-wheel drive. We don't have many details about the driveline, but the front-to-rear torque split is automatically adjusted to suit dynamic conditions and can range from 100 to 0 percent at either end.
An engine—particularly a turbocharged one—that develops four-digit power throws off more heat than a dozen pizza ovens. Consequently, in the nose of the Veyron are three coolant radiators, one heat exchanger for the twin air-to-liquid intercoolers, and two air-conditioning condensers. There are also transmission and differential oil coolers on the right side and a large engine-oil cooler in the left-side air intake. To help heat escape from the engine compartment, the big WR16 sits in the open, enclosed by no cover of any kind. This powertrain propels the 4300-pound Veyron as effortlessly and gracefully as Tiger Woods belts a 300-yard drive.