The Bugatti Chiron Super Sport and the Impending End of Internal Combustion
Bugatti may not be quite done with gas-powered supercars, but as the era of fossil-fuel-burning car nonetheless wanes, we enjoy a bit more seat time in one of the era’s most exhilarating players.
Consider it a wild, blowout bash to celebrate the end of internal combustion. As the world slowly transitions from 125 years of gasoline-fed internal combustion to electricity, what better way to say goodbye to gas than with a drive of a 1578-hp Bugatti Chiron Super Sport? And with no-less a co-pilot than two-time IMSA GTP champ Butch Leitzinger!
That was what was on the table when Bugatti generously offered a drive of its latest technological achievement, the Chiron Super Sport, the ultimate road-going Bugatti.
“This is the culmination of everything that Bugatti has learned throughout the entire production of the Chiron,” said Leitzinger from the right seat. “The engine has been developed to where it makes 1600 horsepower, which is kind of the biggest headline of everything, while aerodynamics have been refined to where they’re able to reduce drag and enable the car to punch through to the higher speed.”
That higher speed is not the 304-mph craziness that Leitzinger’s fellow professional racer Andy Wallace hit in the aptly named Chiron Super Sport 300+; that car was stripped down and made into essentially a carbon fiber bullet to hit that top speed. The straight-up Chiron Super Sport we were in has many more concessions to comfort, and is limited to a still-outrageous 273 mph (still faster than the 261 mph for the “standard” Chiron.) Engineers allowed 300 rpm more in the Super Sport, swapped out the stock four turbos for lighter and more efficient units, changed the dynamics of the chain-driven valves and even swapped in an oil pump capable of better handling sustained, ridiculous velocity. The clutch package was likewise “optimized for sportier gear change performance and better comfort.”
The result is 1578 hp, the figure you get when you translate 1600 PS—or pferdestarken, the measurement used in Europe—to our SAE horsepower. (Feel free to say it has 1600 hp if you like.) It also gets 1180 lb-ft of torque, likewise translated from the European Newton-meters, or Nm, which also sits at 1600.
In addition to its 273-mph top speed, the Super Sport gets from 0-124 mph (they skip right over the 0-60 figure) in 5.8 seconds, to 186 mph in 12.1, and to 250 mph in… well they don’t list that figure, but it gets there 12% quicker than the standard Chiron. To achieve top speed, seventh gear is 3.6% taller.
So with all this in mind, Leitzinger and I set out. He does this kind of driving a lot now, as a professional driver coach for various racers around the world, as well as for Bugatti owners and potential owners, when he’s not working for Michelin as a tire development expert. I knew him from his racing days, back when I was covering IMSA for Autoweek. He was great then and remains pleasant and friendly today. It was always nice when Leitzinger won a race back then, especially from my point of view, because he was so damned pleasant and articulate in the post-race press conferences. Made my job easier.
Leitzinger drove first for a little ways up the Pacific Coast Highway to point out a few things about the car. Having recently driven the Chiron Pur Sport and other Bugattis, it was familiar stuff. Nothing weird about driving a Bugatti.
We drove up Topanga for a bit, and then we swapped seats. The trick about driving a $4 million car without freaking out is to try and forget it’s a $4 million car. After a short distance, you do, and it’s just like any other car. Any other car that can go 273 mph.
If you’re patient enough and know the roads, there are a few places where you can punch it, as the kids say. Not all the way to 273 mph, but enough to get a sense of the acceleration that 1578 hp and 1180 lb-ft offer. Believe me it’s a lot. It’s not the same as a the all-electric hypercar the Rimac Nevera, which offers an all-electric 1914 hp, with all of its torque available as soon as you get near the accelerator. The Bugatti Super Sport is more like a mountain of torque that you have to climb. Even though the peak is astounding, the journey there is not as quick as you’ll find in an electric hypercar.
The Bugatti Super Sport is more like a mountain of torque that you have to climb.
Nonetheless, it was flooring. The lighter turbos spooled up quicker, as advertised, and the power and torque, once awakened, shoots you down the road like an angry hockey player swats a puck.
The Super Sport is, indeed, more comfortable doing this than the Pur Sport or, presumably, the 300+, both of which have been minimized in many ways, and maximized in others, for speed. The Super Sport still has sound insulation, a more accommodating ride, and even comfy seats.
“It has been made so it can accommodate a higher number of miles for the owner, it won’t beat you up,” said Leitzinger.
Not that the Pur Sport and 300+ would beat you up, but you’ll feel the difference.
Soon enough we were up on Mulholland Drive, long stretches of which do not have houses, driveways, side streets, nor even the black plastic trash cans of the rich and famous. Into those stretches, we descended turn after turn. It was exhilarating, the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s eagerly lapping up asphalt, but limited by two things: the Pur Sport handled better in the turns, with a more lively steering wheel and what felt like higher grip due to the camber of the tires, and, also, recent rains had slathered mud across Mulholland at many of the best corners. (Mud Across Mulholland, will be the title of my mystery novel, if there are any publishers out there.)
Regardless of the limitations of our drive, the Super Sport is, indeed, perhaps, arguably, the greatest supercar ever made… at least the greatest ever made with an internal combustion engine. Times are changing, the world is slowly realizing that we can’t keep burning all the oxygen and turning it into CO2 forever. At some point we have to reduce our carbon footprints. Electric cars are one way to do that, and the auto industry has pretty much agreed it must. Bugatti has been folded into a complex arrangement with electric carmaker Rimac, and the e-future is clear. But for this one last, glorious afternoon in Malibu, we celebrated gasoline and all that it can do. The last gasp of gas. As Jean Bugatti might have said had he stayed around long enough, “Au revoir, m’essence!”