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First Drive: Bugatti Veyron. Image by Bugatti.

First Drive: Bugatti Veyron
We were gifted with a few hours behind the wheel of the biggest number supercar there is, the Bugatti Veyron.


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While I've been wandering around Bugatti's Molsheim production facility Pierre-Henri Raphanel, Bugatti's 'Pilote Officiel' - a man with one of the coolest jobs ever - has been out warming the Veyron through. I've been immersed in the technology, engineering, craftsmanship and amazing packaging in the surgery clean workshops, but it's not until I see the heat haze above the Veyron's engine and hear the turbine-like sound emitted from its mighty 16-cylinder engine that the reality sinks in. I'm actually going to drive it. Not just yet though.

First I'll passenger with Raphanel; it's his job to take customers out and let them experience the Veyron. He's pretty qualified to comment on its performance; after all he was one of the lucky few who raced McLaren's F1 GTR, finishing second twice at Le Mans. His career also includes one Formula One race - at Monaco - the only F1 driver ever to have his only event at the Principality. Like all racers Raphanel exudes that calm confidence and almost slow, efficient movement that makes driving look so natural; so easy. His cool composure is broken though when we escape the factory gates. There, he pins the Veyron's accelerator. He's done this many, many times before and clearly delights in the reaction of his passengers.

Despite my attempt to remain calm I'm a torrent of uncontrolled swearing, followed by manic laughter and finally a moment of calm while my brain tries to compute what's just happened. I've experienced some very fast cars, but the Veyron really is in a different league. I'm as aware of the numbers as the rest of you, but it's difficult to convey what it feels like when the 8-litre 16-cylinder engine lets loose its phenomenal 987bhp through its four-wheel-drive transmission. The headline 1001 figure you'll have heard is actually in PS, though Bugatti quietly admits that this is conservative, it being a minimum figure. The actual output is around 50PS more, which makes about 1036bhp, i.e. plenty. The other numbers say 62mph is reached in 2.5 seconds, 124mph in 7.3 seconds and 186mph in 16.7 seconds. That's not supercar pace, that's Formula One performance, yet Raphanel claims that the Veyron can be driven by just about anyone.

I'm about to find out. After a few slack-jawed miles in the passenger seat we pull into a lay-by and swap seats. Taking a moment to compose myself and settle into the cockpit I pull the right hand paddle to select first in the seven-speed DSG transmission. Gingerly I pull out onto the road. What first strikes me (apart from the shocking visibility caused by the thick A-pillar) is the smoothness of it all. The steering feels fantastic, the leather and aluminium wheel perfectly weighted and loaded with feel. The gearbox slips through its seven ratios almost imperceptibly, the DSG twin-clutch system pre-selecting the next gear to smooth progress. The ride is surprisingly pliant too, the Veyron shrugging off bumps and cambers remarkably well - especially considering the massive width of its Michelin run-flat rubber. Reassuringly, the brakes have plenty of feel at the pedal, and the sort of retardation you'd hope for in something so damn fast.

Indeed, it's all shaping up to be something of a driver's car thanks to feelsome steering, strong brakes, a good ride and smooth, quick transmission. Underlining it all is a bass-rich engine note, which, along with the promise of quite ridiculous acceleration goads you into exploring the Veyron's extraordinary ability. My first real prod of the accelerator is tentative; caused by concern that the surprisingly benign Veyron will bite when I up the pace. It doesn't; my slight ankle flex is rewarded with a comical increase in pace. Certain that the Veyron's not going to spit me off the road I feed in more power, pushing the accelerator down with more conviction. The resultant surge is honestly like nothing I've ever experienced.

The way the Veyron gathers speed isn't like the acceleration you'll feel in a normal fast car. It's not savage in the way something like a flyweight big-power Caterham is, nor does it have that surge that you experience when taking off in a flight. Instead there's a very slight pause when you push the accelerator to the floor, then all four wheels efficiently dig in and the Veyron forces you back into your seat and pins you there for as long as you dare to keep the pedal pushed. There's no let up in the thrust, no momentary respite as it reaches for another gear and tears up through its rev range. The world goes into reverse in front of you and will continue to do so with seemingly unending intensity. With space and reckless abandon of France's speed limits the Veyron's 252mph maximum would be easily possible, but fear for my license tempers my enthusiasm.

Even with restraint the Veyron manages massive speed in the brief moments of full-throttle exploration. It feels remarkably composed too; even at very big three-number speeds it's supremely keyed into the road. Four-wheel drive, adjustable suspension and massive rear wing aid its stability - that wing also rising and increasing its angle under braking. Three settings are available on the suspension: Standard, Handling and Top Speed. Standard is used for town traffic and speeds up to 135mph. After that the Handling setting lowers the suspension by 45mm at the front and 35mm rear and opens the front diffuser flaps. The Veyron's big rear wing comes out to play, too. Above that you need a second key, this innocuous component inserted down to the left of the driver. It allows the Top Speed setting, putting the Veyron into its maximum-attack mode. It lowers the suspension further still and the rear wing closes along with those diffuser flaps, minimising drag for the Veyron's 252mph party trick. The key is there during my drive, but the Veyron's Vmax isn't attempted, though I was tempted. Very tempted.

I'd like to say how fast I went, but the truth is I only glanced at the needle on the downward sweep when I was slowing down. Even so it was a big number... A very big number, though still some way short of the 420kph (260mph) maximum reading on the speedometer. That dial is secreted over to the right, the rev-counter dominating the beautifully clear and simple instrumentation. Even so, it's not the rev counter or speedometer you look at, instead it's the additional dial to the left - the power one. It's calibrated to 1001PS and it's impossible to resist the temptation to attempt to get its needle sweeping towards the maximum. What is difficult though is to remember to glance at it when you're being catapulted forwards with such relentless force.

Unsurprisingly, it's the massive power and huge potential speed that dominate the driving experience of the Veyron. So much so you forget to enjoy the crisp steering, supple ride and smooth gearshift. These all become secondary diversions to the accelerator and the quite incredible force it controls. Having driven it, and seen the Veyron in various states of build prior to my drive I've a deep respect for the massive engineering challenge that producing its power and top-speed figure posed the people at Bugatti. It defines the car, but ultimately it's to its detriment. Certainly, the Veyron represents something of a milestone in automotive engineering, but in driving terms it's bettered by its mere supercar rivals. Unless, of course, you floor it...

Kyle Fortune - 16 Jan 2007

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2007 Bugatti Veyron specifications:
0-62mph: 2.5 seconds
Top speed: 252mph
Combined economy: 11.7mpg
Emissions: 574g/km
Kerb weight: 1888kg

2007 Bugatti Veyron. Image by Bugatti.2007 Bugatti Veyron. Image by Bugatti.2007 Bugatti Veyron. Image by Bugatti.2007 Bugatti Veyron. Image by Bugatti.2007 Bugatti Veyron. Image by Bugatti.

2007 Bugatti Veyron. Image by Bugatti.2007 Bugatti Veyron. Image by Bugatti.2007 Bugatti Veyron. Image by Bugatti.    

2007 Bugatti Veyron. Image by Bugatti.

2007 Bugatti Veyron. Image by Bugatti.

2007 Bugatti Veyron. Image by Bugatti.

2007 Bugatti Veyron. Image by Bugatti.

2007 Bugatti Veyron. Image by Bugatti.

2007 Bugatti Veyron. Image by Bugatti.

2007 Bugatti Veyron. Image by Bugatti.

2007 Bugatti Veyron. Image by Bugatti.


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