2013 Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Grand Sport Vitesse17/08/2012 23:39
The sad truth is that the Bugatti Veyron 16.4 is simply too fast for this world. You just can’t go cruising around at something like 20 mph faster than a pole-winning qualifying lap for the Indy 500. But if you must find a place to blast around in one of these land-bound rockets, you could do worse than Eastern Cape, South Africa, or at least the most remote portions of it. Here, termite hills provide some of the only landmarks by which to navigate, and the savannas and badlands are covered in a thick blanket of silence.
And that’s exactly why we and a couple of Bugatti engineers have come here for a final preproduction evaluation of the newest and likely final variation on the Veyron 16.4 theme, the Grand Sport Vitesse. Where a rear license plate typically would be found, the Vitesse carries a yellow placard that reads: HIGH SPEED TEST VEHICLE APPROVED BY GOVERNMENT. And as much as we might want this Veyron, we think we might want that placard even more.
But we digress. The Vitesse (French for “speed”) is a combination of the two major existing Veyron variations: the Super Sport, which makes 1200 horsepower from its quad-turbo 8.0-liter W-16, and the targa-topped Grand Sport. Somehow, Bugatti resisted the urge to call it the Veyron 16.4 Grand Sport Super Sport.
Our first encounter with the Vitesse is on its approach. We hear it, a deep and distant rumble, before we see it. It could be a brewing thunderstorm or a herd of stampeding elephants. As soon as we make out two lights peeping from between the horizon and the tarmac, the sound shifts to a powerful staccato of 16 pressure-charged cylinders. Just a few seconds later, we can feel the air that’s being punched out of the way, and the engine’s sound changes again, this time into an extremely loud, jetlike streaming as the 4400-pound missile rushes by.
Behind the wheel of the white prototype is Jens Schulenburg. A Bugatti engineer for 10 years (yes, it’s been that long since the rebirth of the brand), Schulenburg does the final quality check. At the end, he will give his approval to what passes for “production” in this most rarefied corner of automobiledom.
The Grand Sport Vitesse has to prove, over the course of thousands of miles across Africa’s quietest regions, that the giant W-16 fires up properly even when drinking lesser-quality African fuel; that all the complicated mechanical, thermodynamic, and aerodynamic processes still work perfectly even in harsh conditions. Conditions including those to which no Vitesse driver will likely subject his treasure, such as whipping up dust while driving on gravel roads, along with the more likely Bugatti-driver endeavors such as flying along at high speeds, repeatedly stabbing hard at the brakes, and incessantly accelerating at full throttle.This prototype Vitesse is peppered with some 300 temperature probes and carries two data loggers, one fixed between the seats and a second in the passenger’s footwell. The blue Racelogic VBOX on the windshield displays recorded data that is sampled 100 times per second.
The Vitesse is not just a Grand Sport with the stronger engine and the front and rear fascias of the Super Sport. The driving experience is unique. Never in previous Veyron outings has the massive engine felt so close as in the Vitesse. Even with the hardtop in place, we can feel every breath of the turbochargers and hear all the ticking and whirring of the powerplant’s steamworks.
With an estimated 0-to-60-mph time of 2.4 seconds and a top speed of 255 mph, the Grand Sport Vitesse is the quickest and fastest roadster we (or anyone else in the world) have ever driven, but it is not a roadgoing race car. There are other super sports cars with more immediate throttle response, and others that offer more-responsive handling. But the Vitesse presents extreme, open-air automotive speed beyond anything we’ve experienced. Thanks to its relatively small roof opening, carefully engineered airflow around the body shell, and optional wind blocker behind the seats, cabin turbulence is kept to a minimum. We can carry on a conversation with our drive partner up to 155 mph, but only by showing uncommon restraint with the throttle pedal.Don’t feel like chatting? Well, then, go ahead and keep accelerating. The Vitesse powers beyond 155 mph as vehemently as a Porsche 911 pushes above 60 mph. And the Bugatti shows no signs of strain even beyond 185 mph. We touched 206, and you might want to double-fasten your toupee’s chin strap before approaching that kind of speed. At 233 mph with the top off, the Vitesse’s engine power and air resistance finally fight to a draw, says Schulenburg. Affixing the top adds another 22 mph to the top speed.
Bugatti has tailored a unique suspension setup for the Vitesse that includes new dampers with faster-working valves and marginally softer springs. The result is phenomenal: We felt none of the nervous front-end vibration during full throttle that afflicts the Super Sport coupe’s steering. Even at some seriously rash speeds, the Vitesse can be steered with just a couple of fingers on the wheel—even on the sometimes bumpy South African roads.
Considering its improved driving quality and its docile/ferocious split personality, the new Grand Sport Vitesse is not only the most powerful and fastest roadster on earth, but also the most desirable Bugatti Veyron 16.4. An example will cost about $2,250,000. And you will then want to buy yourself a very large part of the earth on which to enjoy this thing. Or, alternatively, you’ll want to get your hands on one of those yellow placards.
BY JUERGEN ZOELLTER