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Editor: Jaap Horst


Volume 15, Issue 3

The King of Road Cars : The Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Super Sport

Ben Oliver

2011 Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Super Sport First Drive

When Extreme Isn't Enough, There's the Veyron Super Sport

Poor So-So Pretty Good Good Excellent .5 Ratings .So you've paid at least $630,000 over the cost of the standard model for this, the new 1,183-horsepower 2011 Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Super Sport. It's probably your second or third Bugatti, after your normal, 987-hp, $1.6M 16.4 coupe and your $1.9M open-top Grand Sport.

And you've handed over another $28,000 to take your new car to one of Bugatti's customer track days at Volkswagen's Ehra-Lessien test track in Germany, which has a 5.6-mile-long straightaway that is one of the very few places on earth where you can legally prove the Super Sport's claim to be the world's fastest production car.

So after your car has been meticulously checked and you've done your sighting laps with Bugatti's test-driver Pierre-Henri Raphanel sitting shotgun, you fire it up. Then you insert your special top-speed key into the slot in the dash and muster every last bit of go-fast glory you can work up and put your foot all the way in and hold it there.... What happens?

Not So Fast

You run into an electronic speed limiter. Yep, same way you do in a Corolla. OK, it's a speed limiter that cuts in at 258 mph, but it's a speed limiter all the same. Seems as though the suits at the Volkswagen Group, which owns Bugatti, aren't prepared to shoulder the risk of you going any faster, even if you paid them more than $2 million for the privilege.

The standard, unrestricted coupe or Grand Sport will do 253 mph flat-out. So all that extra money and all that extra power has bought you an extra 5 mph. It's just enough to recapture the title of world's fastest production car from the SSC Ultimate Aero. Bugatti figured that was enough of a reason to justify building this third Veyron model. Well, that, and the company really, really needs to get rid of the final batch of Veyrons, the last of which are supposed to be built by 2012.

Wrong Rubber for the Road

Actually, most buyers really won't care about the technicalities since nothing much makes sense in the distorted world of Bugatti anyway. Nobody needs a 248-mph car in the first place, nor does a car that already has nearly 1,000 horsepower need another 195 horses.

The reason this car is limited to 258 mph is actually a tire issue, not a legal one. Apparently the Veyron's bespoke Michelin run-flats you know, the ones that cost $28,000 a set haven't been upgraded on the Super Sport. If you started with a full tank of fuel and accelerated to the true, drag-limited Vmax of 258 mph the tires would disintegrate before the fuel ran out. It would take less than 5 minutes, Bugatti reckons, though nobody's yet volunteered to find out. That's assuming you'd found a 22-mile straight on which you could hold 258 mph for 5 minutes, but VW isn't prepared to bet you can't. Some billionaire owner might just build one.

It isn't that they couldn't afford to develop a new tire that could cope with the new top speed; instead, it's just impossible to make one that still gives reasonable performance at normal speeds. The current tires are compromised enough as it is thanks to their 365mm tread width in back that makes the car hydroplane over the slight bit of standing water. Pierre-Henri was able to crack 268 mph in an unrestricted Super Sport because, as an employee, he is expendable, though we wonder if he was required to remove his $252,000 Parmigiani company watch first.

What Else Don't You Get?

The Super Sport's extra 195 hp doesn't even buy you any extra acceleration either. The standard 2011 Bugatti Veyron is already traction-constrained, the launch control system only letting through as much of the 922 pound-feet of torque as the Haldex four-wheel-drive system can manage. The Super Sport's extra 184 lb-ft of torque only makes the problem worse, so it matches the standard car's 2.5-second 0-62-mph time and only improves on its 0-124-mph time by a fraction to 6.7 seconds. It only starts to find grip beyond that speed as it shaves the Veyron's absurd 0-186-mph time down from 16.7 seconds to just 14.6 seconds.

It's sharper and more composed than a 4,052-pound all-wheel-drive car has any right to be.

Making the extra power wasn't a problem. The 7,993cc quad-turbo W16 engine has always made its 987 hp without much effort, even in high heat and at high altitude. By fitting bigger turbos running 21.8 psi of boost (up from 18.9 psi), the Super Sport makes a minimum of 1,183 hp at 6,400 rpm and 1,106 lb-ft of torque between 3,000 and 5,000 rpm with no modification to the engine's internals. Additional upgrades include a revised exhaust for less back-pressure, four fuel pumps, stronger 2nd and 3rd gears, more robust clutches and a taller 7th gear.

But the real work was done on the cooling. Of all the problems that beset the original Veyron, dissipating the heat from that monstrous engine was the biggest. So much so that it required 12 radiators, 26 gallons of fluids and an exposed engine. So how did they cool it with another 195 hp on tap?

By the smallest of changes. The design of the nose was altered to squeeze more air in and create more low pressure around the wheels to suck the hot air back out again. The "cup" intakes on the roof of the standard car have been replaced by more efficient NACA ducts, and there's a big, double-deck diffuser.

All the exterior panels are now carbon-fiber, and the carbon tub uses a new, directional fiber design to improve stiffness and crash performance and cut 110 pounds in weight. The 15.7-inch, eight-piston carbon brakes are, like the tires, unchanged, but the suspension has been revised to keep the Super Sport stable; spring rates are higher, the antiroll bars thicker and the dampers retuned accordingly.

A Monster Behind the Wheel

So what's it like to drive the 2011 Bugatti Veyron Super Sport, you ask like a coward from the safety of your armchair. It sounds terrifying from the outside now; deliberately much louder than before, like two angry V8s in stereo, which is what it basically is. Our car the one that set the world record is one of five "world record" specials finished in black and orange inside and out, and it looks a lot better than it sounds, though for $2.7M (a regular Super Sport starts at just $2.3M) you'd want it to.

Inside, all Super Sports get a suede steering wheel and a few other upgrades, although the cabin keeps its surprisingly simple layout and the same mix of flawless materials and build with the odd cheap touch; though how you'd make it feel like $2.7M worth without spattering it in diamonds is tough to say.

Knock the stubby lever sideways into "D" and the seven-speed Ricardo twin-clutch gearbox changes early and imperceptibly. The car's low-speed manners are still polished and the ride still compliant despite the stiffer springs. They have, however, made it much noisier inside, too, and in an entirely good way.

It's worth breaking yourself in very gently with this car, spending an hour or so feeling it out if you haven't driven it for a while. When you finally dig deeply into the throttle it's almost impossible to disentangle the sensation of going faster from all the noise. It is madly intoxicating. Give a big chunk of gas and there's a deep, thunderous induction sound overlaid with a crack from the turbos as you lift off and they dump all that extra pressure. It now sounds as good and as loud with a fixed roof as the Grand Sport does with none. It is an entirely non-automotive sensation, and very nearly too much to cope with.

The $600,000 Question

Does it feel any quicker? It's impossible to say. The extra torque makes that magnificent gearbox even more redundant. In Manual mode it will change up at the redline but won't kick down. Not that it matters much, as the car provides devastating acceleration in any gear you choose: 2nd, 3rd, 4th it never really matters.

What the 2011 Bugatti Veyron Super Sport does is to stretch even further the Veyron's weird contrast between its almost uncontrolled acceleration and the complete control of the chassis. The stiffer suspension gives less roll and even more precise, tactile steering. It's sharper and more composed than a 4,052-pound all-wheel-drive car has any right to be, and only once in a day's driving over some terrible roads was there a harsh response to a crater.

Privately, those Bugatti suits sniffily claim not to take any notice of uncouth, overtuned muscle cars like the SSC or the Hennessey Venom, which claims a top speed of 272 mph but has yet to prove it. The Bugatti people say they built the Super Sport only because their customers demanded it. But secretly, they'll be praying they've done enough, and that like the Super Sport's price tag, its speed record will remain untouched.

Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Super Sport Specifications


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