I opened my inbox one morning to find this question from a publicist: "Would you have time to drive the Bugatti Veyron?" Would I have time? Really? Would you believe, uh, yes? And that's how I found myself at Westlake Village with a black and cream Veryon waiting in the shade of the porte cochère. Yes, it was perfect. It was like getting a date with that frighteningly beautiful woman I've had my eye on for a while now, and actually enjoying it.
Now we all know about the Veyron and we've all surely seen the Top Gear and the celebrity spotting vids, so I won't waste time recounting its origins or performance tales. We all know that when it comes to the supercar mafia, this is the capo di tutti capo. The Godfather. The Don Vito Corleone of automobiles. But just as you might wonder what it's really like to have a Godfather for a boss, the question I really wanted to answer was: what's it really like to have to deal with a Veyron?
The first answer to that question is: busy. You'll probably want to hire your own publicist if you buy one, because strangers are going to ask you a lot of questions. And then they'll take pictures. And then they'll ask you to start it and rev it. Then they'll ask you to show them "what it can do."
Even while you're driving, people will hang behind you, or in your blind spot, or, my favorite, drive up beside you, stay there a while, then roll down their windows and turn into Larry King. Their first question is always "What do you think of the car?" What do I think of the car? You really want to know? At 75 MPH? 'Cause I'll bet you already know the answer...
Once you've finished your interviews, you can look the car over. The pictures don't lie: it's wide, it's quite compact, and it's really, really low. It felt like it only rose to my knees, a feeling reinforced when I actually sat in the car. It's one of those rare cars that looks in person the exact way it does in the photos. Personally, I don't mind the front and the sides of the car, but the rear, well, let's just say I'm not enthralled. The graceful combinations of curves and radii that make up the front and sides give way to a stew of angles, prominences, crevices, and materials. Understandably so, since that's the hard working end of a 1,001-HP conveyance, but aesthetically, I might wish for something else. Yet don't get me wrong: if I actually owned the car, I'd get over it.
Speaking of grace, that was something I was never able to master while getting in the car. In cars this low I usually plop in butt-first, then swing my legs in, and it's not a problem. But the Bugatti's doors don't open terrifically wide, so whether I tried to put my butt in first and swing my legs in, or put a leg in first, I always ended up having to pull my ankle back to get my foot around the door and into the car.
And once you're in, it's a cozy fit, with your legs canted to the right and the narrow-ish window leaning in to meet the roof perched right at my head. It isn't, however, claustrophobic, and there's still plenty of room to maneuver -- if there's someone in the passenger's seat, you don't have to worry about bumping elbows during the drive.
The controls are all there, an arm's length away, and everything -- absolutely everything -- is, of course, very, very, very nice. Not that I did much exploring of them -- there isn't much to play with, and I didn't waste time fiddling with the $30,000 stereo or anything else for that matter. The center console is a bit too gilded for my tastes anyway, so as soon as I located the Start button I was set.
The manual sport seats were quite comfortable. My co-driver was a gent named Butch Leitzinger, whose job it is to escort folks like me, and he told me that the sport seats are actually more comfortable than the electric seats. If you don't plan on doing a lot of moving around or driver swapping, choose those. They offer a great seating position, fantastic support, and even after an hour driving the car I felt just as good when I got out as I did when I got in.
To start: grab your Veyron key -- which looks like any other VW group key, except it sports a Bugatti logo -- turn, put your foot on the brake, and press the Start button. Sixteen cylinders and four turbos sit over your right shoulder like Jeeves, waiting for orders. The overwhelming sounds are of whine and wind: whine from the turbos and machinery right behind you, wind from the cyclonic amounts of air being inhaled by the intakes right above your head. You tap the gearshift to the right that puts you in first, press the gas, and you're off.
The first part of our route took us from the San Fernando Valley over the mountains and down to the ocean, and it was a good 30 minutes of up-and-down twisties. The steering was perfect, rapier-sharp, and the car does only what you ask it to, not a jot more, not a jot less. As well, you sit so low, the car has such a short front end, and the arcs over the wheels immediately mark the locations of those enormous Michelin's (they're practically right beside you, anyway). You don't need to worry about getting some undue expanse of car in front of you around the corner on the right line. There simply isn't enough car in front of you to hide the right line.
I let the car do the shifting over this stretch because I hadn't had a chance to work out the turbo behavior, and a tightly wound 2-lane road wasn't the ideal venue to begin running scientific experiments on turbo lag. Cruising in automatic, though, added another noise to the cockpit: the transmission shifting gears. Stout mechanicals, thunking into place with every up- and downshift, letting you know "There are Serious Things Happening Back Here."
But the car was as docile as could be, much like driving a Volkswagen except with perfect responses and heavier steering. And for a portly car that feels like it has no travel left to give and no allowance for roll, the suspension was compliant enough that the lane-line-reflectors passed under the wheels with unexpectedly sedate thuds.
Then we got to the PCH. And it was empty. And Butch said "Go ahead and have some fun."
So this is what happens from a 2-MPH start in a Bugatti Veyron when you floor it (in fact, it would have already happened by now. It's that fast, and you haven't even started reading about it):
Hit the gas. The car rockets forward. Immediately. Instantly. You're going really fast. Like it decided to skip everything from 2-MPH to 40-MPH and just jumped straight to 41-MPH, didn't pass go, didn't collect $200.
That took maybe two seconds. Maybe.
And you're not even doing anything yet.
Because while you were busy trying to figure out where those two seconds went and where this speed came from, the turbos were busy getting ready to come on stage --
And then they kick in --
And then forget about it.
No really, forget about it.
Sixty miles per hour comes in maybe another second.
And another second after that, hell, who knows how fast you're going. And another second after that, I think time and space take on different properties. I think I became a rhombus.
And this is the PCH, remember. I only had room in my head for two thoughts:
1. I need to stay on Earth.
2. I need to not hit a telephone pole.
There's a horsepower gauge in the lower left corner of the dashboard, which, sadly, you have no time to watch. If you're moving quickly, you're much more interested in making sure you don't hit anything. If you're moving slowly, you're much more interested in making sure none of the hangers on hit you.
And then Butch said -- loudly -- "Slam on the brakes!" There was no danger, he just wanted me to see what the brakes were like.
So I slammed on the brakes. And all the blood and every organ in the back of my body moved immediately to the front of my body. It felt like something was trying to suck me out of the front of the car. A couple seconds later we were stopped. The brakes are very good.
Nevertheless, I wanted to know how the turbos behaved in normal driving, because if you just wanted to do a little point-and-squirting through traffic you weren't really looking for warp factor seven. If you give the Bug a nice dose of gas the turbos begin to spool, the noise above your head sounds like a huge Dyson is vacuuming up the sky, and then you go. I mean: GO. But you have about 1.5 seconds from the moment you hear the roar above your head to liftoff, which means that if you don't want to go subsonic in whatever direction you're facing, you better get your foot off the gas pronto. In practice, once you sort out the timing, it's a piece of proverbial, quad-turbo cake.
My attention only lapsed once, coming down a highway entrance ramp, chatting with Butch, when I pressed the pedal and less than two seconds later I was headed at Ludicrous Speed toward a tanker truck in the slow lane. Did I mention the car has very good brakes? But it's so easy to drive this $1.4 million dollar car like any other every day driver, you'll soon find yourself chatting with your passenger, Big Gulp between your legs, debating whether K-Fed really is as talented as Vanilla Ice.
And here are some fun facts: incredibly, the Bugatti has a bigger glove box than a few sedans I've known, including some from its parent company; the trunk was originally larger, but the engine demanded so much cooling that the holding area has shrunk to about the size of a duffle bag; the navigation system is on the rear-view mirror, semi-opaque directions appearing on the right side of the glass like a miniature Minority Report screen; you use a Bugatti Palm Pilot to enter your navigation details, then upload it to the car via Bluetooth; the car has a sport mode that keeps the engine at redline in every gear, and it's really, really loud, and really, really annoying for people inside and outside the car; and if you fill the tank, take off and drive full throttle, you'll run out of gas in 12 minutes. Twelve. That's 720 seconds. I've waited longer than that for a Big Mac at the drive through. And you'll only go 50 miles. Maybe.
Bugatti likes to stress how fast the car is, and how quickly the car brakes. Yet the story for me was that the Veyron is actually a usable supercar. And I don't mean usable like an SLR or Carrera GT or Enzo -- the first two I've driven, the last one I've ridden in, all of which I could drive every day, but I wouldn't. I kid you not, if you can drive a Porsche Turbo every day, you can drive a Veyron every day, the only caveat being it might take a day to get used to having your legs aimed slightly right. The ride is firm but plenty compliant. The mechanical whine is everpresent, but I hear vintage Tercels, Novas, and Civics every day that make more noise. The steering is utterly precise, but not twitchy. The controls respond rapidly to inputs, but you won't kill yourself as long as you pay attention. Perhaps that's why only one Veyron has been destroyed (that we know of), as opposed to how many other supercars?
The car really is all that. I hear if you lease it, which you can do from Bugatti, you can write off the taxes. And it's that time of year again, folks -- what are you waiting for?