The latest model from the French carmaker balances earthshaking power with nimble elegance.
BY JONATHAN SCHULTZ
Achim Anscheidt, Bugatti’s design director, has a thing for duality. Beauty and beast, yin and yang—they all reside, he says, in his team’s latest creation, the Chiron: a $2.6 million supercar that enters production this fall. Putting a scarcely believable 1,500 horsepower under its driver’s right foot, the Chiron would be a frightful creature to cross. “Once you let that beast out, it’s like nothing you’ve ever experienced,” Anscheidt says.
And yet the beast lurks within Bugatti, too. Perhaps no other carmaker preys so wantonly on the nerves of its engineering and design corps. In the past decade, the nearly 100-year-old French marque—which was resurrected by Volkswagen Group in the 1990s—has evolved into the apex predator of the global automotive ecosystem. The Chiron’s predecessor, the Veyron, remains recognized by Guinness as the fastest production vehicle ever built, having run to 268 miles per hour. The Veyron, however, wasn’t just speedy—it was upholstered in fragrant leather, equipped with a spectacular Burmester audio system, and gave its two occupants a comfortable ride. There is fast, and then there’s Bugatti’s brand of fast.
Performance targets, naturally, were set higher for the Chiron—and consequently for Anscheidt. “In the beginning, the requirements from engineering seemed so outrageously high,” he says of the Chiron’s genesis. “There was quite a bit of frustration about how to reach these technical targets.” The headaches of turbulence mitigation and W-16 engine cooling may seem more in the realm of aeronautics experts, but these problems were Anscheidt’s to remedy.
A piece of design-led thinking broke through: the C-shaped chasms on each body side funnel critical air to the Chiron’s four turbochargers. They also form what Anscheidt calls “the Bugatti line.” “[The line] is a perfect example of giving the engineers what they needed,” he says. “When you look at the the air intake, they were asking for double the area, which for a designer would be a disaster. But we found a way.”
That curve also outlines where Anscheidt begins a dalliance with the past—one that grows more torrid as your eye moves along the Chiron’s silhouette. That C shape echoes the florid signature of Ettore Bugatti, the company’s founder, while a spine-like buttress arcing above the engine
housing stretches back 80 years to the Type 57SC Atlantic, an art deco masterpiece that—were either of the two original models ever sold—would likely become the world’s most expensive car.
But nothing about the Chiron seems indebted to art deco, or to any other design movement, despite the clear overtures to Bugatti’s back catalogue. “It’s not as if I looked to the Frank Gehry building in Bilbao, or Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia, and transferred it to our car,” Anscheidt says. “That was simply not the case.”
For all the Chiron’s might, it still must seduce. More than 200 of the total 500 Chirons have been purchased, proving that the car, despite its extremely high price, can still find a market. (Bugatti cars in general are for a buyer who also appreciates Giorgio Armani wares: The Italian fashion house collaborated with the carmaker on a new capsule collection for men coming out this fall.) But for Anscheidt, sales are not the strongest barometer of his team’s success. “In the end, it’s not just a sheer technical product; it’s a visual one,” he says. “Our cars need to look good in five, 10, or 50 years.”