| The Bugatti Veyron
Molsheim, France, Jan. 5: Many people thought Volkswagen lost touch with its customer base in 2003 when it introduced the Phaeton, a luxury sedan perfectly wonderful in almost every way save for a price tag that veered uncomfortably close to six figures.
What, then, will the sceptics make of the Bugatti Veyron 16.4, the fastest, most powerful and ' no surprise ' most expensive production car in the world' Bugatti is owned by VW.
The Veyronís credentials speak for themselves. Its 8-litre, 16-cylinder power plant produces 1,001 horsepower, blasting the two-seater to 60 miles an hour in 2.5 seconds ' and continues pulling all the way to 253 mph.
The car is capable of staggering acceleration: from zero to 125 miles an hour in 7.3 seconds and to 250 in 55.6 seconds, according to Bugatti.
The price, for those indiscreet enough to ask, is $1.2 million in the US, before taxes.
Nothing prepares the newcomer for the reality behind the bald performance statistics.
The Veyron is blisteringly, and effortlessly, fast. Other vehicles on the road appear to stop as the Veyron whooshes past with the ease of a Formula One car. It is a sobering realisation that the grand prix racer is not as fast as a Veyron.
Even stationary, the Veyron looks like a car that takes no prisoners. Slightly less than 176 inches long (less than 4 feet longer than the Maruti 800) and almost 79 inches wide (just over a foot more than the 800), it is surprisingly compact. Much of the space inside seems to be occupied by an enormous 16-cylinder engine. Ten radiators are required to disperse all the heat the Veyronís mechanical systems generate.
Overall, the car represents an extraordinary blend of opulence and power. As luxurious as a Maybach, the Veyron provides a level of comfort far beyond that of quasi racers like the Ferrari Enzo and Porsche Carrera GT, neither of which can match its acceleration, top speed or braking.
Thomas Bscher, president of Bugatti Automobiles, is just as proud of the carís refined manners. ďThis car can be driven by anyone,Ē he said, a statement clearly begging to be substantiated.
The mighty motor rumbles to life at the touch of the starter button. Despite its placement just a few inches behind the driverís shoulders, the engine produces a muted growl that is music to the enthusiast.
Venturing onto the highways here, near Bugattiís headquarters in the Alsace region of France, the carís rarity and value generate considerable apprehension. Embarrassment, injury, a big repair bill or worse await a driver who does not show proper respect.
It would be nice to relate that this reporterís driving skills are capable of wringing the maximum from the Veyron. They are not, but they were enough to determine that at really high speeds the car is quiet, comfortable, refined ' and as easy to drive as Bscher says. The carís everyday top speed of 234 mph is enough to make it a king of the road. To be the performance emperor, though, the driver must resort to a second ignition key to the left of his seat.
The key functions only when the vehicle is at a stop. A checklist then establishes whether the car ' and its driver ' are ready to go for the maximum speed beyond 250 mph.
To appreciate the Veyronís performance extremes, ride along with Pierre-Henri Raphanel, a former professional racer who demonstrates the car to potential buyers.
Raphanel looks relaxed as he blasts the Veyron to almost 180 mph. Other traffic and roadside objects appear and vanish in a blurred, real-life re-enactment of a computer game before he eases off.
When the freeway empties, Raphanel demonstrates the Veyronís brakes. The carís speed simply vanishes ' braking to a stop from 250 mph takes less than 10 seconds, he said ' but for the passenger, there is an equally astonishing experience: the driver is holding both hands in the air and wearing a big grin. The car has stopped in a straight line with no corrections at the steering wheel.
Everything about the Veyron is shaped by superlatives, but even Bscher acknowledges, ďNobody needs a car like this.Ē
Indeed, who could argue that it isnít a frivolous liability' On what roads can it be tested, given that it reaches speeds in excess of those achieved in qualifying laps for the Indianapolis 500 (a motor race over 500 miles where the fastest ever official lap is a little over 237 mph)' When the Veyron was recorded at 253 mph, it was on a test track in Germany.
How relaxed would an owner be about leaving a Veyron in a parking structure for a couple of hours' How anxious would he be handing the ignition key to a parking valet'
The fuel economy ' if that is the right word ' is 9 miles per gallon in the city and 18 highway, according to preliminary estimates.
A giant automotive achievement, the Veyron owes its existence to Ferdinand Pi'ch, who bought rights to the fabled Bugatti name in 1998, when he was chairman of Volkswagen, with the goal of building the ultimate supercar.
Bringing it to market required an unwavering commitment by Pi'ch, a man with a reputation as a brilliant engineer, though many have questioned his grasp on commercial reality.
Creating cars for the wealthy was a curious strategy for the manufacturer of the Peopleís Car ' thatís what Volkswagen means in German. The results, nevertheless, are now available to the handful of buyers with the necessary wherewithal.
New York Times News Service