A Bugatti Journey

October 9, 2010: Las Cabezas de San Juan, Spain

It's easy to criticize the Veyron for being so heavy or so numb or so this or that. But to do so is to forget just what an accomplishment this car was in the first place. The basics, of course, were simple: madman (and Automobile Magazine's 2011 Man of the Year) Ferdinand Piƫch buys the rights to the Bugatti name and develops the most ludicrous prescription for the fastest and most expensive production car ever -- it needs to have 1001 hp, hit 253 mph, and set new standards for handling and braking. Oh, and it must be an outstanding piece of art.

It takes five years to complete, but the Veyron 16.4 happens against all odds -- all well and good. But at the original price of $1.3 million, it will still have lost money when all 300 are built. Justification? Volkswagen said the project cost a fraction of what competing in Formula 1 would have -- and besides, although none of us will ever drive an F1 car, at least we might have a chance to drive a Veyron, no matter how slight.

When I finally did, during the owners' rally in California in August, I understood why it was so easy to criticize the car. Sure, it's unbelievably fast and stunning inside and out. But the Veyron rides like crap and has no steering feel, the dual-clutch transmission is perfect but perfectly soulless, and, quite frankly, the car sounds like a turbocharged vacuum cleaner.

Sure, the Grand Sport is better than the stock Veyron coupe, since the lack of a roof means that, from the snorkels directly above your head, you can hear the four turbos spool and spit out their boost with deafening clarity. This sound, combined with the W-16's deep thundercloud bark, is different from, but no less titillating than, the screaming wail of the world's most sonorous engines. Nice, but it doesn't completely make up for some of the aforementioned shortcomings.

Then we learned about the final thirty Veyrons, which will be called SS (this time, it stands for Super Sport). They'll get 200 more horsepower. Great, the collective critics say, a tuner special wherein some computer geek at Volkswagen writes a new line of code for the engine computer. Twenty percent more power -- big deal! Adding twenty percent more power to a Volkswagen GTI requires a visit to your favorite tuning shop and a couple hundred bucks. For that matter, adding another 200 hp to a GTI -- doubling its power -- doesn't require all that much work.

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