2022 Bugatti Chiron Super Sport First Drive: Sunset Rider
You need not watch a single Western film to understand the visual metaphor of the hero riding off into the sunset. Once their work is done, the story concludes and they leave the audience behind as the sun sets and the screen fades to black. Sometimes, they ride off slowly, other times they charge off into the unknown. When your story’s hero is the 2022 Bugatti Chiron Super Sport, the last of its kind, racing into the sunset at 273 mph is the only way to go.
After all, this is as much a goodbye as it is a hello. The Super Sport is a new twist on the Chiron formula that’ll keep Bugatti craftspeople busy for years to come, but it’s also the end of the line. With the company’s controlling stake sold to electric supercar startup Rimac, the Super Sport is not only the last Chiron, but in all likelihood the last purely combustion-powered Bugatti road car (the Chiron-based Bolide coming in 2024 will be a track car only).
Following on the heels of the record-breaking Super Sport 300+ and the brand-redefining Pur Sport, you may be tempted to think of the Super Sport as a bit of a letdown, but you’d be wrong. Limited to only 273.4 mph, it’s nowhere near as fast as the 304-mph Super Sport 300+; and absent the fixed wing, weight savings, and high-grip tires of the Pur Sport, it’s not as corner-focused. What it is, however, is a delicious blending of those two cars.
The Most Complete Chiron
Developed with learnings from both the 300+ and the Pur Sport, the Super Sport is the Chiron lineup’s tour de force. Where either prior model falls short, be it in top speed or handling, the Super Sport steps in. It may be second best at both in absolute terms, but it’s the clear leader as a complete car.
You can see the melding of purposes when you look at it. Like the 300+, the Super Sport gets a new rear bumper that extends the bodywork nearly 10 extra inches to allow for both a larger rear diffuser and greater taper in the roofline. The longtail treatment, combined with revisions up front, like a similarly enlarged splitter and EB110 SS-inspired fender vents, gives the Super Sport the aerodynamics it needs for top speed runs.
Look closer, or start driving, and you’ll find it retains a movable rear wing that doubles as an air brake, because this car isn’t just about terminal velocity. Likewise, it wears tires fortified to withstand the extreme forces applied at 273 mph but also made of a stickier compound so they can still handle turns at lower speeds. Behind the Super Sport-exclusive wheels are stiffer rear springs, steering calibrated for extreme speeds, and adjustable dampers controlled by programs lifted from both the 300+ and the Pur Sport and applied as needed.
Select Your Mode Wisely
The need is, of course, dictated by the driver. Slip inside and adjust the delightfully weighted and self-righting knob on the steering wheel for the day’s work: EB for milling about, Handling for back roads and racetracks (primarily the latter), Autobahn for extended high-speed cruising, and Top Speed, which as always must be double-confirmed by inserting a key into a special switch below the driver’s left thigh.
Truth be told, the selector knob will get its biggest workout performing its most important function: activating the nose lift system before traversing speed bumps and steep driveways. If the presence of such a device weren’t enough to make you nervous about damaging the carbon-fiber nose, bear in mind the car lowers itself even further in Handling mode.
Handling mode you can quite honestly save for the track. EB mode (for founder Ettore Bugatti), is exceedingly capable, especially once you slot the shifter over into its Sport mode. So adjusted, the Chiron Super Sport’s nature changes. Gone is the shockingly demure boulevard cruiser, replaced with an assertive corner specialist. Higher gears are forsaken, engine revs are forbidden from dropping below 2,500 or so, and the car waits with bated breath for your input—ready to leap in any direction at the slightest indication of your desire.
Drive Fast, Drive Delicately
That’s what’s truly marvelous and unexpected about this car: It drives delicately. That’s not a phrase you’d ever think to use around a car that carries such intimidating numbers, unless you’re talking about the $222,500 paint or the even more expensive bodywork. But no, somehow this 1,578-hp, quad-turbocharged, 16-cylinder, 273-mph car that hits 60 mph in less than 2.5 seconds is putty in your hands.
There’s absolutely no need to wrestle with this car, no matter how fast you’re going. It doesn’t need to be forced, it needs to be caressed. Brush the throttle and brake pedals with the toe of your shoe. Hold the wheel by your fingertips and gently guide it through its arc. Flick the paddle shifters as you’d whisk a crumb from your table. Angry, ham-fisted inputs will only make you look like a fool.
Counterintuitive as it sounds, the Chiron’s massive powerplant—wrapped in an even more massive car—shrinks around you as the road bends. As hard as it is to park, it’s inversely easy to drive up a narrow canyon road. The steering is light and incredibly precise, completely unfazed by the absurd amount of engine power sent to the front wheels. The body remains flat through corners like a lighter, smaller supercar, but without the usual flinty ride. The precision of movement in every axis just isn’t what you expect from something this large, this heavy, this powerful.
If you want giggle-inducing power, it isn’t hard to get. Anything more than a kiss of the throttle pedal will get you enormous forward thrust if you have the revs up. Stay in it, and the latest, greatest, and probably last electrically unassisted iteration of Bugatti’s fearsome W-16 engine makes peak torque from 2,000 rpm all the way to 7,000 rpm and peak horsepower just 50 rpm shy of its 7,100-rpm redline.
What’s surprising is that in 2022 this car has the turbo lag of a 40-year-old Porsche 911 Turbo at low rpm. Despite the redesigned impeller wheels in the enlarged turbos and their staggered two-stage engagement, dropping the hammer while trundling around does not result in acceleration to hyperspace. It’s several confusing beats until anything special happens, but when the bass drops, it’ll chirp all four tires. Commit to it, and the otherworldly surge of acceleration will make even the most jaded Tesla owner giggle. Then, it grabs the next gear, and the 0.3-second dip in boost (yes, Bugatti measured it) is just long enough to make the return to full power feel even more apocryphal.
Insanely Dignified Performance
Stay committed for more than a literal few seconds, and you’ll be traveling over 100 mph. In less than 10 seconds, the time it takes some brand-new cars to reach freeway speeds, you’ll be doing 150 mph. Such a tiny window of time in which to experience this car’s potential—and the equally scant windows in traffic and weather that would allow for it—will keep you chasing the dragon the length of your drive and the length of your possession of the car.
And while it will chirp all four massive tires simultaneously, that’s as out of control as it gets. How street tires can control power like this while simultaneously keeping a coupe that weighs as much as a luxury sedan neutral through corners and stopping all that mass like a track day special is a secret only Michelin knows. The grip, in any direction you ask of it, is simply phenomenal and begs you to test it. The more you do, the more you realize just how massively you’ve underestimated it.
In a world in which incalculably less expensive cars can also accelerate this quickly and in which there are approximately three places on Earth where you could ever hope to visit the far end of the Chiron Super Sport’s analog speedometer, the fact this car handles as well as does is what sets it apart. People who only care about being the fastest have already bought up all 30 Super Sport 300+ copies, and those who want their Bugatti to drive like a McLaren with twice the power have bought up all 60 Pur Sports. Those who don’t want to have to choose have the Super Sport, which will no doubt be sold out between the time we finish typing this sentence and the time you read it. (Update: It did.)
This is not, then, Bugatti going gently into that good night. It is not a whimper, nor is it a disappointment. This is Bugatti raging against the dying of the light in the only way it knows how: with the most dignified 1,578 horsepower the world has ever known.
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