Driven: 2009 Bugatti Grand Sport—Demoralize Thy Neighbor

By Rex Roy

July 30, 2009

Many delineate wealth simply as The Haves and The Have Nots. For those who have had enjoyed any sum of money, you know that classifying wealth is not nearly so simple. There are The Have Nothings, The Have Less Than I Do, The Have More Than I Do, The Have More Than I Ever Will, and The Have More Than I Can Ever Imagine.

The 2009 Bugatti Grand Sport is the ultimate car for those in the last group. The car's $2 million price tag (1.4 million Euros before taxes and transportation) makes it unobtainable for all but the world's ultra wealthy. Its cost helps define how different it is from any other supercar.

Our photo shoot took place at the home of a friend to Winding Road who owns the other cars in the photo. The cost of acquiring those four cars does not approach even half the Grand Sport's value.

The pictures continue to tell the story about the chasm separating the Grand Sport from the elegance of the Ferraris and the performance of the Ford GT. Under the harsh light given off by its company, the first-generation Viper looked even more like a kit car that it had prior to the Grand Sport's arrival.

Suddenly, once revered cars seem pedestrian and altogether too common.

This is not ignorant blather, but mere fact. While the Grand Sport—a topless version of the Veyron EB 16.4—represents the most conspicuous of consumptive acts, the car itself does not exude a sense of arrogance like a Lamborghini or Rolls, for example. Quite the contrary, the Grand Sport seems more like a humble yet strikingly handsome superstar who is capable of great feats but would never rub your face in the fact.

The Grand Sport's top speed of 253 miles per hour is well known, but during our chaperoned drive outside of Metro Detroit we made no attempt to experience such velocities. It would have been pointless. This is not to say we didn't revel in uncorking the 8-liter quad-turbo W-16. As a matter of fact, we made the most of every opportunity that presented itself, but the reality is that with a car so fast, sustained bursts of WOT are impossible without endangering the general public, the car, and your author's valued Michigan driver's license.

Instead of focusing purely on speed, we enjoyed a level of auditory connection that is absent from the insulated cockpit of the fixed-roof Veyron, or even in the Grand Sport with the top in place. Twin air intakes sit directly behind the driver's head, and the engine itself is open to the elements. This physical reality treats the driver to a mechanical symphony of sounds including the whoosh of the engine sucking in cubic liters of air, the hissing of the turbocharger waste gates bleeding off pressure, and the rumble of the W-16 (that sounds much like a throaty but refined V-8). These sounds are controlled by the driver's right foot, allowing one to become a conductor of sorts.

Beyond the sounds, the Grand Sport is nothing short of spectacular to drive. Incredibly, unleashing the car's full power isn't like the barely controlled atom-splitting explosion one might expect. The Grand Sport's sophisticated all-wheel drive system and enormous tires effortlessly transfer the W-16's rotational power into linear motion. (The rear tires are 14-inches wide.) Never once was I able to spin a tire, which is a good thing since they cost about $5,000. Apiece.

Nail the throttle and the car rockets forward with a level of thrust akin to a Saturn rocket. The acceleration is so powerful that you'll feel your internal organs shift toward the rear of your ribcage. Several times during a rush of acceleration I thought about looking down to see the reading on the horsepower gauge (yes, this car has a gauge for horsepower…the only bit of frufru I could identify in the entire package). I honestly couldn't spare the time to glace away from the road while hurtling toward the horizon, but chaperone Butch Leitzinger (AMSL and Le Mans pilot) noted that during sustained bursts beginning at legal highway speeds generate 800-900 horsepower. Getting the engine to produce its full power requires giving the engine a few moments to gather speed and get the four turbochargers spun up so that they can produce full boost for 1001 horsepower. In reality, the engine can produce closer to 1050, but the impact of saying “one-thousand and one” is so much, well, cooler for lack of a better term.

In any other car, going WOT for seven or eight seconds wouldn't be an issue. In the Grand Sport, that long at full throttle would have gotten the Bugatti to speeds that were unsafe for the environment. The thought of jail was also somewhere in the back of my mind.

While driving around metro Detroit provided the opportunity to explore only a sliver of the Bugatti's speed potential, our ride did reveal that this car is easy to drive—even docile—in normal driving. Visibility is good. The steering isn't heavy. The throttle and brake pedals don't have a hair trigger. The seven-speed transmission is an automated manual, so there's no third pedal. The only issue is with steep driveways. Those can cause the car's belly to scrape with an expensive sound.

The academic knowledge of the Grand Sport's performance is entertaining, but not nearly so much as watching how the car literally stops people in their tracks. In just a few hours on the road we were followed, waved at, captured by cell phone cameras, and starred at as if the car were a parade float topped with naked supermodels jumping on trampolines. Talk about star power; the Grand Sport has it in levels that makes every other car on the road completely insignificant.

I suppose for those who can afford one, this would be a Lucky Strike extra, if not the entire point of ownership. Demoralize thy neighbor, indeed.