First drive: They actually let us get behind the wheel of a Bugatti Divo

What a day
by Jack Rix | Aug 29, 2020
PHOTO: TopGear.com
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Hang on—Bugatti actually let you drive one?

Hard to believe I know, but yes...lucky me. On a smoking hot Sicilian afternoon, I was handed the keys to a €5-million Bugatti Divo and told to go drive on part of the actual route of the Targa Florio road race. One caveat: I had to have Bugatti’s test pilot Andy Wallace (the man who recently cracked 300mph in the Chiron Super Sport 300+, also the man who set the 240.1mph speed record in the McLaren F1) in the passenger seat to keep an eye on my ham-fisted driving. However, when your caveat has a CV like that, and happens to be one of the nicest people on the planet, it’s really no hardship.

Just run me over that price again...

Sure. Just the €5 million (P287.9 million), plus tax. Except dropping a mansion’s worth of money isn’t quite enough to get you on the list for one of the (already sold out) 40 Divos that will be produced. No, you have to already own a Chiron to be considered, or simply add one onto your bill at checkout.

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It’s clearly smart business, though, because that’s 40 cars on top of the 500 Chirons that Bugatti is already building, and since the Divo broke cover in 2018, we’ve seen several other Chiron-based coachbuilt specials, namely, the Voiture Noire and the EB110-inspired Centodieci, as well as more focused derivatives such as the Chiron Sport and the Chiron Pur Sport.

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How different is it to a Chiron, then?

To look at, wildly. From the squinty headlights and the ankle-slicing front splitter, to all those vents, slashes, and winglets and the hydraulically actuated, 1.83-meter-wide double-decker rear wing (23% wider than the Chiron’s, fact fans), this is clearly a far more aggressive take. Some will claim the Chiron’s elegance has been lost, but not I. Keep the color subdued like the exposed navy weave you see here and it’s a mighty piece of design: pure theater, hulking presence, but still a delicacy to the details. Take those rear lamps, for example: more modern art installation than taillights, but perfectly functional and usefully lighter than the Chiron’s units, too.

Is this basically a track-focused Chiron?

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Nope. Bugatti is clear that this still isn’t designed to bully racetracks—it’s merely a dynamically enhanced road car with bit more of an appetite for corners than the standard Chiron, but not as extreme as the Chiron Pur Sport. Even so, it’s more than just a carbon-fiber coachbuilt body dropped on top of a Chiron chassis. Stiffer springs and dampers, increased camber, 35kg lighter (mostly thanks to lightweight wheels, but also no active aero in the front bumper and even more carbon bits), and 436kg of downforce at the limited 380kph top speed (90kg more than the Chiron).

All in, it’s 8sec faster than the Chiron around the Nardo handling circuit, which is a sizeable chunk.

Same engine as the Chiron, though?

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Correct. Twice the price and the same powertrain wouldn’t normally be seen as terribly fair, but when said powertrain contains an 8.0-liter quad-turbo W16 producing 1,479hp and capable of propelling this two-ton lump from 0-100kph in 2.4sec...we’ll give them a pass. Concerned that the Divo slams into its limiter at 380kph while the Chiron continues to 420kph? Don’t be—it’s because the extra downforce and negative camber increase the load on the tires, hence this nod to self-preservation.

How about the interior?

Mostly carryover from the Chiron, but with a few key changes like the asymmetrical two-tone color scheme, designed to place the emphasis more on the driver by surrounding him with lighter-colored leather. There’s also a knee pad on the transmission tunnel stitched with the Divo logo (lest you forget which of your fleet you’re driving), slightly more sculpted seats, fixed instead of pop-out door pockets, and...that’s it. Again, no biggie, because the Chiron is already simple and exquisitely built inside.

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Our highlight? The displays built into the top knob on the center stack that reads out the maximum power you recently deployed. We managed 1,279hp on a very short straight—not bad considering the state of the roads.

What? Thought the roads would be magical?

Um, the old pits were cool, but the roads themselves were poorly surfaced, narrow, undulating, and littered with Fiat Punto rental cars traveling at either 17kph on the right side, or 170kph on the wrong side of the road. However, this wasn’t quite the disaster it sounds. You look at the numbers, the materials, the cost, and the sheer dimensions of the Divo, and you assume it’s going to be some sort of diva: tricky to see out of, jerky at low speeds, a boulder of momentum in the corners...but it isn’t.

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Go on, then, what’s it like?

Firstly, I’ve driven a couple of Veyrons a number of years back, but never a Chiron, so the experience was all-new. You quickly realize the engineering genius of this car is that its capabilities are so far removed from normality, and yet it’s as easy to see out of and drive normally as—cliché incoming—an automatic compact car. Honestly, its ability to cope easily with less-than-perfect roads is out of this world.

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It starts in the first 10 meters. I was expecting the Divo to feels heavy, slightly cumbersome, and full of inertia, but the complete opposite is true. The steering is always light—it’s a quick rack, but crystal-clear in its messages and hooked up to a front end with bottomless bite. Tickle the throttle and the response is instant—yes, there are 16 cylinders to wake up, but the performance feels frictionless at low speeds building to something more full-bodied when you keep it pinned. It comes in stages: The initial, naturally aspirated surge, then the kick of the first two turbos—let’s call this normal supercar quick. Resist the urge to roll off the throttle, and for the finale, it really fills its lungs—the full blurry, new-trousers-please catapult effect.

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And the way it finds traction on a surface without a single flat section is staggering. Every crack and ridge is rounded off and there’s zero harshness in the damping, and despite the bumps, it finds a way to keep all four tires in contact with the ground and deploy all that grunt. It’s obvious that all this grip, shove, and body control would add up to a blistering lap time, but it never feels like that type of car—it feels like the ultimate hyper GT.

How does it sound?

Totally unique. A cacophony of intake roar, exhaust rumble, and hissing from the turbo wastegates combine to make it sound like the Industrial Revolution is occurring over your right shoulder. There’s also a faint clicking wherever you go—shutters on the camera phones that amass whenever you stop. What’s the Italian for, “It’s basically a Chiron, but a bit madder-looking, faster around corners, and twice the price”? Remind me to have that tattooed on my forehead next time I drive this thing around Sicily.

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Why the Targa Florio, assuming there’s some historic link?

Correct again. The Divo is named after racing driver Albert Divo who won the Targa Florio in 1928 and 1929 behind the wheel of a Type 35. Which is why Bugatti brought along its own T35 (pictured below), a gorgeous, raucous little car powered by a 2.0-liter straight-eight.

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Unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed to drive it (I did ask), but after seeing Andy Wallace execute the 92-stage startup process and coax it out onto the road, I was rather glad to be in the passenger seat, arm resting on the spare, deafened by wind and the exhaust underneath me. It was a glorious end to an incredible day. Lucky me.

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NOTE: This article first appeared on TopGear.com. Minor edits have been made.

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PHOTO: TopGear.com
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