Wind in your hair - at 375 kmh

JASON H HARPER
Last updated 07:10 16/02/2013
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Don't dwell on the whooshing eruption from the quad-turbo-charged engine, which sounds ominously like a full-throttle jet. That is the noise of an 883-kilowatt engine that wants to take you to a top possible speed of 410kmh.

Focus instead on your driving technique. You don't want to get sloppy and hit a stone or slip-slide into a telephone pole.

Definitely try not to think about this: depending on that day's euro-dollar exchange rate, the car you're piloting is worth about NZ$4 million. Especially since you're driving it as if you stole it.

The car is the Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport Vitesse and it is the world's fastest convertible, warping to 100kmh in 2.5 seconds, and capable of as much as 375kmh with the polycarbonate roof off.

Those rare buyers able to afford the Vitesse I'm driving will also have to ignore a few salient facts. The foremost is they will probably never find a road to approach that top speed.

More likely they'll find themselves ambling through Monte Carlo's famous tunnel or streaking down desert roads in the United Arab Emirates, or, like me, rolling down Connecticut lanes outside of Greenwich, which has a Bugatti dealership. There are some good roads out here, trust me, but none that will brook the Vitesse's might. After all, second gear will send you past 145kmh.

Why is the car so expensive? Why would a car company make a car with such a top speed? Why would anyone buy it? The answer is hubris, all around.

The Veyron is the only model offered by Bugatti, part of the Volkswagen Group, which also owns Audi, Porsche, Bentley and Lamborghini. The company wanted to create a car so fast, so powerful, that it would be a shot heard around the automotive world.

In 2006, we saw the first 750kW Veyron, so technology-laden it seemed better suited to launching into space than rolling out on the highway. Bugatti promised to limit production, but to keep buyers interested it released a convertible version, the Grand Sport, and then "special edition" models with funky paintjobs.

The Veyron Super Sport model then got a bump in power to 883kW. The new Vitesse is the convertible version.

Odd thing about the Veyron: it is the least sexy exotic on the market. There's something cold and clinical to its shape and styling. But the Vitesse gains several new air intakes on its front, the better to suck in oxygen to aid the turbochargers. They also serve to give the Vitesse a face with more vital personality.

Take off the targa-style roof and its look improves. (Roof removal is a manual process. It's bulky and heavy and has to be stored somewhere else, like a garage.) I found myself warming to the appearance of the Vitesse in a way I haven't with other Veyrons.

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The interior is so simple and elegant that I love it. The centre dash has only a couple of knobs to control the temperature and radio, and no navigation or infotainment screens.

The steering wheel is round and with no controls on it, a far cry from the latest Ferraris, which are crammed with them.

Put the Vitesse's gear shift into drive, and you'll slide easily through city streets. No heroics or histrionics, no flames shooting out of the tailpipes.

But you buy the Veyron for the direct link from the accelerator to your endorphin receptors. And like the mouse in an experiment who returns again and again to the trigger that releases cocaine, it's hard to stay away from the gas pedal.

So go ahead and trip the light fantastic. G forces deform your face, and your brain stutters, trying to process faraway objects suddenly rushing at you. There are no pauses as the gears shift, just a seamless crush of relentless forward motion.

This is not a car. It's the world's most expensive rollercoaster ride.

Several years ago I tested the regular Veyron Grand Sport, with 750kW. So I was somewhat prepared for the speed.

That car, though, underwhelmed me as far as actual handling. It felt bulky and unwieldy. The Super Sport and Vitesse got reworked suspensions. Since my roads will not allow high-speed runs, I concentrate instead on negotiating the corners with maximum smoothness.

I marvel over my self-control. The car sings through the turns and I keep a light touch on the gas.

Then I approach a straight and something comes knock-knock-knocking into my consciousness. I'm probably never going to get this chance to drive a Veyron again. I floor it.

-Washington Post

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