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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 September 2018

Car of the year? Driving Bugatti's remarkable Chiron in Dubai

Is the Bugatti Chiron the greatest motoring feat of 2017? We drive it in Dubai to find out

There are some things, however much you have thought about them, that any amount of mental preparation won’t help you get your head around. The acceleration of Bugatti’s heralded hypercar, the Chiron, is one such bewildering sensation.

With 2017 almost at an end, it seems a fitting juncture to reflect on the launch this year of perhaps the single most astonishing production car to ever bless our roads.

The National took the opportunity to take the French leviathan on a spin out of Dubai and towards the superlative driving roads up Jebel Hafeet, near Al Ain – an invitation that would have seemed churlish to turn down.

It is a car so off-the-scale, indeed, that nothing less than a former winner of the 24 Hours of Le Man has been deemed suitable to act as my co-pilot. Amiable British driver Andy Wallace clearly knows a thing or two about going very fast indeed, which is handy in a car that can punch out peak power of 1,500hp – a feat that you wouldn’t believe if you didn’t see it with your own eyes and feel it in the marrow of your bones.

It does things that defy the laws of physics and – as previously alluded to – how your brain usually processes automotive-catalysed input stimuli. It even takes a moment to take in what the central dash dial, which goes up to a value of 500, is even measuring. That will be the speedometer; that face-warping figure is kph, although the Chiron is electronically limited to 420kph (don’t try that at home, still).

The Bug that Wallace and I are sitting in will be familiar to regular viewers of Top Gear – it is the very same car that Chris Harris piloted from Dubai to Oman’s Jebel Akhtar in the most recent series of the show, competing against Matt Le Blanc riding in various megabucks forms of transport.

I don’t have the motorsport pedigree of Wallace or Harris, which might ordinarily be a slightly daunting prospect in a car that wields about five times the horsepower of my regular daily driver, a 3.7-litre Ford Mustang. But as we head away from Bugatti’s showroom base on Sheikh Zayed Road and towards somewhat emptier tarmac near Al Qudra Lakes, I am able to experience something truly brain-busting.

Idle down to a stop. Shift into first gear. Both hands on the steering wheel. Floor the accelerator. And yet, somehow, I don’t end up fighting any wheelspin or snaking into the nearest central reservation. The Chiron just calmly applies all of its 1,600Nm of torque and catapults itself forward in an arrow-straight line while the quad turbos behind my head gulp in air like a spaceship’s hold doors repeatedly opening. It feels like no other car on the planet.

It may not be difficult to drive, but when it picks up velocity at this rapidity, it certainly demands your full attention. And it is no surprise that attention is similarly focused on it from the outside – you might expect nothing less from a car that costs the thick end of Dh11 million. Fellow motorists occasionally even speed up to keep pace for another glance. At a photo break at Al Qudra Lakes, small gatherings of four-wheel-drive enthusiasts gaze upon the Chiron like actual Martians have rocked up in the desert.

The way that the two-tonne Bugatti deals with bends also strips any usual notions of how a car usually copes with cornering. It is scary to think how fast you might need to approach a curve before the Chiron might begin to protest. I certainly can’t get close on a public road.

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Even if I wasn’t borrowing the car for a tragically brief spell rather than owning it, clambering in and out of it somewhat ruins any illusions of potential cool – it isn’t the most graceful process, although fairly par for the course for super/hypercars.

Yet while for many peers, said alighting is often followed by a period staggering around in an attempt to straighten out your suffering spine, what is almost as remarkable as the Chiron’s performance is its usability.

OK, so your kids won’t fit and that trip to Ikea might have to wait, but you emerge from spells in the luxurious, padded, “Chiron”-branded racing seats feeling fresh. The lifting mechanism to aid in negotiating speed humps and, near Al Qudra, viciously proportioned camel grids pops up in less than a second, too.

My favourite feature, though, is the row of four dials that lead up in a line above the gearstick. Select the necessary settings and they will display the maximum outputs of your drive – figures that confirm those stratospheric horsepower claims and would be of great interest to your local constabulary if you were to drive to Chiron at anything like its full potential.

As the year of its launch draws to a close, is the Chiron still the most remarkable, head-turning car of 2017? Take a wild guess. There could be no doubt, really. But let’s not restrict ourselves here. Take your pick: year, decade, history. And the best thing? There are still almost 200 of these machines to be sold.

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