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Bugatti Veyron, 2006 Volkswagen Passat, and Bentley Continental GT - First Drive

So this is what a space shuttle launch feels like

Feb 11, 2006 SHARE
Epcp_0602_01_z+first_look+bugatti_veyron Photo 1/1   |   Bugatti Veyron, 2006 Volkswagen Passat, and Bentley Continental GT - First Drive

One thousand one horsepower will make anybody smile. Or is that g-forces pulling your cheeks back? Either way, you'll be grinning wide as the BugattiVeyron's four turbos spool up and unleash nearly 1000 lb-ft of torque.

When former VW boss Ferdinand Piech announced that he was bringing Bugatti back to life with a 1000-plus-horsepower, 250-mph road car, everyone thought he was nuts. No matter; the reborn Bug does exactly what he said it would do. Forget the Enzo, SLR McLaren and Maserati MC12. This is something way different, designed primarily as the ultimate road car, not a racecar with license plates. And by the way, it's quicker and faster than all of them, and more expensive by a bunch-about $1.2 million at current exchange rates.

Pressing the starter button ignites a rumble of thunder from just over your right shoulder. Not a high revving V12 like your "average" exotic, but 8.0 liters of W16 power-that's right, sixteen cylinders-enhanced by the boost from four turbochargers. It burbles like Satan gargling gasoline. All 1001 bhp continues the hunt for traction through a seven-speed sequential manual gearbox that uses Audi's DSG twin-clutch technology that so rocks in the Audi TT. From there, it's on to a sophisticated all-wheel-drive setup. The algorithms needed to manage the throttle, turbos, diffs and transmission must number in the millions.

Pull back on the shifter or the right paddle on the steering column, and then prepare for launch. It won't give you all 1001 hp at take off-that would break $100,000 worth of parts in a heartbeat. But it feeds in power at an alarming rate, and with amazing smoothness. Zero to 60 takes just 2.5 seconds. That's more than a second quicker than an Enzo. And the Bug weighs over 4,000 pounds, equipped with every luxury goodie you can imagine.

One hundred miles an hour feels like walking. One hundred fifty is fast, but still no biggie. At 175, you're moving, but it's so stable and without drama. The Veyron has front and rear diffusers, an aero-tuned undertray, a monster wing out back that raises and lowers as speed dictates, and an air brake to slow you down when you climb on the monster six-pot brakes. Even at 300 km/h-about 185 mph, where we ran out of road-the Bugatti's high-speed stability inspires confidence. I can only imagine the experience at 250, where the Veyron is getting about three miles to the gallon. And how cool is this: It requires a separate key to access the car's "top speed" suspension and aero settings.

As mind blowing as the speed is, what really punches your gut is how fast it gets there. With so much torque and seven gear ratios to choose from, power is available anywhere, any time. Mash the pedal at 100 mph and the g-loads tug at your guts. Second and third gear are particularly frightening... but in a good way. Yeah, it's got a nasty blind spot, but you can accelerate away from anything in your wake. The transmission is unbelievable, and makes all the other F1 style single-clutch paddle shifter jobs look lazy by comparison. The shifts are super quick, up or down, with none of the lag of the others.

The Veyron also sets new standards in terms of ride/handling balance. You'd expect this car to handle well, and it does. Turn-in is crisp, the steering is beautifully weighted, and it goes around corners with impressive neutrality, aided by the huge Michelin PAX tires, a well-programmed stability control system, and all-wheel drive. It doesn't feel as organic as the Enzo or MC12, but it sure works. And the ride is superb for this kind of car. No punishment involved, and hopefully the guys that buy Veyrons really will take them on the high-speed, cross-country flogs that they deserve.

There's almost too much tech to list. The central part of the tub is carbon fiber, with aluminum substructures attached to it front and rear. Every inch of this car was designed just so, and finished to NASA standards. There's no glass over the engine either. It's just out there, to be seen, heard and enjoyed. The cabin's aluminum trim and leather befit super-luxury transport. We hear the audio system alone costs $30,000.

Bugatti will build 50 Veyrons a year for six years or so, an estimated maximum of 300 cars total. If you have the stones and the bones to pony up more than a million bucks for a car, and then take it out and drive it like you stole it. Your quest for hyperspace will be satisfied. With style.

Bugatti Veyron EB 16.4
Base Price: $1.2 million (est.)

Drivetrain
Longitudinal mid-engine, all-wheel drive

Engine
8.0-liter W16, dohc, four valves per cylinder, quad turbocharged and intercooled

Transmission
Seven-speed DSG

Suspension
Independent double wishbones front and rear

Brakes
Carbon-ceramic rotors

Dimensions
Length x Width x Height (in.): 176 x 79 x 47
Wheelbase: 107 in.
Curb Weight: 4,162 lb

PerformancePeak Power: 1001 bhp @ 6000 rpm
Peak Torque: 922 lb-ft @ 2200 rpm
0-62 mph: 2.5 sec.
0-124 mph: 7.3 sec.
Top Speed: 252 mph (est.)

Volkswagen Passat 2.0T
Genuine German goodness for under 25 grand
Forget any talk you might hear about this being the "entry level" Passat. Even in its most basic form, the Value Edition, it's a fully mature German sport sedan. Equipped with VAG's superstar combination of the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine and six-speed manual transmission, the performance is rewarding and the amenities plenteous, all for a starting price of $22,950.

Credit the new 2.0-liter turbo for making the least expensive Passat such an appealing invitation into a higher class of automobile. It succeeds a tough act to follow, Volkswagen's venerated 1.8-liter turbo, but this sophisticated 200-bhp turbo simply blows it away. Not only is the 2.0T a rewarding showroom-stock engine, the world's tuners have been given a thoroughly modern beauty to tweak and twiddle.

Emerging from the same Hungarian box that built the 1.8T legend it replaces, the 2.0T is expected to yield more power, but the net gain of 30 bhp from a 1.5mm bore increase and 6.4mm longer stroke is just one measure of the new engine's superiority. The explanation has to begin with the Fuel Straight Injection (FSI) system. Compared to the previous manifold injection, FSI injects fuel directly into each cylinder for better control of the mixture and its subsequent ignition. The fully electronic engine management includes drive-by-wire throttle, adaptive lambda control, mapped ignition with cylinder-selective ignition coils and cylinder-selective knock control, all of which contribute to an environment that allows a higher, 10.3:1 compression ratio. Not long ago, such a CR in a turbo engine would have been an invitation to disaster; now, it's a sign of engineering prowess.

To fully illustrate the 2.0T's brilliance, it's worth dwelling on a couple more comparisons to the outgoing 1.8T. First, the 2.0T's horsepower peak has been lowered from 5800 rpm to a more accessible 5100 rpm. Second, and more importantly, the 45 additional lb-ft of torque now comes underfoot at 1800 rpm and doesn't let up until 5000 rpm. Compare to the 1.8T's lower torque peak, which ranged from 1950 to 4200 rpm. This translates into quickness off the line, a muscular midrange, and a farther reach at the top end-all without any turbo lag affecting the throttle response.

The 2.0T also is the sort of engine that will make every car it powers a better car. (Anyone who dismissed the new Jetta based on a drive of the 2.5L five-cylinder base engine should revisit the experience with the 2.0T behind the sedan's chrome shield.) However, this is not to dismiss the Passat 3.6 we drove in Germany (ec 12/05) as being inferior to the turbo-driven Passat. The 3.6 truly is a performance sedan, and such beasts require more involvement from the driver than lesser powered cars, trading off a tad of smoothness for a more dynamic driving experience. Admittedly, we've spent just a few hours with each of the new Passats, but the 2.0T felt a bit more comfortable to drive, especially in traffic, where its exceptionally smooth power delivery and estimated city/highway economy of 24/31 mpg will make it a commuter's friend.

Any qualms about the engine's ability to haul around the new, larger Passat were put to rest as quickly as the car accelerated onto Interstate 93 out of Boston. Manual transmission cars were not available to us at the first drive of the 2.0T, but the six-speed automatic with Tiptronic did little to hamper our appreciation of the engine's willingness to run. With the Tiptronic automatic, the MSRP of the Value Edition Passat increases to $24,025. Higher content Passat 2.0Ts begin at $23,900 with the manual and $24,975 with the auto Tiptronic.

An unfavorable exchange rate puts VW at an instant disadvantage to most of its competitors in the mid-size sedan market, but when the new Passat is measured in more dynamic terms, in its combination of elegant styling, upmarket interior and German engineering, the bottom line looks unbeatable.

2006 VW Passat 2.0T
Base Price: $22,950

Drivetrain
Transverse front engine, rear-wheel drive

Engine
2.0-liter inline four, dohc, four valves per cylinder, turbocharged and intercooled

Transmission
Six-speed manual; six-speed automatic w/ Tiptronic optional

Suspension
MacPherson concept front with triangular wishbones and stabilizer bar, four-link independent rear with anti-roll bar

Brakes
Power-assisted front ventilated discs, rear solid discs

Dimensions
Length x Width x Height (in.): 188 x 72 x 58
Wheelbase: 106.7 in.
Curb Weight: 3,576 lb

Performance
Peak Power: 200 bhp @ 5100 rpm
Peak Torque: 207 lb-ft @ 1800 rpm
0-60 mph: 6.9 sec. (manual)
Top Speed: 130 mph

Bentley Continental GT
There are cars that one can drive and quickly forget, and then there are those rare occasions when something makes such an impression that it becomes a measuring device for future comparisons. For road cars I have a very select short list. The Porsche 930 Turbo that made its debut in 1975 in Europe, the Ferrari F40, Audi S8 and the Bentley Arnage. Now along comes the 2006 Bentley Continental GT and its inclusion is under advisement to join that list.

Back in 2003 when the C-GT made the spiritual trip from Crewe to Le Mans before hitting the market, many had serious doubts as to the validity of putting it in production. Bentley had only recently turned things around and the split up of Rolls Royce to BMW and Bentley to VAG (VW Group) only increased the scrutiny. Then there was the styling. All the PR talk about the legacy of the Continental R from the '50s, the true inspiration for the new C-GT owes more to the wonderful Lancia B-20 Aurelia coupe than that big Continental.

With Bentley's Arnage being the standard of the big four-door luxury sport cruisers, the launch of the C-GT seemed to be nothing more than a ploy to capture "the rapper and trash-talking jock market," according to many including writer Mike Magda. On the surface that would appear to have been true, but the Continental GT turned out to be much more than the usual bling-bling. The final product is a car that W.O. Bentley himself would have approved. Had the savior of Bentley and three-time Le Mans winner Wolf Barnato had the chance to drive the C-GT he would have favorably compared it to his legendary 1930 Speed Six "Blue Train Special" as a car in the spirit of Crewe.

So what is it like to live with a C-GT for a week? The sleek silver Crewemobile arrived mid-week and I promptly loaded up the boot and hit the road for the final round of the American Le Mans Series at Laguna Seca Raceway. There are few cars that match the sheer presence that the C-GT commands on the road.

Cruising at any speed over three digits is where the car's engineering excellence is most evident. This is not some aftermarket tuner special that stretches a car's capabilities; the C-GT is the real thing. The powerband is smooth, it does not hit you nor push you back deep in the seat the way a whooshmobile would. In fact, the rush doesn't seem to exist at all. A blip of the throttle and you have merged past seven cars on the road, the speedo shows 120 and your mind says "OK officer, maybe 75." Much like the experience of riding the high-speed bullet trains, the C-GT is not supposed to give one that sensation of being on the edge. It was built to do a job and one of those requirements was to do it quickly and in the uppermost in comfort and safety.

Supercars occupy a strange place in the automotive sphere. Is it the styling, is it sheer speed, is it the unobtainium factor of pointless exclusiveness? When you examine it point by point, most cars with the supercar tag are anything but. Cramped, uncomfortable, difficult to negotiate in traffic, prone to overheating, ground clearance issues, where do you park? The list goes on. The truth is that most of the cars with the S-tag are only seen on rare occasions that call for it leaving the garage where no doubt it is stored 350 days of the year. A concours, a race, a premier, something to enforce the exclusivity and rareness of said supercar.

The Bentley Continental GT demolishes that myth of a weekend warrior. Crewe has not only built but created a whole new definition of the term "supercar." In the thousand-plus miles I put on the C-GT while in my possession, I never once doubted or worried about failure of any of its components. I simply drove and enjoyed the car without the worry that is usually standard equipment on most cars tagged with the S-label. There is one stretch of California back road that I use for the high-speed part of my evaluations, and one steady run (slow down, I see spots, the lines on the road looked just like dots) it was time for a large venti latt. I pulled in to a Starbucks in Paso Robles and parked next to a California Highway Patrol Ford. Two chippies were sitting outside with their coffee and looked over the C-GT and the ponytailed ragmuffin that deplaned from its cockpit.

Upon exiting the latt joint, one officer asked about the Bentley and its characteristics. The officers' appreciation of the C-GT's details was evident when one stated that this was, in fact, a real car. I asked if I could use that for an excuse if I get stopped for exceeding the speed limit on my way to Monterey. "No," was his answer without a hint of hesitation. -Kerry Morse From The Hip:
All of the above
Limited rearward visibility,
I don't own one

2006 Bentley Continental GT
Price as Tested: $183,585

Drivetrain
Longitudinal front engine, all-wheel drive

Engine
6.0-liter W12, dohc, four valves per cylinder, twin turbocharged and intercooled

Transmission
Six-speed automatic

Performance
Peak Power: 552 bhp @ 6100 rpm
Peak Torque: 479 lb-ft @ 1600 rpm
0-60 mph: 4.7 sec.
Top Speed: 198 mph
Fuel Economy: 12 city/19 hwy

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Sources

JL Audio
Miramar, FL
http://www.jlaudio.com

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