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For an elite few, Bugatti's 261-mph dream car beckons

The Bugatti Chiron on display at the Geneva Motor Show 2017 on March 8, 2017 in Geneva, Switzerland.
Gerlach Delissen | Corbis | Getty Images
The Bugatti Chiron on display at the Geneva Motor Show 2017 on March 8, 2017 in Geneva, Switzerland.

The technology and automotive worlds are awash with debate over how quickly self-driving cars will arrive to end costly car ownership and begin the inexpensive ride-hailing revolution.

And then there's the Bugatti Chiron, whose very existence blows a giant French raspberry in that general proletarian direction.

The Chiron is the physical manifestation of stock market and real estate booms that have left the 0.01% crowd flush with cash to manifest their wealth. While names such as Ferrari, Porsche and Rolls-Royce say "rich," Bugatti says "don't ask."

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At $3 million, the Chiron — pronounced shee-ron, after fabled mid-century Bugatti racer Louis Chiron — is the world's most expensive production car, the unrivaled crown jewel of the Volkswagen Group whose holdings also include Audi, Bentley and Lamborghini.

At 1,500-horsepower and 1,180 ft-lbs of torque from 16 cylinders, it is also the world's most powerful automobile, capable of hitting 60 mph in 2.5 seconds and reaching a top speed of 236 mph. Unless you use a special key to unlock its true top speed of 261 mph, although where one might hit such a mark without losing your marbles or license is unknown.

And at only 500 units, the Chiron is among the world's most exclusive works of mechanical art, handmade in a facility in Molsheim, France, so spotless it would wow a surgeon and by workers so meticulous they'd impress a jeweler.

After a 2016 Geneva Motor Show debut, Bugatti has finally started delivering its new Chiron. Typically, Bugatti sells 40% of its exclusive cache to Europeans, 30% to Americans and 30% to Russian, Asian and Middle Eastern buyers.

So far, just under half those 500 remain unclaimed.

"People are putting money into hypercars, in part because they often retain their value very well," says Maurizio Parlato, chief operating officer of Bugatti North America. "But where many companies are essentially offering you a race car that you're helping them develop further, we're offering a fully tested, reliable supercar you can take to the theater."

Parlato, a onetime Ferrari executive, is too polite to name names, but what comes to mind are the $2 million Ferrari LaFerrari Aperta and the $3 million McLaren P1 GTR.

Interior of the Bugatti Chiron on display at he Geneva Motor Show 2017 on March 8, 2017 in Geneva, Switzerland.
Gerlach Delissen | Corbis | Getty Images
Interior of the Bugatti Chiron on display at he Geneva Motor Show 2017 on March 8, 2017 in Geneva, Switzerland.

The biggest difference between the Chiron and those road rockets is that the Bugatti comes by its power the old-fashioned way, an internal combustion engine that lacks the electric motors that give the LaFerrari, McLaren and Porsche 918 Spyder their extra hybrid-based get up and go.

Also in contrast to purely track-focused beasts, Parlato says the Chiron comes by its VW-like ease of use and dependability thanks to its parent company's extensive R&D departments.

These include engine-testing facilities that enabled Bugatti engineers to develop 25% more power than the company's outgoing Veyron thanks to four larger turbochargers that now engage sequentially. That makes for markedly smooth power delivery, especially from 80 mph on up under full boost, but the Chiron gives up a little off the line to its linear-torque fed hybrid peers.

VW's state of the art wind tunnel also can in handy, as Chiron engineers logged 300 hours of testing to develop an active aerodynamics system that not only increases high-speed downforce but also improves engine and brake cooling by as much as 50%.

And taking a page from Audi's penchant for technology, this Bugatti boasts no less than 50 electronic controllers that monitor that car's various vital signs, from a complex LED lighting network to a retro-looking central dash console that allows the driver to keep tabs on every major Chiron system at a glance.

Inside, the Chiron gleams with hand-cast dials, woven carbon fiber and perfect leather hides that are available in three dozen colors. If you order a Chiron, you may find yourself making more options decision than if you were buying a new house. Fitting, considering it's the cost of most luxury homes.

Yet Parlato is keen to position the Chiron as the sensible person's hypercar, thanks to not only its rigorous pre-sale testing but also a four-year bumper to pricey-bumper warranty that covers all major maintenance items. "You have the same sense of security and reassurance as someone buying a normal car," he says.

If you're able to spend $3 million on car, it's doubtful a free oil change will tip the scales for an on-the-fence Chiron buyer. But perhaps it's the thought that counts.