My test drive of the world's fastest car
Somewhere along Route 9W in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., on Thursday morning, I achieved auto nirvana.
I was driving the Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Grand Sport Vitesse, which happens to be the fastest production roadster on the planet. But with the top down and the sun shining down, it felt like a gentle morning drive—until the traffic cleared and I pressed down on the accelerator.
The 1,200 horsepower W-16 engine roared to life with a sound that I can only describe as somewhere between thunder, a lion's roar and the ghost of jazz drummer Gene Krupa. My head shot back against the seat, the wheels gripped the road and suddenly the world was passing by with a beautiful blur.
(Take a tour of the car: In pictures: The Bugatti Grand Sport Vitesse)
No, I didn't check the speedometer. But at that moment, the comfort, ease, and artistry of the Bugatti Vitesse suddenly became clear. I still can't fathom the $2.3 million price. But I now understand where cars end and experiences begin.
"It's beauty and the beast," said John Hill, head of sales and marketing for Bugatti North America.
Bugatti is making only 150 Grand Sports. Most have already been sold, and about half of the approximately 60 left will likely be Vitesses, Hill said.
But despite its price, the Vitesse is already selling quickly to super-rich collectors around the world. Hill said that most of his clients are self-made entrepreneurs, and they range in age from 23 to over 70.
More than half of them own more than one Bugatti, he said, and one customer owns at least 10.
"People get addicted," he said.
Bugatti's mission, under the ownership of the Volkswagen Group, has always been to build the best of the best. And with the Vitesse, they've certainly packed it with superlatives—fastest, most expensive, among the most exclusive. It can hit 258 mph with the top on and 254 mph with the top off.
But don't let the speed fool you. Unlike many supercars, the Vitesse is easy to drive around town at everyday speeds.
(Read more: Amazing supercar experiences)
The interior is simple, clean and intuitive. The air conditioning, stereo system and on-board cameras are top notch. The ride is smooth, due to a softening of the suspension system. And the accelerator has a gradual feel, as opposed to the lightening touch, rocket-pedal feel of some cars. It gives even an average driver like myself the confidence to take it higher.
It's a weapons-grade missile and an around-town show-model all in one.
When the Volkswagen chairman set the mission for the Veyron, he asked for a car that could set speed records, do zero to 60 in under three seconds and still "drive it to the opera," Hill said.
I didn't go to the opera Thursday morning, but hearing that massive engine fire up as I rocketed down Route 9W was the auto version of an orchestra.
—By CNBC's Robert Frank. Follow him on Twitter @robtfrank.