How fast is Bugatti's $3 million supercar? It's a mystery, even to its CEO

Key Points
  • Bugatti said in 2016 that it would do an official speed test on its supercar, the Chiron, in 2018.
  • CEO Stephan Winkelmann now says the speed test is not his priority and even he doesn't know how fast the $3 million car can go.
Source: Bugatti

When Bugatti launched its Chiron supercar in 2016, it said it would do an official speed test in 2018.

The expectation was that the Chiron, priced at $3 million, would set a world record. After all, Bugatti's previous model, the Veyron, proudly set the top-speed record for a production car at 267.8 mph. Bugatti made the Chiron even more powerful, with 1,500 horsepower, and everyone assumed the Chiron would be the new king of speed.

But now Bugatti seems to be backing down on plans for a speed test. In an interview with CNBC, Bugatti's new CEO, Stephan Winkelmann, declined to say whether the company will conduct the test this year.

"I have a lot on my plate," Winkelmann said. "The speed test is not my priority. I think we have a lot of things to do."

Asked if the top speed didn't matter to clients, he said: "I know this for sure. I don't even know how fast our car can go."

When pressed on whether it's possible the Chiron will never undergo a top-speed test, Winkelmann said "Maybe, I don't know."

Why the change of heart?

Perhaps top speed doesn't matter for a car that many agree is an engineering marvel — somehow packing 1,500 horsepower into a supercar that feels and rides like a plush luxury tourer. Bragging rights are just that. And clearly, demand for the Chiron doesn't seem to be suffering.

Winkelmann said Bugatti has already sold more than 320 of the total production run of 500, and the production backlog in Molsheim, France, is now three years. We don't know how fast the car can truly go since Bugatti has installed limiters on cars sold to customers that cap the top speed at 261 mph. That's still insane.

As Brian Miller, president of Manhattan Motorcars, which sells Bugatti told me, "the Chiron customers are buying a work of art, the official top speed is less important."

Some also speculate that the physical limits of tires and wheels prevent the car from reaching its true potential. Michelin is reportedly working on it.

Yet the main reason for the reversal on the speed test could be claims of a new speed record set by a competitor. Back in November, supercar maker Koenigsegg announced its Agera RS set a record for the highest top speed for a production vehicle of 277.9 mph.

Koenigsegg Agera RS is on display during the first press day of the 86th Geneva International Motor Show in Geneva, Switzerland, in March, 2016.
Fatih Erel | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

The Agera RS' run, in the California desert, was filmed and timed with Vbox data-logging equipment and verified by Racelogic. But it was not sanctioned by the Guinness World Records.

Maybe Bugatti is making sure it can easily beat the Koenigsegg record.

For now, though, the top speed of the Chiron will remain a mystery — even to its manufacturer and owners.