OPINION: Top speed is still the ultimate test and acceleration is boring

07th March 2024
Ethan Jupp

The motoring world was set ablaze the other day when Bugatti announced its next hypercar would be powered by an all-new naturally-aspirated, 9,000rpm-revving V16 engine, working in concert with a hybrid system. It’s an exciting prospect but for some reason, my sails weren’t as flush with the winds of anticipation as they ordinarily would be. I’ve had a weekend to mull it over and I think I’ve worked it out. 


Whatever powers this Bugatti, whatever it looks like, whatever wondrous things it’s capable of, we know with absolute certainty that it won’t be the fastest Bugatti and conversely, won’t be close to being in contention for the title of fastest car in the world, as Bugattis always were. Because of course, Bugatti announced in no uncertain terms, that it’d be bowing out of the top speed wars with its 300mph Chiron SuperSport.

Why does that matter? Well, I happen to feel that the uppermost vmax achievable by road cars is the final fantastical frontier in terms of spec sheet appendage waving. Acceleration by stark contrast is the definition of the democratised performance metric. 

Where once hypercars blew our minds getting the 0-62mph sprint done in under 4 seconds, as much is achievable today in a mass production Hyundai EV. Going back over the last decade, the amount of dealer-bought, five-figure cars that could scran a Carrera GT to 62mph has ballooned. It’s a pursuit at which one need only throw wide tyres, driven wheels and torque, to get results once the preserve of seven-figure exotica. VW Golf Rs and RS Audis will DSG fart and crash their way from kerb to kerb outside Ace Cafe from a standstill quicker than a Ferrari Enzo. But you try and get any of those cars or their like to 300mph, or even 200. The laws of nature will coalesce much more decisively in defiance.

Until Mr Musk’s vaporware Roadster shows us 0-62 in under two seconds, with a splash of VTOL capability, acceleration figures won’t amaze like they used to and truthfully, they haven't for some time.

Even Nürburgring laps don’t really feel like they have the substance they once did. If you’ve got the power-to-weight ratio, enough downforce, enough tyre and the right geometry, pipping the last pretender to Green Hell glory is almost a formality these days.


Contrast both with top speeds and indeed, while 200mph is now way more accessible than it once was, most of the very fastest cars top out at a stated 217mph, because that’s easy to say without actually testing it.

What exactly is it that informs the £20million value of the average McLaren F1? An overall Le Mans win surely helps. A driving experience to savour does too. There are numerous reasons of course. You could (and people have) written a book on it. But that 240mph VMAX (231mph two-way average) that kept it up there as the king of speed for the better part of a decade, is at very least a chapter and as big a piece of the puzzle as any.

Likewise, what would the Veyron be in hindsight, without its record-smashing turn of velocity? Ask any car enthusiast what comes to mind immediately when they hear the number 253 and they’ll say ‘top speed of the Veyron’. I asked a group of car-bore friends what the first thoughts that come to mind are when I say Bugatti. “World’s fastest car, McLaren beater”, and “engineering excellence and the pursuit of the ultimate” both allude, with varying degrees of precision, to the same thing.

So without that Ferdinand Piech-driven disregard for the very limits of what we think a car can do, is a new Bugatti not just a prop in a music video or a vessel with which to hide a tax-dodging billionaire’s liquidity, like any other hypercar? Where’s the substance? Without the headline figure to tease the imagination, I can’t help but be at risk of succumbing to the cynicism about hypercars that most of my peers feel.


Bugatti, Koenigsegg, SSC, Hennessey, McLaren and a few more, are supposed to be in a different league, contending with exponentially greater forces, precise aerodynamic needs, towering cooling requirements and myriad other challenges to make these speeds happen safely. It’s still a rarified machine, quite the titan of engineering, that pushes beyond 220mph, up beyond 300mph these days and it has been for some 30 years.

I know, it’ll likely be an utterly astonishing machine, a thing of beauty and a jewel of fine craftsmanship and bespoke specification, especially with the amazing Mate Rimac steering the ship.

But I can’t help but wonder whether in ditching its pursuit of absolutely envelope-pushing speed, this Bugatti is all but certain to lose the chokehold on the history books that its predecessors and rival speed demons will always retain. And they will always retain it.

So as this new Bugatti tempts relegation from chapter in the Guinness Book of Records to footnote in the car collections of the one per cent, the baton is well and truly passed to Koenigsegg and Hennessey. Both marques intend to send their Jesko Absolut and Venom F5 hypercars well beyond the 300mph barrier – with two-way averages to boot – this year and the 10 year-old wide-eyed awestruck supercar fan in me can’t wait. I simply don’t care how quickly your Model S Plaid gets to 62mph. Top speed is still the ultimate test.

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