Two thoroughly different cars with one common goal.
The United States has the Pacific Coast Highway, and France has the delightfully twisty roads that run along the French Riviera. Both are perfect habitats for open-top cars, so it's fitting that both nations have produced two of the finest roadsters ever in the Hennessey Venom F5 Roadster and Bugatti W16 Mistral.
Only, this specific duo cares less about lazily meandering along sunny coastlines with the tops down and more about chasing the record for the world's fastest convertible, preferably where the roads are perfectly straight. Any notion of lumbering, dynamically compromised convertibles should be cast aside immediately, for the 1,817-horsepower Venom F5 and 1,578-hp W16 Mistral mean business. It's fascinating, then, that two cars after the same goal can be so different. Let's unpack what those differences are.
The differences between these two begin with their appearances. Whereas the Bugatti exudes grandeur and has a more heavy-set design, the Hennessey looks tauter and lighter on its feet. Neither is classically beautiful, but both will steal attention away from most other cars wherever they go.
The Bugatti W16 Mistral draws inspiration from several older Bugatti models. Details like the curved visor-like windshield, top-mounted air scoops (we refuse to call them roof-mounted on a car that has no roof), and four-row front lighting signature - a nod to both the four driven wheels and four turbochargers - differentiate it from the Chiron. The dramatic taillight motif was inspired by the Bolide's X-theme.
The Venom F5 Roadster looks similar to the Venom F5 Coupe but has a removable lightweight roof panel. Forged aluminum wheels are more intricate than the ones found on the Bugatti, and elements like the 90-degree V8 that is on display through a glass panel and the butterfly doors will have passers-by whipping out their smartphones to take a picture.
Whereas Hennessey appears to have designed an interior that mirrors a Formula 1 car as closely as possible, Bugatti has opted for a more luxurious grand tourer look.
The W16 Mistral adheres closely to the Chiron with its stacked center controls, the absence of a central infotainment screen, and a prominent tachometer. It's a classy affair, and there are some beautiful materials, such as the handwoven leather on the door panels exclusive to the Mistral. Elsewhere, aluminum, titanium, and fine leather have been used liberally, as has woven carbon fiber.
Contrarily, the Venom F5 Roadster eschews luxury for a much sportier layout. Climb into the carbon fiber bucket seats and you face a busy F1-style steering wheel. Instead of the Bugatti's more classic analog gauges, the Hennessey comes with a digital display. Carbon fiber trim is everywhere, and the Texas and US flags on the door handles won't leave you in doubt about which of these cars is built in America.
As these images show, both interiors can be jazzed up with an array of vivid colors, and customization will be a fun exercise for buyers of each.
While Bugatti may disagree on the grounds of series production and the single-direction run in which it was completed, the current top speed record for convertibles is 265.6 mph, held by Hennessey's own Venom GT Spyder. That's the headline number that the newer Venom F5 Roadster and W16 Mistral hope to surpass. But both brands are targeting a higher number still.
In the case of the Venom F5 Roadster, it seems a mere formality that it will break the record. Its 6.6-liter twin-turbo V8 makes an outrageous 1,817 hp at 8,000 rpm and 1,193 lb-ft of torque at 5,000 rpm. Hennessey has not made any acceleration or specific top speed claims, claiming simply that the Venom F5 Roadster can reach over 300 mph. As its power-to-weight ratio is not far behind the coupe, we expect it to get close to that car's 0-62 mph time of 2.6 seconds. The coupe can also do 0-124 in 4.7 and 0-186 in a mere 8.4 seconds.
The Venom F5 Roadster is rear-wheel drive and uses a single-clutch semi-automatic seven-speed transmission.
In the Bugatti, we have the final incarnation of one of the greatest engines ever built. The 8.0-liter quad-turbocharged W16 is the same one that's used in the Chiron Super Sport 300+ and makes 1,578 hp. Bugatti's own Veyron 16.4 Grand Sport Vitesse wasn't this powerful but reached 254.04 mph - a number Bugatti still believes to be the benchmark for roadsters since the Bugatti completed a two-way top speed run - so the new W16 Mistral should easily surpass that. Reaching 300 mph will be another story, but we'll have to wait until both cars attempt the feat before we can say for sure which is faster.
Off the mark and up to around 60, the Bugatti may have the edge since it has an all-wheel-drive system. This is linked to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. At higher speeds, though, the Hennessey's extra power and lower weight may see it take the lead.
In both cases, we're looking at gas-powered convertibles that are unlikely to ever be surpassed in terms of sheer speed. It would take pure electric power to keep up with them, and even then, that will be without the cacophony of the Venom's high-revving V8 or the deep rumble of the Mistral's W16.
One of Bugatti's arguments against the validity of the Venom GT Spyder's top speed record is that it wasn't a series production vehicle. Considering the car had a Lotus chassis number and only six were made, this could be valid. But the Venom F5 Roadster is a genuine Hennessey product of which 30 will be built - half a dozen more than the production run of the coupe. The price for such exclusivity is set at $3 million, placing the Venom F5 Roadster in elite company and with an elite target audience in mind.
By comparison, the Bugatti W16 Mistral might seem common - albeit built for a global audience. 99 of the roofless hypercars will be built, each commanding approximately $5 million. But all of these are already sold out, and many will live out their days in hermetically sealed garages instead of hunting F5s.
What we love most about this comparison is how each manufacturer has gone about chasing the top speed record for convertibles. The way that each car looks and sounds is unique. One hails from France and is the latest product to come from a company with over a century of experience under its belt. The other emanates from far younger competition renowned more for building 1,000-hp pickup trucks than going Grand Prix racing.
The Venom F5 Roadster seems to be better positioned to break Hennessey's own record with its extra power, and the company has been less secretive about how fast it is. It is likelier to be the more engaging vehicle to drive at the limit, too, while setting a new benchmark for American-made roadsters.
But the W16 Mistral represents something even bigger, quite literally. We'll remember it for years to come as the final resting place for that supreme 8.0-liter 16-cylinder engine. That it finds itself in a car that looks like a four-wheeled work of art makes it even more special.
The Venom may end up with the top speed record, but it's what the W16 Mistral represents that makes it our pick between two majestic machines.