The Volkswagen W16 Engine and the Bugatti
The Volkswagen W16 Engine and the Bugatti

#W16 Engine

Let us start with our W16 Engine.
You’ve probably heard of the “W” engine before, but maybe never gave it a second thought. Even if you haven’t heard of the engine design, you’ve surely heard of the vehicles housing these amazing power plants. W-powered cars include VW Phaeton, Audi A8, the Bentley Continental GT, and the Bugatti Veyron, as well as many other, less notable, vehicles.

The Volkswagen W16 Engine and the Bugatti
W12 Engine “just add 2 more cylinders to the end of W12 and you’ll get your W16”

Why a “W” Configuration?

It’s all about power and weight. Back in the day, VW used Inline four (I4) engines almost exclusively, although they weighed very little, they could only provide so much power. They began to use V6 engines but these are much larger and weigh a lot more, considering they need two cylinder heads, etc. Now is where it gets cool. VW designed a VR6 engine, with staggered cylinders in a very tight “V” design, this gets 2 more cylinders in a similar weight and size as a four-banger. Brilliant!

Engineering Hall of Fame: The Volkswagen “W” Engine and the Bugatti W16
Engine Types

We need more power!

As it always goes, someone always needs more power.  With the VW offering more cars in the $100,000 to $1,000,000+ super-car price range they needed as much power as possible, but weight is always a factor. Where many exotics still utilize V8 and V12 engine platforms, VW saw an opportunity for greatness. VW essentially combined two VR6 engines, creating a W configuration. By utilizing a W12 engine they get all of the power which would come from a V12 in a V8 sized package. Double Brilliant!

As if the W12 didn’t provide enough power, VW developed the 1000+ horsepower W16 variation with 4 turbos for their Bugatti brand in their 250 mpg Veyron supercar. 

The Bugatti Veyron W16 engine

You know in life there are those marvels (#W16 Engine)that just won’t leave your mind despite what you do or how long you live.

One of the best engines I have experienced so far is that of the Supercar, Bugatti Veyron W16 engine, man its maaad!

Bugatti did two things to create a compact engine capable of producing 1,000 hp. The first and most obvious thing is turbocharging.

The Bugatti Veyron’s 16-cylinder monster engine produces 1,001 horsepower for a top speed of more than 250 mph. And it’s a passenger car!

If you have read How Turbochargers Work, you know that one easy way to make an engine more powerful without making the engine bigger is to stuff more air into the cylinders on each intake stroke. Turbochargers do that. A turbo pressurizes the air coming into the cylinder so the cylinder can hold more air.

If you stuff twice as much air in each cylinder, you can burn twice as much gasoline. In reality, it’s not quite a perfect ratio like that, but you get the idea. The Bugatti uses a maximum turbo boost of 18 PSI to double the output power of its engine.

Therefore, turbocharging allows Bugatti to cut the size of the engine from 16 liters back down to a more manageable 8 liters.

To generate that much air pressure, the Bugatti requires four separate turbochargers arranged around the engine.

The second thing Bugatti engineers did, both to keep the RPM redline high and to lower lag time when you press the accelerator, was to double the number of cylinders. The Bugatti has a very rare 16-cylinder engine.

The Volkswagen W16 Engine and the Bugatti

There are two easy ways to create a 16-cylinder engine.

  • One way would be to put two V-8 engines in-line with each other. You connect the output shaft of the two V-8s together.
  • Another would be to put two in-line 8-cylinder engines beside one another.

The latter technique is, in fact, the way Bugatti created its first 16-cylinder cars in the early 20th century.

For the Veyron, Bugatti chose a much more challenging path. Essentially, Bugatti merged two V-8 engines onto one another, and then let both of them share the same crankshaft. This configuration creates the W-16 engine found in the Veyron. The two V’s create a W. You can see exactly how this looks in a set of beautiful videos available on the Bugatti Web site

The special features of the Bugatti W-16 engine are amazing. For example:

  • The engine has four valves per cylinder, for a total of 64 valves.
  • It has a dry-sump lubrication system borrowed from Formula 1 race cars, along with an intricate internal oil path to ensure proper lubrication and cooling within the 16 cylinders.
  • It has electronically controlled, continuously variable cam timing to create an optimal performance at different engine rpm settings.
  • It has a massive radiator to deal with all of the waste heat that burning 1.33 gallons of gasoline per minute can generate.

Everything about the engine is superlative.

And it is remarkably compact. It measures just 710 mm (27 inches) long, 889 mm (35 inches) wide and 730 mm (28.7 inches) high. This is the beauty of Bugatti’s W-16 approach — the engineers managed to fit 1,000 hp into a reasonably sized package.

Company CEO Stephan Winkelmann admits the quad-turbo 8.0-liter powerhouse is “the last of its kind.”

According to Wikipedia, it was more than 100 years ago when Frenchman Gaston Mougeotte came up with the idea of a W16 engine. Fast forward to 1995, the one-off Jimenez Novia was presented with a naturally aspirated 4.1-liter W16 created by fusing four Yamaha motorcycle engines developing a combined 560 horsepower.

About ten years later, Bugatti unveiled the production-ready Veyron with a quad-turbo 8.0-liter W16 engine pushing out a monstrous 987 hp. Later in the hypercar’s life cycle, the massive engine was massaged to unlock 1,184 hp in the Veyron Super Sport, while the Chiron introduced in 2016 upped the power ante to a massive 1,479 hp – the same as the Chiron Sport and the new track-focused Divo.

What does the future have in tow for the W16? Let’s start with the bad news. In an interview with Car Advice last week in California, Bugatti CEO Stephan Winkelmann admitted the W16 is “the last of its kind,” adding there won’t be a new generation of the powerhouse:

“There is huge enthusiasm for it, everybody would like to have it forever, to continue to develop it – we will do our utmost to keep it alive… but if you want to be on the edge with advanced technology it’s important you choose the right moment to change.”

CEO Stephan Winkelmann

But the good news is the W16 won’t be going out without the proverbial bang as Bugatti’s head honcho said the race for more power is far from being over and the Molsheim-based marque is eager to extract more oomph from its gigantic engine created as an evolution of the Volkswagen Group’s W12.

In the long run, Bugatti will have no other way but to embrace electrification in order to meet stringent legislation regarding emissions, said Winkelmann. He argued hybridization can be a “good thing” now that the weight of the batteries is coming down, but the technology will have to offer at least the same level of performance as the W16 to be worthy of a Bugatti.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here