Pagani Huayra BC Roadster First Drive Review: Too Much Is Just Right

“This or the Pur Sport?” I’d brought the latest and greatest from Italy’s smallest and most prestigious hypercar maker, Pagani, to a weekly gathering of Los Angeles-based car freaks. I’d just finished explaining that yes, the Pagani Huayra BC Roadster—a fully hand-built, AMG-powered carbon-fiber spacecraft—costs about $4 million as tested. The same price in fact as the Bugatti Chiron Pur Sport I really took a shine to when I drove it a few months earlier.

Because I’d driven both, the questioner wanted to know which I preferred. I looked at the Pagani and then locked eyes with Jamie Morrow, the British race car driver who chaperoned both my drive of the Bugatti and now the wild Italian with the German heart. He surely had his own opinion of the two but threw his hands up in the air and laughed, not wanting to stick out his professional neck. Fair play, as the Brits say. I thought about it for a second or so and said, “Yeah, the Pur Sport.” And I’ve been reconsidering it ever since.

What Is the Pagani Huayra BC Roadster?

Pagani first introduced the Huayra in February 2011 as the replacement for the marque’s game-changing Zonda. The two biggest differences were the dropping of a manual transmission and the addition of two turbochargers to the AMG-sourced V-12 nestled behind the driver. Power went up, though some argue driver involvement went down. (Speaking as a person who drove a Zonda and a Huayra on the same day, I don’t agree with the latter.)

Then came the Huayra BC, so named for Pagani’s first customer, the late Benny Caiola. Power was up from 730 hp and 738 lb-ft of torque to 791 hp and 775 lb-ft, and weight was down. Next came the Huayra Roadster, a removable-top version of the standard Huayra. It generated controversy because removing the roof meant changing the doors from gullwing to standard, an ignoble fate the Aston Martin Valkyrie Spyder managed to avoid.

The 2020 Pagani Huayra BC Roadster (alternatively known as the BC Huayra or just BCR) is simply a roof-off version of the “regular” BC then, right? If only it were that easy. The engine is the latest, newest, and most powerful version of AMG’s legendary 6.0-liter twin-turbo V-12 that’s still, almost stubbornly, paired with a seven-speed Xtrac automated manual single-clutch transmission. This engine is an actual preview of what will power the Huayra’s replacement, the upcoming and soon to be renamed Pagani C10. AMG will continue producing this beast of an engine through 2025, which should give Horacio Pagani and sons plenty of time to stock up. Pagani doesn’t need all that many V-12s, as the tiny brand builds just 45 cars per year; 500 M158 V-12s would be more than a decade’s output. And Pagani capped Huayra BC Roadster production at 40 units—twice as many as the 20 BCs built—and each one sold before the BCR was announced officially.

Beyond the engine, quite a bit separates the BCR from the plain old BC. The entire vehicle is built from a new type of carbotanium (Pagani-speak for carbon fiber woven together with titanium), which the company says is about 20 percent stiffer and nearly five times as expensive as typical carbon fiber.

The car’s body is adjusted slightly for BCR duty, with a new front fascia, massive wing, and more aggressive rear diffuser. Obviously, you lose some downforce when you lose your roof. Pagani says some of the new aero tweaks add up to 1,100 pounds of total downforce at 175 mph. The suspension’s active dampers are reprogrammed for BCR duty, and there’s an all-new titanium exhaust.

What’s the Pagani Huayra BC Roadster Like to Drive?

Did I mention the exhaust? The sound of the updated engine’s overrun is like an atomic knuckle cracking. Does that metaphor make any sense? No, but neither does the thunderous noise pouring out of the RBC’s six tailpipes. Yeah, six: four round ones mounted up high and centered and two rectangular exhausts found nearly hidden within but at the edges of the mega diffuser.

This sound, this evil symphony, this glorious ruckus, is ridiculous. It’s difficult to believe it’s real. The really crazy part: From within the  Huayra BC Roadster’s gorgeous yet also ridiculous cabin (just look at the pictures), you don’t get the full measure of the exhaust’s fury, even with the carbon and leather roof stored elsewhere. Yeah, sure, you hear the engine from inside the car, and yeah, it sounds magnificent, but what you want to do is follow behind the RBC and listen. Trust me. I said atomic knuckle cracking already, yeah? Can we go with nuclear burps?

It’s said good artists are original, great artists steal. That’s applicable to the molto Ferrari manettino-like mode switch on the BCR’s steering wheel. There’s apparently a Snow mode, too, but it was a 90-degree August day in L.A., so I couldn’t tell you. “C” means Comfort and is the default mode. It delivers the softest damper settings, quietest exhaust, highest (front) ride height, and full nannies. “S” means (you guessed it) Sport, and this firms up the ride, emboldens the exhaust via a bypass flap, lowers the nose, and loosens the traction control. “R” equals Race, and between us, this mode is maybe a bit too much for the street. It brings the firmest damper settings, a scare-away-the-devil level of exhaust madness, the lowest front-end height, and what felt like zero traction control. One final click keeps it in Race but turns traction and stability truly all the way off. For the sake of both my own child and any that Mr. Morrow might sire in the future, I didn’t bother with the all-off dance on a winding, two-lane canyon road.

So let’s talk Race mode. Pagani claims there’s a little TC left active, but I don’t feel like that part is true. The torque—the monstrous, Wagnerian storm of twist, and to only the rear wheels, mind you—simply overwhelms the massive, über-sticky 355/25 21-inch Pirelli Trofeo R rear tires as if they are space-saver spares. I was a touch scared and alarmed. I was also eyes-wide smiling while shouting something to the effect of mio Dio while simultaneously swearing profusely.

See, this is what makes the Pagani Huayra BC Roadster so special: the deep black puddle of pavement-torching torque. I’ve experienced cars like, say, the McLaren 765LT or Elva, which have similar power-to-weight characteristics. But water-wheel-like twisting force? Nope. Both McLarens use a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 that pumps out “only” 590 lb-ft. The new or at least heavily revised AMG 6.0-liter twin-turbo V-12 employed here cranks out a massive 811 lb-ft. That’s more than 25 percent more than the right-around-3,000-pound Maccas. A man I trust told me he weighed this specific Pagani Huayra, and with a full tank of gasoline, it was 40 pounds less than 3,000. Dang, son.

However, I suppose in some ways the Bugatti Pur Sport does drive better than the Pagani. After all, with only 295 lb-ft per driven wheel (1,180 lb-ft divided by four equals 295), the Bugatti’s tires are doing better than 25 percent less work than the Pagani’s (811 lb-ft divided by two equals 406, if we round up). Therefore, there’s less drama, less frenzy, less turmoil, and ultimately less lunacy.

I happened to drive each $4 million beast on the same stretch of road. I lifted the throttle in the Pur Sport when I realized I was going three times the legal limit. In the Pagani Huayra BC Roadster I came off the throttle after a few seconds because, well, because I was frightened! The tires couldn’t handle the torque, I couldn’t handle the torque, nor could MotorTrend‘s insurance company. Imagine making that call: “Yeah, hi, it’s Jonny. Listen, I’ve splattered $4 million worth of carbotanium against a mountain …”

Getting old? Of course I am. But believe me when I tell you the Huayra BCR is a monster. Other cars are quicker, or this-er or that-er, but in terms of sheer mechanical madness, I struggle to think of a peer. Perhaps a Dodge Challenger/Charger Hellcat Redeye, though either Mopar has less torque (“only” 650 lb-ft), and both are designed to sit and spin their rear meats until the cars disappear into a cloud of smoke. The Pagani tries to hook up its tires to the road, but there’s just so much twisting force that the world begins shaking as your right foot pushes down. It’s an incredible feeling of—I can’t believe I’m saying this—too much power. OK, let’s go with almost too much. I don’t want to appear soft, and the BCR didn’t actually do anything untoward. It just threatened to, rather strongly. Besides, I’ve driven one of two existing Koenigsegg Agera XS models, and the one I drove had the optional One:1 engine specification: 1,341 hp and 1,011 lb-ft going to only the rear wheels—in the rain. That was too much.

Am I making the 2020 Pagani Huayra BC Roadster out to be more of a menace than it is? Yes and no. With a power-to-weight ratio that humbles anything this side of a Koenigsegg, the BCR really is too much for public roads. It was fun to drive, but really opening her up seemed unwise. That said, this same car—the specific car I drove—set the production car lap record at Belgium’s Spa-Francorchamps circuit in September 2020. It’s best time of 2 minutes, 23.08 seconds in damp conditions bested a McLaren Senna’s mark by more than a second. That’s downright impressive. Could any other car beat its time? Maybe the Pur Sport. Then again, the Bugatti weighs more than 4,000 pounds, and the Huayra BC Roadster is less than 3,000. The Chiron Pur Sport is tied down, well mannered, almost groomed. Bugattis are designed to rule. Call it Teutonic. The Pagani, on the other hand, is wild, frenetic, nearly feral. The BCR is a grown man jumping in the air and screaming with joy because life is beautiful. In other words, its terminally Italian.

Make a Decision Already

Which leads us back to the initial $4 million question: Pagani Huayra BC Roadster or Bugatti Pur Sport? Upon further reflection, do you mind terribly if I cop out a bit?

Pagani’s too small of a carmaker to collect stats like the following, but Bugatti quite often drops not-so-humble brags about the average Bugatti customer owning 83 cars, three jets, and one yacht. I should mention those stats are from 2014; Lord only knows how rich those people are today. The point is that the 40 lucky masters of the universe who own a Pagani Huayra BC Roadster already own a Pur Sport. And vice-versa. Or at least they easily could if they wanted to. Therein lies not the rub, but the absurdity of the situation. You see, I was mistaken. The proper answer to, “This or the Pur Sport?” is Oh, yes. Because of course it is.

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