When the Zonda broke cover in 1999, it was apparent that Italy’s youngest supercar maker was going to alter the staus quo. With a visionary like Horacio Pagani behind the project, there could be no other outcome.

From its F16-style cab-forward canopy to its Buck Roger’s four rocket exhaust cluster, the Zonda landed at the turn of the 21st century like an alien craft from another world.

Departing from the Zonda’s naturally aspirated motor to a turbocharged one would fundamentally shape the character of the new Huayra. And with engine partner, AMG, Pagani has embraced the big hand-built V12 bi-turbo. It resides in the 2980 lb carbon-fiber sports car that’s almost one ton lighter than the Mercedes S65 AMG it’s taken from. For comparison, it’s also 180 lb lighter than a Porsche GT3 RS 4.0, which has only two-third of its power.

The 5980cc V12 motor starts with 630hp from 4800-5100rpm and 740 lb-ft of torque from 2000-4000rpm. However, two modified IHI turbos plus tweaks to the intake and exhaust bring this to a rousing 730hp at 5800rpm and 740 lb-ft from 2250-4500rpm. The claimed performance includes 0-62mph in 3.3sec and 224mph top speed.

Apart from extensive use of carbon-fiber, carbon/titanium and ballistic kevlar for its central tub and body panels, the Huayra features hollow carbon bracing behind the dashboard that doubles as air-conditioning ducting to save weight.

Behind the Wheel
Whether you’re the driver or passenger, the Pagani Huayra experience is pure theater. And it starts with the gullwing doors that are engineered to be easier to reach than, say, the SLS AMG.

The Mercedes ignition key is encased in a block of Huayra-shaped aluminum that splits in two. You insert the rear half into the ignition slot and turn it two clicks. Then you wait while the transmitter ‘handshakes’ the ECU and wakes the system. A couple of seconds later, the turned metal instrument gauges come alive with a flourish of blue lights and flicking needles. Twist the key again, and a V12 barks, although noise restrictions mean it’s nowhere near as loud as the Zonda.

To select first gear, you push the gear lever to the right and pull the right paddle on the steering column. Some clicking and whirring signifies solenoids in the bowels of the transmission are selecting your gear.

Once tentatively underway, upshifts are relatively smooth, especially compared to the aggressive snap of the Lamborghini Aventador. While far from the same league as a dual-clutch transmission, it’s good by manu-matic standards.

To be honest, you focus on the gearbox because the rest of the driving experience is near perfection. The ride, for instance, on 19" and 20" forged wheels with bespoke Pirellis P Zeros is firm but supple at low speeds, striking a balance between the sedan-like comfort of the MP4-12C and the old-school firmness of a Gallardo.

The Öhlins dampers, with their external fluid reservoirs and constant-rate springs, do a magnificent job at high speeds, engendering the Huayra with go-kart precision and sheer grip in fast bends.

The 2.2 turns of steering lock feels instinctive, and you can negotiate hairpins without removing your hands from the wheel. There are three levels of assistance, and while not as intimate as the Zonda’s, the steering felt reassuring but with 25% of the information filtered out.

Blasting down country roads, it’s surprising to see the front flap rise as you angle into a fast bend, followed by the other side as you turn the other way. On a curvy road, the flaps seem to dance an elegant ballet.

Brake hard and the two rear flaps pop up to increase drag and push on the tail, while the active front dampers increase pressure in anti-dive mode. It’s astonishing to drive a car that corners so flat.

The massive Brembo Carbon-Ceramic brakes provide tremendous power. The pedal is heavy but consistent, unlike some of its rivals.

The Huayra’s engine is torque-rich and lag free. Taken down to idle speed in third, it pulled away smoothly and, once past 1500rpm, the massive torque accelerated us rapidly. But use 5000rpm and the Huayra is supercar-fast. And don’t think that because peak power is developed at 5600rpm, it’s got nothing left. In fact, power delivery suddenly becomes even stronger. It’s not as explosive as an F40, but it progressively gets more powerful, pulling to 6500rpm with huge thrust.

The Huayra delivers a cultured V12 roar, with lots of turbo whooshes and whistles when you upshift. Pagani made a conscious decision to use the forced induction as part of the Huayra’s soundtrack, differentiating it from the Zonda.

Where the Zonda was instantaneous, and furious at all speeds, producing the most glorious automotive noise on earth, the Huayra is more subdued but unleashes even greater fury in a more refined way.

Technical
It’s widely agreed that a dual-clutch transmission is the fastest and smoothest solution available. The downside is that one capable of handling 740 lb-ft would weight around 370 lb. With the trans hung off the back of the engine, this mass would have a negative effect on the polar moment of inertia. So Pagani opted for a seven-speed, automated manual trans with a dual-plate clutch from Xtrac, weighing on 210 lb.

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