Larger-than-life personalities don't like to compromise, especially where half-million-dollar, open-air sleds are involved. And so the late, great Murcielago Roadster seemed rather comical with its flimsy cloth roof, which limited the car's top speed to an infeasible 100mph. As a result it rather unkindly came to be known as the "toupe."
Fortunately, Lamborghini's carbon-bodied Aventador has spun off its own roadster derivative, and this time around the LP700-4 Roadster utilizes some genuine engineering for its two removable roof panels.
Weighing a mere 13.2 lb each, the panels are constructed with an outer composite material wrapped around a high-pressure resin-transfer molded section. Not only do they offer an elegant visual solution, they're also stressed members, bolstering torsional rigidity when snapped in place.
Even with its roof panels tucked into the small storage compartment in the nose, the al fresco übercar boasts a staggering stiffness of 22,000 nM per degree. By comparison, the Murcielago only offered 20,000 in its coupe form, no less.
What's more, the difference in rigidity between the open and closed Aventador is so nominal, Lamborghini claims they yielded almost identical lap times during testing.
Strapped into the Lamborghini flagship in the pitlane at Miami-Homestead, with the V12 rumbling mere inches behind my head, we were unlikely to verify the lap times given the lead/follow format. Furthermore, the roof was in place due to debris on the track, but the effect is still dramatic: after all, this wedge-shaped spacecraft incorporates a healthy dose of theater; first razzle-dazzling the driver with a missile launcher-style starter button. Then there's also an enormous TFT tachometer and all the sights and sounds you'd expect from the V12 engine under glass.
Volume levels in the cabin are surprisingly hushed in "Strada" mode, but switching to "Sport" or "Corsa" opens the exhaust valve earlier, allowing the mechanical percussion of 12 naturally aspirated cylinders to fill the cabin. Lower the rear window - an awkward maneuver requiring you to reach a switch behind the steering wheel - and a beautiful cacophony tickles your tympanic membranes, altering the soundtrack with the thrum of valvetrain chains and the whoosh of air being sucked into the combustion chambers.
Working up to speed, the Aventador reveals a fidgety, challenging personality that requires full focus on car placement - all the way from turn-in to apex to exit. Unlike McLaren's "brake steer" system, which squeezes the inside rotors to help rotate the vehicle, or Ferrari's e-Diff, which apportions torque to either rear wheel, the Aventador's rear-biased all-wheel drive Haldex system demands patient positioning and thoughtful throttle input. Gas it too early and the nose drifts wide, understeering like a Subaru Impreza STi. Overdo the right pedal after weight transfers to the front, and the tail readily kicks out.
In its standard setting, the ESC curtails the slip angle rather conservatively. But again you simply flip the switch on the dash to "Sport" mode, and car rotation makes it easier (and hairier) to slither around the track. A characteristic exaggerated by neck-snapping gear shifts, which are strong enough to trigger the stability control.
The carbon-ceramic brakes have a violent, seatbelt-stretching impact on the Aventador's deceleration, but jumping from car to car revealed a fingerprint-like individuality to each specimen's personality: not only does the pedal's point of engagement vary wildly, so do handling characteristics and on-limit behavior. In fact, the racetrack was such a smorgasbord of different vehicle dynamics it was almost a relief to hit public roads. Almost.
Beyond the purview of Lamborghini executives, the first task was to test the launch control, which required a straight steering wheel, Corsa mode, and ESC in the "off" position. Stab both pedals, and the V12 howls to 3000rpm; lift the brake, and the single clutch dumps massive torque to all four wheels, catapulting the Lamborghini on a mad dash to the manufacturer's claimed 2.9sec to 60mph. And it won't quit until 217mph - the same terminal velocity as the coupe, incidentally.
Once you surrender to driving license preservation and simmer into mundane mode, it becomes virtually impossible to blend into traffic. Children gawk, cellphones hover and any semblance of anonymity is lost. And while we had every intention of testing the street-appropriate "Strada" mode, its molasses-like throttle response and lazy shifts simply wouldn't do for South Beach; with limited time in this over-the-top supercar, enduring the single clutch transmission's tendency for bucking and lurching was preferable to a neutered version of this otherwise feral creature.
And therein lies the Aventador Roadster paradox. It's a supercar that's as conflicted as they come. Sure, it's engineered for blinding speed and retina-detaching cornering, but it's better suited to the boulevard than the racetrack, as evidenced by use of the nimbler Gallardo Superleggera for the Lamborghini's Super Trofeo race series. But don't tell that to an Aventador Roadster driver; after all, it's hard to care about naysayers when you're already smitten by its fighter jet silhouette and addictive engine note.
2014 Lamborghini Aventador LP700-4 Roadster
Layout Mid-engine, AWD
Engine 6.5L V12 DOHC 48v, variable valve timing, auto stop/start, cylinder de-activation
Transmission seven-speed automated manual with single-clutch
Brakes six-piston calipers, 400mm carbon-ceramic rotors front, four-piston, 380mm rear
Suspension horizontal monotube dampers with Ohlins pushrod system
Wheels & Tires 19x9" f, 20x12" r with 255/35 ZR19 f, 335/30 ZR20 r
Exterior active spoiler
Power 691hp at 8250rpm
Torque 509 lb-ft at 5500rpm
Top speed 217mph
Weight 3582 lb (dry)