It’s nine o’clock in the morning and you’ve been on an airplane for the last 10 1/2 hours—with one more plane to catch.
One shot of whiskey, two beers, 16 hours and one more sleepless night later the voice of Lamborghini CEO Stephan Winkelmann snaps you out of a somnolent, dreamlike haze: “After its introduction in Geneva and Shanghai, this is the real presentation of the Lamborghini Aventador. You will be among the first to experience it.”
Your final destination yesterday was Rome, but you won’t be driving the Aventador through those chaotic streets, where the locals generally regard the lines that divide the lanes as mere reference points. No, that could cause undue stress and result in heart arrhythmia. Instead, today you’ve been bussed behind police escort to the nearby Autodromo di Vallelunga to drive the car much closer to its limits—as well as your own—at speed and on-track, and experience a different sort of stress. One that could conceivably end in a heart attack.
Regardless of what conclusions you’ve already drawn, the Aventador does represent a pretty big leap forward for its manufacturer. Lamborghini boldly claims it embodies an advancement of not one but two generations, and it’s all due to the new flagship’s many technical innovations. In spite of the traditional longitudinale posteriore (lengthwise rear-mount) positioning of the powertrain and its stylistic resemblance to the outgoing Murciélago, this is an entirely new vehicle from the pavement up.
The first innovation, and arguably the most significant, is the carbon-fiber monocoque passenger cell. Lamborghini claims it is the only such structure available in a full production vehicle—taking care to note that it is formed as a completely enclosed “box,” rather than just a tub. It is built entirely in-house using the patented RTM-Lambo molding process (RTM for Resin Transfer Moulding). The completed body-in-white weighs a scant 505 pounds, but has torsional rigidity of 35,000 Newton-meters per degree of twist. This produces a chassis that is, according to Lamborghini, 30 percent lighter yet 150 percent more rigid than that of the Murciélago.
In an adjoining room there’s an actual rolling chassis on display, with the front and rear tubular aluminum frames, the suspension components, and wheels affixed to the monocoque cell. Here you gaze upon the race-derived suspension setup, where the spring-and-damper elements are transversely positioned, like in a real race car. At one end they’re fixed directly to the body shell by way of aluminum; at the other, pushrods, relay levers and rockers are fitted to transmit forces from the wheel mounts to the springs and dampers themselves. Lamborghini R&D director Maurizio Reggiani explains that along with the rigid chassis structure, this is designed to produce exceptional levels of solidarity and steering responsiveness.
Then there’s the completely revised propulsion system. The power unit is a familiar 60-degree 12-cylinder arrangement, but like the car itself, this is a completely new assembly built from a blank sheet of paper. It pushes 6.5 liters, like the engine in the Murciélago LP 640, but here power has increased to 700 cavallo vapore (literally “steam horses,” Lamborghini’s traditional method of presenting power figures). Call it 515 kilowatts, or about 690 horses in American terms. Peak power is achieved at a head-spinning 8250 rpm. It’s all good for a frightening 2.9-second 0-62 mph run, and a reported quarter-mile elapsed time of 10.5 seconds.
The new V12 is linked to an equally new seven-speed gearbox, what Lamborghini calls its Independent Shifting Rod (ISR) transmission. It is not a dual-clutch unit, which the company says enables it to be both lighter and more compact. At full tilt it’s capable of crazy-fast gear changes (50ms) through the independent rod design. As one rod disengages the current gear, another engages the next. The ISR gearbox has four of these rods and its electronics monitor each independently. Power goes to all four wheels through a Haldex IV center differential that replaces the old viscous unit. It can direct up to 60 percent of the current torque output to the front wheels, or send it all to the rear if it wants to.
Abruptly, the press briefing—which has been held in a pair of the autodromo’s service bays—ends, and the doors are rolled up to the cacophony of an assembly of revving V12 engines. A phalanx of LP 700-4s, 15 cars deep, rolls through pit lane... and the air seems to quiver.
You approach the nearest, an Aventador draped in a classic metallic sunset-orange hue. You reach beneath the deep lateral crease where a handle might be present on any other vehicle, and the door panel scissors skyward in typical outrageous Lamborghini fashion. You settle into the cockpit and belt up. If the aviation-inspired design wasn’t obvious from outside the car, it’s on full display here. The ignition button is located beneath a red switch cover in the middle of the high center console. You flip it, press the button, and the V12 comes alive with a rasping snarl. The instruments, displayed as a full TFT-LCD array, simultaneously blink into view behind the steering wheel.
Out of the pit, onto the track. You were only fondling it before, but now you lean into the accelerator pedal and the Aventador surges forward, sucking you back into your seat. You’re following a yellow Gallardo Superleggera pace car, piloted by one of Lamborghini’s test drivers, and to your dismay he’s getting away. You then realize that in spite of the surging power you’re still only at half throttle; you floor it, and the car flings itself forward in a seemingly impossible manner, into the first bend, a gentle right-hander. You take it flat out, and the Aventador asks for more. The next bend is similar but in the other direction; you take that one flat-out too. The Gallardo isn’t getting any closer—and suddenly he’s on the brakes, cutting hard into a 90-degree right-hander. You get on your own, all the way on, and the Aventador wrenches itself down from speed with seeming planetary force. Off the brakes, you turn in, aim for the apex, and the chase resumes.
Three drive modes are available. Strada is the default setting, followed by Sport and Corsa, which successively sharpen the steering, ease up stability control and increase the transmission’s shift speeds. In Corsa, at full throttle, upshifts can seem quite violent, sending shockwaves through the cockpit and your sternum, as though the car were a high-powered rifle and you’re sitting in the breach. Corsa also on occasion allows you to push the tail out on sharp turn-in, before the drive and stability systems adjust to your hamfistery and reel you back in.
At length, you return to pit lane, pop the door, and emerge trembling, heart drumming a staccato beat against your ribs—and grinning like an idiot. Signor Winkelmann is there to greet you, smiling slightly and looking entirely satisfied with himself. He has every right to be; with the completion of this project, his company has truly surpassed itself and raised its technical bar to an entirely new level.
You join a group of colleagues for espresso and tall tales. Excited chatter is punctuated by bursts of laughter as you each relate the events of your first go at Aventador and Vallelunga. For the first time in some 36 hours you feel fully awake and really happy to be alive.
Time for another session.
Lamborghini Aventador LP 700-4
Longitudinal rear-mid-mount engine, all-wheel drive
6.5-liter V12, dohc, 48-valve
Seven-speed automated manual, Haldex IV center differential
Aluminum dual wishbone, transversely mounted coilover springs and dampers
Carbon-ceramic rotors (400mm/380mm f/r), six-piston front calipers, four-piston rear
Length/Width/Height (in.): 188.2/79.9/44.7
Wheelbase: 106.3 in.
Dry Weight: 3,472 lb
Peak Power: 690 hp @ 8250 rpm
Peak Torque: 509 lb-ft @ 5500 rpm
0-62 mph: 2.9 sec.
Top Speed: 217 mph