Lamborghini Aventador LP700-4: First Drive

words - Michael Taylor
Lamborghini's all-new Aventador is, simply, the best supercar money can buy

Lamborghini Aventador LP700-4

First Drive
Vallelunga, Italy
What we liked
>> Brilliant chassis balance
>> Astonishingly emotive engine
>> Blistering speed
Not so much
>> Standard cabin trim materials not up to snuff
>> And you pay a high price to fix them

There's no point leading you on any further than the first line: Lamborghini's all-new Aventador is, based on our limited track test, the best supercar money can buy today.

It ought to be, too, because it's the best supercar a phenomenal amount of money can buy you today… With Australia's usury Luxury Car Tax lumped on, the pricetag is almost $900,000. And, though it's not actually possible to say it's worth, for example, nine high-spec 3 Series coupes or 20 Golf GTIs, supercars are really about undefinable emotional power rather than balance sheet value.

There are areas toward which the wealthy few can point to justify the cost because, unlike its predecessor, Aventador has advanced the game well beyond anything else -- in research, in manufacturing and in the materials it uses. Technically, the Aventador comes brimming with breakthroughs and clever engineering that smacks of people who were thinking, hard, about giving this car relevance well into the future.

Yet, for its drivers, it has hidden its three major breakthrough technologies so well that all they know is that this is a supercar that thrills without frightening; is astonishingly fast without the unmitigated brutality of its predecessor; and rides better than most passenger cars.

Where lesser cars stick shiny, lacquered pieces of carbon-fibre on their dashboards, you can't see a single piece of exposed carbon-fibre in the Aventador's cabin. Yet under the skin carbon-fibre makes up its skeleton.

This carbon chassis, so stiff that it would take about 20 Holden Commodores sitting on a pole from one corner to bend it by just one degree, is also the most accurate piece of manufacturing Lamborghini has ever attempted. The tolerances for the chassis, new manufacturing technique or not, are just +/- 0.1mm

It's not just built from carbon-fibre, because there wasn't one kind of carbon-fibre that was specialised enough. It is an amalgam of three different composites, two of which Lamborghini invented in-house, in co-operation with the University of Washington in the USA and Boeing.

Based around RTM Lambo (a more-accurate, less energy-intensive technique than most carbon-based cars use), it also has a braided carbon technology (that looks a lot like a thickened ponytail stuffed inside the car's sills) for side impact protection and up in its windscreen pillars for strength. On top of that is a roof made from seven layers of traditional, pre-preg carbon-fibre.

Altogether the chassis structure weighs just 175kg, it's strong enough to pass the FIA's GT1 roof crush strength tests for racing cars without a rollcage fitted.

Unlike others in the supercar business, Lamborghini refuses to show any of it off. Unusually (for a brand that's all about glamour and show), this will be a car that's more about what – and how – it delivers rather than what it uses to deliver it. It has leapt two generations ahead of McLaren's carbon-fibre roadcar technology, but you'd have to lie on your back with your Aventador on a hoist before you could actually see how.

There are those who have pointed out that Aventador is perhaps not sufficiently aggressive visually, though we're not among them. It could be argued that its external styling is a bit too obviously halfway between the Murcielago and the Reventon art car. That may be true, but you can't judge it until you see it move. And we've seen it move for two years now, having driven Lamborghini's Aventador prototypes as long as two years ago.

The final product is a huge step forward from the ratty, plastic-covered 'mule' we punched around Italy's Nardo proving ground. For starters, it's got a proper interior with seats that are simultaneously gorgeous to look at and uncompromisingly secure.

They need to be so, because Aventador is a car capable of almost 1.5g on a static circle and its 700 horsepower (hence the name… approx 515kW!!!) is enough to fling you to 100km/h in just 2.9 seconds. And that's on a bad launch…

Here, on Vallelunga's pit straight, we engage the firing controls for the launch system. The mighty V12, already classily aggressive in its Strada mode, becomes deeper and richer as you move through Sport and then, ultimately, Corsa mode.

And then it happens. The revs build after a couple of blips that echo off the surrounding empty grandstands, the track clears and you just step off the brake pedal. All four monster Pirelli PZeros, custom designed for this car, flail briefly at the bitumen and the V12's howl dips as the load pumps through the all-wheel drive system.

And the Aventador brutally, angrily tries to hurl you through the back of your seat and into the engine bay your right foot is so torturing, leaping into the thick of the attack with a very short first gear ratio. The wheels stop spinning quickly with the new, more-accurate and far-lighter all-wheel drive system determined not to waste a single one of the Aventador's 690Nm.

The acceleration is isincessant, though. The car barely slows it urgency in second gear and then you're past 100km/h. Spend six seconds more on full throttle and you'll pass 200. Keep it nailed and the Aventador will surge to 350km/h, with its automatically adjustable rear wing flicking through its three settings for maximum downforce and then minimum drag at very high speed.

What you don't feel -- in a direct reflection of Lamborghini's stance of refusing to show off its carbon-fibre -- is that the engine, gearbox and all-wheel drive systems all share the same electronic architecture. Capable of half a billion calculations a second, in the time you launch the car the Aventador has switched its engine's computer into a slave for the gearbox's computer, so that the revs and torque delivery are always perfect for what the clutch needs, fired the car off the line and switched the gearbox computer back into slave mode.

It's not that hard to engineer a car that's fast in a straight line, but combining it with astonishing cornering is very, very rare. Corners, which were never the strongest suit of the Murcielago, are a thing of joy in the Aventador.

The new Lamborghini changes the game with race-bred pushrod suspension. Like an open-wheeler, the spring and damper units sitting horizontally in the middle of the car, rather than sitting outboard of the suspension mounting points. It's a far more accurate way of organising the suspension, with less unsprung weight, better alignment and the ease of adjustment just three of the benefits.

The car's enormous carbon-ceramic brakes shed speed like arrester cables on an aircraft carrier. Indeed, they are strong enough to stop the car from 100km/h in just 30 metres in the dry, and to make your eyeballs surge forward in your head…

You had to brake harder and longer in the Murcielago because it, quite simply, needed to be travelling a lot slower before you could safely convince the front-end to make its way towards the apex. It didn't really matter what shape the corner was, or how lumpy the road was, because you always hauled the Murchey down hard before turning it in gently, then poking a stick at the big V12 again to start the fun. Not anymore…

With every passing corner, you use less and less brake and the Aventador still urges you faster. It's an all-new steering system, and though it loses some feedback on the less realistic confines of a racetrack, compared to the road-grippy Nardo surface, it's still terrific. For example you can just breath on it in fast bends and it will start edging the nose over. And then it will hold there, with the body walking gently over bumps, telling you very early when it wants you to add or subtract a bit of front wheel angle and doing everything it can to infuse you with its elation at being set free.

And then, if you do come in too hot, Aventador can take a mid-corner brake brush (a sin the Murcielago certainly would punish) and react only by edging the nose closer in to the inside of the corner.

With the ultra-clever Haldex IV all-wheel-drive system so deeply integrated into the car that the rear diff is cast into the engine block, the Aventador offers the driver three distinct cornering stances. They're each easy to get to and a giggle to manipulate back and forward in longer corners.

Strada is its most comfortable gearbox mode. There are no adjustable dampers here, so Strada adjusts the throttle response, exhaust, the stability-control system (which the Murcielago actually didn't have), the traction control (which it did, in a rudimentary way) and the Haldex all-wheel-drive system's mapping.

What's nice about it is not just that it slurrs the shifts softly as you run through the Independent Shifting Rods (ISR) gearbox's seven speeds. Not that it makes the steering lighter… The real beauty of it is that the car will always corner, at its stupendous limits, with a trace of understeer.

Flick over to Sport and you'll find the safety nets have been lifted a touch and the car will let you attack corners with a bit of oversteer. However, to stop repair bills for Aventador tail lights getting out of hand, it intervenes with a bit of stability control before you go too far.

It goes from the exuberance of the Sport mode to sheer stunning, gobsmacking speed when you go for Corsa -- which realigns all the settings to simply pursue pure pace. It's in this mode that you do your launch control starts, but it's also the best around the track. It just aims up out of corners and fires out with a nuance of control and balance that doesn't just border on brilliant, but is brilliant.

It's also in this mode that you can bang through your shifts at just 0.05 of a second, with a sharp judder rocking the cabin. Double clutch units might be faster, but they don't have this level of personality and they're heavier. Besides which, a double clutch wouldn't fit here, because the gearbox sits in front of the monster engine, not behind it, as it does in the Gallardo.

Besides speed and balance, there's also 6.5 litres of all-alloy V12 howling behind your head, but there's not the same level of fizzing and whirring and surging going on from the ancilleries as there was in the Murcielago. It's as though Lamborghini's engineers were so in control of the car during development that they only let you hear precisely what they wanted you to hear.

At 8250rpm, this colossus is throwing out around 515kW and it's doing it with a disturbing silkiness to the angry delivery that's out of sync with just how hard it's trying to rip the stones out of the tarmac.

The Aventador V12's torque might peak at 690Nm at 5500pm but there's plenty of torque on offer at even 2000rpm. In Strada mode, short shifting becomes almost second nature, because the shift control (the hardest piece of electronic calibration in the car, the electronics engineers tell us) feels like that's the way it prefers to work.

And that's partly because it's a ridiculously comfortable car to drive on the road. You just don't hear savage bump strikes crunching through the chassis and you don't feel jiggled around. The only noises come from the engine and, when you're working harder, the tyres and the wind around the mirrors and the A-pillars.

The engine doesn't feel like a high revver when you're just trickling around. It feels like a fat, thick, rich powerplant and it's so luxuriant below 5000rpm that you find yourself short-shifting unintentionally, usually because that's where 'normal' engines like to be shifted.

It's to the big Lamborghini's credit that its engine is so loosely strung that it accepts commuting revs without even a hint of discomfort. But it was designed to deliver big punches at very high revs, which is why Lamborghini gave it a shorter stroke to lower the piston speeds at 8250rpm.

The engine starts when you flick open a red protective alloy cover and expose the centrally-mounted Start button. Is it kitsch? Maybe… But we love it!

The V12 fires up with a sharp, spine-tingling throttle blip from the computer before it settles into a surprisingly civilised idle. But when you attack the Aventador's throttle pedal, it turns brutal, but without ever losing its cultured veneer. It's kind of like being attacked by a group of billionaires in bowler hats.

In a straight line, there's no longer a chirp of the Murcielago's four throttle bodies opening, but it compensates by bellowing out its anger until it replaces this with a velvety richness across the middle revs. Then, at around 6000rpm, that's replaced by a metallic rasping scream that only finely tuned big racing engines have ever provided.

Yet, for all the speed and character it gives, the Aventador is not, like its predecessor, dominated by its engine. It is a car that comes together so cleanly that it makes it difficult to pick a standout part, like a great sporting team working in complete harmony.

The gearbox is one example. Nobody else uses an ISR gearbox. The Lambo creation breaks up the traditional gear pairings in the 'box and then uses independent rods to engage the next gear along while simultaneously disengaging the current one.

It's a kilo lighter than the old gearbox, despite picking up an extra gear, and the rotational forces are lower, too, thanks to carbon-fibre synchro rings. They've also plumbed all the hydraulic lines directly into the casing, so there's no leakage or flexing, which improves reliability and accuracy. But it was there to fit in and do a job, not take a starring role.

Instead, the star is the character of the car and the way it makes the driver feel. It's a (near-as-dammit) million dollar supercar, but you can very quickly have the confidence to throw the Aventador around a track as though it were a rented kart -- even if it keeps cheering you up as it tries to tear your head off your neck with sheer g-force.

Inside the Aventador is a better working environment, too, even if some of the centre console materials should be better in standard form. Indeed, the interior design isn't the Aventador's highlight, though that's partly because Lamborghini wants you to tick the options boxes for better materials like alloy instead of the plastics they give you standard.

But there is a lot more headroom here than there was in the Murcielago and more shoulder room, too. And the driver's seat is finally pointing straight ahead towards the steering wheel and the pedals. There is also a TFT screen in front of you and you can just toggle the button at the end of the wiper stalk (which swipes the screen clean in true RHD form) and it changes the main huge dial from a speedo to a tacho and back again.

But forget the details… It's a stupendously good car, the Aventador. Probably better than it needs to be, in reality.

The waiting list has blown out to 19 months now, and that doesn't surprise us one little bit.

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Published : Thursday, 28 July 2011
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