In yet another happy chapter of our lives, we've been among the first to hop in the year's most hotly anticipated exotic, the 2012 Lamborghini Aventador LP700-4. After the super sport's debut at this year's Geneva Motor Show in March, plus some previous prototype drives while still in camouflage, all that remained was the tell-all day behind its wheel on a hot circuit. We survived. And the seat of our pants is permanently creased by the Aventador's electrifying, world-conquering performance.
It's about time that Lamborghini put its V12 model front-and-center again, and this is what the four-year development of the Aventador has been all about. Only at the very start of its life did the Murciélago ever garner this type of attention. Once its Gallardo V10 sibling was launched, the poor old Murc didn't take it so well and lived deep in the shadows of Lambo's popstar "people's car." Continue reading...
We'll get some more civilian road time in the Aventador this summer, but on the aggressive track of Vallelunga outside of Rome, the 691-horsepower brute with 509 pound-feet of torque at the ready couldn't get enough of our animal instincts. It devours a track like a bull that eats red meat. It's fantastically disturbing. Most impressive right off the bat is – as we've experienced with the occasional twelve-cylinder Ferrari – exactly how malleable this track terror is on a normal day in Strada mode (i.e. Street), yet in the next instant it can hammer out a record lap in Corsa mode (Race).
In between these two extremes, there's the Sport setup that puts the throttle, innovative seven-speed "Independent Shifting Rods" automated manual transmission, steering feel and the stability control, all in just the right mood for carving up your favorite piece of tarmac. The race-ready inboard Ohlins pushrod dampers inspired by open-wheel Formula cars are not multi-mode adaptive, but we're dealing with a full-time aggressive 217-mph car, so let's be honest: The simpler the better, and the settings Lambo has chosen feel right over most any surface. It's always healthy to keep in mind that the company wants to sell 750 of these per annum, not take on the BMW 7 Series for all-around livability and market dominance. They also want the Aventador to be race-ready for privateers who want to conquer the GT1 class at Le Mans.
Initial acceleration figures to 62 mph put the LP700-4 at 2.9 seconds. That's getting a touch into Bugatti Veyron territory and matches the latest Porsche 911 Turbo S and McLaren MP4-12C. Once the twisties start, the big muzzer Lambo (which is nearly 200 pounds lighter than the Murc at 3,472 pounds dry) shows its substance, and the handling provided by the latest-generation electronically active Haldex IV all-wheel drive versus the Murc's viscous/passive system is well beyond anything the latter was ever capable of at its limits. This was made clear all day long at Vallelunga, a collection of tough corners that takes some learning.
This dynamic improvement is helped greatly by the fact that the 518-pound (down 40 pounds from its predecessor) 6.5-liter V12 engine in back – dubbed "L539" – sits some 2.9-inches lower down in the chassis than the Murcièlago's 632-hp 6.5-liter. Couple this with the pushrod suspension's stellar handling characteristics, and this big V12 stays almost as level in tight curves as the featherweight McLaren MP4-12C. The engine cradle is simply placed lower and the dry-sump pan and engine block lose much of this height.
Just like the Aventador itself, the V12 engine is essentially completely new. Bore is up and stroke is down – 88mm x 89mm (3.47in x 3.50in) – which is exactly what R&D boss Maurizio Reggiani wants for all Lamborghinis. "I love the sound and, above all, the throttle and torque response that is always possible in a short-stroke engine, even in a higher gear," he tells us.
But why no direct injection for added fuel economy and the well-advertised aid it gives to performance? One reason is sheer packaging. Developing Gallardo V10 FSI-style direct injection (thank you, Audi and Volkswagen Group) would have added back on engine height that the crucial Aventador packaging couldn't quite accommodate. Also, with FSI direct injection, an additional particulate filtering system is required downstream, a change that would've added back some of the weight that Lamborghini was determined to shed. As a result of the Aventador's drastic weight-loss program, fuel consumption, exhaust emissions and performance numbers are right near what they might have been had direct fuel injection been baked-in from the start.
There's also a personal aspect to Aventador development; Lamborghini wants to avoid all Gallardo-style skepticism regarding too much involvement from Ingolstadt. "This is a 100-percent Lamborghini-developed car," says president and CEO Stephan Winkelmann. Had Lamborghini done the cost-effective thing and used a latest-version dual-clutch Audi transmission and the FSI direct injection, for instance, then the entire massive wiring harness for the car's systems would have been all-Audi as well, as they are on Gallardo. Lamborghini and, after long persuasion, Audi, did not want this. We salute them both for their purity of purpose and foresight.
Stopping forward thrust with the standard 15.8-inch front ceramic discs with six-piston calipers (15.0-inch with four pistons in back) is a negative-G experience that should be had by everyone at least once in their lifetime. As a sidebar to this late-braking joy, a company spokesperson admits that the standard Pirelli P Zero tires must be replaced at least once every 15,000 miles with just normal road use – about once every eighteen months for the average buyer. The P Zero Corsa tires on our track testers – 255/35 ZR19 (96Y) front, 335/30 ZR20 (104Y) rear – are optional units, wear much more quickly, and won't be available until June of 2012, around the time of the Aventador Spyder ramp-up. These stickier track tires would last maybe two days under the type of constant stress we're inflicting here. Lamborghini has brought along a yellow Pirelli tractor-trailer rig filled with P Zero Corsa sets, in fact. Yum.
The ISR seven-speed gearbox, also a Lamborghini patent and industry first, is an incredibly flexible and robust unit. It's roughly the size of a standard manual gearbox and weighs 154 pounds – half that of a dual-clutch gearbox. A fine starting point. Set in Strada or Sport, the electro-hydraulically actuated shifts up or down via four independent shift rods are smooth enough, with the behavior in Corsa practically requiring shifts at the very highest revs. At times, we found ourselves playing with short-shifts around 6,000 revs while accelerating in second or third gear, and the effect is not unlike someone punching the back of the carbon-fiber shell seat. Pretty pounding stuff, and it forces a driver to augment his own skills a bit. Do so on a closed circuit only, please.
While we weren't allowed to lap the car with the electronic stability program totally switched off, the Aventador's habits in Corsa mode create a healthily rear-biased experience that can slip its tail out nicely on command. For the throughly entertaining Launch Control, however, we were allowed to nix the ESP and have at. The throttle sticks at 4,200 rpm, your left foot slips off the brake and you're gone before you take another breath. With the all-wheel traction there's definitely less drama to it than on, say, any AMG or the Ferrari 599 GTO, but the pick-up in speed is noticeably quicker as we're pressed hard into the leather seats while the tires get down to the business of hooking up. At 4,000 rpm, the exhaust bypass opens to stay for the rest of the rev range and the sound from the 15.8-inch-wide mouth is always a rush.
Under these circumstances, the ISR gearing shifts itself right at the 8,250-rpm max and does so with authority via 50-millisecond shifts. (Formula One cars generally shift in 40 milliseconds.) The ISR is one tough cookie, and we like its adaptability in this Aventador-style application versus any dual-clutch 'box or the widely used single-clutch Graziano setup sans torque converter. On a lesser car, we'd have to wait and see if it would be too abrupt and authoritative, but it fits the character of the big bull.
What do you think of the very Reventón/Estoque/Sesto Elemento exterior? These aesthetic issues are so subjective, especially when we're talking about one of the world's greatest exoticar builders. When we first set eyes on this new Arancio Argos hue, we were captivated. We were also doubtful whether or not a 6.5-liter V12 could even fit amidships with this stunning profile. The front and rear looks taken alone are plenty gorgeous, too. The two moving aerodynamic parts – the automated rear upper pillar intakes for engine cooling as well as the 68-by-eight-inch automated rear wing – are incorporated much better in this new design by Filippo Perini, head of Lamborghini Centro Stile. The eye-catching 22-by-10-inch side intakes for oil and water cooling also hit us the right way the longer we look at them.
Rumors tell of the entire Volkswagen Group participating in the contest for this design and, from the five submissions, this one from Sant'Agata won out. The composite plastic and aluminum panels work together seamlessly, and these were chosen over carbon fiber mainly to dramatically contain the price of the car while maintaining roughly the same weight advantages.
Carbon fiber is a much more effective investment when it comes to body-in-white crash and support structures. Lamborghini's brand-new, on-site lightweight materials facility makes the Aventador's CFRP (carbon fiber reinforced plastic) passenger cells, negating the need for labor-intensive autoclaving for hours on end. This 325-pound cell is the central element to the 506-pound body-in-white, and together they make the Aventador a full 150-percent stiffer in twisting and bending resistence versus the Murciélago chassis. Both fore and aft crash structures are bolted-on aluminum frameworks, a proven lightweight and protective combo that also makes the Lambo easier to repair if it ever gets a costly boo-boo.
Sit inside, and nearly every detail in the interior is in sync with the hexagon theme everywhere else. Each button has an edge to it, but oddly, the theme doesn't feel overwrought or kitschy like it can in a Mini or even a Pagani. All controls are clear and intuitively thought out, and particular joy has been taken with the fighter-jet style start-stop button living under the "Danger Red" flap. Workmanship is top-notch and it's truly fun to explore – all-in-all, the Aventador represents a major leap forward in the cabin experience for Lamborghini.
The digital LCD instrument panel can be modified ad infinitum, but the two chief change-ables are whether to have the center dial emphasize speed over engine revs or vice versa. The feel of the 13.8-inch small-diameter steering wheel with 2.9 turns lock-to-lock is a good grip, though we do wish the height and distance adjustments happened via electrics and not a long-reach lever under the column. We're partial to the column-fixed and noticeably larger shift paddles, but they could outright copy those massive carbon-fiber paddles on the Ferrari FF or Maserati Granturismo S and we'd be much happier still. Rear visibility is – predictably – not so great and the blind spots are a thrill. Getting in or out of the Aventador is easy for anyone six-foot, two-inches or less (after the first cranium-thumping trial run) and once inside, headroom is good up to nearly six-foot, five-inches. Total baggage space is a mere 3.9 cubic feet, so squash is looking better than golf. As always, sacrifices will be made.
The traditional scissor doors on the Aventador – a must – are the lightest we can ever remember on any Lambo. The lever is on the rocker panel by the driver's outside thigh, requiring just a flick of the elegant door with an inelegant elbow.
We get our 2012 Lamborghini Aventador LP700-4s exactly when the rest of the world gets theirs: this September, with a base price of $390,700, which includes America's gas-guzzling wrist-slap fee. Company bosses assure us that they have sold 18 months' worth of production already, or around 1,200 cars. We asked them point-blank how many of these were actual customer cars and they piped back, "All but the one each of our 125 dealers worldwide needs to buy to have on-hand for test drives and display purposes." So, that's nearly 1,100 legitimate sales to the world's hypercar elite.
What pleases most is that the Aventador strikes us as a bold and pure romagnola Lamborghini (i.e. from the heart of the Emilia-Romagna region), one that's utterly Italian and not at all a Ferrari or Porsche or Audi wannabe in any way. This was important both for Lamborghini and its customers, and Sant'Agata has hit the bull's eye.