The Lamborghini Aventador LP 700-4 Roadster left me stupefied. Despite my experience with countless other high-powered exotics on a variety of racing circuits, including nearly all of its Gallardo siblings, the all-wheel-drive, 700-horsepower flagship dropped my jaw to the ground.
Less than 24 hours earlier, I had been sitting on an airplane at 39,000 feet studying press releases about the Italian automaker's newest range-topping convertible. While everything looked spectacular on paper, I was genuinely concerned that its new cylinder deactivation system and open-roof configuration would spoil some of the fun - soften its personality, to be more specific.
Yet here I was, approaching 150 miles per hour on a front straight after dropping off the 20-degree banking at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and the Aventador Roadster had extinguished those thoughts like a cold bucket of water on a lit match. The scissor-door supercar was screaming near redline – my heart rate was only a few ticks behind - and I was near speechless.
The Lamborghini Aventador LP 700-4 coupe was launched at the 2011 Geneva Motor Show as a replacement for the automaker's Murciélago flagship. But unlike its predecessor, which was built around a steel frame chassis with double-wishbone suspension, the all-new Aventador boasted a full carbon-fiber monocoque occupant cell and advanced push-rod suspension. We first drove Sant'Agata's latest V12 Coupe nearly two years ago, and our own Matt Davis dove into its technical wizardry during his First Drive review. But this time I was standing face-to-face with the new sun-serving Roadster, as it has its own set of tricks to show off.
Lamborghini carries the Aventador's carbon-composite tub forward when constructing its new Roadster. But surgically cutting the roof off any coupe introduces the potential for turning the chassis into a wet noodle (take the lid off a shoebox and watch how flimsy the open container becomes), so the automaker called upon its extensive experience with carbon-fiber to reinforce the rocker sections of the monocoque (the tub and windshield surround are one piece) and lay down more composite on the tunnel and firewall behind the passengers. It isn't as stiff as the coupe (torsional rigidity is down about 37 percent), but without a laser sight you'd never know.
It isn't as stiff as the coupe, torsional rigidity is down about 37 percent.
Thankfully, gone is the Murciélago Roadster's flimsy soft top, as the new Aventador Roadster features a sturdy two-piece forged-composite (a sandwich of carbon is bonded in a hot 1,100-ton press) roof that becomes a stressed part of the chassis when installed. The roof panels are lightweight, only about 13 pounds each, but their bulk occupies the whole trunk when stored.
As expected, the exterior of the Aventador is also significantly altered in the transformation from coupe to roadster. Even though the fixed roof is gone, Lamborghini's signature scissor doors remain (complete with hinge brackets that automatically break free to allow easy exit if the vehicle is overturned). To increase the safety margin, Lamborghini has also added twin pop-up rollover posts that quickly extend just behind the passengers to further protect craniums if things accidentally go topsy-turvey.
Taking a closer look, one will also notice the resculpted rear pillar, new engine hood with two pairs of hexagonal windows, and two-tone body finish – the windshield pillar, roof sections and rear window up to the "fins" are all painted black. More subtle details, like the jagged trailing edge of the windshield over the occupant's heads (designed to limit buffeting) and the chamfered window edges (engineered to ensure a perfect fit into the hard-top seal) aren't immediately noticed but capture the eye in time.
Lamborghini's signature scissor doors remain.
Inside the cabin, one of the most noticeable additions is a small, power-operated retractable rear window located just aft of the passenger's ears. When raised, it blocks the wind and acts as an effective acoustic barrier between the engine compartment and cabin. When retracted, the breezes resume and the full fury of the twelve-cylinder is more audibly enjoyed. The difference between the two settings is drastic.
At the heart of the Aventador is a naturally aspirated dry sump 6.5-liter V12 that's mid-mounted in the chassis in an aluminum subframe. With variable valve timing, the 60-degree 12-cylinder delivers 700 horsepower and 509 pound-feet of torque, making it about the most powerful naturally aspirated engine on the consumer market. Despite its massive displacement, the engine's redline is a stratospheric 8,500 rpm - angels can't even sing that high.
New for 2013, Lamborghini has configured the engine with cylinder deactivation. At speeds below 84 mph, and during light throttle, one bank of cylinders will lose their fuel supply and the powerplant becomes a smooth-running inline-six. The process is seamless, and it reportedly adds one mpg to the Lamborghini's EPA highway rating. The new Roadster also features start-stop, meaning 6.5-liters of goodness comes to a halt when the vehicle is stopped for more than a few seconds. No worries, says the automaker, as it will relight faster than you can move your foot off the brake and back to the accelerator.
New for 2013, Lamborghini has configured the engine with cylinder deactivation.
The powerplant, mounted backwards with its output shaft pointing forward (as it has been since the Countach era), is mated to a seven-speed single-clutch automated gearbox (Lamborghini calls it the ISR, for Independent Shifting Rod). Power is sent to all four wheels through an electronically controlled fourth-generation Haldex clutch that varies torque from zero to 60 percent, based on speed and available grip. Using launch control, the 3,582-pound Aventador Roadster - slightly more than 100 pounds heavier than the coupe - will shatter the 60 mph benchmark in about 2.8 seconds as it is propelled towards a maximum velocity of 217 mph.
Of course that is just the tip of this jagged sugar-coated iceberg.
The Italian is more than a foot wider and longer than a McLaren MP4-12C, yet three inches shorter in height.
As with the fixed-roof model, the Roadster's other mechanical pleasantries include the aforementioned push-rod suspension with fixed damping, six-piston front calipers (over 15.74-inch carbon-ceramic rotors) and four-piston rear calipers (over 14.96-inch carbon-ceramic rotors). Standard wheels are staggered 19- and 20-inch alloys, but the Roadsters in Florida had even larger forged alloys with massive contact patches consisting of 255/30ZR20 tires in the front and 355/30ZR21 rubber in the rear (the test vehicles were wearing Pirelli P Zero Corsa compound on the track).
The Aventador Roadster is unquestionably intimidating in the flesh. Its sculpted aluminum and composite body panels, modeled after America's B-2 and F-22 military aircraft by Filippo Perini, give it a sinister look and its physical stature is threatening – the Italian is more than a foot wider and nearly a foot longer than a British McLaren MP4-12C, yet the Lamborghini is nearly three inches shorter in height overall.
Dropping into the cockpit required a hand be placed for balance on the sill or windshield surround as the wide sill was crossed, but once settled in place my six-foot two-inch frame fit comfortably – much better than it does in a Gallardo. Lamborghini told us that when the Aventador's roof panels are in place, the Roadster offers slightly more headroom than the coupe. All of the displays and switchgear would be familiar to a standard Aventador owner, as they are untouched, with the exception of the single additional switch behind the right side of the steering wheel that operates the aforementioned new rear window.
With the roof panels in place, the Roadster offers slightly more headroom than the coupe.
After lifting the red trigger cover and pressing the start/stop button, there was a slight delay before the V12 fired to life. At this point, it is up to the driver to choose which of the Aventador's driving modes will be used. The decision alters the sharpness of throttle response, shift smoothness and the intervention level of ESC (electronic stability control). The ESC switch toggles between three modes (On, Sport and Off) and the Drive Select rocker toggles between three of its own modes (Strada, Sport and Corsa). By default, the softest and most conservative settings are selected upon startup.
Lamborghini generously offered me plenty of time to play with each of the settings on the 2.27-mile modified road course at Homestead. While the standard automatic mode of Strada may keep everyone content as they absorb the stares of gawkers on public roads (as they did during my lovely two-hour drive back to the hotel), I found the Sport and Corsa settings much more enjoyable on the racing circuit as they allowed me to fully control the wrath of the V12 with my fingertips.
This isn't an overpowered South Beach cruiser for playboys.
Don't think for even one split second that the Aventador Roadster is nothing more than an overpowered South Beach cruiser for playboys, as this bull is an absolute menace on a road course. Throttle response was lightning fast (one of the quickest I've ever encountered), and the power from the V12 came on immediately. Even though the exotic was wider than anything I had ever piloted at speed through a set of cones, immediate turn-in, a direct steering feel and precision accuracy meant not a single orange marker suffered injury.
Seeking the fastest way around the circuit, I decided that Corsa mode would be my weapon of choice. Not only did it gloriously snap my head rearward with each brutal shift, but the configuration sent 80 percent of the engine's torque to the rear wheels and ESC politely allowed moderate oversteer (Sport mode sends a full 90 percent rearward, but shifting and ESC are less aggressive). The sun-soaked Aventador was easy to drive up to about eight tenths its potential. Beyond that, it required patience, anticipation and skill to push it any faster. It was a challenge I relished.
Corsa mode snapped my head rearward with each brutal shift.
Utilizing the Roadster's strengths – fantastic cornering grip and intelligent all-wheel drive backed with prodigious power – I soon had the Lamborghini figured out. After snapping off rapid manual upshifts just shy of its shorts-soiling redline on the straights, I would utilize the carbon-ceramic discs to brake very late while holding the flat-bottom steering wheel as steady as possible. During the deceleration, the trick was to downshift to no lower than second gear (full throttle in first would break the tires free mid-corner, resulting in a spin) and then hit the power hard just after clipping the apex. With constant and deliberate steering inputs, and one wallop of trust in the all-wheel-drive system, the 700-horsepower Roadster would hang its tail out ever so slightly as its four tires clawed out of the corner. With determination, speed and brute power, the Lambo vaulted from turn to turn like a panther chasing a doomed rabbit.
Unlike many of today's exotics, engineered to be bloody fast but harmlessly docile right up to the limit (e.g., Nissan GT-R and Audi R8 GT), the broad-shouldered Lamborghini was challenging and engaging – make that absolutely thrilling – to drive. The open-roof Roadster variant didn't seem to give up one iota of performance to its closed-roof sibling on the track, but its audible experience was more pronounced and it delivered newfound sexiness in its skin.
Most of my fantasies about the exotic were simply not vivid enough.
As the airliner cruised at 36,000 feet on my return flight back to Los Angeles, I realized that there really is no need to substantiate the approximate $40,000 premium the Roadster commands over a regular Aventador, or discuss the fact that Lamborghini has sold each and every handcrafted copy for the next 15 months forward. With a base price of $445,300, the new Aventador Roadster is one of the world's most expensive cars, and we cannot afford it.
Yet we may dream.
I traveled to Florida and experienced the 2013 Lamborghini Aventador 700-4 Roadster on both road and track. I left amazed – and stuck with the abrupt realization that most of my fantasies about the exotic were simply not vivid enough.