New Lamborghini: Taking the bull by the horns
The day before we arrived in Italy to drive the all-new Lamborghini Aventador, Rome threw open its doors with a parade through the city. Mayor Gianni Alemanno even led the procession and then, as the monster sat outside the most exclusive hotel in town, guests filed out to take a picture with this magnificent beast. Just for a moment, the richest men in town became kids again. That is the magic of Lamborghini and to drive it? Well, that is to succumb to total sensory overload.
The Aventador, named after a famous fighting bull in the Lamborghini tradition, is a mesmerising combination of supercar, fighter jet and animalistic presence. The design language is uniquely Lamborghini - an orgy of straight edges and creases that harks back to the legendary Countach and Diablo that adorned boys' bedroom walls in the Eighties and Nineties and creates one of the most visually arresting designs in the supercar world. Low, wide, aggressive and completely over the top - from those gigantic vents at the front to the scissor doors and slatted rear window - it's a car that deserves a Raging Bull on its nose. The Aventador is a demonstration of sheer machismo, testosterone and brutality.
That's before I even press the starter button that is almost ironically contained within a fighter jet-style trigger guard and the 691bhp, 6.5-litre V12 engine fires into life, snorting revs with every twitch of my right foot. And - I forgot this part - we're in the pit-lane of the Vallelunga race track and about to take the bull by the horns.
And we're not hanging around; after a short lap to show us the lines, we come to the longest straight on track, and just bury the throttle. It's a truly life-changing experience and one that would have potential customers reaching for the order form as soon as the G-force allowed.
Of course it's quick: it's 700PS with a 0-100kph time of 2.9s and a top speed of 350kph. Speed is a given, but it's the total crushing authority with which it lays that power down that shocks me and I do a double take half way down the straight as the car blasts to 235kph and just keeps going. In the end I have to lift, or smash, into the Lamborghini test driver in a smaller LP560-4 Superleggera out front. This is not good form, apparently.
Beware of the beast
Epic traction and four-wheel drive control fool the brain until the speedo presents the obvious insanity of the situation. And that makes this car a quantum leap from the old cars, which were frightening and could spear off the road faster than a rodeo bull could throw a rider. Some are lulled into a false sense of security and turn the controls off, and then it takes just a second to realise that behind the safety net is a beast waiting to get out. Almost at once the whole car spikes sideways and nobody leaves the electronics off for more than one corner.
To truly master the Aventador without help would take nerves of steel and months of practice. But with the gadgets on it's a perfect cocktail of control, explosive power and noise - oh, wow, the noise. The V12 comes with a thuggish, organic quality and we're all slamming it up to the 8,250rpm red line just to drink in that last 1,000rpm of mechanical brutality. This is not the synthetic symphony on offer elsewhere, it's the engine equivalent of heart-stirring, guitar-based hard rock.
Each click on the right-hand paddle slams home the next gear and nearly shunts the whole car sideways. It's almost too violent, but it suits the character of the car and would be perfect for impressing friends. For everyday use, there are two other gearbox modes - Sport, which keeps the changes sharp without breaking bones, and the Strada, which feels almost like an automatic as the car changes smoothly up the seven-speed box well before the red line without any input from me.
Hardly anyone will use an Aventador as an everyday car and most will cover no more than 5,000km a year. But if you could handle the 2m26 width, which makes this a truly massive car, the poor visibility and the fuel bills, then it really is docile and comfortable enough to use on a daily basis. There's a super-slick TFT computerised interface where the dials used to be, the seats are trimmed perfectly and the air con works. You could never say the same of the old-school Countach and Diablo, which were hot, uncomfortable and with a slight lapse in concentration would leave the road.
Even the Murciélago was a handful, but within two laps we're throwing the Aventador at the fast, sweeping bends and it keeps us safe. Suddenly Lamborghini boss Stephan Winkelmann's assertion that this car is a jump of two generations seems more than fair enough.
Lighter, yet more powerful
The carbon-fibre chassis is a quantum leap and only Lamborghini and McLaren have tried to use this advanced race-bred material for the core of such a relatively affordable car. It's complicated to work with and comes with its own problems, but the end result is 30 per cent lighter and 150 per cent stiffer than the old metal frame of the Murciélago. That allowed Lamborghini to produce a car that weighs 1575kg - 90kg lighter than the car it replaces despite being more powerful.
The Aventador comes with pushrod suspension, too, a trick taken directly from Formula One. The four-wheel drive system that is a Lamborghini trademark has come in for serious revisions. A more advanced Haldex system replaces the old viscous coupling and that means the car feels nailed down in the corners and will take outrageous speed through the bends before losing traction. Also, it won't pitch or roll in the bends.
In the slower bends it still pulls wide, but in the faster corners the traction on offer is amazing. The car will plough through bends at speeds that would send the local speed cameras into meltdown. Courage and sanity become the limiting factors, rather than the car.
The fully carbon-ceramic brakes are immense, too, although they struggle to contain the ridiculous numbers on that TFT speedo as we get ever braver and push the car harder with each passing lap. On the road they'd be more effective than a brick wall, but here the cars dance just a little under braking and we're constantly reminded that if you take liberties with a bull then there are consequences.
Still, these edgy, heart-in-your-mouth moments are why we step into these ludicrous creations and why the Aventador stirs our very soul. Its imperfections, its flaws, form part of its character and of all the modern supercars it is this one that stands apart as a true warrior. You will never forget a drive in the range-topping V12 Lamborghini because it will make you feel like a starstruck kid again every time you see a straight line.
Engine: 6.5-litre V12
Top speed: 350kph