Supercars from Sant’Agata have always been known for crazy speed, so in the interest of full disclosure, the Aventador’s top clip is an especially ludicrous 217 mph. Also ludicrous: a sticker price starting at $393,695, or over thrice the price of said ZR1. That’s a lot of moola, for sure, but given the Aventador’s scintillating stats, it begins to look less rip-off Vette and more bargain Bugatti, a car that costs roughly $2 million yet is barely quicker. All that said, when waxing lyrical about his brand’s latest achievement, Lamborghini president and CEO Stephan Winklemann isn’t as enamored with the Aventador’s dynamite acceleration, or stratospheric top speed, or single-family-home price tag as he is with the supercar’s handling. Yes, unlike Lambo’s previous poster material — last year’s Murcielago, and the Diablo and Countach before that — the Aventador’s number-one development objective was to turn right and left as skillfully as it jets straight ahead.
If you don’t believe me, consider the following: Instead of holding the Aventador’s press launch at a multi-mile airstrip or high-speed oval, both of which are conducive for accel and Vmax testing, Lamborghini chose the Autodromo di Vallelunga, a tidy, 10-turn track just outside of Rome. This is a venue where the steering wheel rarely resides on-center. Further, the Aventador utilizes numerous high-tech advancements designed for conquering extreme lateral — more so than longitudinal — forces: electronically controlled Haldex IV all-wheel drive, a dry-sump oil system, F1-style pushrod and rocker-arm-actuated coil-over shock suspension, and a 150-percent-stiffer 325-pound carbon-fiber monocoque structure that helps reduce the body-in-white to 506 pounds, about 30 percent lighter than the Murcielago’s. Ferrari flagships have always been superior track stars, a fact the Aventador is out to change.
What Lamborgini flagships have always been, though, is visually arresting. The Aventador is no different. About as long as a Toyota Camry, wide as a Honda Oddesey, and tall as a Tesla Roadster, the Aventador resembles a large, menacing, low-slung predator. Imagine peacefully snorkeling along and then coming face-to-face with a 15-foot ray, and you get the picture. The Aventador’s sharp, angular sheet metal, which draws on aeronautical inspiration a la the limited-edition Reventon and Sesto Elemento concept, is chiseled for stability and cooling; thus, the chunky front splitter and rear diffuser, the electronically deployable rear spoiler, and the gaping intakes in the front bumper, aft the doors, and below the LED taillamps.
The aeronautics influence carries over in the cockpit, too. Enter via Lambo’s trademark scissor doors — a feat that’s a smidge more difficult than slithering into a Lotus Evora — and snug sport seats, console-mounted switchgear, and an oversized TFT-LCD display greet you, all reminders that takeoff is impending. New for 2012 is an Audi-lent multimedia system with navigation, Bluetooth, iPod connection, and back-up camera, the last a vital helper given the slit-like rear window with louvers. Of course, there’s also the center console-positioned start button — replete with red cover — that conjures up “Top Gun” sequences whenever the mid-mounted V-12 is stoked.
Speaking of the dirty dozen… Measuring 30.9 inches long by 33.4 inches wide by 26.2 inches tall, or about the size of a medium ice cooler, the 6.5-liter 60-degree V-12 — known internally at Lamborghini as L539 — produces 691 horsepower at 8250 rpm and 509 pound-feet of torque at 5500. At 517 pounds, the hand-assembled L539 is 44 pounds lighter than the Murcielago’s V-12, yet produces more power and torque, consumes 20 percent less fuel, and emits 20 percent fewer C02 emissions. Redline is a lofty 8500 rpm, thanks in part to a short 76.4mm stroke and forged pistons and crankshaft. For a lower center of gravity — remember, handling’s priority No. 1 — the engine sits about three inches closer to the blacktop. The aforementioned dry-sump oil system sports eight scavenger pumps, cutting scavenging losses in half, and there’s even a new engine-management system that — get this — is capable of 500,000,000 operations per second. Yep, that would be half a billion. In other words, the Aventador’s V-12 could save the world.
What it won’t save, however, is your license. Bury the throttle, and this 48-valve brute will leave you grinning all the way to central booking. High-rpm power is immense to say the least, and midrange torque seems almost superfluous — until, that is, you remember that excess can be a really good thing. Whether speeds are double or triple digits, the engine pulls, and pulls strongly. And the soundtrack — deep, operatic, mechanized euphony — is music that never gets old. If there’s one surprise, it’s the ease at which the V-12’s 691 horses are efficiently set afoot. Launches and WOT bursts are almost uneventful, byproducts of a deftly tuned all-wheel-drive system and seven-speed auto-clutch manual transmission. Simply point, shoot, and hold on.
The seven-speed single-clutch gearbox, dubbed ISR for independent shifting rods, uses twin shafts and four carbon synchronizers that allow for simultaneous engagement of one gear and disengagement of another. The results are shifts as quick as 50 milliseconds, superseding times of the E-gear trannies from the Murcielago (200 ms) and Gallardo Superleggera (120). Further, Lamborghini claims the 154-pound Graziano-made transmission is lighter than a comparable dual-clutch and smaller than a conventional manual. Of the ISR’s five operating modes — Strada and Sport (auto or manual) and Corsa (manual only) – only Sport and Corsa alter the steering, stability control, all-wheel drive, throttle, and shifting. In Sport, for example, expect heavier steering, less intrusive ESC, additional rear bias from the Haldex, more responsive throttle, and quicker shifts; in Corsa, be prepared for the extreme, including increased yaw, 80-percent rear torque bias, and violent, rapid gear changes with every pull of a paddle. Overall, the ISR is a marked improvement over the E-gear, both in terms of speed and seamlessness, and not that far off the finer DCTs.
Where the Aventador doesn’t fall behind its Italian foes is in braking. Armed with Brembo six-piston front/four-piston rear calipers squeezing SGL carbon-ceramic discs (15.7 inches front/15.0 rear), not to mention sticky 255/35R19 front and 335/30R20 rear Pirelli PZero rubber, the Aventador provides stout, fade-free stopping force. Lamborghini claims halting from 62 mph takes just 106 feet, which puts the Aventador right there with the 104-foot 60-0 distance we’ve seen from a 599.
Lamborghini says it will produce about 750 Aventadors annually for global consumption, which equates to roughly 250 making it stateside. The other 500 will head to Europe and Asia in equal parts. Naturally, the first 18 months’ supply is already sold out. On the bright side, Lamborghini has planned a 10-year run for the Aventador. So, by the time you get one in 2015, it may very well be using a direct-injected V-12 delivering 750 horsepower and, with cylinder deactivation, 20 mpg on the highway. Shot in the dark? Not with a cannonbull like the Aventador.