God has always made a cameo in most of our supercar stories, small bit parts that accentuate the tenor of cars that aren't what you'd experience every day. He's never been a central character but by his very presence has always lifted the mood and set a tone. So what then do you do when you're invited to drive a supercar in the birthplace of the religion that God presides over, Rome! It's the epicentre of the Roman Catholic Church, from where the word of God is spread around the world and today he's in a really loud and ebullient mood, and it's infectious.
Standing under the arch of the Westin Excelsior Hotel in Rome, I can't help but stare like the many passersby at the flaming orange Aventador LP700-4 (LP: Longitudinale Posteriore as in longitudinally mounted engine at the rear) displayed on that pavement. Neither can I hide the idiotic grin from the crowd craning their necks to get a glimpse of the car, knowing fully well that the following day, I'm the only one in that crowd who's going to be inside that car, whipping it around a race track. I want to announce it out loud, but pride is one sin I don't want to indulge in here in this city.
Now the Aventador is a very significant car in the history of Lamborghini. It's been close to nine years since they launched a super sports car, the last one being the Murcielago which had been sketched out even before Audi bought out Lamborghini. There have been several variants but nothing that you could call all-new and, like the Murcielago before it, nothing purely Italian.
The Aventador is not an Audi then. It has been designed and built entirely by Lamborghini (who won an internal design competition between styling studios within the VW Group), unlike with the Gallardo, the other supercar that Lamborghini makes, which has a fair smattering of (mother company) Audi.
The Aventador is also significant for the use of carbon fibre, not as a path breaking venture because almost every other supercar uses carbon fibre these days, but it's the first time Lamborghini has invested this much in the exotic material. And of course the Aventador carries on the tradition of the Lamborghini naturally aspirated V12 engine, still staunchly refusing to go the turbo charging way. Is that being obstinate? I don't think so. In these days of depleting oil reserves it is a hedonistic excess but then what is a bull without its horns?
As for the name, it too like all Lamborghinis preceding this one is derived from a fighting bull.
The Aventador's styling traces its roots from the million-euro limited-edition Reventon, an intense and extreme concept that showcased a new cutting edge design language from Lamborghini. The Reventon was all jet fighter-like, sharp edges and pointy bits. The Aventador carries that theme forward though of course in a manner that you can live with sensationally.
It also has this amazing ability to look small or should I say compact for a car that's a flagship Lamborghini. I remember the Murcielago - nobody who has ever driven it can forget it - as a phenomenally large car, both in width and length (and atrocious in visibility making matters worse). The Aventador as its replacement does not portray the same sense of enormity, from the outside this looks like a slightly larger car than the Gallardo. And that makes you wonder just how is the massive V12 engine along with the drivetrain packaged inside the boot, or will it have air conditioning, or is there any luggage space at all?
Those however are all loose threads and nothing can tear away the fact that the Aventador is a pure supercar, it has all the characteristic bits and pieces. The low height, the wide stance, the air intakes, the diffusers, the flip-up spoiler, the fat tyres on the big 20" wheels, the massive air intakes, the huge exhaust and lest I forget this being the flagship Lamborghini, scissor doors. It's a sensational Lamborghini signature item and ever since Marcello Gandini's design first graced the Countach and swept its doors up to the heavens, it's mesmerised audiences globally.
What makes the Aventador very interesting is its typical Lamborghini-ness; cover the badge and you couldn't mistake this for anything but a Lamborghini. It is however a far sharper Lambo than ever before. Over the years the curvy edges have been sharpened and what you see in the Aventador is one of the sharpest cuts yet. The Aventador slices through air like Jason Voorhees wielding a machete, leaving a massive unstable vortex in its wake and it's not turned its wheels even an inch.
The Aventador is ironically one of very few cars in the world that looks far more stunning in photographs than it does in the flesh. The lines and the sharp chiselled creases are far more apparent in its images rather than in the flesh. Or it could just be that in perspective the overall silhouette of the Aventador is just too breathtaking to be absorbed as a whole.
Nonetheless get inside the cabin, and this is not an easy exercise with scissor doors, and you see a continuation of the sharp edged geometric patterns. One of the design objectives was to ensure maximum comfort in this car, so unlike the SV or the Superleggera you get a lot of leather, sporty yet comfortable seats, and all the fancy trimmings you'd need, like sat nav, an audio system, Bluetooth cell connectivity, park sensors and even seat warmers. My favourite item in here though has to be the LED instrument panel, which displays a digital speedometer that reads out like an analogue model, with a pointer spinning ferociously around a dial when it's being driven. Or at the touch of a button change that speedo into a tachometer if you want to though the effect is still as electrifying!
The fonts on the various buttons give an impression that certain components have been sourced from Audi's parts bin but that is not the case. This is entirely Lamborghini. And all of this has been designed and placed in the most spectacular cabin I have been in. That does not mean it would be easy to live in here for long periods of time. No, the insides are a bit claustrophobic, which is a typical supercar trait. The roof is low, the dashboard immense and right behind your head inside this two-seater is where the engine lies. There are a lot of sound deadening materials layered between your head and the engine and though the engine does not sound as visceral as in the Murcielago, it's loud enough to make its presence felt shrinking this cage even further.
But flip the jet fighter like starter flap open, depress the ignition button, yank the right paddle to shift up and step on the throttle. And if you're expecting a Road Runner like explosive blast-off with tufts of smoke and dust billowing out, you'd be disappointed. The Aventador rolls off as smoothly as any luxury sedan.
That's not to say that this isn't a violently explosive car. Push the pedal and the acceleration is intense, 100kmph comes up in 2.9 seconds, 200kmph in 8.9 seconds and 300kmph in 24.5 seconds. To put that in perspective the Veyron does a 100kmph in 2.5 seconds, just 0.4 second quicker. This sort of electrifying acceleration is also present at any rpm in any gear, the Aventador quite literally behaves like an electric car that has maximum torque at any rpm.
But the Aventador's engine is a 100 per cent petrol powered naturally aspirated V12 with the cylinders banked at 60 degrees; not many make engines like this any more. This massive 6.5-litre engine with an electronically controlled variable valve management system develops 700 horsepower with 690Nm of max torque. But more than getting maximum horsepower the challenge was to keep the engine light and ensure it complemented the minimum packaging allowances within the car. That is also why this engine does not have FSI direct injection sticking to a MPI system, as the additional components of the FSI unit would eat up too much space in the engine bay and increase weight.
And that's why the V12 is completely new though some of the basic architecture is derived from the Murcielago's V12 engine. Lamborghini's engineers made every effort to make it extremely torquey with a strong and sweeping powerband. So in effect what they have come up with is a big bore short stroke engine, and that lets the Aventador accelerate strongly at any rpm in any gear. The changes have led to an increase in power by 8 per cent and a 4.5 per cent torque increase. All the calculations between the transmission, engine, its various sensors and the driving aids are all controlled by an ECU that can perform over a billion calculations per second.
This drivetrain's strongest link however is its all-new 7-speed ISR (Independent Shifting rods) gearbox which allows gears to shift within 50 milliseconds. The principle is the same as a dual clutch gearbox, however Lamborghini has gone even more exotic, for instance using carbon fibre synchroniser rings for longer durability. Yet another perspective, the shift times are as quick as an F1 car. Though derived from open-wheeled Formula cars the Lambo transmission which is four times quicker than the e-Gear of the Gallardo is one of the first street legal production cars to apply the technology successfully. You can select between an automatic or manual mode, using the paddle shift behind the steering wheel to take control of the shift in any driving mode.
But even more than the engine and the transmission, the Aventador is the first and purest embodiment of Lamborghini's lightweight philosophy. The entire tub, a unique type of monocoque structure, from the front firewall to the rear, from the roof to the floor is all carbon fibre. At both ends light aluminum sub frames form the rest of the superstructure with the rear section housing the engine and other drivetrain components.
The use of carbon fibre has a dual purpose, the first and obvious is the weight the material saves, the other is the extreme torsional rigidity it offers. So compared to the Murcielago the weight of the carbon fibre body of the Aventador at 147 kilos is nearly three times lighter. Rigidity however has increased by nearly a 150 per cent with nearly three times better energy absorption to a conventional aluminium body. Like an F1 car the tub also offers a higher safety standard than conventional cars so in the event of a crash the occupants are much safer inside an Aventador than in a conventional supercar. Yet Lamborghini has also used several thermoplastic components such as in the bumpers, air dams and small details around the bodywork. Now that may sound like Lambo pulling the wool over consumers' eyes, but it's a genuine concern, since the costs of including even these components in carbon fibre would have escalated the cost and reduced value. What Lamborghini is not mentioning in too loud a voice is that this allows them to get an SV variant next year and if everything had to be done in carbon fibre there would be no place left to trim some more weight.
But how do these symbiotic components work together? Marvelously and without a doubt this car far exceeded everyone's expectations. It accelerates so viciously it'd make NASA want to prop it upright and let loose into orbit. And the tuned quad exhaust sounds menacing enough to shrink bovine bladders if you had to drive the Aventador spiritedly down a country lane. There are five driving modes to select from, the basic Strada which works in both auto and manual mode allows the full array of traction control systems to keep the Aventador in check. It's the safest mode to drive in and yet without a certain level of driving skill it is also considerably challenging to master. Lamborghini insisted that a certain amount of understeer has been injected in Strada mode and yet push hard and the rear can be unsettled marginally.
The Sport mode can also be activated with both manual and automatic transmission modes and it allows the traction control system to provide a fair amount of leeway. The sport mode was also the best mode to drive the Aventador in. It can get intimidating but knowing that there is a safety net at the very extremes of the Aventador and your capabilities is a nice thought to have at the back of your head when you're clipping 230kmph plus by the end of a straight no longer than 700 metres. The program allows for more power oversteer when cornering but rest assured the immensely light weight makes handling this car an absolutely surgical affair.
The Corsa mode is a full blown race mode that should be attempted by only the most skilled. It functions only with manual transmission and completely relaxes traction control. A few minutes in that mode and even I sought the safety of either the Sport or Strada mode. Yet the Corsa mode is without a doubt the most satisfying mode to pilot the Aventadors in. It's brutal, demanding and at the same time exhilarating when you realise just how easy it is to stink up your trousers as it slides through corners in ways that would prompt Newton to get back under an apple tree again. In Corsa mode don't bother about looking for who's behind and how close, you're going to focus every bit on seeing what's coming up ahead, not that you can see much from those small mirrors or through the vented plexiglass engine cover.
Whichever driving mode you set the Aventador in, relentless gut wrenching acceleration is guaranteed. And unlike the Murcielago I found the drivetrain to be a lot more refined. So when you shift gears, up or down not only is execution incredibly fast but it doesn't sound like something's breaking in the gearbox with the immense amounts of torque channeled to the clutch.
Supercars however wouldn't be super without the dynamic character of a very fast train on rails and the Aventador borrows a lot of technology from open wheeled race cars yet again to lend it that kind of dynamism. The Aventador like most other Lamborghinis before it continues its AWD tradition using a 4th generation Haldex system, though from whatever we know has been Audi sourced technology. So that sort of refutes the pure Italian claims, though we can't deny that AWD is a confident and reassuring approach to a car with this kind of firepower. The torque split is a general 60/40 but it can shift depending on the requirements with as low as 20 per cent torque being fed to the front wheels.
Damping is by Ohlins pushrod dampers that are placed horizontally, a configuration derived yet again from open wheeled Formula cars but necessary since a vertical mount would not fit within the Aventador package. The suspension is not adaptive, but the set-up felt just right for the race track, which in this case was tuned for more stiffness than comfort. How is it going to handle regular roads though is not something I'm willing to test especially here in India. The one issue I think the Aventador would face is the massive front overhang. With the immense stopping power from the carbon ceramic brakes, extremely low ground clearance and the super stiff suspension you could easily end up nicking the air dams. There could be a problem there.
In time however the Aventador will become a legend, perhaps sooner than we think. It is also in several ways a dimensional shift for Lamborghini, taking extreme to another level. When Stephen Winkleman, CEO and MD of Automobili Lamborghini mentioned that what they had developed in the Aventador was two generations ahead of its time, he wasn't kidding. The Aventador is all that and more, but if you made a car that was so far ahead of its time just how exactly is Lamorghini going to top it? And does that also mean we are going to wait for two more generations before the next bull roars from Santa'Agata?