Test drive: Lamborghini's 700 hp attack fighter, the Aventador LP 700-4
We are in California as part of Lamborghini's 50th Anniversary. The setting is a private house located in two miles off the main highway, up a very narrow, misty road.
There waiting in the driveway is Lamborghini’s $4 million rolling concept, the Veneno. Next to it is a burnt orange Aventador LP 700-4 ... next to a cigar rolling gentleman of obvious talent, followed subsequently by a station where fire roasted avocado, chicken, lamb and Brussels sprouts are being barbecued by some of the region’s most talented, tattooed chefs.
Mingling amongst the select set of guests is Lamborghini CEO Stephan Winkelmann, Design Director Filippo Perini and a variety of customers, after-sales support partners, and myself. Like Gorillas in the Mist we are, except we're here for an exceptional automotive experience. As idyllic as the residence with the $20 million dollar Monterey view, as fantastical as the Brussels sprouts, we’re here to experience one thing – Lamborghini’s 700 hp attack fighter, the Aventador.
Ferrari has its pretty ponies … Lamborghini has its bulls, and like most Lamborghini’s, that's where the Aventador gets its name. In a 1993 bullfight in Spain’s Saragossa Arena, a bull named Aventador took on the local matador with enough (apparently) courage and honor to earn the coveted “Trofeo de la Peña La Madroñera” title. In the hills of misty Monterey, the car does sort of evoke a rather scary, technologically advanced bull-like presence, but hopefully the day ends better for us than it did for the four-legged Aventador that fateful day some twenty years ago.
The 700 in the "Aventador LP 700-4" happens to coincide with the power output of Lamborghini’s brutally self-righteous 6.5 liter, 60 degree V12 powerplant. Sporting 48 valves, 509 ft.lb of torque and 691 hp, Lamborghini’s mid-mounted motivator is not only capable of reducing asphalt to tears, but its auditory emanations are on par with some of Italy’s most famous automotive composers. The Aventador has a power/weight ratio of 4.96 lb/hp and when you unleash its resources, you’ll find that 62 mph (100 km/h) comes in a 2.9 seconds. That force, which we only got to experience a few times during our short run, can only be described as raw, controlled violence … but violence with the best of intentions.
The Aventador’s driving modes; Strada, Sport and Corsa, present the driver with three performance options. As Stephan Winkelmann recommended Corsa, so once firmly behind the wheel of a shiny Royal Blue Aventador I dialed the gearbox, differential and engine into their maximum performance settings. In Corsa mode from a rolling start, the gearbox is lightning quick through the changes, the engine comes across as tighter while the suspension remains serious. There is zero room for subtlety amongst the hexagons and carbon fiber of the Aventador.
Even though the Aventador needs to be let loose on a track in order to fully appreciate its potential, the power being passed down to the massive tires is the stuff of Greek mythology. Steering feel was heavy but direct as expected, and the car did bind a bit under tight turns as is typical with most AWD systems.
The ride is surprisingly compliant for such an extreme piece of machinery. There's also a height adjustment switch that allows the Aventador to rise up to clear speed bumps as needed.
Starting at US$400,000 the Aventador is anything but affordable, but this car is designed specifically for an elite audience. Even so, is it worth the near half-million dollar asking price? In the supercar context where the Bugatti Veyron exceeds the $1 million dollar mark and Sweden’s Koenigsegg Agera R tops out at $1.6 million, then yes, the Lamborghini is good value for the money. In comparison to say Nissan’s US$100,000 giant killer, the GTR, then no, the Aventador is a silly acquisition. In the end it comes down to which side of the financial fence one sips their mojitos on.
At 2.265 m (44.72 in) the Aventador is wider (2.03 m/79.92 in) than it is tall, sitting just barely above Ford’s original GT40. From tip to tail it measures 4.78 m (188.2 in) with a wheelbase of 2.7 m (106.29 in), making it as beautifully proportioned as it is aerodynamic.
On the scales the Aventador tips 1,575 kg (3,472 lb), not light by supercar standards, but not overly hefty as compared to Bugatti's tubby Veyron at 1,888 kg (4,162 lb).
One hidden eco-component on the Aventador I wasn’t aware of was Lamborghini’s new Cylinder Deactivation System (CDS). At speeds under 84 mph (135 km/h) or under light loads, the CDS system shuts down one cylinder bank, or six cylinders. Losing six cylinders would be problematic for most cars, but with 350 hp still on tap, the Aventador has no trouble maintaining cruising speeds with the six left over. The system is so clandestine that the difference between six and twelve cylinder activation was imperceptible. According to Lamborghini the Aventador’s fuel consumption, never a great conversation topic around supercar manufacturers, improves seven percent to 16 liters/100 km under “average” use thanks to the new CDS system. At cruising speeds of around 80 mph (130 km/h) the company reports a further reduction of 20 percent in emissions and fuel consumption.
Once inside, the external design details carrying-over into the stylized cockpit. The seats are surprisingly comfortable, the headroom spacious and the scissor hinge doors make ingress and egress reasonable for a supercar. The bulk of the car's controlling switches and buttons are located on a raised console while a military style start button hides beneath a red safety panel. Just below the seat heaters are the three driving mode buttons and to the left of the steering column there are recessed switches controlling various interior and exterior lighting functions.
Filippo Perini’s design is even sharper and more impressive in person than in Lamborghini's stylized promo images. The hexagonal orgy of this angular experiment brilliantly executed. From the futuristic cockpit to the filler cap to the rear spoiler to the razor sharp induction vents, it’s all angles. There's also a gaping intake in the door line that looks like it could power an afterburner. Rounded forms have absolutely no business in or near this car.
The brakes, as with everything else on the car, are extreme. At almost 16 inches (400 mm) across on the front end, the massive carbon-ceramic discs appeared more than capable when the need arose. Performance-oriented 255/35 R19 tires manage steering and partial power to the front wheels, while earth moving 335/30 R20 shoes on the back end deal with acceleration and power transfer.
The Aventador’s transmission is very much improved over the Gallardo I drove a few years back. Shifts off the paddles are lightning quick at 50 milliseconds between gears … faster than both the the Gallardo and outgoing Murcielago. The new 7-speed ISR gearbox is also lighter and smaller, which when combined with the 60 degree banked V12, translates into a more compact powertrain arrangement and a lower profile.
First to second to third gear is an exercise in controlled violence that brings to mind images of the Millenium Falcon jumping to hyperspace. Even though the gods of Lamborghini made 7 gears available to its minions, we were unfortunately only able to experience four of them due to aforementioned speed restrictions and copious amounts of doddling SUVs.
So what's the verdict on a permanent all-wheel-drive supercar? It's hard to say given the regional speed limits, traffic conditions and brief seat time, but except for a slightly heavier feel from the nose, it was difficult to feel any discernible difference between Lamborghini’s Haldex AWD electronic control system and a non-AWD system. On launch, and in a few longer sweepers, the car did feel as if there was added grip coming from the front. But were I unaware of the car's AWD system prior to driving, then in all likelihood I would not have picked up on the front wheel drive inputs.
At speed, the car handled like it was on the proverbial rails, almost mocking the driver to push it harder. The Aventador's near perfect weight distribution of 43 percent up front and 57 in the rear assisted in providing a neutral cornering attitude and planted stance in most scenarios during our short but spirited run.
The Aventador’s AWD system splits 70 percent power to the rear wheels under regular driving conditions, leaving 30 percent of the Aventador’s 691 hp, or 207 hp, to power the front wheels. When the Aventador runs into less than ideal conditions the Haldex system pulls a socialist move and splits power out to all the wheels, with the rear wheels now only receiving 40 percent of the power. But as Filippo Perini noted, to fully appreciate the Aventador and its AWD system, it really needs to be run out on track – under both wet and dry conditions. For us Canadians, it’s good to know the Aventador’s four-wheel drive system is there and ready to tackle our harshest winters, summers, mudslides, floods, locust infestations, etc.
So we know how those 700 horses get out, but what suspension configuration has Lamborghini designed into the car to secure both car and myself securely in place? Pushrod suspension is in fact the correct answer. This rarely used form of suspension architecture is actually borrowed F1 racing technology. What makes this setup so special is that it aids in reducing unsprung mass (anything on the car not supported by the suspension – tires, control arms, brake components, etc.), while simultaneously improving underbody aerodynamics and cutting down on unwanted road feedback to the driver.
This race inspired system made for a ride where the Aventador felt confident and magnetized to the road. Steering feedback was firm and direct, but not overtly obnoxious for a supercar. So whatever the pushrod suspension is supposed to do, it does, and does it well.
The sound piping from the V12 engine bay behind your head shifts from a very respectable, rather soothing growl at cruising speeds to a deafening symphony at higher rpms. And it doesn't let up, it just keeps on building and building until redline.
Yes the Aventador has all the pre-requisite new age technology, engineering and carbon fiber elements, but it also retains a genetic rawness from those early days of the Countach and the Miura. This is a purist experience, a technological marvel that still communicates that old-school Italian narrative, with analogue overtones.
Lamborghini’s Aventador LP 700-4 starts out around the US$400,000 mark for the coupe, increasing to US$485,000 for the Roadster.