It only takes a glance at Lamborghini's Aventador to know it's a Lambo. In fact, it inherits from the long-toothed Murcielago the mantle of top-bull in Italian marque's lineup. And with it, beneath the latest interpretation of Lambo's hallmark body origami – yes, the scissor doors remain – comes the technical shiz it needs to fill such a spot. Which is fortunate, because it's what the company needs to catch up with competitors like Ferrari and McLaren.
Launched at the Geneva Motor Show, the Aventador appears to exceed those requirements by a considerable margin. Engine, transmission, suspension, bodywork – it's all clean-sheet new. And on several fronts it's also a technical tour de force. Not just as a showcase for the use of carbon fiber-reinforced plastics (CFRP) technology and technique, but also for the radicalism of its new V12, its Independent Shifting Rod (ISR) automated manual gearbox and its F1-like pushrod suspension. All up, they conspire to put the Aventador at the pointy end of the performance spectrum – the first anything-like-mainstream car to kiss 100 km/h in less than three seconds (we're not counting its step-sibling, the Bugatti Veyron, in its class).
Under the hood, all that's left of the old engine is the displacement of 6.5 liters and the 60-degree V12 configuration. Good for 520 kW and 690 Nm of torque, the new mill is designed oversquare – that's where the bore exceeds the stroke – allowing it to rev out to 8250 before it reaches peak power. Translating that power to tar through seven cogs of the slickest transmission ever to go in a production car, the Aventador sprints to 100 kays in 2.9 seconds and on to a top speed in excess of 350 km/h. Not only does this engine accelerate faster than the similar sized one it replaces – it also delivers its power more manageably for those stuck in heavy urban traffic.
For the transmission, Lamborghini has flouted the twin-clutch trend, going instead with single clutch but twin shifting rods, allowing the second rod to bang a new gear in as the first rod disengages the previous one. The rationales for not going with a second clutch are twofold. On the practical side, the company estimates weight savings of about 20 kg. On the not-so-practical side, CEO Stephan Winkelmann and R&D head Maurizio Reggiani have been heard telling media they're deliberately forgoing the uninterrupted onward-and-upward feel of a DCT. "You have to have the drop in torque so you feel like you're shifting, to give the emotion," Reggiani told journalists at the Detroit show in January.
The box features five shift modes: Auto, Auto Strada ('strada' equals comfort mode), Strada, Sport and Corsa. At the Corsa end, shift times drop to around 50 ms – just 10 ms short of current F1 technologies.
Holding it all off the ground is an equally advanced suspension – a double wishbone-with-pushrod system using horizontal dampers. Drawing on F1 systems, it keeps the wheels perfectly aligned regardless of where the terrain might shunt them through the arc of suspension travel. The system allows Lambo to give the springs a bit of ride softness without compromising the handling precision. The Aventador also retains the marque's signature front-end hydraulic lift, giving the car 40 mm of chin-up to deal with speed bumps and driveway lips.
The monocoque chassis and body shell is made entirely of carbon fiber composite. CFRP is exceptionally tough stuff. It's not just hard to snap – made with the fibers pointing in the right direction, it's as resistant to bending and twisting as well. That gives it huge potential as a super lightweight substitute for metal through the load-bearing superstructure of a passenger vehicle, both for safety and in determining its road behavior.
For the Aventador, Lamborghini has come up with what it calls a one-piece 'single shell' (trying saying that six times fast with a skinful...). The company is quick to dispel ideas that the thing is molded from scratch as one piece. But it is the next best thing. They mold a whole bunch of pieces individually, partly because it's easier and partly because each of those components needs to embody rigidity characteristics specific to its task. For this, they've taken several separate manufacturing paths. Lamborghini's own resin transfer molding (RTM) speeds up what is conventionally a time-consuming, fiddly and therefore costly manufacturing process, helping eliminate one of the traditional bugbears that keeps CFRP expensive. For tubular components like roof pillars, they combine RTM with braiding, a process by which the carbon fibre strands diagonally interwoven in multiple layers. For components requiring absolutely unblemished surface finish, they've opted for a process known as prepreg. It retains the high temperatures and injection pressures that have traditionally contributed to the high cost of carbon fiber, but they've concluded there's no superior way to achieve that quality of finish.
Once these components have all been cured and assembled, however, they function in unison with the structural rigidity of a single unit, from the tub beneath you to the roof over your head.
The result: superior crash protection for driver and passenger while relieving the car of a couple of hundred kilos of body mass. At this stage, the body shell weighs just 147 kg. They've furnished the underside with bolt-on aluminum subframes front and rear as mounting points for suspension, engine and transmission. Even once the aluminum is added, the weight only rises to 229 kg – still remarkably light and good for a torsional rigidity measured at 35,000 Nm per degree of twist.
CFRP, in short, is the stuff of win-win for car makers. Not only does the added torsional rigidity make for better handling – the weight loss translates into better acceleration, braking and fuel efficiency with lower emissions.
Despite all that effort to keep the weight down, the AWD Aventador LP700-4 weighs in at 1575 kg. Given all the hype, that's closer than it should be to the car it replaces – a 90 kg saving on the AWD Murcielago LP650-4 and two bricks heavier than the RWD SV. But with 51 more kilowatts, 30 more Newtons and a more efficient gearbox putting it all to tar, the performance figures tell the story.
Torsional rigidity is an important part of what gives a car a feeling of solidity. The less twist to which the bodywork and everything attached to it is subjected, the more durable it is.
Even more important in a car like this is what it does for handling dynamics. Car physics treats road feel like energy: the less it dissipates through the chassis, the better it's channelled up through the steering column and the more of it there is to translate into tactile feedback at the wheel.
As the process progresses, they integrate epoxy foam elements within and between layers to help with stability, rigidity and NVH absorption. Aluminum connecting points for the subframes are also laminated into the underbody during the bake.
Top-shelf Lambos past have been left to trade on charisma in the face of reliability shortcomings and substandard build quality. Once Audi bought the company, that wasn't going to last. Certainly not in a contraption as complex as the Aventador. As a result, they're outsourcing nothing. It's all being done in house, no doubt with plenty of counsel from its owner, the bearer of a formidable reputation for quality control.
For the monocoque, the company is working to tolerances of 0.1 mm, and every strand of carbon fiber to enter the factory is subjected to stringent certification processes. The fibers are the product of exclusive manufacturing deals with suppliers, developed from clean-sheet, with help from Boeing and the University of Washington, specifically for its patented RTM processes.
The Aventador is no less advanced indoors, with a thin-film-transistor (TFT) digital instrument panel (ala high-end Lexi, Benzes and Jaguar's latter-day XJ) – a screen full of pixellated gauges eliminating moving parts and allowing the customization and reconfiguration of gauge placement depending on driving mode and individual driver needs.
The first customers will take delivery of the new Lamborghini Aventador LP 700-4 in late summer 2011 – here's the run down on pricing:
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