At 10 p.m. sharp, a brace of Volkswagen vans spills out nine automotive journalists near the entrance of the famous Nardo test track. Straddling hydraulic hoists in Lamborghini’s anonymous-looking garage are three thinly disguised prototypes marked VIN 1 (orange), 2 (yellow), and 3 (charcoal). We are the very first group of journalists to drive the next Lambo flagship. Our goal is to find out whether this project — internally code-named LB834 but which will likely be badged Aventador in production — has what it takes to upset the supercar establishment.
But first, it must live up to its mighty predecessor. Our exercise kicks off with hot laps in the current pinnacle of Lamborghini performance — the 2010 Murcielago SuperVeloce. If this fifty-eight-year-old were allowed to hang posters on his bedroom wall, the SuperVeloce would feature prominently above my bed. Driving into the dark, I see an indicated 211 mph, make a mental note of the impeccable high-speed stability, and admire the surprisingly good ride quality. True, the Murcielago isn’t a packaging miracle, and the steering and the gearbox feel a bit out of date. But as a hard-core driving tool with a sense of occasion, it still has a lot going for it.
After a short break, the future beckons. First impression: more cabin space, a more modern cockpit, more comfortable seats. Second impression: confusing switchgear, video-game-like instruments, compromised visibility. OK, let’s go! First gear in the new, seven-speed sequential-manual transmission engages like a firm handshake, second follows as promptly as a pat on the shoulders, and third almost stretches the boundaries of friendship on the short straight to the barrier at the pit-lane exit. Throttle response is sharper, and the engine sounds spicier. But is it faster? At an indicated 155 mph, the light camouflage begins to part company with the vehicle, tape after fluttering tape. At 170, the solid nose cone rattles like the door to a tornado shelter. At 185, we have liftoff of some trim on the driver’s door. At 199, a windshield wiper moves in slow motion from its resting position to a totally upright, twelve-o’clock posture. A quarter lap later, I register 212 mph, and the engine still has about 1000 rpm up its Nikasil sleeves.
After a short pit stop, we have another go, this time in VIN 3, which looks and feels quite a bit rougher. The transmission is harsher, the cladding is even more provisional, and the wipers give up at 170 mph. The directional stability isn’t quite as confidence-inspiring, either — under lift-throttle and braking, the hips shrug and the rear end tries to jump a lane. More concerning, the front end seems to dance at high speeds. I manage to observe 213 mph before being told over the radio to quit being a hooligan.
It’s almost one o’clock in the morning now. One journalist hit a fox at well over 120 mph, luckily without doing damage to the car. I’ve atomized a swarm of unidentified flying objects, which look as big as bats and smell like fried locusts.
Group three, assemble on the grid, please. VIN 2 is clearly the best of the bunch. Set in the aggressive “Corsa” mode, the gearchanges are machine-gun fast. The disguised coupe maxes out at an indicated 214 mph, and despite having equally wimpy wipers, it feels more coherent and better built than the other two bulls. Same front-end twitchiness, though.
The Italians in their Lambo-logo gear take our criticism with the nonchalance it probably deserves at quarter to two in the morning. Might be the tire pressure, says one engineer. Perhaps these aren’t yet the final spring specifications, ventures another. Maybe the dampers need tweaking, suggests chief engineer Maurizio Reggiani. Time for sleep.
The following morning, we’re on Nardo’s handling circuit. Stephan Winkelmann (il presidente), Reggiani, and Manfred Fitzgerald (brand and design) are waiting in specially designed overalls, shoes, and helmets.
Once again, we start with a final taste of yesterday’s hero. On the circuit, the wide, chunky 2010 Murcielago is a real beast, fishtailing through the left-handers and tramlining during hard deceleration. With no stability control to teach this car manners, the aggression of 661 hp and 487 lb-ft of torque easily override the all-wheel drive, resulting in power oversteer through corners. All in all, it feels like an uncouth old car.
I climb into the orange Aventador. It’s fantastic. Compared with the old Murcielago, it’s more intuitive, faster, higher revving, and more maneuverable. It dives through the apex, kisses the curb, and power-slides out. I reach for a taller gear, and the muscular V-12 jets the car to the next straight, coming so close to the Gallardo pace car that I can almost count the driver’s whiskers in the mirror (0 to 62 mph is estimated at three seconds flat). There’s enough torque, about 510 lb-ft at 5500 rpm, to stay in third when the Gallardo briefly blat-blats into second,
and the center differential distributes it with telepathic perfection. The standard torque split is 70 percent to the rear wheels, but the diff can send up to 60 percent to the front wheels. The 690 hp or so at 8250 rpm and a redline of just under 9000 let me roll out fourth and fifth gear all the way to the Apulian coastline. The engine’s mechanical noise — likely enhanced by the contributions of eight oil-scavenging pumps and four water pumps — mix with the baritone and intake and four-in-one exhaust, resulting in a choir that’s intense and yet surprisingly civilized.
Each of the prototypes has a few quirks, and none have an interior as impeccable as Winkelmann’s tailor-made wardrobe. But after ten laps, I am hooked. The LB834 is not so much a chaser of new extremes in terms of power, grunt, and performance. Rather, it is more talented all around. It’s the ultimate metamorphosis of the Italian sports car. And when it debuts in March at the Geneva auto show, it promises to be the new yardstick for Ferrari, Corvette, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, and Porsche.
We got a preview of the new Lambo flagship’s carbon-fiber structure in the Sesto Elemento concept car that debuted last fall in Paris. If you want a closer inspection of the material, though, you might look at the Diablo Octane Black — that is, the $299 golf club pictured, the result of a partnership between Lamborghini, the golf-equipment-maker Callaway, and the University of Washington. Rather than the usual long strands of woven carbon fiber, the golf club uses shorter pieces mixed in a resin without any care for how they’re oriented. The method makes manufacturing cheaper and allows for more precise shapes. For golfers, that means a faster swing and longer drives compared with similar titanium clubs (it won’t guarantee you Tiger’s success with the ladies, though). For the new Lambo supercar, it means a dry weight similar to that of the outgoing Murcielago’s 3670 pounds, even with a raft of safety and technology enhancements.