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 True, the Murcielago isn't a packaging miracle, and the steering and the gearbox feel a bit out of date.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.