Going Nowhere Fast: Lamborghini Supercars


Back to the family reunion. While sharpshooter Andrew Yeadon works diligently to capture the beauty of the vintage Lamborghinis generously trekked here by their doting owners, I sneak away to capture the beauty of the Aventador's 691 hp. The road has been closed off to traffic -- ostensibly for Andrew's low-speed photography -- offering far more temptation than I have self-control.

I use the term "sneak away" loosely when describing my actions in a car that can be heard from two miles away. I come around a slight corner, touching the rev limiter in fourth gear before getting hard on the brakes just as a certain officer of the law comes into view. He flags me over toward him. I get a horrible feeling in my stomach.

I open the window and he starts speaking -- far more slowly than I expected. "When I close off a road for you, I expect..." (I'm now anticipating the worst) "...a lot more speed than that. Now go back and do it again."

Did a man with a badge standing on the side of the road just tell me I wasn't going fast enough when I was doing 135 mph? I would have asked someone to pinch me, but the Miura's door had already done that, and my finger was still bleeding. Besides, I'm not one to question authority -- so I nod, say a polite "yes, sir," and complete my three-point turn. Using the Aventador's crystal-clear rearview camera, I back up to a spot six inches from the officer's knees.

"Thrust mode possible" appears across the colorful LCD tachometer. Oh, you don't say?

The virtual tach needle spins to 5000 rpm. I release the brake pedal, and the computer orchestrates a clutch-dump so violent it knocks the sunglasses off my head. I don't have time to even contemplate what the blast of exhaust and rubber chunks just did to the officer's groin -- there is sufficient power to spin all four enormous tires, and enough torque makes it to the front axle that the steering wheel is yanked out of my hands. A quick steering correction keeps the Aventador aimed down the empty road, and then it happens.

It being the 50-millisecond upshift into second gear.

I've never been hit in the chest with a bar stool, but I imagine it wouldn't feel much different. Lamborghini says its new seven-speed single-clutch automated manual was tuned to provide "highly emotional" shifts. Yes, surprise and fear are emotions.

Sixty mph comes in three seconds, although I would have sworn it was actually 0.3 second. I lift again after four gears, but if I kept my foot on the gas long enough, the Aventador would stop accelerating at 217 mph with the transmission in seventh gear and the engine only 400 rpm short of its 8500-rpm fuel cutoff. At that speed, the V-12 is carefully orchestrating an incomprehensible 810 explosions per second. More impressive, its computer monitors every combustion event by watching the power signals to each spark plug and adjusts the ignition timing and mixture for the next power stroke in real time.

Seriously? I'm still trying to process the fact that I did a 691-hp hole-shot in front of a cop and didn't get arrested. And my brain is being rattled around by a ride that could only be described as horrendous -- the pushrod-type suspension uses Oehlins dampers that allow practically no wheel travel, even if they look gorgeous staring back at you from the engine bay.

Launch-control antics aside, the Aventador earns its own chapter here because it finally abandons the forty-year-old spaceframe and leaps straight to the future by using a carbon-fiber monocoque with aluminum front and rear subframes. All of the body panels are made from lightweight materials -- carbon fiber, aluminum, or plastics -- and carry the jet-fighter design theme that we first saw on the limited-edition Reventon. The angular theme permeates every visible surface of the Aventador -- down to the buttons on the infotainment system so shamefully yanked from some plebeian Audi.

We're just happy the Aventador has a modern cabin, replete with the bedazzled LCD screen that recreates bright, colorful, beautiful, and supremely legible gauges. It also has multiple driver-assistance technologies (like a front-end lift system and that helpful reverse camera) and all the regular gizmos (keyless ignition, automatic climate control, and an electronic parking brake) that work so well in luxury cars.

Of course, the Aventador is a Lamborghini, which means it's not supposed to be too easy to live with. To that end, the automated manual transmission can perform either barroom-brawl-fast shifts or slurred-alcoholic-slow shifts but nothing in between. The raked windshield has visible imperfections in it, so the cars in front of you change size and position constantly as you bob around in your seat. The engine computer revs the cold engine to 3400 rpm on startup -- presumably for the sound -- before the bearings have received their supply of oil. For drivers with any mechanical sympathy, that's even more painful than the brutal full-throttle upshifts. Last, Lamborghini moved the door handles to the floor -- meaning you have to unlatch the door with one hand while you simultaneously open it with the other. How dreadfully annoying.

That's not nearly as dreadfully annoying, however, as the jail cell I'd be in had I pulled that launch-control stunt on a public road, open to traffic, in anything less than a Lamborghini. It's easy to criticize a car like the Aventador, but when you step back and look at the effect it has on people and the doors it opens, you realize that none of it matters.

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