First Drive: 2012 Lamborghini Aventador
I just got done driving the new 2012 Lamborghini Aventador, and I am pleased to report that it goes very fast. Also, some of them are a neat orange color, while others are white and various other hues. And it has a starter button that's covered with a red lid that you flip up like you're about to arm your Tomcat's Hellfires and smoke some Commies. Which is sort of strange when you want to turn the car off. Arm missiles! And then the engine stops.
Does any of that make sense to you? It does to me, but I've just spent a few hours having my gray matter bounced around the inside of my skull by a 700-horsepower Italian rocket sled. I may, at this point, be speaking in tongues. Bunga-bunga?
But let me try to convey the salient points of the Aventador. First, it's named after a bull who was very mean and probably gored and trampled a whole village, thus making him a shoe-in to lend his name to a new Lamborghini. And, in the spirit of that irate bovine, the Aventador is a mite bit ornery. It's what you might call intentionally violent.
For instance, the Aventador uses a single-clutch seven-speed sequential manual transmission. While all the new dual-clutch gearboxes slur their shifts together in an endless flow of silky smoothness, the Lambo changes gears hard enough to trigger the traction control system. At perhaps 75 mph. In an all-wheel-drive car. That's if you have it in the "Corsa" mode, the most aggressive. And you may as well have it in that mode. (There are two more gentle settings for shifts and throttle response, but why bother?)
The Aventador also uses pushrods. Except they're not in the engine, like all the other pushrods you know. They activate the coil-over dampers, which ride up in the middle of the car, reducing unsprung weight -- and, more important, looking cool as all hell.
Those dampers are firm. And the track at Vallelunga, where I drove the car, is bumpy. And fast. So, let's add it all together: Fast track, stiff suspension, brutal upshifts, 700 horsepower (well, 700 ps -- or, as we in America call it, "a little less than 700 horsepower"). When all of those factors come together -- a redline upshift just as you hit a bump in the middle of a long sweeper -- you will surely not think that the modern Lamborghini has gone all easy-listening on you.
We were doing laps follow-the-leader style, behind some race driver in a Gallardo, and this is the first time that I've been glad for that format. Left to my own devices, I'd probably have made it a half-lap before something very bad happened to the Aventador's carbon-fiber moncocque.
The learning curve is steep, because the Aventador brakes like most other supercars. I mean, it has great big carbon rotors, but the braking performance might be within your normal frame of reference. The acceleration, though, probably is not. The Aventador does 0-to-62 mph in 2.9 seconds, according to Lamborghini. That's fast, obviously. But we're getting to the point where you can't slice too much more off the 0-60, just because of traction. So the quarter-mile is really the more telling number: 10.5 seconds. That is insane -- getting near Bugatti Veyron-level insane.
So what happens on the track is, you come out of a second-gear corner, hit full throttle onto a straight, bang a couple upshifts, and then realize, "Oh, jeepers, I seem to be going 135 mph and now there's a corner." You need to brake way earlier than you expect, because you're probably going faster than you think you are. I had a few moments braking off straightaways that were, let's say, life-affirming.
Once you reach that corner, the Aventador hangs on so hard that you think its grip is practically limitless, at which point it starts to wash out -- front end or back end first, depending on what you're doing with the throttle. It's pretty easy to correct, as long as you don't hit a bump or decide to get saucy with the throttle. In Corsa mode, the stability control system will let you get entertainingly sideways before saving you from yourself. And, yes, I had the stability control on. Most of the time. Lambo commanded us to leave ESC active, but I knew that if I did that I'd be laughed out of the Total Badass Awesome-Guy Club, of which I'm a founding member. So I turned it off for a slow hairpin, goosed the throttle, and instantly found the windshield full of green wall. I corrected a couple of ugly tank-slapper aftershocks and resolved to leave the ESC on like the nice Lambo people told me to.
So, initial impressions: The 2012 Aventador does not rewrite everything you think you knew about Lamborghini. In fact, it takes all the brutality of the Murcielago and amps it up. (With the exception that the new transmission doesn't get confused at low speeds, like the Murcie's did -- that car would lurch and stutter and make Lewis Hamilton look like a student of Magoo Driving School when you were just trying to pull away from a stop.) The Aventador can shift hard, to let you know it has gears. Its V-12 howls on the throttle and burps thunderclaps on the overrun. And the car looks like Satan's midlife crisis.
Because what did you expect? The scissor-door V-12 Lambo is now a franchise just like the Porsche 911, and the goal was not to mess it up. I'm happy to report that they didn't.