Pushing Lamborghini’s latest high-tech V12 missile around Shanghai’s notoriously difficult F1 circuit is not for the faint-hearted
Lamborghini Aventador LP 700-4: 6.5-litre V12 mid-engined, four-wheel drive two-door coupe with seven-speed ISR gearbox, 515 kW/690 Nm, 0-100km/h - 2.9 seconds, Top speed - 350km/h.
Exclusive track test – Shanghai F1 GP Circuit, China.
"If you want to be someone you buy a Ferrari - If you are someone you own a Lamborghini." Apparently that’s what music superstar Frank Sinatra said when he got his Miura in 1969, complete with custom-ordered wild boar hide and Arancio Metalico paint job. But that’s another story for another day, and a hotly debatable one at that, I suspect.
I won’t lie, pushing Lamborghini’s latest high-tech V12 missile around Shanghai’s notoriously difficult F1 circuit is not for the faint-hearted. Any thoughts of going into corner one too hot off the main straight and potentially loosing it need to be banished from one’s subconscious immediately and with extreme prejudice. That’s probably why Lamborghini test driver and chief instructor here in Shanghai, Peter Muller, has instructed the mostly Asian media group not to engage the extreme ‘Corsa’ setting while on track.
Its full name is the Lamborghini Aventador LP 700-4 and if you have to ask, it’s Lamborghini’s latest tarmac-grade V12 weapons system that replaces the 10-year-old Murcielago. It’s also the fastest production car that has ever come out of Lamborghini’s factory in the small rural town of Sant’Agata Bolognese in Italy.
As the LP 700-4 nameplate denotes, directly behind the driver’s head sits a 515 kW (700 PS) state-of-the-art V12 engine, longitudinally mounted and said to be good for a 0-100km/h sprint time of a jet-like 2.9 seconds and a top speed of 350 km/h (217mph).
Lamborghini does things differently to most other supercar manufacturers; it likes to push the envelope, both from a design sense and a technological standpoint. What they have created in the Aventador is the supercar of the future for the here and now. It’s the definition of extreme in the automotive world and wherever you look, inside or outside this car, boundaries have been pushed well beyond the current benchmarks. Lamborghini calls it 'the new reference among super sports cars'.
It may well be right with such a bold proclamation. Take the Aventador’s all-new bespoke V12 power unit. It was developed in-house at Lamborghini and despite its 6.5-litre displacement and extraordinary power output at a similarly outrageous 8250 rpm, the entire engine weighs just 235kg.
It’s the same story when it comes to the transmission. Lamborghini decided against a dual-clutch unit due to the weight, dimensions and the shift feel of this style of gearbox. Instead, the Aventador uses a super-quick-shifting ISR (independent shifting rods) robotisised gearbox, which when the car is switched to the brutal ‘Corsa’ drive mode, will shift cogs in 50 milliseconds. That’s not far off current Formula One shift times.
Then there’s the carbon-fibre monocoque, that’s the entire occupant cell, roof and tub. It’s all one unit and it’s all carbon fibre made in-house by Lamborghini. It’s an absolute work of art as shown by the rolling chassis Lamborghini brought to this 'Dynamic Launch' in Shanghai. Look closely within the aluminium frames and you’ll notice the race-inspired and ultra-exotic push-rod suspension system, usually found only in Formula racing cars.
Whoever designed the Aventador's interior must be a frustrated fighter pilot or a consultant to the F-22 Raptor project with a particular fascination for avionics. The red-capped ‘weapons-hot’ button that is surely one of the visual highlights in this car. It hides the engine start button – a weapon in itself, I suppose.
The V12 has a long history within Lamborghini, ever since Feruccio Lamborghini used a 3.5-litre V12 to power his first flagship supercar, the 1964 350 GT. Since then, V12s have powered every successive Lamborghini flagship model including the Miura, Espada, Countach, Diablo and the just superseded Murcielago.
The V12 engine in the Aventador is lighter and makes more power than any previous powerplant in a series production by the Italian supercar constructor. It makes extensive use of aluminium-silicon alloy to ensure minimum weight and the opportunity to mount the engine lower into the frame. Even the cylinder heads are made from sand-cast versions of the stuff and ensure a super-light 21kg per head.
The technical aspects of the Aventador are indeed a study in automotive design principles of the future, but this particular event has been billed the ‘Dynamic Launch’ and that’s purely about its high-speed performance on track. It’s time to fire up the V12 and see exactly what this thing can do...
China’s Shanghai International Circuit is a technical 5.5km track with several high ‘G’ corners allowing for plenty of opportunity to test handling capability and outright speed down the main straight (even if has been slightly compromised for those with less on-track experience).
Unmistakably Lamborghini from every conceivable point of view, the Aventador sits impossibly low on the deck. It’s almost compact in its side profile, like the follow-up to the Gallardo, if not for knowing its dimensions: 4.78m in length and 2.23m wide (including side mirrors), which are anything but compact. It only weighs 1575kg and although power is up by eight per cent over the Murcielago, Lamborghini’s use of advanced technologies has meant a 20 per cent reduction in fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.
Time to climb aboard my left-hand drive Aventador in Blanco Isis (solid white) - if I bought one, it would have to be in Arancio Argos, the colour of the show car on display in the briefing room.
Peter Muller gives me a few last-minute instructions and the all clear to use the ‘Corsa’ drive mode after lap one of my four laps here in Shanghai. That said, I’ve not driven this track before and will need to feel comfortable with the car before deciding to crank it up a couple of levels.
Thankfully the designers at the Centro Stile Lamborghini decided to continue the tradition of upward opening doors on the Aventador, which date back to the most outrageous of all Lamborghinis, the Countach. Once you work out the opening mechanism (it’s positively simple) they are actually incredibly easy to operate and offer superb ingress and egress.
There are a lot of switches inside here, but it doesn’t feel cluttered or overwhelming in any way. More importantly, this is a track test and not a road drive, so there are precious few buttons that I’m concerned with today.
I was expecting electric steering wheel adjustment but Lamborghini has stuck with the old-school manual system for reach and rake – a weight issue, I suspect. The sports seats feel too comfortable for the track, I’m not sure they’re bolstered enough on the side for the extreme ‘G’ forces that the Aventador is capable of. We’ll soon see.
Foot firmly on the massive alloy brake pedal, followed by a thumb flick of the fighter inspired engine start button cover, and press to ignite. There’s no waiting or starter whine when the Aventador’s V12 fires up - it’s instantaneous. I’m acutely aware though that there’s something almighty sitting behind my head and I’m dead keen to get moving out of pit lane and onto the track.
The shift paddles are column-mounted and extra large. One tap on the right side and we’re away. I’m pretty certain this monster could do 150km/h in first gear.
The Aventador will always assume the ‘Auto’ mode until you choose to use the paddle shifters or you move from 'Strada' or 'Sport' to the entirely brutal ‘Corsa’ (track) setting.
I’m still in the supposedly soft Strada mode as I give the throttle more than a decent squeeze as we come on to the track proper. While the power delivery from the V12 is smooth enough, there’s an underlying violence as the Aventador shifts up a cog with the right-hand pedal buried deep into the firewall before lifting off a little for turn one.
Halfway around the circuit and I’m thinking to myself: ‘Today won’t be the day I switch to track mode’. Even in Strada, the Aventador feels like a proper GT1 racer with seemingly limitless reserves of power and torque on tap. This is hardcore and like no other supercar I’ve ever driven.
The grip levels for a car of such proportions are off the dial. You can literally feel those massive 335/30 P Zero tyres at the rear biting into the tarmac. Although there’s some movement through the tighter turns, the Aventador is telling me to push harder. That’s also the result of its all-wheel drive system, which uses a fourth-generation Haldex unit, providing even more traction when cornering with high loads. That’s what the final digit in LP 700-4 refers to.
After completing lap two, I’ve changed my mind about the drive: time to take it up a notch. I hit the button with the ‘greater than’ symbol and bypass Sport mode to Corsa. Now the Aventador has morphed into the raging bull it was named after.
Shift times are down to 50 milliseconds and that underlying violence I hinted at earlier has well and truly surfaced. Each shift via the paddles is nothing less than ferocious. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced. If I thought the high-speed shifts in the V12 Zagato retaliated with a decent shove in the back, compared with the Aventador, I may as well have been driving a Rolls-Royce Ghost to a Sunday roast at Grandma’s.
What’s even more extraordinary here is that the Aventador’s ISR transmission is still a single-clutch unit, but it's laid out as a two-shaft unit with seven forward gears and one reverse. The so-named ‘independent shifting rods’ system is like a pre-select mechanism and the effect is similar to that of a dual-clutch transmission. While the previous ‘e gear’ was considered quick, the Aventador’s ISR transmission is 140 per cent faster again.
Lamborghini does steering better than any other supercar manufacturer we know, provided you like plenty of weight from dead centre all the way round to full lock. It’s a hydraulic system on the Aventador that is not only precise, but also provides comprehensive levels of feedback through the steering wheel itself. It’s a large car, but the steering is so precise and heavy at the same time, which inspires huge driver confidence through the bends.
Believe it or not, the Aventador provides unusual levels of pliancy for such a hardcore track weapon, although what it’s like on the B-roads can only be evaluated when we get to drive the car on public roads sometime in 2012. The F1-inspired front and rear push-rod suspension offers enormous precision through the bends at ridiculously high speeds. The real difference here is that the springs and dampers are connected inboard to the body shell and are transversely mounted. You can feel the extra responsiveness, although it’s an entirely different set of characteristics to the standard spring/damper element that are mounted upright to the wheel mounts. The actual result seems to be more rubber on the ground, especially through the tighter corners, which allows me to carry more speed through these sections.
It’s also a vastly more agile car than it’s predecessor, the Murcielago - some 2.5-times stiffer in the body and 30 per cent lighter. Hairpins and extra-tight turns that were built into the track for today’s session are a breeze for the Aventador. That’s a surprise considering its large footprint on the tarmac.
It’s a pity we don’t have the entire straightaway to use today, because with such monster carbon ceramic brakes as standard kit on the Aventador it wouldn’t matter how hard or how often you came into some of these corners, there would always be an abundance of stopping power.
The exhaust note is something to behold. At full scream - that’s 8000rpm plus - there are precious few supercars that can compete with the Aventador in the engine note stakes, price notwithstanding. It sounds like a pure-bred Formula racer, and in some cases it might even be quicker.
There are even fewer series production cars that could ever hope to stay with the Aventador during a 0-100km/h sprint. Its half cousin, the Bugatti Veyron, is the only car I can think of, but it’s closer to three times the price and doesn’t offer the same level of driver engagement as the Lambo.
Lamborghini’s Christian Mastro listed the following 0-100km/h sprint times from the closest super sports car competitors to the Aventador as a comparison of sorts:
Ferrari 599: 3.35 seconds
Ferrari Enzo: 3.6 seconds
Aston Martin One-77: 3.5 seconds
If you stretch that out from 0-200km/h the Aventador will cover that in a staggering 8.9 seconds flat and pull 1.3 G when braking from 100-0km/h.
It’s a shame that Feruccio Lamborghini isn’t alive to see the how his company has evolved over the past decade or two, and to witness how the cars bearing his name have become ‘must-have’ possessions by some of the world’s most celebrated sports stars and celebrities.
The turnaround for Lamborghini has truly been a spectacular one. From 1963 to 2002, Lamborghini sold just 10,000 cars, that’s an average of around 250 cars per year. From 2003 to 2010, more than 145,000 Lamborghinis left the factory gates in Sant’Agata Bolognese. That’s a remarkable change in the company’s fortunes.
Despite all those years in between, Lamborghini still does one thing better than any other other sports car manufacturer in the world: it still knows how to build the most extreme supercars on the planet.
It’s hard to wrap this piece on the Aventador any better than Stephan Winkelmann, President and CEO of Automobili Lamborghini, who said,
“With the Aventador LP 700-4, the future of the super sports car is now part of the present. Its exceptional package of innovative technologies is unique, its performance simply overwhelming. The Aventador is a jump of two generations in terms of design and technology, it’s the result of an entirely new project, but at the same time it’s a direct and consistent continuation of Lamborghini’s brand values. It is extreme in its design and its performance, uncompromising in its standards and technology, and unmistakeably Italian in its style and perfection. Overall, the dynamics and technical excellence of the Aventador LP 700-4 makes it unrivalled in the worldwide super sports car arena.”
If the order book is anything to go by, the Aventador LP 700-4 is already a huge success with more than 1400 pre-sold. That accounts for almost the first two years of full-scale production, and that’s assuming the unlikelihood that there are no more orders placed between now and two years' time.
If you want one in Australia you’ll need $754,600 and considerable patience as we understand the first and second allotments have already been sold.