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Ask the decision makers at Lamborghini and they will proudly proclaim the company doesn’t build hypercars - rather it builds super sports cars. Coming from a company who created the supercar genre with the legendary Miura, this seems a fair claim.
The winds of change have been blowing across Bologna, though, and the 2017 Lamborghini Aventador S now genuinely blurs the line between supercar and hypercar, so brutal is its performance.
Savage in both looks and capability, the manufacturer from Sant'agata has taken the already formidable Aventador LP700-4 and refined it, so that what was already a sledgehammer has become even more potent.
The previous iteration was criticised for tending toward understeer too frequently at the limit, a malaise afflicting many AWD vehicles. Adopting the incredibly effective four-wheel steering system first seen on the mind-blowing Centenario is part of the solution. The result, according to Lamborghini, is an Aventador that behaves much more like a RWD vehicle, and ‘exhibits refreshing oversteer characteristics’.
It’s hard to believe, but the Aventador has been with us six years already, having first been released in 2011. Considered a long life by other manufacturers, Lamborghini reckons it is halfway through its development and performance cycle, and can run for another five to six years. The improvements that have already been made for the facelifted S, then, bode well for the Aventador’s future. When is too much power and speed enough?
The numbers alone are impressive. And that’s before we address the stratospheric price for Australia. The 6.5-litre V12 engine is matched to the same independent shift rod (ISR) transmission from the previous model, and it’s just as difficult to drive smoothly at low speed. Engineers tell us the ISR is the only option in terms of weight and packaging, however you can’t help but think a dual-clutch would be smoother. Then again, the transmission has to distribute a monstrous amount of grunt - and the thumping nature in which the ISR engages really just adds to the theatre of the driving experience.
Power is up to 740ps from the previous model’s 700ps. That’s a massive 544kW in our money (and only just below the output of the Aventador SV), while peak torque is 690Nm. The 0-100km/h run takes 2.9 seconds, 0-200km/h takes 8.8 seconds, 0-300km/h is done in 24.2 seconds and top speed is a barely comprehensible 350km/h.
The power-to-weight ratio (with the Aventador S in dry weight configuration) is 2.9kg/kW. The V12 will scream to 8500rpm, and peak power is made at 8400rpm, so you better believe the engine pulls hard all the way to redline.
Think about that again: 0-200km/h in 8.8 seconds. Staggering from a car that possesses nothing other than a conventional engine. No hybrid, no turbo, no assistance.
There are numerous other reasons beyond power and torque that the Aventador S is as formidable as it is, not the least of which is the adoption of the SV’s Dynamic Steering system. Added to that, there’s four-wheel steering, thoroughly reworked suspension, significant aerodynamic improvements and revised control systems. All this has been achieved without adding to the 1575kg dry weight of the LP700-4 and compares well to the smaller Huracan which weighs in at 1422kg by the same measure.
Once it reaches Australia, the Aventador S will start from $789,425 before the usual on-road costs, and most of the examples we tested at launch were fitted with around 100 grand worth of options. The cost of the options list is hardly an issue, though, if you’re playing in the million-dollar end of the new car market.
The revised styling is dominated by the new front end that changes the appearance but adds to the aero efficiency to the tune of 130 per cent better down force up front at 200km/h. It ties the Aventador down, but gives it a sharp appearance too. The rear end has been similarly fettled and the new lines look stunning from any angle.
Climbing into the Aventador is nowhere near as ungainly as it used to be with a Lamborghini, when scissor doors first graced the futuristic Countach. There’s a wide sill, but not ridiculously wide, and you can get in and out reasonably gracefully, if there’s an audience. And there will be, if you’re driving a green Aventador like we did for the road drive. Such is the raw street presence, you’ll have an audience everywhere you go. It comes with the territory, so shrinking violets need not apply.
Thud the door shut and the cabin is insulated and quiet. The seats are firm but not uncomfortable and, while the driving position is generally good, taller drivers will have issues. These cars really aren’t designed for super tall occupants. There’s no storage, but that’s ok, you’ll only need to carry your ego around with you, and there’s plenty of room for that in the front trunk. Inside the cabin, there isn’t even anywhere decent to store a large smartphone. There is Apple CarPlay now, though, so that’s a bit of an issue…
The gauge cluster is interactive and changes appearance depending on the driving mode you’ve selected, and the satellite navigation screen isn’t as impressive in either size or resolution as it could be. I’m reminded though of the musings of a Murcielago SV owner who told me ‘you don’t need sat nav anyway because you know where you’re going when you drive a car like this’ and that ‘the quality of the audio system is irrelevant, because you’d never want to drown out the sound of the engine anyway’. Rationalising at its best, but fair.
The Audi relationship is a good thing for Lamborghini cabin quality, though, with fit, finish and overall layout, better than it ever was in the pre-German days. Details like contrast stitching in the seats, alcantara trim and the leather are stunningly beautiful, but the steering wheel lets the rest of the interior down a little. It could be prettier, but no matter, you won’t spend much time looking at it once you get going - not when you can pass 200km/h in 8.8 seconds.
Lift the fighter jet starter cover, press the button, and the V12 explodes into life immediately. It’s almost like it catches the first half turn of the starter and thunders into a menacing idle. It’s another area the engineers have tweaked, wanting to extract as much emotion from the exhaust system as they can. The note, even at idle, is befitting of a V12 Lamborghini, nasty, sinister and just on the raucous side of loud.
Blip the throttle, and even in mundane ‘Strada’ mode, there’s cannon fire erupting from the revised exhaust system. Modelled on the afterburners of fighter jets, this new system sounds as tough as it looks and there is no turbocharged engine that sounds anything like a large capacity, naturally aspirated V12 - no matter what the turbo fans try to tell you. I can just imagine Lamborghini engineers laughing as they discuss sound amplifiers and fake exhaust notes. There’s none of that trickery required when you have a shrieking V12 under the control of your right foot.
Rain threatens to ruin our drive day at the incredible Ricardo Tormo circuit just outside Valencia. MotoGP fans will be familiar with its stadium-like layout, sinuous inner section and off-camber corners. Not really the place to be familiarising yourself with a beast as powerful as the latest raging bull. Our hosts have made a decision to start with the track drive, before we even sit down to digest the specifications, which means we’ll head straight to the track.
The engineers remind us to use ‘Ego’ mode in the drive options, which is Lambo’s tongue in cheek way of allowing you to specify the settings rather than use factory set parameters. You reckon you can set the Aventador S up better than the factory? Go for it. It basically allows you to set the steering, powertrain and suspension where you want them individually.
For the track drive, I toggle between ‘Sport’ and ‘Corsa’ modes with both allowing plenty in the way of sliding around, before the traction police get involved. Sport mode, for example, directs 90 per cent of the torque to the rear end and even lets you dial out any potential understeer on the throttle, the rear end sliding predictably before you steer into the slide effortlessly. Corsa chops that rear drive down to 80 per cent, but ratchets the gear change savagery up to a level that puts a stupid grin on your face every time you pull the lever.
We cruise out of the pits, point the Aventador’s revised nose at turn two, gently squeeze the throttle and the V12 blasts out of the lower echelons of the rev range savagely. The first thing that becomes evident as I work my way through the tightening corner, is how much more agile, smaller, more compact and effective the Aventador feels.
The four-wheel steering is a revelation at any speed, and Lamborghini claims it is the only system that works right from 1km/h up to 350. The system is easier to discern than it is to understand. In short, the rear wheels can turn in opposite directions to the front to effectively shorten the wheelbase by 500mm in low speed corners, and steer in the same direction (and lengthen the wheelbase) for higher speed stability.
What it does do, is remove the tendency to understeer, and makes the Aventador feel much more like a RWD car than it ever has - certainly on a dry track. Increasing both aerodynamic grip and mechanical grip should make a seismic difference behind the wheel, and it does. I’ve never driven anything with so much power that is so easy to set into a controlled drift exiting a corner and keep it there for as long as you want while you steer into it.
The dynamic steering is likewise exceptional, and Lamborghini has tuned out the lack of feel that we complained about on-centre from the old car. There’s a sharp precision to the front end and the feedback through the wheel now. The system can range from 2.1 turns lock-to-lock, to 2.4 turns offering scope from performance to street usability.
The power that builds through the rev range is relentless and there is no let-up until right before redline. It’s difficult to compute such a large engine that revs so freely, but it keeps piling on speed ferociously while doing so, and you need to reset your reflexes and inputs, to truly extract the best from it on track. Even in these times of hybrid assistance, there’s still plenty to love about the tried and true method that Lamborghini has persisted with. The carbon ceramic brakes keep taking punishment, lap after lap, and the rifle-shot gear change is at its best up near redline too. It’s not so smooth on the road, but you can’t help but be in awe of it on the track.
Our road drive is an epic run through country roads up into the mountains surrounding Valencia, but it’s a double-edged sword. The roads are quiet because it’s a Sunday. It’s also raining heavily the whole time, which means we can’t attack the narrow, racetrack smooth blacktop with the gusto we would in the dry.
Still, the 120km drive provides an interesting insight into living with such a formidable road car and, having experienced the car on-track in the dry, we’ll take the not so good with the good.
The ride compliance is excellent and the Aventador ploughs through the rain unruffled. Supercar execution has come a long way and wipers that work, air conditioning that is effective, and mirrors that actually provide visibility make road driving quite easy. The only real negatives on the road are the transmission, which is hard to use smoothly no matter what you do, and the blind spots afforded by the thick pillars. I found that if you use the gearbox as you would a manual, it’s going to be more bearable, day-to-day. Select ‘Strada’ mode, but shift manually and lift off as you pull the lever.
The Aventador S isn’t perfect, but then no car truly is. Its primary job is to provide the means for which you can get from A to B in the most dramatic way possible, with the most theatre. It also needed to be faster, more powerful and more capable than the model it replaces.
Lastly, Lamborghini was adamant that it had to work to iron out some of the issues of the previous model and the way it drove at the limit. In that sense, the 2017 Aventador S is a raging success from the house of the raging bull. It’s everything a V12 flagship Lamborghini should be and it is easier to drive than ever before, without diluting any of the thrill.
If you ever drive an Aventador S in anger and you aren’t left trying to work out how you can afford one, you should probably check to see if you have a pulse.