A mule-kick full-throttle upshift that causes the car to squirm markedly on the rain-soaked track provides yet another signal that Corsa mode is simply too violent for today’s conditions. Call me a masochist, but I persist with it anyway. There’s something oddly enjoyable about being pummelled in this fashion by a V12 monster. It’s the type of experience you can’t find anywhere else in supercardom these days.
Yes, the Lamborghini Aventador is a unicorn among a herd of horses (even if they are thoroughbreds). That’s figuratively what the Bolognese badass is vis-à-vis its supercar/hypercar/super-sportscar (call them what you will) contemporaries.
It’s an eccentric, unapologetic, politically incorrect brute of a thing, and it will possibly be the last of its kind as we march unremittingly toward an increasingly softly-does-it era in which the tree-huggers and safety activists have an ever greater impact on the type of cars manufacturers are allowed to make, and which we can therefore drive. For now, the Aventador comes across as a refreshing two-fingered salute to the establishment, with its hulking 6.5-litre V12 guzzling through 16.9 litres per 100km (and that’s if you drive it like an 85-year-old granny). The way we’re flogging it today, it’s probably burning through the go-juice at double this rate.
CO2 emissions, you ask? Not really a consideration in our region, but the Lambo’s 394g/km output is more than twice that of a Mercedes-AMG C 63 S. This doesn’t go down all that well with the Euro and US enviro lobbies, so eventually Lamborghini will have to find a cleaner-running powertrain for its apex predator supercar.
That said, recently appointed company boss Stefano Domenicali revealed to your humble scribe that the naturally aspirated V12 would live on well past the introduction of EU7 norms in three years. He hinted the Huracán’s V10 was expendable (it could be usurped by the new 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 that will propel the upcoming Urus SUV), but the V12 is sacred in Sant’Agata Bolognese. And why wouldn’t it be when this configuration can trace its lineage back to
the 1963 GT, Miura, Countach, Diablo and Murcielago? It is the very DNA of Lamborghini.
For all its bruising charm though, the Aventador has been feeling its age. The single-clutch ISR transmission is clunky, while the chassis dynamics aren’t up there with the McLaren mob.
Hence the reason why we’re at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo in Valencia, Spain. It serves as the hub for the international media launch of the Aventador S, which Lambo suits are billing as the most comprehensive mid-life revamp of any of its models to date — and this is to ensure the raging bull flagship can hold the fort until an all-new replacement arrives in three years or so. The key upgrades include the addition of four-wheel-steering (a first for the brand), heavily revised suspension and chassis electronics, plus a new aero package that’s claimed to increase high-speed downforce by 130 per cent.
The eagle-eyed among you may have picked up on the Aventador S’s elongated rear wheel arch, and this is a respectful tribute to the seminal Countach...
The mighty V12 has also been fettled to thump out an additional 40PS for peak outputs of 740PS (729bhp) and 690Nm, which deliver 0-100kph in 2.9 seconds and a top whack of 350kph. Not too different from the oldie, but I don’t think you’ll complain after having your spine compressed via a couple of full-throttle standing starts. Lamborghini engineering boss Maurizio Reggiani says the main objectives for the upgraded powertrain were to deliver more torque at high revs, as well as increased responsiveness across the rev range. A blood-curdling soundtrack was, of course, mandatory.
As for the ‘S’ suffix, it may have laid dormant in recent years, but in the past it appeared on go-faster versions of the Miura, Urraco and Countach that surfaced during their respective lifecycles. The fact it has been reprised for the Aventador is the first clue that Lamborghini execs are now more keen than ever to carefully preserve the brand’s storied heritage.
The eagle-eyed among you may have picked up on the Aventador S’s elongated rear wheel arch, and this is a respectful tribute to the seminal Countach that causes chief designer Mitja Borkert’s eyes to glaze over with adulation at the mere mention of it.
That said, the external makeover isn’t hugely dramatic. You’d need to stand the old car next to the new one to take in the full extent of it, but the most notable changes are to the front fascia, which now incorporates a pair of fighter-jet-style winglets that optimise airflow into the massive ducts at the outer extremities of the nose. In addition to the aforementioned increase in downforce, the aero mods are said to greatly improve brake cooling efficiency (especially as far as the rear stoppers are concerned).
Out back, you’ll notice there are reprofiled lattice vents, a redesigned diffuser, a central black panel that connects the taillights and a new exhaust system whose three outlets are meant to mimic the Space Shuttle’s rockets.
You might have liked to see more visual differentiation between old and new, but Lamborghini’s brains trust has clearly spent its pennies on an area that needed more urgent attention — the Aventador’s chassis dynamics. Hence the introduction of the four-wheel-steering system that turns the rear wheels in the opposite direction to the fronts (at an angle of up to 3.0 degrees) at low speeds to effectively shorten the wheelbase by a half a metre and thereby reduce the turning radius. Conversely, at higher speeds the rear wheels turn in the same direction to their front counterparts (up to an angle of 1.5 degrees) to virtually lengthen the wheelbase and enhance stability. Does it all work? Patience, I’ll get to this...
All the electronics controlling the chassis, steering and suspension have been refined, and there are now four different driving modes. As before, there are Strada, Sport and Corsa settings, but a new addition is the curiously named ‘Ego’ mode that enables the driver to individually tailor their preferred settings for traction, steering and suspension. For example, should the driver find themselves at the Nürburgring Nordschleife, they may choose to have the steering in Corsa (the most aggressive setting), but select Sport for the engine and Strada for the suspension to cope with the bumpy, undulating surface of the track.
As before, there are Strada, Sport and Corsa settings, but a new addition is the curiously named ‘Ego’...
As it turns out, the sky today is a gloomy grey, and heavy overnight rain has rendered the Circuit Ricardo Tormo into a greasy skating rink. Not the sort of conditions where you ideally want to make your first acquaintance with a 729bhp projectile.
We tentatively make our way out on to the track — led by one of Lamborghini’s factory drivers (he’s mounted up in a bewinged LP-750 Superveloce) — to put in some feeler laps and gain some insight into how much (or little, more like) grip there is available to play with. Immediately evident even on these six-tenths laps is that the Aventador S is much less prone to pushing on at the front than its predecessor. The oldie would have been quite reluctant to get its nose turned in on this slick surface, but the ‘S’ faithfully tracks the intended line with minimal tyre scrub at the front. This four-wheel-steer caper mustn’t be mere smoke and mirrors, I muse. Of course, some its newfound bite at the front is also down to the new Pirelli P Zero tyres designed specifically for this car.
The basic nuts and bolts of the all-wheel-drive system are as before, but the whole lot has been recalibrated to make it compatible with the rear-steer system. In Strada mode the front:rear torque split is 40:60 to maximise adhesion and instil a feeling of balance. However, in Sport mode the stabilising effect of the rear-steer means up to 90 per cent of torque can be delivered to the rear wheels. In this setting, it effectively feels like a rear-driven car, so you can just about steer it with the throttle.
Corsa splits torque 20:80 front to rear, while simultaneously reducing stability and traction control intervention. In this mode, the dampers also go into their firmest settings, so this would be the ideal mix for a dry, smooth racetrack. It’s hardly the optimal mix for today though, as the aggressive throttle and steering responses and violent gear changes that Corsa serves up don’t make for the smooth, flowing driving style needed to make quick, drama-free progress in the wet.
Regardless of which driving mode you’ve opted for, the Aventador S feels a much more cohesive and well tied-down package than its occasionally unruly forerunner. In addition to the greatly improved front-end grip I’ve been harping on about, there’s a greater feeling of balance and in Sport mode the gear changes are quicker and more seamless than before (at least when you’re going flat out).
Our small convoy gradually ups the tempo as we gain greater familiarity with the car and the wet surface, and it’s clear we’re not hanging around as I notice the pacemaking LP 750 up ahead is squirrelling around noticeably as its pilot manhandles it around the 4.005km circuit.
A subsequent slalom exercise in which I get to drive the old and new Aventador back-to-back serves to reinforce what I’d already learned on the track. The ‘S’ turns in with much more aggression than the oldie, so you can really attack corners, rather than having to wait for the front end to bite.
So much for the rarefied confines of a race circuit. What I was keen to learn was how the Aventador would cope with warts-and-all real-world conditions. Fortunately, the sinuous mountain roads in the vicinity had just been reopened after snow had earlier rendered them impassable.
Let’s be clear, the Aventador S is never relaxing to drive. Even in Strada mode on a smooth freeway, the V12 drones like a swarm of angry bees at a steady 140kph cruise. The slightest road surface imperfections are transferred through to your derrière, and the single-clutch ISR sequential gearbox occasionally seems to get confused as to which ratio it should be in when you’re pootling along at bumbling speeds. Perhaps most grating is that there’s nowhere to even keep your mobile phone. Not a single storage recess or cubbyhole.
Once into the mountains, all these niggles pale into insignificance. Even on this narrow, twisty strip of tarmac, the 2,030mm wide Aventador S seemingly shrinks around me, providing encouragement to charge across the terrain as if I were pedalling a miniscule 200bhp hatchback.
The Lambo mightn’t have a supple ride, but its composure isn’t unduly upset by lumps and bumps either (and there’s plenty of these on this stretch). It’s still a brute, but it’s a much more mature and polished offering than the rough-around-the-edges original.
The few straights between bends are voraciously devoured by the Lamborghini, and it deploys its fat quota of torque very effectively out of tight corners (even in Sport mode). In fact, the Aventador S arguably feels more nimble and planted than its smaller, lighter Huracàn sibling, which has a predisposition to understeer.
Yes, the Aventador is still uncompromising — clambering in and out of its low-slung cockpit is an exercise in calisthenics, while the steeply raked A-pillars obscure forward three-quarter vision, the cabin feels outdated, and the scissor doors aren’t all that user-friendly, even though they look great. But it’s also these very things that make the Aventador endearing, and unlike anything else out there.
In its latest guise, the Lambo spearhead has acquired just enough dynamism and finesse to make it the consummate supercar its predecessor never quite managed to be. It may not go down as all-time great in the automotive history books, but it’s memorable nonetheless.