Turning up at a racetrack to flog the living daylights out of a 760bhp (770PS) supercar constitutes a magnificent day at the office, but it also triggers a mild degree of a trepidation. Particularly as we’ve just been informed the newly laid tarmac at the Circuito do Estoril offers very little in the way of grip. There’s as yet no rubber laid down on the track, and residual oil from the fresh asphalt has seeped to the surface under the hot sun.
But, what the heck, this is no ordinary supercar. This is Lamborghini’s brand-new Aventador SVJ (Super Veloce Jota). “Super Veloce” is Italian for “Super Fast”, while Jota is Spanish for the letter ‘J’, which is a reference to ‘Appendix J’, the FIA rulebook governing the preparation of road-based race cars. That’s the first clue right there to this low-volume Raging Bull’s track credentials. Lamborghini will build just 900 SVJs (priced from Dh1,731,672 plus tax), and an additional 63 ‘special editions’ with individually numbered plaques. The latter number commemorates the year Lamborghini was born — 1963.
The SVJ’s big claim to fame comes via a staggering 6min 44.97sec lap at the Nurburgring Nordschleife, making it the fastest production car — bar none — around the daunting 20.6km circuit. Also known as “The Green Hell”, the Nordschleife is acknowledged as the ultimate litmus test of a car’s overall performance envelope (not to mention the driver’s intestinal fortitude), and it’s the lap time here that’s become the widely accepted benchmark by which the supercar pecking order is structured. Forget sub-3sec 0-100kph splits and outrageous v-max claims. This is the number that really counts.
Snatching this Holy Grail was the objective for the SVJ from the outset. Lamborghini R&D boss Maurizio Reggiani basically presented it to his team of development engineers like this: “We have to set a new production-car lap record at the Nurburgring Nordschleife. No excuses.” It’s a bit like an athletics coach telling his sprint protégé to go out there and run faster than Usain Bolt.
At that point in time, the record was held by one of Lamborghini’s own offerings — the Huracan Performante, which stormed around the perilous Nordschleife in a scorching time of 6min 52.01sec. Eclipsing it seemed doable, especially as the basis this time around was to be the steroidal, V12-powered Aventador. But Porsche then threw a big spanner in the works by nailing down a ballistic 6min 47.30sec lap with its cutting-edge new GT2 RS. This lap seemed unassailable, as it defied belief that a civilised, daily-drivable car could hustle around such a brute of a track at the same pace as a Formula One racer of four decades ago.
Beating the GT2 RS’s lap required every aspect of the Aventador — chassis, drivetrain and aero — to be put under the microscope to see where performance gains could be achieved. Last year’s Aventador S and the 2015 Aventador SV already brought performance-enhancing goodies such as four-wheel-steer, upgraded V12s and sophisticated magnetorheological suspension to the table, but setting a ’Ring record would require a lot more.
The steering is surgically precise and there’s ample feedback about front-end grip relayed to your fingertips, so you feel intimately connected to the car.
For starters, the SVJ’s mighty, free-spinning 6.5-litre V12 was reworked for better breathing via titanium intake valves, redesigned cylinder heads and reshaped intake runners. It also scores a new lightweight exhaust system with two large pipes exiting hallway up the rear fascia to mimic extreme motorbikes. Apart from reducing backpressure, the other payoff with the new exhaust is a sonic signature that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. It’s bloodcurdlingly lovely.
End result? Outputs of 760bhp at 8,500rpm and 720Nm at 6,750rpm (increases of 30bhp and 30Nm over the Aventador S), but the real payoff is in a fatter and flatter torque curve that enables the SVJ to punch out of corners with far greater urgency. What’s more, a lightened flywheel reduces inertia so the V12 spins up faster than before.
The SVJ is also equipped with 50 per cent stiffer antiroll bars than the already hardcore Aventador SV, and overall damping stiffness is bumped up by 15 per cent. The Lambo SVJ’s bespoke lightweight rims (20-inch at the front, 21s at the rear) are shod with specially developed Pirelli P Zero Corsa tyres, but an extra spend gets you the track-focused Trofeo R boots (as used by the Nurburgring record breaker), which feature Kevlar construction to withstand the huge loads placed by a sustained thrashing on a long, fast, high-downforce circuit such as the Nordschleife.
And it’s downforce where the SVJ really makes its gains, thanks to a massive fixed rear wing, aggressive two-plane splitter, air-channelling vents in the top of the nose and winglets on the front corners that smooth the airflow down the flanks and channel more air to the radiator intakes. All these add up to an extra 40 per cent of downforce compared to the bewinged Aventador SV.
But the real trick bit is Version 2.0 of the clever ALA (“Aerodinamica Lamborghini Attiva”) active aero wizardry that enabled the Huracan Performante to claim ’Ring king status last year. The principle is exactly the same this time around. There are a pair of ducts — opened and closed by small electric motors — at the front and rear of the car, and the job of these is to either ‘stall’ (ie cancel out the downforce) the front splitter and rear wing or allow air to flow as normal across these to generate maximum downforce.
So, on the straights the ducts stall the aero addenda for a speed-enhancing low-drag setup, but the moment you hit the brakes it instantly reverts to high-downforce mode to stabilise the car. The piece de resistance is ‘aero vectoring’, which stalls the outside half of the rear wing when cornering. Meanwhile, maximum downforce is applied to the inner half, helping the car turn into the bend. It’s the same principle as torque vectoring, just using airflow rather than braking the inside wheels.
All great in theory, but what does the Aventador SVJ actually feel like out in the real world? In a word: gobsmacking. It’s a wonderfully playful and entertaining brute that devours straights and virtually defies physics with its ability to carry enormous cornering speeds, even on a super-slippery Circuito do Estoril. The SVJ’s core hardware may be largely the same as the initial Aventador that launched in 2011, but the evolution it’s undergone since then makes it feel like a generational leap… and then some.
Where the original Aventador was a bone-jarringly hostile proposition with a clunky, spine-walloping transmission, the SVJ feels comparatively civilised, tactile and non-threatening — yet decisively faster and more engaging. The magnetorheological dampers have elevated ride quality to the extent it copes with even lumpy tarmac without you needing a subsequent session with a chiropractor. Meanwhile, a succession of tweaks and software updates to the ISR (Independent Shifting Rod) single-clutch sequential ’box have evolved it to the point where it’s satisfyingly punchy and urgent when you’re going flat out, and less neck-jerking than it used to be at pottering speeds.
And that V12 is an undisputed hall-of-famer. Which other engine offers so much grunt down low, yet sings its way to 8,700rpm with such joyful ease? Perhaps only the 6.5-litre V12 in the Ferrari 812 Superfast is in the same league. The addition of the free-flow exhaust to the SVJ has made it an even more sonorous motor (especially in Corsa mode), with a banshee-like wail in the upper half of its rev band and flame-spitting visual drama. It’s Pavarotti-esque in its vocal range.
But what really separates the SVJ from past Aventadors is the confidence with which you can work up to its (or your own) limits. Even with that big lump of a V12 at the back, the car has wonderful balance, and there’s a newfound adjustability that certainly wasn’t there in the past. Dived into a corner too hot? No problem, a little lift of the throttle or light dab on the brakes instantly gets the nose tucked in. It’s possible even for moderately skilled drivers to tap into the car’s driftability (in Sport mode) without having to deactivate the safety net of ESP.
In Sport the chassis electronics allow scope for a decent dose of sideways hoologanism, and the experience never feels as though it’s going to end in tears. It’s a far cry from past V12 Lambos. The addition of rear-steer last year has made the Aventador a much nimbler device than before, having dialled out almost any trace of turn-in understeer. The steering is surgically precise and there’s ample feedback about front-end grip relayed to your fingertips, so you feel intimately connected to the car.
The massive carbon-ceramic stoppers are progressive and offer good pedal feel, inspiring confidence to stand on them as late as possible even at the end of the pit straight at Estoril… with the speedo reading in excess of 280kph. The car squirms noticeably under full retardation, but there’s never a nagging concern that the V12-laden rear end will overtake the rest of the car.
The SVJ feels comparatively civilised, tactile and non-threatening — yet decisively faster and more engaging.
Limitations? The Aventador SVJ is by no means flawless. The ISR gearbox might be hugely improved, but it’s still not a patch on the latest-gen dual-clutch ’boxes offered in its Ferrari/Porsche/McLaren rivals. It remains clunky and archaic by comparison. And the cabin is still compromised in the extreme. Anyone over 1.8m will find their headroom restricted, while the fixed-back seats in the SVJ are fine for a brief thrash around a racetrack, but they’d be backache material after a few hours on the road. Rear and lateral visibility was hardly good in the original Aventador, but the SVJ’s massive wing pretty much nullifies whatever view existed out back.
On the plus side, Lamborghini’s engineers have extracted every last iota of dynamic potential out of the Aventador for the SVJ. It’s a fitting swansong, sending the model off with panache before an all-new replacement arrives in two years or so. Reggiani privately hinted the next-gen flagship will get a dual-clutch gearbox but retain the brand’s talisman naturally aspirated V12 — albeit supplemented by an electric powertrain.
The SVJ could be the last hairy-chested, old-school Lambo. The Aventador’s successor will doubtless be even faster, substantially greener and more refined, but this low-volume special is destined to go down as a Raging Bull great.