Everyone’s fitting four-wheel steering now, aren’t they? Porsche, Mercedes, Ferrari – they’re all at it. We’ll have it on hot hatches soon. Not that you’ll notice – the system is intended to be subtle, the machinations of the hydraulic actuators designed to be unobtrusive. But this is Lamborghini and Lamborghini does not do unobtrusive.
Ahead is a slalom test, an easy second-gear weave through cones at 50km/h. No stress, just a gentle guide through to get a feel for things. I’ve done it already in the old Aventador, although its presence here is itself unusual. Car firms very rarely wheel out the old model at the launch of its replacement, probably for fear you’ll notice areas where old beats new. But the slalom test is not one of those. Through it the Aventador felt like it was dragging an anchor, the steering slow, the experience slightly dull. That’s the Aventador for you – a machine dominated by an engine that cowed the chassis. Only one thing was allowed to sparkle in here.
I go again in the facelifted model, the S, a badge that Lamborghini says is part of its heritage but hasn’t adorned a car since the Countach back in 1978. A couple of flicks back and forth and I’m at the far end – less effort, more dexterity, more speed, more agility. I reckon they could have crammed the cones five metres closer together. This is going to be revolutionary for those last-minute swerves into that street down the side of Camps Bay where #supercarsofinstagram hang out. Above all, I really noticed it, I felt it. And I did for the rest of the day, even when they took the cones away and let us play on the proper circuit.
It’s almost six years since Lambo introduced the Aventador to replace the Murciélago. In pretty much the same span of time, the Holy Trinity have been and gone, and McLaren has gone from a Drives standing start to having a three-model range with LT this, Spider that and GT R the other. Lambo’s attention has been elsewhere: on the Huracán, on the Urus, on a bunch of diversionary one-offs such as the Egoista. Now it’s time for the Aventador to be shown some love.
The facelift Aventador S focuses on the chassis. Oh sure, there’s another 30kW for the engine, liberated by mods to the variable intakes and valve timing, a higher rev-limiter (8,500rpm instead of 8,350rpm), plus those extra carbon intakes on the back deck that gulp more air down and give the new version a hunkered look, reminiscent of the Countach LP5000 QV. The addition of 4WS is the key facet, and necessitated a wholesale re-engineering of the pushrod suspension. The settings of the adjustable magentorheological dampers were tweaked to improve comfort at one end and response at the other, and the geometry was altered.
There’s been more focus on aerodynamics – the rear wing is now active, controlled electronically by a new central brain that runs all the car’s systems, front axle downforce is up by 130 per cent, there are vortex generators underneath to maximise airflow and neat vents that exit inside the front arches to release air down the flanks, cleaning up the flow. Despite the addition of 4WS, kerbweight hasn’t increased, as the 6kg penalty was alleviated by a new exhaust system (spot the triangular arrangement of the three pipes) which weighs – wait for it – 6kg less. Lambo claims a 1,575kg dry weight for the carbon-tubbed, aluminium sub-framed Aventador S, which equates to a kerbweight of around 1,690kg.
The 545kW and 686Nm is still deployed through all four wheels via a Haldex central clutch, but there’s no talk of torque-vectoring or too much on-board technology. Step inside for evidence of that. You’ve got to love Lamborghini cockpits – for that is what they are – the way the door opens, the wide sill, the high, sloping centre console, the five-inch gap between the top of steering wheel and the headlining. These things talk to you, help to distract you from the frankly backward infotainment (last seen on an Audi A4 about a decade ago) and a seat that, well, Lambo has never done good seats. This one isn’t as catastrophic as the SV’s, but you sit too high, and the bolsters aren’t proud enough of the firmly padded base so don’t lock you in place as well as they should. But hell, flipping up the cover on the start button and summoning 12 cylinders to life tends to put everything else out of mind.
I’m at Circuit Ricardo Tormo in Valencia. Where there has been a storm likes of which hasn’t been seen for over 40 years. Trees are down, hill roads are closed due to snow and, at the circuit, many of the corners are flooded. Which means no driving. Doesn’t look like that in the pictures, I know. A frustrating couple of hours pass, and then the circuit is declared drivable. By Stefano Domenicali and Maurizio Reggiani. Yes, at Lamborghini, it’s the CEO and the head of research and development who go out, drive and declare the track open.
It’s still sopping wet, but the Aventador S is a car transformed. I’d stop short of saying it’s outright playful, but the agility, the steering, the weight management, the integration of all the systems… it’s a big, big step forward. I normally hate variable-ratio steering – it’s too artificial, especially when it’s electrically assisted. But on first impressions this feels good – not only is it sharp off-centre, but accurate and confidence-inspiring, too.
Whoever’s responsible for integrating the four-wheel steering deserves a bonus – just as with the slalom test earlier, the Aventador S is nimble during direction changes, you can sense the rear wheels lending assistance, and it feels good. This is unusual. As I said at the beginning, these systems are normally subtle, but Lambo does seem to have pushed the degrees further than most.
At low speed, the rears can turn up to three degrees (most systems I’ve come across turn no more than 1.5 degrees), effectively shortening the wheelbase from 2,700mm to 2,200mm. To improve stability at higher speeds the rears turn the same way as the fronts, adding a virtual 700mm to the wheelbase. You don’t detect that so much, and while I’d love to comment on highspeed mid-corner stability, a 545kW Lambo is still quite a handful in the rain. Turns out the traction control still takes a lenient approach to discipline. At least the brakes are strong – carbon-ceramics are standard, and the 400mm front discs are not only massively powerful at high speeds but sensitive enough to be used mid-corner to trim your line if you like a spot of left-foot braking.
But it is drivable in these conditions, even when equipped with 355/25 ZR21 rear tyres. The fronts (255/30 ZR20) are far narrower. In fact the difference is uncommonly large and led the S to understeer at pretty much every corner. Given the drenched track you can’t read too much into that, but the important thing was that you could not only feel what the car was up to, but also do something about it. The Aventador’s chassis is now far more responsive to inputs. Back off the throttle and it tightens its line, so you can adjust and manage it.
Just be warned: you need to have it in the right mode. This used to be difficult. Between Strada, Sport and Corsa there wasn’t really a sweet spot and you couldn’t choose your own settings for the drivetrain, steering and suspension. Now there’s Ego, and you can. To be fair, Sport is a good choice, sending up to 90 per cent of torque rearwards, while Corsa, which is focused on fast laps, can only direct 80 per cent aft. In Corsa you also have to put up with a fairly savage ride and a completely savage gearchange.
Ah, the gearbox. It’s still the seven-speed sequential manual, and although Lamborghini claims to have sharpened it up, compared to the latest twin-clutchers it’s a dinosaur. The shifts are either noticeably slow or head-bangingly savage. Of course you can lift off to smooth them out, and you could argue that this is good character-building stuff. But compare it with an Audi R8 or Ferrari 488 and, well, it’s hopeless.
The gearchanges punctuate the wild excesses of the engine, but do they spoil the flow of this mesmeric, howling V12. 0–100km/h in 2.9secs, 200km/h in 8.8secs, a top end up towards the 350km/h mark? Not the point. It’s about sensation. This motor doesn’t just generate noise or vibration or acceleration, it has its own life force. God bless them for sticking with it, because this is transcendental.
Cutting edge it ain’t, but you love the Aventador because of what it stands for. It’s supercar 101: looks, noise, power, drama. Don’t overthink it, just adore it for what it is. And appreciate the advances: the Aventador used to be a bit of a pantomime villain – tremendous voice and presence, but rather one-dimensional. The addition of 4WS is, as I said earlier, transformative, the whole car not only sharper, but also more cohesive, moving predictably, inspiring confidence and bathing the V12 in an even brighter light. So the Aventador gets a new lease of life, one that’s done nothing to unstitch the essence of Lamborghini, but a lot to smooth it out. OLLIE MARRIAGE