Flagship Lamborghinis come along about once every 10 years. Photo Gallery
Philip King road tests and reviews the Lamborghini Aventador in Malaysia.
I've never been to a bullfight and perhaps that's why something in the logic of Lamborghini's naming policy escapes me.
The Aventador, its new supercar, follows previous Lambos by taking the name of a famous fighting bull.
The original Aventador went “into battle in October 1993 at the Saragossa Arena, earning the Trofeo de la Pena La Madronera, for its outstanding courage''. Apparently.
Courageous, no doubt, but of course, doomed. No amount of horned bravado is going to save it from the bloke in a Lady Gaga outfit with a long shiny blade. I'm pretty sure bulls are on the wrong side of the longest losing streak in history.
Humans barracking for bulls have noticed these odds and protested. According to a survey last year, 60 per cent of Spaniards were opposed and as a result Barcelona held its last fight a little while ago after Catalonia implemented a ban.
So the Aventador is named after a dead bovine from a spectacle increasingly out of tune with the times. You can't help wondering whether Lamborghini has its branding strategy quite right. Supercars already feel like a threatened species. Are we about to witness their heroic last stand?
Thankfully, no. The Aventador doesn't feel like the last of the line; far from it. This is a supercar from the future that's just beamed in, Star Trek-style. It's been designed by Darth Vader and has the latest warp drive. It's boldly going where no supercar has gone before.
The Aventador has a price as stratospheric as its ability - and an increasing number of rivals, even at this level -- but Lamborghini is emphatically bullish about sales. It has 1500 orders already and no sign of flagging despite the economic storm on the horizon. There's already an 18-month waiting list.
With its arrowhead styling the Aventador is a stealth fighter without the stealth; it could probably avoid radar detection but you'll never miss it on the road. The Aventador is the first series production car to employ this design language after it was used for two special editions: the Reventon, a version of the Murcielago, and the Sesto Elemento, a fully carbon fibre version of the Gallardo.
Upward opening doors have been a signature of Lamborghini flagships since the Countach and they are reappear here. They swivel up and you limbo-dance in. Ahead are virtual dials from the deck of the Enterprise, a start button under a hinged red cover and lots more angular surfaces. Anyone familiar with top-shelf Audis will know the buttons are not bespoke, but there's nothing off-key.
Like almost everything else on the Aventador, the transmission is new and Lamborghini developed its own robotised seven-speed system rather than take existing technology from its Volkswagen parent. It came up with a system it calls Independent Shifting Rod, which is lighter and more compact than the double-clutch transmissions becoming ubiquitous on performance cars. It's also very quick, banging up or down through gears in 50 milliseconds in track mode. Even in strada, response feels instantaneous.
The suspension, with double wishbones all round, employs the pushrod design favoured by racing cars. Positioned inboard, it's lighter and more compact than the Murcielago's while delivering better comfort and dynamics, Lamborghini says. Tyres are 19-inch at the front, 20 at the rear and house huge carbon ceramic brakes. At the front they measure 400mm and are gripped by six pistons.
They can rein in the Aventador from 100km/h in just 30m, which means they are incredibly effective. It feels like it, too, with short braking zones for some corners and you're playing with fire if you don't brake in a straight line. Like the Murcielago, the Aventador has electronically controlled air intakes that adjust automatically, as well a rear spoiler that rises as speed requires then changes its angle of attack.
I've travelled to Sepang racetrack, Malaysia, to sample the car for the first time. There are a lot more motoring journalists here than cars, so it's two laps of the track and heavily shepherded ones at that. A Gallardo, Lamborghini's junior supercar, acts as pace car with a pro driver at the wheel.
Seeing an Aventador alongside a Gallardo brings home how extreme it is. Only in this context could a Gallardo look as tall as a people-mover and as intimidating as Play School. The Aventador is Commodore-long but a scant 1.1m high. If it wasn't more than 2m wide you could step over it. There's only time to acquaint myself with bits relevant to piloting the car around 15 corners and 5.5km. It's get in and get going.
The acceleration is more linear and less dramatic than expected but utterly relentless. The naturally aspirated 6.5-litre unit behind the cabin is Lambo's first new V12 in decades. The Murcielago, its predecessor, wrung more and more out of the previous engine until there was nothing left to give. This starts beyond that level with 515kW at 8250rpm, which is high revving in anybody's language and spectacular for a V12.
It likes to rev, too, and is good for a top speed of 350km/h. On the track, I'm well into triple figures before I realise because it takes just 2.9 seconds to reach 100km/h. Floor it and you're flying into the next corner quicker than you expect. Not that I'm looking at the speedo. There isn't time.
Mid-corner grip, with its huge rubber, all-wheel-drive and differentials everywhere, feels off the scale although I'm testing it only when I get something not quite right, such as the line into a corner. As speed rises and falls, surfaces and intakes on the car are responding.
Corners are quick too, although with fairly pronounced weight transfer from one side of the car to the other in rapid direction changes. This may be because I made the mistake of obeying instructions and leaving the suspension settings in strada, when sport or track would have been more appropriate. A colleague with a rebellious streak chose sport and said the car's weight evaporated. Not that it's all that heavy anyhow.
The Aventador sheds 90kg compared with the Murcielago and it's certainly light for its size. Lamborghini has made the entire passenger cell from carbon fibre -- one of few cars to do so, along with the new McLaren -- and despite its city-block footprint weighs just 1575kg dry. Carbon fibre is stronger and stiffer than equivalent aluminium or steel structures and as a result the Aventador is 1 1/2 times more rigid than the Murcielago.
Two laps go in blur of impressions. There's something otherworldly about the Aventador. It transports the driver to a place where ordinary sensations of speed and performance no longer apply. As intimidating as anything you can buy, it takes supercars to the next level and my senses and reflexes haven't had time to adjust. It feels less feral than the Murcielago but has the technology and performance to back its menacing looks.
If there's a surprise, it's the relative lack of drama in the way it goes about its business. From pitlane, watching cars race down the straight, it was the Gallardo pace car that made a more appealing sound. I was expecting a bit more fury from the Aventador. A bit more snorting histrionics, a bit more scraping of hooves. What it declares loudly though, is that the supercar has a lot of life in it yet.
Flagship Lamborghinis come along about once every 10 years, so it will be some time before it needs to find a name for the next one. By then, bullfighting could be history and Lamborghini will be left with a dilemma. But as long as there are still supercars to name, they can call them what they like.
LAMBORGHINI AVENTADOR LP700-4
Price: $754,600 plus on-road costs
Engine: 6.5-litre V12
Outputs: 515kW at 8250rpm and 690Nm at 5500rpm
Transmission: Seven-speed robotised manual, all-wheel drive
LAMBORGHINI'S 12 ANGRY CYLINDERS
350GT (1964-66), 3.5-litre V12. 160 built
Miura (1966-72), 3.9-litre V12. 764 built
Countach (1974-90), 3.9-litre (later 5.2) V12. 2042 built
Diablo (1991-2001), 5.7-litre V12. 2884 built
Murcielago (2001-10), 6.2-litre V12. 4099 built