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The Lamborghini Asterion was the surprise package at Paris Motor Show

Lamborghini's symbol is a raging bull and its models invariably take their names from the world of bullfighting. Non-matadors will find them obscure: the name of the new Huracan refers to a bull that took to the ring in August 1879. In Alicante.

Asterion follows the tradition, though it refers to the mythological Minotaur, part bull, part man. The brand’s first hybrid combines “the strength of a bull … with the human rationale”, the maker says.

Under the bonnet: Wrong place to look. Lamborghini makes mid-engined supercars and the Asterion follows suit with a 5.2-litre V10 borrowed from the Huracan mounted behind the cabin. On its own, it produces 449kW of power. Unlike in the Huracan, though, it drives only the rear wheels.

Fitted to the engine is an electric motor that acts as both starter motor and generator. It feeds two electric motors at the front, driving the front wheels.

With Asterion in hybrid mode, the engine and all three motors act together to deliver a total of 669kW of power to all four wheels — more than any other Lamborghini.

The result is electrifying performance, with Asterion hitting 100km/h in just 3.0 seconds and capable of 320km/h flat out.

But there’s more to it than that. The transmission tunnel, which normally would carry power from the engine to the front wheels, is unnecessary thanks to the electric motors. Instead, it’s filled with lithium-ion batteries. So Asterion has an electric-only mode in which just the front wheels are driven. As an EV, Asterion has a 50km range and top speed of 125km/h.

The system is designed to be recharged overnight so that the car can run in pure electric mode for the next day’s commute.

Lamborghini does not say how long the batteries take to fill, but the fact it can function as an electric car for 50km means it can achieve fuel economy of 4.2 litres per 100km in the official European test.

Plug-in hybrids such as this are becoming the car industry’s preferred solution for hitting emissions targets and in this respect Lamborghini is following the latest technical trend.

Just another hybrid hypercar? Rival brands Ferrari, McLaren and Porsche already have limited edition hybrid hypercars on sale overseas (see above), although their solutions differ in terms of the balance between engine and battery power.

At one extreme, La Ferrari has no ability to travel purely on electricity. Its system is similar to the ones in Formula One racers and aims to boost power without using more fuel. Asterion is more like the Porsche 918 or McLaren P1, only with a better electric-only range. As well as reducing overall fuel consumption, these systems offer insurance against the possibility — considered inevitable by carmakers — that sooner or later cities will restrict access to trad­itional combustion engine cars.

All agree that hybrids are an essential part of the future and this technology will filter down to production series cars. For example, Porsche is already selling a plug-in hybrid version of its Panamera sedan here.

A different Lambo? Asterion is different from its rivals in one crucial respect. Ferrari, McLaren and Porsche set out to make flag-bearers for hybrid technology with something even more extreme than usual.

Asterion is fast, of course, but fitting a hybrid system means producing a different sort of Lamborghini, the company says, because it adds a lot of weight. Even though some components, such as the drive shaft and front differential, have been removed, the net effect of fitting batteries and motors is an additional 250kg. Asterion is built around a carbon fibre monocoque but even so it weighs 1.8 tonnes. That means it’s too heavy to be a traditional sports car. “It’s not a car devoted to handling behaviour because we think this is something that is difficult to reach with a plug-in where you’ve added weight to the car,” research and development chief Maurizio Reggiani says.

Lamborghini has made small run special edition models costing millions, but Asterion demonstrates that it can make a low-emissions car priced at a level its normal customers expect.

Hail the hyper-cruiser: Lamborghini says Asterion represents a fresh vision of where the brand is heading. It is a "new kind of dream car...starting from an intuition: the key for anticipating the future lies in a transformation and hybridisation of Lamborghini’s own DNA", the press release says. "With the Asterion, a hyper-cruiser is born."

It may not be lightweight but it still delivers on the Lamborghini promise by retaining a large capacity, naturally aspirated engine. Most manufacturers are switching to turbocharging because it makes smaller — and hence more efficient — engines more driv­able. But turbocharged engines lack the immediate response of naturally aspirated engines, don’t rev as high or sound as good.

At the same time, the change in emphasis is reflected in the Asterion design. It’s softer, less angular and extreme than Lamborghini’s two current models. The change is also reflected in the cabin, with more room and better ergonomics. The doors are long for easy access, windscreen more upright and seats positioned higher.

Here we go again... Lamborghini has made cars like this before, such as the Espada four-seater from the late 1960s, so Asterion would be back to the future. If it goes ahead.

Other recent concepts show Lamborghini playing with a few ideas. At the 2008 Paris motor show it revealed a sedan concept called Estoque and more recently a study for an SUV called Urus, which is expected to get the go-ahead eventually. The smallest supercar brand is branching out. It’s just a matter of time.

Philip King
Contributing Journalist
Philip King is a former CarsGuide contributor, and currently is Motoring Editor at The Australian newspaper. He is an automotive expert with decades of experience, and specialises in industry news.
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