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Lamborghini's Aventador S is the last living link to supercars of old. Wild-looking bedroom-poster material, gigantic anti-socially loud V12 that actually spits flame and the kind of performance that will rustle the jimmies of even a seasoned supercar driver.
It harks back to a time when supercars actually sucked, but it didn't matter because they were proof you had both the money and patience to nurse it into life and then wring its neck, because that was the only way it made any sense. While the Huracan is a thoroughly modern supercar, the Aventador is an unashamed, unabashed, hairy-chested, head-banging, rock ape.
Dieppe. A pretty seaside community on the northern French coast. Established a mere thousand years ago, it's copped a hammering in various conflicts, yet retained its beautiful 'marine promenade', a handy reputation for top-notch scallops, and for the last 50-odd years, one of the world's most respected performance carmakers.
Alpine, the brainchild of one Jean Rédélé - racing driver, motorsport innovator, and automotive entrepreneur - is still located on the southern edge of town.
Never officially imported into Australia, the brand is virtually unknown here to all but committed enthusiasts, with Alpine having an illustrious rally and sportscar racing back-story including victory in the 1973 World Rally Championship, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1978.
Rédélé was always committed to Renault, with the French giant eventually buying his company in 1973, and continuing to produce brilliant, lightweight road and racing Alpines until 1995.
After a close to 20-year hibernation, Renault reanimated the brand in 2012 with the stunning A110-50 concept racing car, and then the two-seat, mid-engine machine you see here, the A110.
It's clearly inspired by the Alpine of the same name that wiped the rallying floor clean in the early 1970s. Question is, does this 21st century version build or bury that car's iconic reputation?
The Aventador isn't the best car you can buy for the money and truth be told, it isn't the best Lamborghini, which is a bit tough when you remember the only other car they make at the moment is the V10 Huracan. But it's all about the theatre as much as being a very capable supercar.
I'm not a Lamborghini fanboy, but I completely get the Aventador. It's a because-we-can car, just like the Murcielago, Diablo and Countach before it. But unlike those cars, it's thoroughly modern and with the upgrades introduced to the S, it's faster, harder and enormously entertaining.
As the last of a dying breed it delivers on everything a Lamborghini should - amazing looks, nutty price tag and an engine that excites not just driver and passenger but anyone with a heartbeat. It's by far the most charismatic car you can buy, no matter how many zeroes are on the cheque.
Don't let the overall score fool you. The Alpine A110 is an instant classic. While practicality, safety and ownership costs don't set the world on fire, it delivers a driving experience that makes everything right with the world every time you get behind the wheel.
Asking if there's anything interesting about a Lamborghini design is kind of like asking if the sun is warm.
Inside is pretty tight indeed. It's amazing to think that a car 4.8 metres long (a Hyundai Santa Fe is 4.7 metres) struggles to contain two people over six feet tall. My six foot two photographer's head left an impression in the headlining. It's a tiny cabin. It's not a bad one though, it even has a cupholder on the rear bulkhead behind the seats.
The centre console is covered in Audi-based switchgear and is all the better for it, even if it is starting to look a bit old (those bits are from a pre-facelift B8 A4). The alloy gearshift paddles are fixed to the column and are brilliant to look at and touch, while the digital dashboard - which changes with the driving mode - is fantastic even if the reversing camera is awful.
The final example of the original Alpine A110 rolled out of the Dieppe plant in 1977, and despite more than four decades separating it from this newcomer, the 2019 A110 is effectively a new-generation version.
Much more than a tip of the hat to a special predecessor, the new A110 perfectly updates the distinctive, purposeful look of its not-so-ancient ancestor.
In fact, head of the A110 design team, Antony Villain says, "We wondered; if the A110 never went away, if this new car was the sixth or seventh generation A110, what would it look like?"
Highlights include cool body-colour panels in the doors, a Ferrari-like push-button gear selection set-up, slender alloy manual shift paddles attached to the steering column (not the wheel), matt carbon-fibre accents on the console and around the circular air vents, and a 10.0-inch TFT digital instrument cluster (which morphs to suit Normal, Sport or Track modes).
The A110's chassis and body are made from aluminium, with a brushed form of that material adorning everything from the pedals and perforated passenger footrest to multiple dash trim pieces.
Quality and attention to detail is outstanding to the point that just getting in the car feels like a special occasion. Every time.
Yes, well. There's not a lot of space because a V12 is not just big all on its own, all the ancillaries to support it rob a lot of the remaining space. Having said that, there's room in the front for soft bags with a 180-litre front boot, space for two people inside, a cupholder and a glove box.
And the doors open up into the sky rather than out like a normal car's. Who cares if it's impractical, it's hardly something that's going to stop someone buying one.
Practicality is the oil to a two-seat sports car's water. If you want day-to-day functionality, look elsewhere. Quite rightly, the Alpine A110 puts driver engagement at the top of the priority list.
That said, with limited real estate to work with the car's development team has made it liveable, with a surprising amount of boot space included, and modest storage options snuck in around the cabin.
The heavily-bolstered, high-sided sports seats, necessitate use of the 'one hand on the A-pillar and swing in/out' technique for entry and exit, which won't suit everyone. And once inside several things are missing.
Glove box? No. If you need to refer to the owner's manual or grab the service book, they're housed in a small satchel attached to the bulkhead behind the driver's seat.
Door pockets? Forget it. Cupholders? Well, there's one, it's tiny, and located between the seats where only a double-joined circus contortionist could reach it.
There is a long storage bin under the centre console, which is helpful, although it's hard to reach in and actually extract things placed in it. Media inputs run to two USBs, an 'aux-in' and an SD card slot, but their location at the front of that lower storage area is tricky, and there's a 12-volt outlet just in front of the unreachable cupholder.
However, if you and a passenger want to head off on a weekend road trip, amazingly, you can take some luggage with you. With the engine located between the axles there's room for a 96-litre boot at the front and a 100-litre boot at the rear.
We managed to fit the middle (68-litre) hard suitcase from our three-piece set (35, 68 and 105 litres) in the broad but relatively shallow front boot, while the wider, deeper, but shorter rear boot is best for soft bags.
Another missing item is a spare tyre, with a neatly packaged repair/inflator kit your only option in the case of a puncture.
As with any Italian supercar, the price-to-feature ratio is rather higher than your average humdrum hatchback. A 'naked' Aventador S starts at a horse-spooking $789,425 and basically has no direct competition. Ferrari's F12 is front-mid engined and any other V12 is either a decidedly different Rolls Royce-type machine or super-expensive niche manufacturer (yes, niche compared to Lamborghini) like Pagani. They're a rare very breed, Lambo knows it, and here we are a sneeze-on-the-spec sheet away from $800,000.
So you have to keep two things in mind when rating a car's value for money at this level. The first is that there isn't any real rival in a pure sense, and if there was, it would be the same price and have the same spec. That's not excusing it, by the way, it's an explanation.
For your eight hundy you get 20-inch front wheels and 21-inch rears, climate control, cruise control, 7.0-inch screen (backed by an older version of Audi's MMI), four-speaker stereo with Bluetooth and USB, car cover, bi-xenon headlights, carbon ceramic brakes, electric seats, windows and mirrors, leather trim, sat nav, keyless entry and start, four-wheel steering, leather trim, digital dashboard, power folding and heated mirrors, active rear wing and active suspension.
The number of out-of-the-box options is staggering and if you're keen to really get on it, you can commission your own options when it comes to trim and paint and wheels. Let's just say that as far as the interior went, our car had almost $29,000 of Alcantara, steering wheel and yellow. The telemetry system, heated seats, some extra branding and front and reversing camera (uh-huh) added up to $24,000, the cameras almost half that total.
With all the bits and bobs, the test car we had was a sobering $910,825 before on-roads.
At $106,500 before on-road costs the Alpine A110 Australian Premiere Edition competes with an interesting range of similarly specified lightweight two-seaters.
The first that springs to mind is the achingly beautiful, mid-engine Alfa Romeo 4C Coupe at $89,000. For some, its exotic carbon chassis is underpinned by a too-firm suspension and the unassisted steering is difficult to deal with. For others (including me) it offers an exceptionally pure driving experience (and those that can't cop its physical nature need to harden up).
Lotus founder Colin Chapman's engineering philosophy, "Simplify, then add lightness" is alive and well in the form of the Lotus Elise Cup 250 ($107,990), and less than $10k more than the A110's MRRP delivers access to Porsche's thoroughbred 718 Cayman ($114,900).
Audio comes from French specialist Focal, and although there are only four speakers, they're special. The main (165mm) speakers in the doors use a flax cone structure (flax sheet sandwiched between two glass fibre layers) and (35mm) aluminium/magnesium inverted dome tweeters sit at either end of the dashtop.
Certainly enough to be going on with, but at more than $100k we'd expect to see a reversing camera (more on that later), and the latest safety tech (more on that later, too).
The Aventador S is powered by Automobili Lamborghini's 6.5-litre V12. You know it's a V12 because there's a plate on top of the engine (which you can see through the optional glass cover) that says so, and handily, tells you the cylinder firing order. That's a neat touch.
Buried deep in the middle of the car, this monster engine develops an astonishing 544kW (30kW up on the standard Aventador) and 690Nm. Its dry sump means the engine sits lower in the car. The gearbox is slung across the back between the rear wheels - the rear pushrod suspension actually sits on top of and across the gearbox - and is apparently brand new.
The transmission is known as an ISR (Independent Shift Rod) and has seven forward speeds and still just the one clutch. Power goes through all four wheels to the road, but it's clear the rears get the lion's share.
The 0-100km/h time is the same as the standard car, which kind of tells you that 2.9 seconds is about as quick as you can go on road tyres when you don't have four electric motors with torque from zero rpm.
Alpine has modified the intake manifold, exhaust and overall calibration, but the big difference here is that although it's still transversely mounted, in the Alpine the engine sits in a mid/rear position and drives the rear wheels (rather than in the R.S.'s nose driving the fronts).
Featuring direct injection and a single turbo it produces 185kW at 6000rpm, and 320Nm of torque from 2000-5000rpm, compared to 205kW/390Nm in the Megane R.S. But the Alpine's 356kg weight advantage means it boasts a 169kW/tonne power-to-weight ratio, while the Megane sits at 141kW/tonne.
Drive goes to a Getrag-sourced seven-speed (wet) dual-clutch auto transmission, with Alpine-specific ratios inside.
Hilariously, the official figure is 16.9L/100km. I doubled it without trying. Simple as that. If you're buying this car thinking it will be easy on the juice, you're insane.
Cheeringly, Lambo has at least tried, the V12 going silent when you sit at the lights, the best thing being the way it bursts back into life when you lift off the brake.
If you have the time available, it takes 90 litres of premium unleaded to fill the tank.
Claimed fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle is 6.2L/100km, the 1.8-litre four emitting 137g/km of CO2 in the process.
Over close to 400km worth of often 'enthusiastic' driving, taking in city, suburban and freeway running we recorded an average of 9.6L/100km.
Definitely a miss, but not bad when you consider we hit the off switch for the standard stop-start system on a consistent basis and regularly took advantage of the accelerator pedal's ability to move towards the floor.
Minimum fuel requirement is 95 RON premium unleaded, and you'll need just 45 litres of it to fill the tank.
In Strada or Street mode, awful. Everything is slow and doughy, particularly the gearshift which goes looking for a gear like dog looking for a stick you didn't throw, but instead hid behind your back. The low-speed ride is nothing less than terrible, fidgeting over every single lump and bump and is only slightly more appealing than being dragged along behind.
The gearbox is really the worst bit about it. Automotive history is littered with cars that laboured along with a single clutch semi-auto: Alfa Romeo 156, BMW's E60 M5 and today the Citroen Cactus is stuck with just such a dud transmission.
Like that old M5, however, there's a trick to making the gearbox work for you - show absolutely no mercy.
Switch the selector up to Sport, get off the highway or major arterial road and head for the hills. Or better still, a clear race track. Then the Aventador goes from a pain in the rear to a glorious, roaring, completely unhinged and unhinging battle cruiser. This car is all about the experience, from the second you lay eyes on it to the moment you put it to bed.
This isn't an everyday supercar and it's absurd to think Lamborghini thinks it is.
First up, there's the obvious entry point with those wacky doors. While it's tricky to get in, if you're under six feet and reasonably mobile, stick your backside in, keep your head down and you're in. If you've been clever, you've specified the glass engine cover so you can see out the back but the huge wing mirrors are surprisingly effective.
Has someone thoughtlessly parked the car in a tight spot? No trouble, the four wheel steer makes the car absurdly manoeuvrable given its extravagant length and width.
As we've already established, it's not much fun at low speeds, waiting until about 70km/h before things start to make a bit more sense. This isn't an everyday supercar and it's absurd to think Lamborghini thinks it is. It just isn't.
The old Aventador was not the most capable of machines but made up for it with its overall belligerence. The new S takes that aggro and dials it up. When you move the drive mode to Sport you are basically unleashing hell. You can pretend to be super-masculine and switch to Corsa (race) mode, but it's all about getting the car straight and getting you around the track in the most efficient way possible. Sport is where it's at if you want to have fun.
The Aventador is about being seen, but not before you've been heard - from two postcodes away. It really is utterly glorious when you have a stretch of road to yourself. The V12 revs furiously to its 8400rpm redline and the wallop of the upshift is accompanied with a fantastic bark and a burst of blue flame. And these aren't the best bits.
Approach a corner, stomp on the colossal carbon ceramic brakes and the exhaust erupts in a combination of bangs and pops and growls that puts a smile on even the most hardened car-hater's face. The fact it steers into corners with just a demure roll of the wrist, aided and abetted by that funky four-wheel steering system. It's just brilliant, addictive and truth be told, it gets under your skin.
Weighing at just 1094kg (target weight was 1100kg), with a 44:56 front-to-rear weight distribution, the all-aluminium A110 is every millimetre the mini-supercar you'd hope it to be.
It only takes two to three rotations of the Alpine's wheels to realise it's exceptional. The Sabelt seat is superb, the chunky steering wheel perfect, and the engine instantly eager to get on with it.
The electro-mechanical power-assisted steering feels just right from the first corner. The rack is quick and road feel is intimate without the crashy feedback penalty paid by the Alfa 4C.
Engage launch control and you're blasting from 0-100km/h 4.5sec, with the engine adding a suitably raucous backing track, a full charge of air rasping through the inlet manifold just behind your ears. Spinning up to the close to 7000rpm rev ceiling is pure pleasure, with peak torque available from just 2000rpm all the way to five grand.
Pressing the wheel-mounted 'Sport' button sharpens gearshifts and holds low ratios for longer, with the already slick dual-clutch really getting its race face on. Hold in the down lever in manual mode and the transmission will instantly shift through to the lowest gear engine revs will allow, the Active-valve sports exhaust chipping in with rude pops and bangs on the over-run. 'Track' mode is even more hardcore, allowing a greater element of slip in cornering. Brilliant.
The engine's mid/rear location delivers a low roll-centre and the double wishbone suspension set-up (front and rear) manages to combine super-sharp dynamic response with a surprisingly civilised ride.
Alpine says the A110's light weight and ultra-rigid chassis mean its coil springs can be reasonably soft and anti-roll bars light so even our truly ordinary urban blacktop doesn't cause too much distress.
The A110 is beautifully balanced, amazingly agile, and satisfyingly precise. Weight transfer in quick cornering is managed to perfection, the car remaining stable, predictable and hugely entertaining.
Grip from the Michelin Pilot Sport 4 rubber (205/40 fr - 235/40 rr) is tenacious, and the torque vectoring system (by braking) quietly keeps things pointing in the right direction if an over-zealous pilot begins to overstep the mark.
Despite the A110's modest kerb weight braking is professional grade. Brembo provides ventilated 320mm rotors (front and rear) with four-piston alloy calipers at the front and single-piston floating calipers at the rear. They're progressive, powerful and consistent.
The only downsides are a clumsy multimedia interface, and the annoying lack of a reversing camera. But who cares, this car is amazing.
In terms of active safety, the A110's sheer dynamic ability will help you avoid an unfortunate incident, and specific tech includes ABS, EBA, traction control, stability control (disconnectable), cruise control (with speed limitation) and hill-start assist.
And when it comes to passive safety you're protected by an airbag for the driver and one for the passenger. That's it. Weight-saving, eh? What can you do?
The Alpine A110 hasn't been assessed for safety performance by ANCAP or EuroNCAP.
In an unexpected twist, you'll get a three-year/100,000km warranty and the option to increase to four years ($11,600!) or five years ($22,200!)(!). Having recovered from typing that, given the cost of something going wrong, that's probably money well-spent.
The Alpine A10 is covered by a three-year/100,000km warranty with a twist. According to Alpine, the first two years are covered for unlimited kilometres. And if at the end of the second year total kilometres remain less than 100,000, the warranty continues into a third year (still to an overall cap of 100,000km).
So, you can sail over the 100,000km mark in the warranty's first two years, but that means you won't get a third.
Complimentary roadside-assist is provided for 12 months, continuing for up to four years if your Alpine is regularly serviced at an authorised dealer.
There are currently three dealers only – one each in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane – and service is recommended every 12 months/20,000km, with the first two costing $530 each, and the third ramping up to $1280.
You'll also need to factor in a pollen filter ($89) at two years/20,000km and accessory belt replacement ($319) at four years/60,000km.