Lamborghini Aventador VS Lotus Exige
- Styling, so much styling
- That V12 engine, the pure speed rush of it
- The noise, absolutely bonkers
- Not being able to see anything behind you or beside you
- The price. You could have five great cars for this much
- The sheer mass, width and weight of it
- Unassisted, unadulterated steering (at speed)
- Beautiful balance and stiff chassis
- Sheer impracticality
- Heavy steering (at low speeds)
- Getting in and out of it
Too fast, too loud, too crazy, too dangerous, too big. All of these are phrases a supercar lover would never think to utter when considering the sanity-defying existence of the new Lamborghini Aventador S, and yet exactly the kind of things any reasonable person might say after driving one, or even witnessing it in motion.
Too much, clearly, is never enough in La La Lambo world, and it's certainly true that if you desire a car that will puncture your eardrums while rupturing your spleen and bruising your heart, this is the perfect vehicle for you.
Five years after its launch, the Aventador has been updated and upgraded - with new rear-wheel steering, an allegedly improved gearbox, tweaked styling and a button that says EGO - and uprated, with even more power that it clearly wasn't crying out for.
We went to Phillip Island to drive it around a high-speed track covered in rain, mist and suicidal geese.
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Driving naked is ill-advised, and possibly illegal, but taking a spin in the Lotus Exige 350 Sport is as close as you'd ever want to get. It's not so much that you feel you've left your clothes at home, but that the car has shed its accoutrements, and indeed its very flesh, leaving you with a kind of skeletal vehicle; just bare bones and muscle.
What this punishingly hard and fiercely focused machine does to your bones and flesh is best described as extreme chiropractry - in particular the stress of ingress and egress - but fortunately it makes up for the moans, bangs and bruises by fizzing your adrenal glands in a big way.
The question is whether the fun is worth the suffering, and the $138,782.85 price tag.
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The Lamborghini Aventador S is a hugely unnecessary car that probably wouldn't exist at all in any sane universe. Fortunately it's from Italy instead.
While it definitely has its flaws - it's simply too big, and too fast, to drive on public roads, and it's too heavy, and mental, to be a purist's track car - there is still something strangely charming about it.
It's the ridiculous design, those super-cool doors, the outrageous and deafening noises it makes, and what it does to your internal organs when you accelerate in it.
There are better, sharper and more affordable supercars than the Aventador S, but there are none that are anything like it.
Is the Aventador S your dream supercar, or would you prefer an F12 Berlinetta? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
To say the Lotus Exige 350 Sport exists at the very pointy end of motoring is a sharp understatement. It is, in essence, a track car that you’re somehow allowed to drive on the road, which means it's hugely compromised in various ways as a vehicle for day-to-day use, yet it's not really fair to criticise it for those failings, because commuting was never its intended purpose.
While it would obviously shine in its natural environment of a race circuit, the fact is you could also enjoy it enormously between track days if you pointed it at a suitably smooth and winding bit of country blacktop.
The performance, handling, steering and stopping are all fantastic, in the right conditions, and you can see how someone might justify it to themselves as a far cheaper version of a ($327,100) Porsche 911 GT3. The difference being that a Porsche doesn't make you fold yourself up like a pocket knife every time you get in.
The Lotus, then, is a car for the extreme enthusiast, only. And possibly for nudists, too.
Would you put up with the Lotus's hard edges for the thrill rides? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
The lovely and loquacious Italians from Lamborghini showed us a revealing little sketch at the car's launch, which looked a little bit like a bad tattoo but said a lot about their design ethos. It featured mean-looking sharks and menacing cobras morphing with an outline of the Aventador, and was meant to represent the approach to further man-ing up the looks of this S version.
The shark fins are clearly evident in the new and even bigger front splitter, the cobra must be hiding under the engine cover somewhere, while the new rear exhaust shape is apparently modelled on the Space Shuttle.
There are a few touches of the classic Countach, apparently, and plenty of "aerospace" design, which means they've tried to make it look like a fighter jet.
The overall effect is about as over the top as Lady Gaga marrying Ivanka Trump, and yet because its a Lamborghini, you find yourself loving it anyway. Absurdity is their reality. And how could you not fall for any car with those doors?
The interior is not as classy feeling as a Ferrari, but it has a certain brash, flash-cash opulence to it that makes you smile as well.
The Lotus philosophy is summed by this slightly absurd mission statement: "Simplify, then add lightness". In the words of the great Barnaby Joyce "you don’t have to be Sigmund Freud" to work out that lightness is not something you can 'add', but you get the idea.
Everything about a Lotus is focused on the power-to-weight ratio, and this 350 Sport version takes the Exige to the ultimate degree, weighing in a full 51kg lighter than the S version, at just 1125kg, and with its hefty 3.5-litre supercharged V6 it is capable of lapping the company’s Hethel, UK test circuit a full 2.5 seconds faster.
Lap times, rather than road manners, are what this car is all about, and as such there are no creature comforts of any kind.
The Exige is an eye-catching beast, though, looking a bit like Darth Vader's helmet strapped to a skateboard. Everything about it is a statement of intent, and while the interior is as bare as Barnaby's brain, the gear lever, with its exposed workings and shiny silver knob, is a thing of strange beauty.
Yes, the Aventador S is a car, and it will take you from Point A to Point B, although you might leave some of your life expectancy behind on every trip, but other than that, practicality is not a selling point.
It is 4.8m long, just over 2m wide and a mere 1.14m high, the giant Lambo is as thick across the hips as a Toyota LandCruiser, and as pleasant to climb in and out of as an iron lung.
It also burns slightly more fuel than a Space Shuttle launch and is virtually impossible to see out of, but owners won't care because every other car will be behind them somewhere, and they'll only be looking out for plate-glass windows to admire themselves in anyway.
There are no cupholders (although apparently you can option them) and there's virtually no room to store anything at all. None of this matters, of course, because if the people who buy an Aventador S want practicality they'll simply choose one of the other 20 cars in their personal fleet.
Both the words 'practical' and 'space' have no place in a road test of this Lotus, so shall we just move on?
Oh, all right. There is no shoulder room to speak of and to change gears you have to fondle your passenger's leg. You're also in danger of breathing into each other’s mouths accidentally, you’re sitting that close.
Speaking of impractical, the door apertures are so small, and the whole car so low, that getting in or out is about as much fun as attempting to hide in a child's suitcase.
Cupholders? Forget it, nor is there anywhere to put your phone. There are two tiny oddment storage holes just near each well-hidden door handle, and a kind of slidey, slick shelf where a glove box might be, on which it’s not safe to leave anything.
Put things on the floor and they will slide under the super low seats and never be seen again.
The Lotus people pointed out a parcel shelf behind the seats, but I think they imagined it, and there is a tiny boot at the rear, behind the engine, which is smaller than some actual boots.
Price and features
On the one hand, the $788,914 price for this new S version of the Aventador (the S stands for "Something that is better" according to the Italians) is problematic, and slightly ridiculous, because it seems a lot to pay for a car that would have you shot on sight on suspicion of speeding by the Victorian Police and is about as well suited to Australian conditions as an igloo.
On the other hand, which is covered in thick gold rings with a fat Rolex attached to its wrist, it makes perfect sense, because its vast and silly size perfectly complements the very nature of the car, which is perhaps the biggest 'look at me, I'm rich' statement short of sky writing your bank balance.
The sort of person who buys a car like this, rather than the cheaper, far more sensible and, frankly, enjoyable Lamborghini Huracan, actually wants to pay a lot of money, because it's part of the fun.
Sure, that price only gets you two seats but they're very sexy ones, and truly grippy to sit in, which they need to be in a g-force monster like this.
There's only one spec for an S buyer, and it includes little treats like Apple CarPlay, but if you want the telemetry system, to record your lap times, it's an optional extra, at $3400.
The one feature every owner will want to show off, though - aside from the obvious ones like the scissor doors and 'Bombs-away!' starter - is the EGO button. This is basically a fourth setting to add to the car's existing Strada (Street in Italian), Sport and Corsa (Race) options, but confusingly, because it is entirely personalisable, it actually offers another 24 settings when you press it.
Sure, it's slightly pointless, but at least it's honest, because EGO is what this car is all about.
Each of those settings also changes the Aventador S's lush and wondrous Kombi dash screens (the Lamborghini-styled version of owner Audi's Virtual Cockpit), offering race-car like giant tachometers and even a graphic that shows you which way your wheels are pointing. Not that you'll have time to look at it when exploring your car's 350km/h top speed.
The question of 'value' is a tricky one when you’re looking at a $138,782.85 car that’s about as useful in day-to-day life as a matchbox-sized handbag. But you have to consider what people buy a Lotus for, and the answer has absolutely nothing to do with practicality.
A car like this Exige 350 Sport is purely purchased as a toy, a track-day special that you can, in theory, drive to the circuit via public roads. Franky, if I was rich enough to have one I’d still transport it there on the back of a truck.
Relatively speaking, you could have a far more practical and infinitely more comfortable Porsche Cayman for $30K less, but the Lotus is $30K cheaper than the similarly track-focused and brutal ($169,990) KTM X-Bow.
In terms of features, you get four wheels, an engine, a steering wheel, some seats, and that’s about it. You can buy a circa 1993 removable-face two-speaker stereo, which you can't really hear over the engine and road noise, for $1199. Oh, and they do throw in air conditioning, which is also noisy.
Our slick-looking metallic black paint was also $1999, the 'full carpets' another $1099 (expensive floor mats, basically), the Alcantara trim pack $4499, cruise control (really?) $299 and the hilarious optional 'Sound Insulation' $1499 (I think they actually forgot to fit it). All up, our press car’s price climbed to $157,846, which, I have to say, is no one’s idea of good value.
On the plus side, the local Lotus people - Simply Sports Cars - do offer features a buyer would love, like regular Lotus Only Track Days, a chance to take part in the Phillip Island 6 Hour and the Targa High Country event, and various other racy experiences.
Engine & trans
Let's start with the bad news, which is that the all-new seven-speed ISR (Independent Shifting Rods) gearbox that was supposed to fix the old-tech lurchiness of the Aventador's driveline is still so far off the pace of modern, dual-clutch transmissions that it's mildly embarrassing.
Change gear at speed in this vicious V12 and you're in for a kind of stop-motion, Wallace and Gromit experience. There's no doubt you can feel the aggression of the shifts, but they do remind you of a long-past time when upshifts meant a short break between rushes of acceleration, rather than the seamless shove you now get from a Ferrari (or even a Golf GTI).
Your gear changes can be so violent that they knock the breath out of you, but it could be argued that this merely suits the personality of the car, which in turn reflects the absurdity of its manic engine.
Power has, somehow, been raised by 30kW to an astronomical 544kW at a deafening and ballistic 8400rpm. Lamborghini says the new tune gives even more torque at higher revs, but its maximum figure of 690Nm is actually less than Ferrari's V8-powered 488, which has 760Nm.
The difference is turbochargers, of course, a limp-wristed affectation of a technology that Lamborghini still eschews.
They will tell you it's all about the way the car performs and accelerates, and with a 0-100km/h time of 2.9 seconds (not even a whisker faster than the standard Aventador, which shows you how difficult those times are to improve on), a 0-200km/h dash of just 8.8 seconds, and 0-300 in 24.2, it does do these things well.
What it's really about, though, is the operatic purity and visceral violence of the way the engine sounds, and with its all-new muffler and exhaust system, the S really does take big, shouty showiness to new levels.
Indeed, I would venture this is the loudest road car my ears have ever been assaulted by (a Porsche 918 is louder, but it's really a race car with a rego sticker). Under acceleration it is as eyebrow-liltingly loud as the front row of an AC/DC concert back in the 1990s, but it is the series of explosions you get on the overrun when fear pushes your foot off the throttle that are truly astounding. It sounds like someone throwing steel rubbish bins full of grenades into a cement mixer.
Crazy? Yes. Unnecessary? Yes, but it is wonderful.
It's possible that, as some of my colleagues claimed they could notice, the S is more instantly ballistic when you press the accelerator than the normal Aventador, but frankly that's like comparing being shot with different guns. Let's just say it's a hugely violent, chest-beating engine. And I love it.
In the past, Lotus engineers were satisfied with the power they got from tiny four-cylinder Toyota engines, but this Exige 350 Sport is a Very Serious Car and thus has a relatively whopping 3.5-litre, supercharged V6 shoehorned into its backside, which makes 258kW and 400Nm, and that's enough to fire this tiny machine from 0-100km/h in just 3.9 seconds, although it feels, and sounds, a lot faster.
The six-speed gearbox feels like it's been stolen from an old racing car and is an absolute joy to snick shift at speed.
Yes, it sure does consume fuel. Quite a lot, with claimed figures of 26.2L/100km on the urban cycle, and a combined urban/highway figure of 16.9L/100km. Frankly, you'd be lucky if you kept it under 30.0L/100km. It's thirsty work to drive.
Piloting an Aventador around city streets is a challenge, partly because it's like trying to hold a four-metre high, 400kg Rottweiler on a leash, but mainly because it's stupidly wide and you can't see anything from the driver's seat.
Lamborghini has tried to improve the experience of driving it at low speeds with a new rear-wheel steering system, that turns the rear wheels in the opposite direction to the fronts at low speeds, effectively shortening the wheelbase and making it almost liveable in car parks, but then turns them in the same direction as the fronts at higher speeds, for better turn-in and handling.
This was the first time I've ever been fortunate, or perhaps mad, enough to drive an Aventador on a race track, and a fast one at that in Phillip Island, which was covered in a fairly typical Arctic storm front, with enough standing water to attract large, suicidal geese to several corner apexes, including the one at the top of the straight, where the big Lambo was hitting 230km/h before we'd even passed the pits (it had dried out a bit, briefly, for that lap).
With open spaces in front of you, this car delivers the kind of acceleration that forces all the air out of your body, or perhaps you just forget to breathe because your brain is too busy freaking out. It's an invigorating sensation, but not without fear, a bit like jumping out of a plane, and equally addictive.
All that rocket thrust really is its party trick, though, because as mentioned the gear shifts are a bit of a shambles, and the sheer size, and 1575kg weight, of the thing makes it feel like a handful around tight corners.
It's very good around a track for what it is, but what it is is too heavy and too big for circuit driving. Again, you'd have to think a Huracan would be more fun, and would scare you less.
But then it did strike me, on my last lap, as I attempted to find some saliva in my dry mouth, that there's something wonderfully old school, and traditionally Lamborghini, about a supercar that genuinely frightens and intimidates you when you try to push it.
I can't imagine buying one myself, but I can imagine why a certain kind of enthusiast would want to.
It's rare to find a car that is such an improbable mix of furious fun and infuriating annoyance. The Lotus is rattly, noisy, hugely firm to the point of punishing, with seats that offer encouragement but not support.
It is the opposite of comfortable and so hard to see out of that driving it around town, in any sort of traffic, feels borderline dangerous. There’s also the distinct sensation that you’re so low and so little that all those people in their SUVs won't see you.
Throw in the fact that it's so painfully, stupidly difficult to get in and out of and it's definitely not the sort of car you take if you're heading to the shops. I got so sick of its hard-edged annoyances at one stage that I became too grumpy to even take people for joy rides in it. I just couldn’t be bothered with the hassle, but then an inner-city suburb with high kerbs and even higher speed humps is not the Exige's natural environment.
Making it even more of a challenge around town, at low speeds or in parking situations is the steering, which isn't so much heavy as wilfully obtuse. Doing a three-point turn is the equivalent of 20 minutes of bench pressing your own body weight. At least.
Out on a winding bit of country road, however, the steering becomes one of the best things about the car, because its pure, unassisted weighting feels so alive in your hands. There’s a sense of actually wrestling, or finessing it around corners that makes you feel a bit Ayrton Senna.
Indeed, the whole car comes alive, and starts to make some kind of sense, once you're on a smooth, perfect piece of tarmac. It is fast, noisy, thrilling, utterly and overtly involving, stiff of chassis and firm of ride, with brakes capable of pulling you up with indecent haste. It’s also, thanks to its low centre of gravity and mid-engined layout, beautifully balanced.
The gearbox is a thrill a minute, as is the engine, particularly once you explore the upper rev ranges, at which point the scenery really does become a scary blur out the ridiculously small windscreen.
Sure, you can't see anything behind you other than the engine, but what a lovely sight that is, and nothing is going to catch you anyway.
It does feel edgy, of course, and sharp, and it’s not as easy or refined to drive as some cheaper sports cars; an MX-5 makes for a far more pleasant companion. But this is an extreme Exige, a machine built by and for genuine enthusiasts.
And, above all, for the sort of people who will take it to a race track, which is where it both looks and feels completely at home.
Unfortunately, on public roads, it would be annoying more often than it would be thrilling, but the truly hardcore Lotus aficionados would never admit such a thing.
You're not getting AEB in a car like this, as the sensors would ugly up the front of the car, and there's nowhere to fit them. But you do get a 'passive pedestrian protection system', which is nice.
Some markets get a driver's knee airbag, but sadly we don't, so you have to put up with just four airbags in total, and a collapsible steering column.
Unsurprisingly, considering it will sell fewer than 100 cars in Australia, Lotus has not had the Exige ADR crash tested, so there's no star rating. You do get two airbags, passenger and driver, as well as ABS, 'Hydraulic Brake Assist', 'Lotus Dynamic Performance Management', driver-selectable ESP with three modes, cornering brake control and EBD.