If this new Lamborghini Aventador S has a job to do – over and above the usual one of providing the most attention seeking and dramatic way of getting from A to B – it is to prove to the world that Sant’Agata’s ‘super sports car’ can be as much about substance as it is style.
The original Aventador LP700-4 remains a spectacular looking car, underpinned with a genuinely impressive pushrod-suspended, carbon-fibre chassis and a thumping 515kW naturally aspirated 6.5-litre V12. No mistake, the Aventador is the ‘proper’ Lamborghini for those who consider the Huracan merely an Audi R8 in Italian designer clothes.
But for all the rebellious, hairy-chested tradition drawn from the Miura, Countach, Diablo and Murcielago, the Aventador has been accused of being somewhat dumbed down in the driving stakes. Sure, it was fast, noisy and bold. But it was also heavy, blunt and with a handling balance tipped more toward ‘safety’ understeer than white-knuckle thrills.
The limited-production SV version launched in 2015 proved that with a few dynamic tweaks and a little extra power there was potential in the Aventador to ruffle a few feathers in the supercar establishment, exactly as the brand has done since its founding in 1963.
By stripping out 50kg, increasing the power to 552kW, adding the controversial variable-ratio Dynamic Steering and improving the car’s aero, Lamborghini was able to get within a whisker of the Porsche 918 Spyder’s lap time around the Nurburgring.
Not bad for a car relying on good old fashioned V12 grunt over hybrid gimmickry and with a list price about a third that of Porsche’s technological tour de force.
For the Aventador S, Lamborghini has carried over some of what it learned from the SV – Dynamic Steering included – while making the aforementioned power increase and aero upgrades. It has also added that latest supercar must-have, four-wheel steering, and thoroughly reworked the suspension and control systems.
It’s done all this without adding to the weight, which remains at 1575kg by Lamborghini’s preferred ‘dry’ figure. To put that into context, a Huracan is 1422kg by the same measure.
The Aventador S still feels hefty, but has more aerodynamic grip and increased agility from the four-wheel steering, so Lamborghini clearly hopes to address the criticisms about the Aventador’s lack of dynamic sparkle. Just in case you thought it was in danger of taking life a bit too seriously, there’s a new configurable driving mode over and above the familiar Strada, Sport and Corsa settings. It’s called ‘Ego’.
Further evidence that the S upgrades are more about handling than bottom-line stats comes when you browse the spec sheet. The 350km/h top speed remains as before and the 0-100km/h time is also identical to the LP700-4’s at 2.9sec. It’ll push past that to 200km/h in 8.9sec from rest, while 0-300km/h takes just 24.2sec.
Be under no illusion, the Aventador S is a ferociously fast car and underlines just how outrageous that V12 remains, even in this age of hybrid assistance. Forget any electrically assisted pretence of saving the planet while travelling at 320km/h, though – updated or not, the V12 still chucks out a suitably unapologetic 394g/km of CO2 while achieving an average of just 16.9L/100km.
Prodigious straight-line speed and profligate fuel consumption are a given in a V12 Lamborghini, of course. What the four-wheel steering and other changes do is attempt to make it as keen to go around corners as it is to make lots of noise about going fast and burning lots of fuel.
As in other applications, the four-wheel steering turns the rear wheels in the opposite direction from the fronts for greater agility in low-speed corners. At higher speeds, it turns them the same way as the fronts to give greater stability.
Meanwhile, the variable steering can go from 2.1 turns lock to lock to 2.4, offering scope for front-end bite as well as relaxed cruising and good manners around town. For those who dare to go on track, 130 per cent more downforce at 240km/h from a new front bumper and splitter further emphasises Lamborghini’s efforts to improve the front-end grip, suggesting it’s listened to the earlier criticisms. Does it all work, though?
Lamborghini’s desire to show that it does was somewhat scuppered by freak weather on the Valencia-based launch event – not that you’d know it from the photos accompanying this article. Four-wheel drive or not, a waterlogged track in the midst of the Spanish region’s biggest storm in decades is not the best place to be putting a 544kW Lamborghini through its paces. The road route wasn’t any better and the mountain roads were closed by snow.
When the track eventually opened, it was strictly controlled ducks and drakes behind cautious instructors. But even at a slow pace, the work that’s gone into this new flagship is evident. Working through the modes, Strada maintains the surprisingly ponderous feeling you could get from the LP700-4.
Unlike most competitors, Lamborghini has stuck with a single-clutch automated manual – dubbed ISR – rather than a faster, smoother dual-clutch automatic. The engineers will tell you it’s for reasons of weight and packaging but, in the faster modes, it’s also more ‘dramatic’ in the fearsome way it swaps through the seven ratios available.
In Strada, though, it’s hesitant and long-winded in automatic and slow to respond to flicks of the paddle shifters in manual. The conservative front/rear torque split of 40/60 also means you have little choice but to tread carefully into the corner and then bide your time on the way out.
In the wet, Sport is more exciting, sending up to 90 per cent of the drive torque to the rear axle and letting you dial out mid-corner understeer on the throttle; the car rotates with commendable predictability considering the variances in steering lock, effective wheelbase length and rear-wheel steering. The stability control is sufficiently lenient in this mode to demand assertive corrections in slippery conditions.
Corsa throws in brutal gearshifts you really don’t want to unleash mid-corner for fear of destabilising the car, as well as a more neutral torque split that’ll send up to 80 per cent to the rear axle. It’s perhaps more suited to a dry track, because on the day the car understeered stubbornly before eventually sending drive to the front axle to pull it out of the corner.
Ego, for all the novelty value of the name, simply lets you mix and match your preferred settings for steering, powertrain and suspension.
That there’s so much to adjust in the way the Aventador S drives is a significant progression from the LP700-4. Rather than a death grip at the wheel and gritted teeth, you now drive the big Lambo with something close to fingertip precision.
It’s no Lotus Elise in terms of finely balanced nuance and feedback, but it finally has the handling to do justice to that magnificent powertrain, the exotic looks and its sheer force of character.
It is, in other words, a much more sophisticated and rewarding car without diluting the raw excitement any V12 Lamborghini should deliver. It won’t win over those who think it a bit much, but for those of us who take a childlike glee in such cars still existing, it’s nice to know it delivers on the looks at last.
4.0 OUT OF 5 STARS
Like: Stunning looks; performance; noise; upgrades
Dislike: Terrible gearbox; ride still firm; massive price
Engine: 6498cc V12, DOHC, 48v
Power: 544kW @ 8400rpm
Torque: 690Nm @ 5500rpm
0-100km/h: 2.9sec (claimed)