Raging bull receives sufficient extra pep to challenge the prancing horse | by Andrew Frankel
There must have been at least a few times over the course of 53 years when Lamborghini has caused its rival down the road in Maranello to shiver just a little in its loafers. When the company came into being for example, with a brief from its wealthy tractor-constructor owner to beat Ferrari at its own game, or when it launched the Miura in 1966, the world’s first mid-engined supercar and still arguably the most beautiful. The wild-looking Countach must have caused the Old Man’s brows to lift just a little behind those shades, and what about more recently when Lamborghinis were designed by Italians but engineered by Germans from parent company VW?
But the gathering storm stayed on the horizon. Ferrari marched on, defying economic theory by increasing both its prices and its output while, by comparison, Lamborghini sales were rather modest. And they still are. Last year, Lamborghini found homes for 2530 cars, barely a third of 7255 units shifted by Ferrari over the same period.
For how much longer they will stay that way is another question. Despite people like me whingeing that modern Lambos understeer too much (while ignoring the fact that the vast majority of owners would no more likely drive their car on the limit than attack it with a lump hammer), the products of Sant’Agata have never been more popular. That 2530 figure may seem modest, but it’s an all-time record for the company and almost double the 1302 cars sold in 2010, just five years ago. People love their cartoonish appearance, symphonic sounds and the fact they get to tell their friends they drive a Lamborghini. Compared with that, whether the front end will accurately sniff out an apex at 100mph is not of doubtful relevance but of no relevance at all.
And yet this new Aventador Superveloce offers clear evidence that Lamborghini now recognises that its credibility as the true and original rival to Ferrari would be enhanced if its cars were in fact as good as they looked.
With its huge rear wing and diffuser, side skirts and larger air intakes at the front, the SV has no problem signalling its intentions. Power from the 6.5-litre motor has been taken from 691bhp to 740bhp by modifying the valve gear to enable the V12 to spin all the way to 8500rpm. That really is a fairly potty amount of shove from a normally aspirated engine of this size. The sound alone is enough to convince you some divine being had a hand in its creation.
It’s lighter, too. Ultimately Lamborghini has saved just 50kg: having shaved off more than that by replacing aluminium body parts with carbon fibre, it then had to add some by specifying magnetorheological dampers and variable ratio electromechanical steering.
The result is a car whose hitherto surprisingly fuzzy approach to the open road is pulled into sharp focus. Having been reasonably impressed when I first drove an Aventador during its launch at Vallelunga, when I got to drive another in the UK I didn’t get on with it at all: the ride was a joke, the car had no balance and the gearchange was horrid. The Ferrari F12 was superior in almost every area, save arguably its appearance.
No longer. What you notice most and soonest about this reformed Aventador has nothing to do with its power or grip, but simply that it’s much easier to live with – despite its apparently more extreme specification. I drove it almost non-stop for 12 hours one day and was genuinely sad to step out; such was the ride on the last Aventador I drove, I suspect I’d have struggled to step out at all after such a workout. So it’s still not as comfortable or quiet as an F12 and offers nothing like the luggage space, but its formerly jolting ride no longer provides a reason not to drive.
Now that I wasn’t being actively irritated, some of its other perhaps more surprising virtues hove into view. It is, for instance, remarkably easy to see out. The way it presents its most important information, via a TFT screen that would not disgrace a fighter plane, is beyond serious criticism. The driving position is superb and, while it looks like a Lamborghini, it feels like it’s been screwed together to the same standards as a Bentley, which it almost certainly has.
But perhaps that’s not what you most want to know. It is of course bloody fast, fast in a way not even its absurd 2.8sec 0-62mph time really reveals. The fact that it has joined the McLaren P1 and Porsche 918 in recording a sub-seven minute lap of the Nürburgring is illuminating but less so than going on YouTube, watching the onboard footage and pondering how much faster the car would have gone had the driver not twice had to go into full survival mode to avoid throwing it in the wall, including during the exit phase of the corner that leads onto the main straight.
I did of course fling it around a fast track, where its eagerness to hit its marks and stay rooted to your planned trajectory at serious three-figure speeds shows how much good and necessary work has been done here, but I was at least as impressed by the fact that, out on open roads and at safe speeds, the Aventador felt so compact and usable. For a car this low and wide, you’d scarcely credit how it reassures you it won’t use any more road than you expect, every apex will be neatly clipped and you will make it through that gap between the wall and the truck.
Of course none of this is going to transform Lamborghini sales, not least because the company is only making 600 and I believe they’re all sold. But its reformed character is symptomatic of a new approach at Lamborghini that may well cause Maranello to pause for a more than the usual amount of thought.
And then, of course, there is the car that genuinely will turn Lamborghini into a sales rival to its local opposition. While Ferrari has ruled out time and again all possibility of a prancing horse appearing on the nose of an SUV, Lamborghini has not been so reticent about the raging bull. It is three years since the fine-looking Urus was shown in concept form, but the car has now been confirmed for production: we should see the finished product in as little as 18 months, with sales starting in 2018 at the latest. And while you might shudder today at the idea of a Lamborghini off-roader, it is worth bearing in mind that unlike Rolls-Royce, Bentley and Maserati, this is not its first time it has gone down this path. I drove an LM002 once and for all its Tonka-toy looks and V12 sound, it was a pretty dreadful thing: slow, heavy and cumbersome with hideous fuel consumption. That might explain why only 300 were sold in six years. By comparison, Lamborghini will aim to shift the Urus at a rate of 3000 per annum.
With an off-roader like this to provide profits to fund further sports car development, Lamborghini looks at last to be on the point of providing Maranello with the competition it had promised from the start.