Lighter, faster, better?

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Upgraded Lambo is a car for driving, not posing

Ageing curmudgeon that I am, I always approach cars like this new Lamborghini Huracán Performante with a degree of healthy scepticism. In my experience these ultra high-performance versions of startlingly quick cars are as good at detracting from their appeal as adding to it.

So I can look at its on-paper specification and I will very shortly, but when I get behind the wheel I try very hard to think beyond the actual driving experience presented, usually on clear roads in ideal conditions, to the realities of life beyond. And sometimes they come up short. Perhaps the best example was the Ferrari 458 Speciale, which was a simply phenomenal thing to hurl around a track or a deserted Welsh mountain but was so loud and uncomfortable on the way there and back I found myself yearning for the scarcely less brilliant standard car, which was a delight to drive whatever the conditions. Others, like the McLaren 675LT, have been more successful.

The Performante is very clearly cut from this kind of cloth and one thing no one will argue is the lengths to which the factory has gone to optimise its performance. We will start with the engine, now the only one of its competitors set to keep faith in the old adage about there being no replacement for displacement. Eschewing the turbochargers adopted by others, revised inlets, exhausts, titanium valve springs and higher lift cams raise the power of its 5.2-litre V10 engine from 602bhp to 631bhp, still developed at a screaming 8000rpm. There’s more torque, though still nothing like as much at its 6500rpm peak as a Ferrari 488 develops at fewer than half those revs: turbos may not be an elegant fix, but they get the job done. The seven-speed double-clutch gearbox has been reprogrammed to provide quicker shifts, too.

On the chassis side, Lamborghini has made magnetorheological dampers available (though to be fair this tech could be found on Audi TTs 10 years ago), stiffened the suspension by about 10 per cent and reprogrammed the steering to offer more resistance and sharper feel. Obligatory track-day tyres complete the picture, in this case a bespoke Pirelli P-Zero Corsa specification, though if you’re planning on very serious trackwork you’d be better off with optional Trofeo R rubber, at least while the surface is warm and dry.

But what most pleases Lamborghini is its new aerodynamics system called ‘Aerodinamica Lamborghini Attiva’, which is Lambo-speak for active flaps in the front spoiler that can direct airflow through ducts in the engine cover over the rear spoiler when downforce is needed, and underneath it when not. Cleverly these flaps can also operate independently, producing asymmetric downforce and generating a vectoring effect into quicker corners.

And finally, no such workover would be complete without a quick diet, in this case 40kg having been shed by replacing the front and rear spoilers, rear bumper, diffuser and engine cover with items of composite, carbon-based construction. This might or might not be a good time to point out that not only is this quite a modest saving compared to the 90kg lost by the 458 Speciale and 100kg cleaved from the 675LT’s waistline, but that also the cheapest Huracán on sale, the LP580-2 is a mere 9kg heavier than the Performante because it does without four-wheel drive and costs £60,000 less.

UNRECONSTRUCTED

Of course up until very recently the Performante’s greatest claim to fame was to be the world’s fastest production car around the Nürburgring, its 6min 52sec blitzing by five clear seconds the time of Porsche’s 918 hypercar, though Porsche has now repaid the compliment with its new 911 GT2. Even so, as anyone who’s tried even to do an eight-minute Nürburgring lap in an extremely fast car will vouch, this was quite an exceptional performance from car and, lest we forget, driver. The question in search of an answer was how a car capable of putting in such a performance on a circuit might feel and behave on the public road.

It annoyed me at first. I hate the fact that Lamborghini is still happy to fob off its customers with last-generation Audi switchgear with little or no attempt to disguise it. I like the Top Gun instrument display very much, but it clashes with such state-of-the-ark ancillaries. I still don’t like the seats, I hate the steering wheel-mounted switches even more than I do those in a Ferrari, there’s little stowage space on board and the boot is too small. Minor considerations? Not if, unlike a motoring journalist, you have to live with such things for extended periods of time, not to mention spend your own money buying them.

Even so, when conditions are right, the Performante does have a certain knack for making all such considerations seem briefly but entirely irrelevant.

Of course it’s the engine you notice first, because it is so unreconstructed, so unlike any other out there these days. To me a V10 is at least as desirable as a V12 because, whatever it might lose in layers of symphonic harmony, it makes up in its interesting off-beat voice and naked aggression. And the Performante’s engine is unusually animalistic even by V10 standards, and especially if you are in ‘Sport’ or ‘Corsa’ driving mode. Yes it needs revs before it’ll do its thing but that’s no hardship: you want to rev this engine, again and again – up past 8000rpm as often as you can, because while the thrust may be repeated and exceeded elsewhere, that sound cannot. Make no mistake, for those who love to drive, this is a far more characterful engine than that fitted to any current V8 McLaren or Ferrari.

But after quite a short period of time, your focus shifts. Plenty queried the veracity of what was achieved when the Performante did that ’Ring lap, not least because the car was much slower in a straight line yet quicker over a lap than its big brother, the fully 100bhp more powerful Aventador S. Watching the in-car footage, how the Huracán found the time remained unclear to me, but where it found it was not: apex speed. That car was on Trofeo Rs and this one on standard Corsas, but I still wondered if was possible to get some sense of the effect that the reduced weight, stiffer springs and radically modified aero had on the car’s cornering ability. And it was.

I knew it not because I had instruments that could measure lateral acceleration, but because a standard Huracán feels slightly overpowered, so the chassis has its hands about as full as it would like dealing with about 600bhp. But despite the power hike, the Performante chassis has moved up to the balance point and perhaps a bit beyond. Grip levels are befuddling for a street car on a fairly gentle road/track hybrid tyre. I never found the understeer of the standard car as severe as some of my colleagues, but now it’s been reduced to being a vestigial and, frankly, welcome presence. Traction is absurd, the steering usefully sharpened and more full of feel than a Ferrari’s. All I didn’t much like were brakes that lacked feel.

Point to point, then, the Performante is stunning: the modifications to the engine and chassis have had a genuinely transformative effect and the result is a Lamborghini more for driving than being seen in. As such it provides the perfect riposte to those who say Lamborghinis are only for posing.

But that’s not to say it’s perfect or close to it: in addition to my reservations about the seats and interior, the ride is a little lumpy and noise levels at a steady cruise higher than I’d like. No question there is a price to be paid for raising its game across the dynamic board, and it’s not just the £34,000 added to the list price of the standard Huracán.

I think it’s worth it. It’s not a 675LT for sure, but it forces fewer compromises upon you than did the 458 Speciale. And because the starting point was so much lower than those of McLaren or Ferrari, the impression left is far more of what has been gained than lost.

Even so, while I’d categorise the Performante as a good car, I can see a great one trying to get out. Keeping the powertrain but adopting the rear-drive chassis of the LP580-2 would not only shed dozens more kilogrammes but allow softer front suspension, even better balance and an improved ride. It might not lap the Nürburgring quite so quickly, but when you were having so much fun, you’d probably neither notice, nor care.

FACTFILE

Lamborghini Huracán Performante

Price £215,000 Engine 5.2 litres, 10 cylinders Power [email protected] Torque 442lb [email protected] Weight 1382kg Power to weight 457bhp per tonne Transmission seven-speed paddle shift, four-wheel drive 0-60mph 2.9sec Top speed 202mphEconomy 20.6mpg CO2 314g/km