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Published: 02/05/2013 - by Paul Bailey, Contributor
Open-top supercars are guaranteed to divide opinion. On one side of the fence you've got the driving-glove crew who would never have anything that adds weight and reduces stiffness.
On the other side of the fence are those who would happily pay those penalties in return for the heightened sensations that come along with an open-top car: the noise, the smells, the view and, of course, the pose factor.
But with a car like the 2013 Lamborghini Aventador Roadster, it's clear that the hard-core coupe lovers are fighting a losing battle. This roadster's drawbacks have been reduced to such a trivial level that even the most anti-convertible zealot will have to concede that the argument has become one of mere taste, not substance.
A Modern Removable Top
The old Murcielago Roadster was fine for the sun-kissed climes of Miami, where its Aventador replacement was launched. But the Murcielago's ridiculously fiddly top, a jumble of tubes and canvas that had to be erected like a tent, was for emergency use only. Putting it up took so long that by the time you'd finished, the rain would have passed. And, with the top in place, the recommended top speed was just 100 mph, less than half of its top-down maximum.
The 2013 Lamborghini Aventador Roadster makes its predecessor feel as sophisticated as a Jeep Wrangler thanks to a two-piece roof that actually improves torsional rigidity by around 10 percent when in place. Clearly it's not made from canvas. In fact, it comprises a frame constructed of forged composite, the material used in the limited-run Sesto Elemento chassis, sandwiched by two layers of RTM composite.
Dropping the top isn't as easy as in the fully automated Ferrari or McLaren convertibles. It's still a manual affair, but no real chore. Tilt the seats forward, undo the two latches at the rear firewall, and you can withdraw each panel in turn, storing them in their dedicated slots in the nose-mounted trunk. With practice, the whole process takes just a few minutes.
Behind the Wheel
Our first opportunity to drive the roadster was at Florida's Homestead speedway on a layout that took in a section of banking as well as the infield course. We didn't have to get farther than the second corner before it became apparent that the Aventador suffers little from its lack of a fixed roof.
In fairness, we had to drive with the roof in place, but the carbon chassis felt tight and the steering precision even better than in the coupe we drove on track at the Rome launch two years ago. R&D boss Maurizio Reggiani puts that precision down to a new recipe of Pirelli Corsa tires, the road-legal optional rubber designed mainly for track use. The roadster comes standard with 20-inch front and 21-inch rear wheels, the latter wrapped in outrageous 335/30ZR21 tires. Coupe buyers can have those wheels as an option, but otherwise stick with 19s and 20s.
As with the coupe, the Aventador Roadster offers three driving modes: Strada, Sport and Corsa. Strada is for freeways and on those few occasions when you want to lie low, or as low as you can in a 217-mph, $445,300 supercar. The exhaust is muted and the gearshift slowed and softened, and because the transmission is a single-, not double-clutch unit, you still get that nodding-dog sensation that's helped with a lift on upshifts. There is an auto mode, but taking control yourself is the route to maximum smoothness.
Sport is your fun mode. The front/rear torque split switches from 30/70 to 10/90, the ESP loosens its tie and the shifts gets quicker, but can still feel slightly ponderous. At the limit, a place you'll never get to on the road, the Aventador still understeers when pushed hard. Get through that safety net, presuming you've switched off the slightly overzealous ESP, and you might coax a wiggle on the exit, maybe even a slide if you're really trying. But this isn't a car that can be drifted around like a 458, at least not without a lot of room and skill. For all its carbon technology, it still feels like a big, heavy car, and one that could quite easily get away from you if you're not absolutely certain you know what you're doing.
The quickest way round the circuit — and the quickest way to draw a crowd on the street — comes with Corsa mode, which splits torque 20/80. Showoffs will like impressing their friends with the huge exhaust noise and a gearshift so fierce it's like getting zapped by a taser, but the novelty quickly wears off. A setting that split the difference between Sport and Corsa would be ideal.
More Than Just a New Roof
The matte black roof panels aren't the only giveaway that this is a different beast compared to the regular Aventador. The front pillars are gloss black and Lamborghini's designer Filippo Perini has reworked the rear body design, creating an even more jaw-dropping shape than the coupe.
Gone are the horizontal slats placed between the two rear buttresses, replaced by a flat deck lid designed to look like armor. It features two windows, letting passers-by gawk at the 6.5-liter V12.
The engine itself is essentially unchanged, delivering 690 horsepower and 509 pound-feet of torque to both front and rear wheels via a seven-speed automated single-clutch gearbox. The 217-mph top speed matches the coupe's, but the roadster's 110 pounds of extra mass adds an inconsequential 0.1 second to the 2.9 seconds it takes the hardtop to sprint from zero to 62 mph.
Where the roadster scores massively, though, is engine noise. As with the 2012 Ferrari 458 Spider, you can drop the small glass window behind your head at a touch of a button. And once you've heard the V12's unfiltered roar, driving with the window up feels like cruising in a Nissan Leaf.
In common with 2013 coupes, the roadster has stop-start functionality and the ability to shut down an entire bank of cylinders almost imperceptibly, with an eye on saving fuel. Reggiani reckons that the mods are worth a 25 percent savings in real-world driving.
After the track session we had the chance to drive the LP700-4 (Lambo's official designation) Roadster on the road — and on more road-friendly Pirelli P Zero tires. Lamborghini claims to have softened the suspension fractionally on both coupe and roadster in response to earlier criticism, but the ride remains as unyielding as a brick wall on its passive shock absorbers.
Lamborghini is very proud of its race-style pushrod suspension, which it claims brings massive benefits in terms of unsprung mass and tighter control of geometry. But Ferrari's adaptive damping delivers a more discernible real-world benefit.
Is the Aventador Roadster Really a Value?
Compared with other senior-league open-air supercars like the Koenigsegg Agera R and Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport, whose prices run into the millions of dollars, the 2013 Lamborghini Aventador Roadster looks like a great value, as absurd as that statement may sound.
And presuming the eye-watering $65K-plus premium over the coupe isn't an issue, which at this level, it probably isn't, you'd be mad not to go for the roadster. Even if you never removed the roof panels, one run through the gears with that rear window dropped will convince you of the roadster's superiority.
If there's a "but" here, it's Ferrari's incredible 458 Spider. It might lack the Lamborghini's sense of occasion, but it offers a fully automatic folding top, costs two-thirds as much and is more engaging to drive. Oh to be lying awake at night agonizing over that decision.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.
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