It took one full-throttle upshift into 4th gear while tracking away from an apex to remind us that the 2012 Lamborghini Aventador LP700-4 is a monster. The gear slams home with such authority that the ass end instantly jerks sideways a couple of feet before the Aventador can scramble the appropriate countermeasures to prevent its V12's avalanche of power from having its way with the car's carbon-fiber chassis, huge tires and the surrounding countryside.
With the Aventador, Lamborghini has an all-new range-topping supercar to replace its aging Murcielago. It's big, outlandish and powerful. In other words, it's a typical Italian supercar.
There's a new wrinkle here, though — the Aventador is a pussycat. A 690-horsepower pussycat that will tear to 62 mph (100 km/h) in 2.9 seconds, reach 124 mph (200 km/h) 6 seconds later and rip off 10.5-second quarter-miles.
An All-New 12-Cylinder Engine Italian supercars and V12s go together like grappa and food comas, so naturally the Aventador (say ah-vent-ah-DOR) mounts a hand-built, normally aspirated bent-12 longitudinally between the rear wheels and the cabin. That's where the Aventador get its LP (Longitudinale Posteriore) designation.
Known internally as L539, it's a clean-sheet power unit that shares nothing with the outgoing power plant beyond its 6.5-liter displacement. Variable phasing of the intake and exhaust cams facilitates a compression ratio of 11.8:1, quite high for an engine that doesn't use direct injection (DI). Engineers say DI was ruled out due to upcoming European regulations for particulate emissions, which would have required a particulate filter and an associated penalty in exhaust backpressure. Besides, the performance targets were met without DI, so why bother?
L539 is a deceptively conventional engine elsewhere, too, with forged steel connecting rods instead of the titanium that's all the rage and steel sleeves in lieu of whatever unicorn tears are sprayed onto the cylinder walls of other modern engines. However, it's hard to argue with the results.
Its numbers are staggering — peak power of 690 hp is reached at 8,250 rpm and its maximum 509 pound-feet of torque arrives at 5,500 rpm. Dry-sumped, short-stroke 12-cylinder layouts lend themselves to high revs and breathing — 48 valves provide an enormous valve curtain area, and each piston and rod can be relatively puny, reducing reciprocating forces in the bottom end.
Despite its absurd power, the engine is said to weigh just 518 pounds and stands nearly 3 inches lower than the old V12 to keep the center of gravity in check.
Sharp and tractable at low revs, yet devastatingly powerful, it's a gem of an engine. The combination of its flat, broad torque curve and terrific reach results in velocity that piles on deceptively quickly. The lazy sound of the engine, too, is tricky. Three-thousand rpm sounds like idle, and the 8,500-rpm redline — which comes up in a hurry — is devoid of aural urgency: a tenor wail with a dash of flat-6 drone. As a result you find yourself traveling much faster than you expect when it comes time to visit the carbon-ceramic brake department, which, fortunately, offers ample fade resistance.
New Seven-Speed Gearbox and AWD System Appropriately, the new engine is mated to a new transmission and all-wheel-drive system. The transaxle houses a new single-clutch seven-speed automated manual gearbox and a Haldex IV clutch pack that replaces the viscous coupling center differential of the Murcielago.
At 154 pounds, the 2012 Lamborghini Aventador's single-clutch gearbox — called ISR or Independent Shifting Rod — is said to be lighter than a twin-clutch unit while offering gearchange speeds as quick as 50 milliseconds. The upshot is that ISR can simultaneously disengage one gear while engaging the next, shaving precious time. The smaller Gallardo's e-gear transmission takes more than twice as long between shifts (120 ms).
The Haldex unit manipulates clutch pressure in order to actively adjust how much torque is sent to the front differential, which is of the brake-locking variety. Sprouting from the passenger side of the transaxle is a power takeoff that drives a mechanical rear limited-slip differential.
Carbon-Fiber Bones The Aventador's carbon-fiber-intensive construction is far more sophisticated than the outgoing car's welded-steel chassis, and signals the path of Lamborghini's future.
Produced in Lamborghini's Sant'Agata factory, the car starts life as huge spools of carbon-fiber cloth in a temperature-controlled room. The cloth is cut into pieces by a CNC-guided ultrasonic knife and then hand-laid into carbon-fiber molds before being sent to really expensive ovens known as autoclaves for curing. All this forms the basis of the Aventador's tub and roof sections.
Other pieces are molded into place until the two halves of this clamshell are fused together, forming a single rigid central monocoque to which aluminum subframes are bolted front and rear.
The carbon-fiber monocoque imparts tremendously high rigidity to the chassis while slicing weight. The car's torsional stiffness as measured between the axles is 25,800 lb-ft per degree of twist, some 150 percent higher than the Murcielago. At 506 pounds together with subframes, the entire body in white is 30 percent lighter than the outgoing car.
On the curb, the Aventador's 3,472 pounds means it isn't quite a flyweight, but at least it bucks the usual trend of model bloat. And the masses are centrally located, so when you point the Aventador toward an apex it turns in right now, like a shark missile-locking onto a meal.
Taming the Beast All of this newfound powertrain sophistication is intended to exploit the 2012 Lamborghini Aventador's ridiculous power in a controlled fashion. Three driving modes — Strada, Sport and Corsa — govern just how stupid you can be, progressively loosening the leash of allowable slip angle, reducing understeer and adding heft to the steering. Likewise, gearchange firmness varies from gentle in Strada to the where's-the-ibuprofen brutality of Corsa.
On the Vallelunga race circuit situated just outside of Rome, we stretched the Aventador's legs. Lamborghini forbade anyone from driving with the stability control switched fully off, a hedge against the expensive consequences of handing a 700-hp car to overconfident, jet-lagged journalists.
The steering is linear and weighted well, if a shade mute as if a consequence of the wizardry that's keeping this car on the straight and narrow. Exploring the Aventador's limits is a cinch, and the very wide car seems to shrink at speed, feeling sharper the faster you go. This is a beast with manners. Pour on the power at corner exit and the Aventador digs in and pins you into the seat, absolutely clawing itself out in a way that would be impossible with just two driven wheels.
Even in Corsa mode, the Aventador is foolproof. Though this mode does permit a degree or two of power oversteer, the car remains forgiving and approachable even at full whack. Its handling balance is nose-led at low speed and you can feel the brake differential and all-wheel-drive system subtly working to maintain the car's composure when you enter a turn at speed. In this regard it makes lesser drivers look like heroes, though skilled users will be looking for the "ESP Off" button for a more absorbing drive.
Damper force of the bell-crank-actuated Ohlins shocks is fixed. Apparently Lamborghini reckons there's just one level of damping required — the correct one. We didn't drive the Aventador on the street, but it absorbs the lumpy FIA curbing without flinching, yet stays flat in corners, so that bodes well. Also, the Aventadors we drove were all equipped with Pirelli P Zero Corsa tires, sticky street-legal R-compound jobs that will be offered as an option. Don't expect to get a lot of life out of them.
A Feast for the Eyes The Aventador is unmistakably a Lamborghini. Its scissor doors, the massively imposing rear end and the single plane formed by the hood and windshield all point to a supercar descended from the Countach.
Brutal rather than beautiful, it nevertheless has some organic flourishes like a roof line that makes it look like a reptile emerging from a pile of jagged boulders. Two panels on either side of the engine bay pivot open at speed like the exoskeleton of a beetle, feeding air to the transmission and oil coolers. When this happens as the rear wing rises from the bodywork, the Aventador looks eerily alive.
Its cabin looks contemporary and is usefully roomy, sporting an impossibly deep cowl and minimal brightwork. Headroom is decent, though the top of the windshield is a bit low for tall drivers, who will also learn to duck lower as they swivel into the cabin to avoid a lump on the head.
An easy downward tug of the handle and the door swings shut with a whump. A manual release lets you bring the steering wheel right to your chest if you like (and we do). The seats are supportive without relying on overly intrusive bolsters. In fact, they work so well that we didn't even think about them as we blasted around the Vallelunga circuit, which tells you all you need to know.
All the bodywork's hexagons and trapezoidal elements are reprised inside, all the way down to the buttons on the center stack and the paneling of the seat cushions. It's a bit much, especially the silly swing-up cover over the engine start button, which is also hexagonal. Then again, supercars are all about theatre and occasion, and the Aventador delivers.
One neat feature is the switchable LCD display in the instrument cluster. Hold down the button on the wiper stalk for 3 seconds to switch from a giant tachometer and digital speed display to the opposite: a pie-size speedometer and numerical tach.
Still a Supercar The 2012 Lamborghini Aventador is truly a user-friendly supercar, which some might consider an oxymoron. As long as you make sure the steering wheel is more or less pointed straight when you command an upshift, the Aventador is docile and its vast performance easily accessible. Perhaps a bit too easy, as you can give it a thrashing, reach insane speeds and then spring out of the cockpit as fresh as ever. This, then, is a new-school supercar.
Accessible performance, however, is one thing. Actually getting your hands on one is quite another. The Aventador will sticker for $393,695 including destination and gas guzzler tax when it reaches U.S. shores in late summer. But even money can't buy you time, as the first 18 months of Aventador production are already spoken for.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored press event to facilitate this report.