Lamborghini’s flagship supercars have long been pegged as the hyperaggressive masculine id of the Italian motoring psyche, and a new one does not come about often. Only five true V12-powered halo cars, as companies call their top-status models, have rolled out of the factory at Sant’Agata Bolognese during Lamborghini’s tumultuous 49-year history, and the latest—the stomping, muscular Aventador—is nothing short of a masterpiece.
Soon after the Aventador stunned the 2011 Geneva Motor Show, I had the chance to talk with Lamborghini president and CEO Stephan Winkelmann at the Quail Motorsports Gathering in Pebble Beach, California. Looking every bit the dashing Italian supercar executive in a dark, slim suit and a chunky chronometer, Winkelmann passionately described the "emotional" soul of the high-tech machinery, Lamborghini’s drive to be "always revolutionary," and how the Aventador marked both a reestablishment of supercar leadership and a two-generation leap forward for the brand.
Such claims are expected when an automaker rolls out a new model, but in the case of the $393,695 Aventador, they happen to be every bit true. They might even be an understatement. The car is an engineering marvel, an unabashedly carnal execution of speed and blissful vehicular excess. It delivers on every promise of the Lamborghini name—speed, aggression, more speed—while hinting at a new direction for the fabled badge.
But first things first—the go-fast part. The specs are blistering: a top speed of 217 mph and a 0–62 mph sprint time of just 2.9 seconds—that sub-3-second acceleration number putting the Aventador in the company of only the most rarefied supercars, including the Hennessey Venom GT, the Koenigsegg Agera R, and the Saleen S7 Twin Turbo. The Aventador’s 6.5-liter, 700-horsepower V12 engine is, like the car itself, an all-new build from the House of the Raging Bull. In fact, it’s Lamborghini’s first new V12 in almost half a century. Key to keeping weight down—and, therefore, acceleration and speed up—is the ultralight carbon fiber shell, codeveloped with Boeing Aerospace, weighing in at a mere 324.5 pounds. The extreme rigidity of the carbon fiber translates to precision steering and hypersensitive feedback and wheel control—in other words, the best-handling Lamborghini yet.
The look of the Aventador, too, is indicative of an extremely focused effort. Of its flagship predecessors, only the instant-classic Miura was truly beautiful; the Countach, Diablo, and Murciélago all demanded attention—were even iconic in some cases—but lovely they were not. And while the jet fighter–inspired Aventador may be too muscular, too intimidating, to be called beautiful, its proportions are simply brilliant: It exudes elegant menace from nearly every angle. Inside—never a strong suit for Lamborghini—drivers will find more civilized materials, a newly convenient center-stack console (the red ignition-button cover, which is flipped up, as if primed to fire a missile, to access the engine-start button, is an especially nice touch), and seats that seem designed to be merely uncomfortable, rather than outright crippling, which is the norm for ultrahigh-performance machines. There’s even a front suspension jack that will raise the car’s nose 1.6 inches should something as pedestrian as a speed bump dare cross the Aventador’s path.
These small concessions to driver comfort and the realities of modern supercar ownership are telling, and deserve celebration. Lamborghinis are purpose-built machines, after all, with the objective not to coddle the driver on his way to the golf course but to hurtle him at spine-tingling speeds mere inches from the pavement. Still, while the vehicle brings massive horsepower and a thrilling top speed, it’s hardly the most powerful, or the fastest. Lamborghini, which once saw both its Miura and Diablo each claim the title of world’s fastest production car, has for now bowed out of the current hyper-car horsepower war that has seen machines like the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport and SSC Ultimate Aero TT deliver well over 1,000 hp and top speeds blowing past 250 mph. Indeed, Winkelmann noted that the traditional Lamborghini priorities of top speed, acceleration, and handling have been flipped, for the first time ever emphasizing precision handling and screaming acceleration over brute velocity. Even so, Winkelmann later said, "the horsepower war isn’t completely over" before reiterating that "top speed is only one part of the equation" and that "total exhilaration and handling is what owners want to remember and love about owning a Lamborghini."
The jet fighter–inspired Aventador exudes elegant menace from nearly every angle.
What the Aventador represents—beyond a sublime, visceral expression of a modern supercar—is the possibility of a Lamborghini ascendance within the booming ultra-luxury segment. After years of skint budgets and revolving ownership, the Raging Bull is demonstrating the combination of peerless vehicle execution and long-term strategy that can come only from deep pockets and focused stewardship (something the Volkswagen Group/Audi, which bought the company in 1998, is known to bring). Lamborghini already has a high-volume hit with the V10-powered Gallardo; the company’s four-door Estoque concept was shown at the 2008 Paris Motor Show to great acclaim; and the second-ever Lamborghini SUV, now known as the Urus concept, which debuted in Beijing this spring, could be on dealer lots by 2017. And in March, a one-off, road-legal open-air version of the Aventador—the Aventador J—brought the 2012 Geneva Motor Show to its collective knees before being snapped up mere hours later by an anonymous buyer for a reported $2.8 million. In that light, and in true flagship form, the Aventador represents the very best of what Lamborghini delivers in the present, as well as what it promises for the future. Wherever it’s headed, one thing is certain: It will get there very, very fast.
Josh Condon is the editor of MSN Autos Exhaust Notes.