Dappled sunlight flashed in my eyes, as I rolled on the throttle. Through the open windows, the yowl of a furious, Italian V12 echoed back into ears off the massive evergreens. Stunning scenery ripped past my periphery, as if someone had put the earth on fast-forward.
Lightly gripping the steering wheel, my right foot played a delicate dance between throttle and brake, as the car tore through the northern California hills.
In a place like this, most people would find themselves compelled to pull over every half mile to admire the breaks in the thick forest to admire the golden valleys below. Not me, though. No, I was far more entranced by the machine that surrounded me to give any natural splendor a second glance.
For everyone, there are days that will last with them for a lifetime. For some, it’s their first day of school, first kiss, wedding day, or birth of their first child. For me, the day that will live on high in my memory was just last week. It was the day I drove the Lamborghini Aventador.
Getting lost in an unfamiliar land can be a nerve-wracking and harrowing experience. Getting lost, however, behind the wheel of a $400,000 Lamborghini is entirely the opposite; it’s a gift.
Getting lost behind the wheel of a $400,000 Lamborghini is a gift.
This is exactly where I found myself late last week, tearing through the hills of northern California in a bright orange Aventador.
When I arrived SFO, a car I would come to lovingly refer to as “Giuseppe” greeted me curbside. As I signed the paperwork and did my walk-around of the car, a small crowd gathered. The onlookers snapped pictures and wondered out loud to one another who I was. Before I could give them a chance to realize I was in fact a nobody, I dropped behind the wheel, pulled down the door and took off.
Google Maps estimated the drive time between SFO and my hotel in Monterey at around two-and-a-half hours. With around 10 hours to kill behind the wheel of the big-bodied Lamborghini, I decided to head southeast and get lost. And get lost I did.
After some meandering, I found myself on a road called Skyline Boulevard, Highway 35. This fairly traffic-free bit of tarmac starts 25 minutes or so southeast of SFO. It’s a brilliant road, especially for the Aventador. But we’ll get to that in a minute.
Before we talk about driving the Aventador, perhaps we should have a refresher on the bits that compose the car.
Your car’s chassis is basically a big, heavy steel tub. The Aventador is constructed from a carbon-fiber monocoque chassis, which means in non-technical terms that the body of the car is one, large carbon-fiber cocoon flanked on both ends by aluminum sub frames.
Mounted right behind that carbon cocoon is a 6.5-liter V12 that produces 700 horsepower and 509 pound-feet of torque. That momentous power is routed through a seven-speed Independent Shift Rod (ISR) gearbox, which sends power to all four wheels through an all-wheel drive system with variable torque split.
The Aventador’s wheels — 19-inch in the front and 20-inch in the rear — are backed by carbon-ceramic brakes. Pushing those wheels firmly to the floor is a Formula 1-inspired pushrod suspension — the best suspension money and science can come up with.
The animals that represent the two most infamous Italian supercar brands, Ferrari and Lamborghini, couldn’t be more apt. Where the Ferrari is like a light, handsome horse capable of great majestic speed, the Lamborghini is all bull. It’s brash and beautiful and rough and muscular.
That said; there’s nothing truly scary about driving the Aventador. Every bit of the car is sharp, from the satanically inspired bodywork to the steering to the vicious V12.
The steering ratio is quick but not so quick that a driver has to worry that a microscopic input might send him off into the trees.
To fire the Aventador, the driver must first flip a red button cover, like one might before launching a nuclear missile. The missile, I should mention, likely sounds less fearsome than the Lamborghini.
The 700-hp V12 comes to life in a loud, menacing growl. It sounded like what I imagine the sounds Gigantosaurus, T-Rex’s larger cousin, might have made after a kill: cold-blooded and primal.
For a supercar constructed from a lightweight carbon-fiber monocoque chassis, the heft of the Aventador makes itself known on the open road. Remember, this Italian wedge of carbon is just shy of 80 inches wide, which is wider than a Ford F-150.
It doesn’t feel heavy per se, but it doesn’t feel light either. The Aventador, unlike some of its supercar competitors, is happiest not on a technical road with lots of sharp twists, but rather at high-speed rolling hills and corners.
In its environment, the Aventador offers a completely distinct driving experience. I thought the 558-hp Ferrari 458 Spider was quick on its feet. The Lambo, though, is another beast, conquering 0 to 60 in 2.9 seconds. If the driver keeps his foot planted, the Aventador will hit a top speed of 217 mph. That’s not just quick by supercar standards; it’s quick by NASA standards.
Come into a corner in Sport mode and the seven-speed transmission will downshift in eager anticipation, giving off a bark and burble from the exhaust. The downshift slows the car slightly and leaves the engine in an ideal rev range to pull through the bend.
Lift off the throttle, though, and the trajectory of the car in the curve changes, as the torque of the all-wheel drive system affects how the front wheels behave. A driver must be conscious of the throttle position at all times otherwise the bucking bull can get out of control quickly.
Luckily, the brakes are some of the best I’ve ever felt – even in the supercar realm. A quick touch of the brake pedal quickly calmed whatever predicament I found myself in from behind the wheel of the big Lambo.
My favorite part of the Aventador, however, save the exterior styling, was the heavy steering. The ratio is quick but not so quick that a driver has to worry that a wayward flinch might send him off into the trees. Couple that with an outstanding turning radius and the Aventador is high-speed handling virtuoso.
Behind the wheel of the Aventador, the driver has the choice of three drive modes: Strada, Sport, or Corsa.
Strada is the tamest of the three settings. Of course, I mean that in relative terms. In Strada, the exhaust baffles only open at high rpm, the transmission shifts earlier and more smoothly, and the power is sent 30 percent to the front and 70 percent to the rear. This is the mode best suited for daily driving.
Sport is more aggressive than Strada. The exhaust baffles open even earlier for a full, throaty V12 howl even at lower rpm. The throttle responds more quickly. And the power is now routed 10 percent front and 90 percent rear.
Then we have Corsa, which is not for the faint of heart. In Corsa, the gearbox shift commands come only from the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters and shift times between gears in Corsa are cut down to 50 milliseconds. The traction control is dialed back. And power split is routed to 20 front, 80 rear.
For those concerned not with full-throttle, heart-wrenching motoring, Lamborghini has you covered, too. The Aventador is fitted with cylinder deactivation.
In Strada mode, while cruising, one bank of the engine will shut down, turning the car into a slant-six-cylinder, which saves fuel and presumably polar bears as well. Ensuring the engine doesn’t wear unevenly, in cylinder deactivation mode, the management system will flop which cylinder bank it fires every two minutes.
At the center of the Aventador’s dash, which was inspired by a stealth-fighter, a nuclear silo, and Satan’s boudoir, is a 7.0-inch infotainment screen. It’s controlled with a series of buttons and a scroll knob much like Audi’s MMI system. This should be no surprise, however, as Lamborghini is owned by Audi.
Though it lacked Bluetooth audio streaming, pairing my phone with the system, activating the navigation, and setting personalized vehicle functions were a cinch. It even had a backup camera for tight maneuvering.
The piece of tech I liked best, however, was right in front of me: The instrument cluster. At the center is a large, circular digital tachometer with a mph reading highlighted in white, with the gear indicator just below it. A gas gauge in the top left surrounded this large tach unit. Beneath that sits the water-temp gauge. Across the other side are dual oil-temp and oil-pressure gauges.
Having spent 10 hours behind the wheel of the Aventador, I feel like I’ve been in a fight club. Not that I feel beat-up, but it’s as if the volume on the rest of my life has been turned down. Though, in retrospect, that could just be hearing damage.
In all seriousness, the Aventador is a spectacular vehicle, car, supercar … whatever you want to call it. After my several-hour aimless escapade through the California hills, I eventually hit stop-and-go traffic outside Santa Cruz. At highway speed or at a crawl, the Aventador was as comfortable and as quiet as a Mercedes-Benz SL, which I see as the pinnacle of the luxury sports car realm.
That said, the Aventador isn’t perfect. Occupants can’t see much out of the car in any direction but straight ahead. In stop-and-go traffic on hills, the driver mustn’t constantly creep up the hill, as he might in a normal car. Constant uphill creeping will wear out the clutch packs in the Aventador’s ISR transmission. Instead, the driver must pop the transmission into neutral and allow several car lengths to accumulate ahead of the Aventador before going. And getting in and out of the car, due to the distinctive doors, is anything but elegant.
Those niggling complaints aside, though, the Aventador impressed me hugely. I worried going into it that the big Italian supercar would be as vicious to drive as its exterior is to behold. But it’s not. No, it’s mad when the driver is feeling ornery. However, it’s also composed, calm, and comfortable when the driver is feeling a bit more mellow.
In retrospect, the thing I liked most about the Aventador was how it made me feel. In it, I felt like a world-conquering alpha male. Porsches are for precision. Ferraris are for lap times. Lamborghinis, though, they’re for lasciviousness.
- Satanically inspired exterior styling
- Vicious V12 acceleration
- Planted, all-wheel drive handling
- Compact but comfortable interior
- Limited outward visibility
- Awkward entry and egress