2019 Lamborghini Aventador SVJ first drive review

Lamborghini’s V12 flagship brings the shock and awe for SVJ duty

The SVJ sees Lamborghini pull out all the stops to create the most track-capable road car in the company’s history.
The SVJ sees Lamborghini pull out all the stops to create the most track-capable road car in the company’s history.
The SVJ sees Lamborghini pull out all the stops to create the most track-capable road car in the company’s history.

Highs

  • Incredible track performance
  • Howling V12 soundtrack
  • Jaw-dropping design
  • Cutting edge active aero technology

Lows

  • Single-clutch gearbox is ancient by today’s standards

“Power-to-weight ratio, aerodynamics, and handling – these represent the most important pillars of a super sportscar,” said Maurizio Reggiani, chief technical officer for Lamborghini, as he explained how the latest Aventador earned the legendary SVJ moniker that dates back to a track-focused Miura variant from the early 1970s. “You must be the best in each of these fields if you wish to have something that is truly exceptional.”

With the Aventador Superveloce Jota, Lamborghini does have something truly exceptional. For the past few years, the company’s V12 standard-bearer has had to play second fiddle to its younger brother, watching from the sidelines as the Huracán Performante became the production car lap record holder at the Nurburgring last year, a track which has become the standard measure of a sports car’s worth in recent years.

Smaller, lighter, and outfitted with more sophisticated performance tech, the Performante boasts capability that made the Aventador almost seem like a quaint grand tourer by comparison. But after Porsche rained on the Italian automaker’s parade by besting the Performante’s Nurburgring time earlier this year, the SVJ made its presence known to the world by smashing the 911’s record to reclaim the top spot.

Limited to just 900 examples worldwide, the Aventador SVJ’s $517,770 base price may seem as hair-raising as its visual presence. But world-class performance rarely comes cheap, and compared to McLaren’s recently introduced million-dollar Senna, the SVJ seems like a relative bargain.

It’s a curious coincidence that both manufactures chose the Estoril circuit in Libson, Portugal, as the venue to showcase their latest super sportscars: a 2.6-mile, 13-turn race course that played host to Formula One event during the glory days of the series in the 1980s and 1990s.

A Technical Powerhouse

Transforming the Aventador from a supercar that was formerly more noteworthy for turning heads than for turning corners was no small task. We got our first taste of what the V12 machine was truly capable of a few years ago with the limited-production Aventador SV, which gave the big bull an earnestly track-tuned chassis and enough go-fast firepower to keep pace with the latest and greatest.

World-class performance is rarely cheap – next to the million-dollar McLaren Senna, the SVJ is a bargain.

Where to go from there? To improve the car’s power-to-weight ratio, the development team started with the Aventador’s 6.5-liter V12 power plant. Output now stands at 759 horsepower and 531 pound-feet of torque (up 69 hp and 22 lb-ft versus the original Aventador) thanks to redesigned intake runners, new titanium valves, cylinder head porting, and a few other hot-rodding tweaks.

The SVJ also brings the ALA active aero system to the Aventador for the first time. Introduced with the Performante, the system – which gets an ALA 2.0 designation in the SVJ – takes the concept of active aerodynamics a step further than the norm. Utilizing motor-actuated flaps at the front and rear of the car to strategically direct airflow over the wild-yet-functional aerodynamic elements of the SVJ, the system is designed to improve downforce on the side of the car that needs it most while negotiating a particular corner (known as aero vectoring), or drag during high-speed blasts for greater top speeds as needed.

2019 Lamborghini Aventador SVJ first drive
Bradley Iger/Digital Trends

Like the Aventador S, the SVJ also gets a trick four-wheel steering system that turns the rear wheels in the opposite direction of the front wheels at lower speeds for improved agility and responsiveness, while at higher speeds the front and rear wheels all move in the same direction to bolster stability.

Inside the cabin the SVJ isn’t shy about its intent. Fixed-back racing seats swathed in alcantara are on hand to keep occupants in place during high-G lateral maneuvers, and carbon fiber is scattered throughout to help the Aventador maintain a healthy 3,615-pound curb weight that’s identical to the SV despite the additional hardware required by the four wheel steering and aerodynamic systems.

Three standard drive modes are available – Strada, Sport, and Corsa – which adjust stability control, powertrain behavior, steering response, and suspension stiffness to help tailor the car’s character for different situations. A fourth mode, called Ego, is also on hand as a customizable preset to allow the driver to mix and match the various parameters to their liking.

Driving experience

Up front we were told we’d get three four-lap sessions in the car, so you better believe we were going to make each one of them count. After firing up the naturally aspirated V12 – which sounds fantastic though its new, SVJ-exclusive exhaust system – we switched over to the corsa drive mode, which yields the sharpest steering response, stiffest suspension damper settings, a manually-controlled transmission via the paddle shifters, and significantly reduced intervention from the traction and stability control systems.

Yank the paddle on the right and the recoil of a shotgun blast greets you as the gearbox delivers a brutal upshift.

By the second lap, it was clear why Lamborghini chose this venue. It truly showcases the breadth of the SVJ’s capability. Fast sweepers, technical hairpins, and high-speed kinks that put the aero vectoring capability to good use were all on-hand here, as well as a massive front straight that provided us enough runway to reach about 175 mph before stomping on the massive carbon ceramic brakes to set up for the first turn.

As fate would have it, Estoril was completely repaved just two weeks before the SVJ event, and while you might expect the new surface to provide maximum grip, the virgin asphalt is actually less sticky than tarmac with a healthy coating of rubber is, much to the chagrin of Lamborghini’s event organizers.

But no one was out there trying to set a fast lap time – we were there to explore the limits and emotive depths of this unchained Italian brute, and the fresh pavement just made the car that much livelier despite the all-wheel drive system’s desire to keep things on the straight and narrow. With the tires clearly signaling the limits as we approached them, it quickly became easy to modulate rotation or dial back mid-corner understeer with the throttle as needed, and wailing of much rubber only added to the aural assault that would normally be dominated by the V12 mounted directly behind our ears.

2019 Lamborghini Aventador SVJ first drive
Bradley Iger/Digital Trends

There are a few classic quirks that the Aventador hasn’t managed to shrug off, though. Under hard braking from high speeds there is a slightly unsettling feeling that the back end wants to dance on its own, as if all that mass back there – now unloaded – is looking for a place to go. It never equated to much more than an eyebrow raise at speed, but it is characteristic worth pondering.

Then there’s the gearbox which, at this point, feels two generations behind the latest dual-clutch units you’ll find in cars like the 911 as well as Lamborghin’s own Huracán. Reggiani argued that weight, packaging considerations, and tech availability at the time of the original Aventador’s development were all factors in the decision to go with this single-clutch seven-speed unit. While that’s undoubtedly true, and it is indeed better in SVJ than it has ever been before, it doesn’t change the fact that the transmission is an objective weak point for the Aventador SVJ.

At wide-open throttle near redline its lack of refinement actually adds to the fun: yank the paddle on the right and the recoil of a shotgun blast greets you as the gearbox delivers a vicious upshift and those twelve cylinders howl. Here it’s in its element, and that old-school, bolt-action brutality is actually endearing. But deviate from those circumstances and you’ll often be greeted with a very noticeable gap in power delivery between gear changes that feels like the car is punishing you for going off-script.

How DT would configure this car

Considering production is limited to just 900 units, it’s understandable that the Aventador SVJ doesn’t necessitate a particularly massive options sheet. However, the optional telemetry system and super-sticky Pirelli Trofeo R rubber seem like must-haves for any serious track rat.

Lamborghini also points out that the interior specifications for the Aventador SVJ are “virtually limitless” through its Ad Personam customization program. Just make sure you keep those exposed carbon fiber door cards – they look awesome.

Conclusion

During the debrief after our track session in the car, the conversation naturally turned to the future of Lamborghini’s flagship. Would the company finally bend to the trends of the industry, perhaps moving to smaller displacement engines supplemented by forced induction? “It will be a naturally aspirated V12 for as long as possible – I will fight it to the end!” Reggiani declared.

The room instantly broke into roaring applause.

“A sports car is not the sum of many different statistics,” Reggiani said. “It’s the final result that you generate with those numbers. For us and everybody else, the final result is that [Nurburgring] lap time. And the best time currently possible is coming from a naturally aspirated V12 with all this aerodynamic and chassis control.”

While the Aventador’s platform is starting to show its age, Lamborghini has really performed some magic with the SVJ. In an era of muted turbocharging and rising civility in the realm of supercars, the Aventador SVJ is an outlier in the best possible way. The fact that it’s also the most track capable road-going production car in history only adds to its rebellious charm – as well as Lamborghini’s legacy.

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