Collect a brand new Aventador S from Lamborghini in Italy and drive it back to the UK to join the press fleet. Those were our instructions. The resulting trip was suitably memorable, though not entirely for the right reasons…
ASULTRY THURSDAY AFTERNOON IN the south of France and, somewhere on a road snaking up the side of a mountain, the main event is toothache versus Aventador S. Willing 400mg of recently swallowed Ibuprofen to get a grip while 730 violently vocal horsepower chases the arc of a yellowing sun before it disappears behind the ragged skyline of the Col de Vence, it’s a throb-off. And, if it weren’t for the Aventador’s unremitting intensity on this insanely twisted and, frankly, too narrow ascent, I’m pretty sure my previously dormant wisdom tooth’s tectonic rumbling would be having the better of it.
I can’t help thinking there’s an entire Top Trumps Rolodex of cars more suited to having fun on this extraordinary road. A Lotus Elise Cup 250 with all the lightweight options would be an absolute riot. Hell, even an MX-5. The almost absurdly wide Aventador isn’t the sort of car to sharpen your blade up here, much less choreograph a dance between positive and corrective lock. Gobsmacking grip and go are its primary weapons, and forming a bond of trust with four-wheel steering that doesn’t quite communicate the precision and iron resolve of the front end is taking some time.
Why are we chasing the sun? Photographer and everready co-driver Stephen Hall knows a place on the far side of the summit where the horizon’s fade to burnt orange will bag the beauty shot barely a day into our otherwise reasonably unpressured delivery drive. And the reason our timing is so perilously close to the edge? I’ll come to that.
‘Delivery drive’ sounds a tad prosaic but, in essence, it’s what it is – a simple train, plane and automobile to-do list commencing with a brisk morning suitcase drag to Whitstable railway station, a more leisurely walk to the taxi rank at Bologna airport, an early doors appointment at Via Modena, 12, 40019 Sant’agata Bolognese BO next morning and, a thousand or so bug-smeared, superunleaded-glugging miles later, a finale in the dark just four paces from a Lambolit front door, the ground outside gently shaking, neighbours’ curtains furtively twitching.
But it doesn’t have to end there. Sticking to an extra scene in the script that I wrote myself, I’ll hang out with the life-sized Hot Wheels hero for a couple of days, bashfully ducking all the attention and gently declining offers from young people who want to come and live in my house and sit by the window. Above all, though, my task is to keep the pearly painted, circa-£350k with options, 217mph bolide from Bologna safe until a bloke comes to decant the widest tyres around into the back of a lorry and unite them with those on the rest of Lamborghini UK’S press fleet. Not any old car. An Aventador S. The fastest and finest Aventador you can actually buy this side of the hardcore SV. You’ve got to wonder what Ferris Bueller would do. Best-laid plans and all that…
Back in the south of France, the pulsing pain I can feel in my jaw is slowly easing but, despite the distracting, adrenalinepiqued action behind the wheel, the dimming light of the day is outrunning a fabulous, echoing, naturally aspirated V12 in extremis that surely can be heard for miles around. Stephen, who mentioned the pencilled-in location over breakfast, is perhaps wondering why I’m not driving faster, but we’ve covered barely 250 miles since leaving Sant’agata, and fallen shards of rock hiding in shadows have blown the breakneck schedules of too many exotically shod supercars into the middle of the following week. Besides, we’ve got
‘The fastest and finest Aventador you can actually buy this side of the hardcore SV’
two more goes at a sunset and I rather fancy a beer under the waxy, softly suffused street lights of the first alfresco bar we come to in charming Castellane, an old Route Napoléon evo Car of the Year haunt, and bed for the night.
Optimism sagging, it soon becomes obvious nature’s clock has defeated ours so I cool the pace and stand down the brutal, maximum-attack Corsa powertrain and chassis setting for the marginally more compliant and softer-voiced Sport mode. Searching for an alternative way to nab a few statics before pushing on to Castellane, we soon pull into a siding with a classic, 3D, pop-up book Col de Vence backdrop. Not what we were after, but it will have to do. Then, with just a hint of misty rain brushing our faces and Stephen slithering on his back in the middle of the road to drum up a little more drama in his Nikon’s viewfinder – as if the Aventador needed it – a rainbow slowly materialises in a perfect arc overhead and stays with us for ten minutes or so (see page 11). Not a sunset, then, but a colourful wrap all the same.
WE COULD HAVE MADE SUNDOWN ON THE COL with time to spare but for a tradition played out in the pages of car magazines over the generations. And it’s this. No epic drive in an Italian mid-engined V12 supercar collected from the factory of its manufacture ever starts on time. There is always, without fail, a last-minute drama – in this case, the unmistakeable smell of petrol after the early morning, prehandover test drive. On inspection, and rather helpfully, there’s a small puddle of the stuff under the car. By the time
we arrive as requested at 9am sharp, our knee-wobblingly gorgeous pearl-white Aventador S has been wheeled out of the dazzling sunlight for the leak to be hunted down and fixed with all haste while we get to drink coffee and eat buns in the remarkably spacious and rarely seen Lamborghini workers’ canteen. After that, relocated to the reception area with more coffee (but no buns) and given regular optimistic updates about when our car will be good to go, it’s a bit like one of those old black-and-white films where the passing of time is expressed as the hands of a wall clock smoothly rotating away the hours.
It would have been a treat to have had access to the inner sanctum when, perhaps to no one’s great surprise, they took the engine out. There can be few more inspiring sights than a Lambo V12 in the raw. In a way, it’s the engine that encapsulates the history of the marque, recalling a bloodline that reaches all the way back to the early ’60s and the extraordinary quad-cam 3.5-litre powerplant designed as a quasi-race unit by ex-ferrari engineering wizard Giotto Bizzarrini. A clenched fist of an engine, taut with compression and explosive potential, it set the bar for everything that followed. By the time it appeared in the Miura in 1966 – sensationally slung sideways – it had grown to 4 litres and 350bhp. With twelve cylinders, four camshafts, six double-barrel carburettors and what must have seemed like a few miles of intestinal chains, it was an engine of some sonic significance. Emotionally, nothing much has changed. Statistically, it’s 52 years later.
To put that in perspective, 730bhp at 8400rpm from 6.5 litres and a 0-62mph time of 2.9sec means the Aventador S has more than twice the power and takes half the time to cover the benchmark sprint – pretty much pole position for naturally aspirated supercars and, with a top speed of 217mph, the potential to be an annoyingly persistent, fang-grilled presence in the rear-view mirrors of any hybrid hypercar is equally impressive. I think Ferruccio Lamborghini would have approved.
Waiting in reception, the third reading of the spec blurb is just as enticing, if somewhat more frustrating, than the first. As it points out, the significance of the ‘S’ is tied up with the new electronic four-wheel-steering system teaming up with the rear-biased four-wheel drive and sympathetically retuned electronic dampers, the bespoke Pirelli rubber, the advanced aero incorporating an active rear wing that generates 130 per cent more downforce than before and a new fourth setting for the dynamic drive programme called Ego that allows you to mix and match the steering, powertrain and chassis setups to personal taste, whatever your mood or the road. So, quite a lot going on, but to ensure all the systems mesh together and are reading from the same page, there’s one ‘central command’ ECU to harmonise all the inputs with the driver’s. A first for Lamborghini, says tech boss Maurizio Reggiani. For the time being, and having necked enough espressos to warrant a health warning, we’re all ears. And wired.
ALMOST THREE HOURS TO THE MINUTE AFTER our arrival at Lamborghini HQ, an immaculate Aventador S, no longer smelling of petrol and leaving puddles on the ground, its pearlescent paintwork glinting sexily in the swelling midday heat, is finally ours. Although the delay requires quite a reset for our day, the rolling ‘just another 20 minutes’ tradition is intact, adding a frisson of tension and urgency to what follows. Mostly tunnels.
After folding ourselves and the boot overspill of camera gear under the swing-up doors and into a cabin of considerable Top Gun charm and need-for-speed functionality – the switchable TFT displays are ace, the missile-fire protect cap over the starter button a little silly – it’s a bit disappointing to discover there’s zero stowage space, save for the narrow, leather-clad corridor behind the seats, quickly occupied by a couple of sturdy metal tripods. But with only minor physical contortions and personal chattels jammed into every available nook and cranny, we fire up (that starter motor shriek and instant both-barrels combustion always a moment to savour), roll forwards and turn right out of the factory gates. And then realise we should have turned left.
The Aventador feels every inch as wide as it is. It isn’t one of those cars that shrinks around you. Nor is it one you immediately feel in sync with. The extreme rake of the windscreen gives a letterbox aspect to the view ahead, rear visibility wouldn’t pass the Trades Descriptions Act and the slightly rough cut of a warming 6.5-litre V12 combined with the dozy, drawn-out and slightly shunty auto-mode shifts of the paddle-operated, single-clutch seven-speed transmission conspire to make everything feel the opposite of slick. Or perhaps it’s just the opposite of a Mclaren 720S, and deliberately so. No magic-carpet ride, no seamless,
‘The Aventador feels every inch as wide as it is. It isn’t one of those cars that shrinks around you’
lickety-split gearchanges, no easy-peasy. Old-school rough edges you have to finesse yourself are part of the big Lambo’s dynamic personality and just as evident trundling along in traffic as they are when a flat-throttle, peak-revs, Corsa- calibrated second-to-third shift threatens whiplash.
Yet warmed, settled and with the leash loosened, it all comes together like a gathering storm, and on the autostrada heading for Genoa and the French border I can’t really think of a car I’d rather be in. It isn’t just the sinuous course of the road through the ceaseless, mountain-traversing tunnels but also the way the Aventador effortlessly bosses this highvelocity environment, which can sometimes seem like a German-sponsored cage fight between Mercedes Sprinter vans, VW Passats and, perhaps most alarmingly of all, Audi A6s travelling so rapidly they might as well have a brick lashed to the accelerator pedal.
The Aventador S moves through the mayhem like Moses parting the Red Sea and without having to try much at all, shrugging off smartphone paparazzi with a sonorous bellow, flowing through successive sweeps at a lick even the most adventurous Audi pilots won’t attempt, blasting cobwebs out of the tunnels with the kind of sonic warfare only a high-revving, naturally aspirated V12 can deliver. Mile after glorious mile. Which makes me a little worried when, at the toll area that hands over from Italy to France, a policeman points at the Aventador and gestures it to join his colleagues off to the right, some of whom are holding machine guns. Papers, of course. Chin stroking, naturally. Questions, inevitably. Now, guys, stand in front of the car and have your picture taken.
Later that night, as we sup beer in Castellane, we count that as a win to balance against the handicap of our threehour delay in Sant ’Agata. But there’s still much to do, miles to drive, photos to take and one road in particular, the D996, that should give the Lambo a proper shakedown – especially the part between Saussy and Saint-broing-les-Moines, which, come to think of it, is most of it. We mark it down as our key Friday waypoint destination and reward for the slow bits around Grenoble and Lyon.
CASTELLANE IN THE MORNING IS A FEEL- GOOD place, all misty mountain tops at the ends of streets and laidback, carefree bustle. Encouragingly, the Aventador is still where we parked it in the pretty town square, unscathed and understandably attracting less interest now than when we all too conspicuously rolled up the previous evening. Taking in the D996, we’ll do more miles today, more than 300, ending up at the wonderfully named House of Custard in Montreal, though, for the sake of local harmony, it says Maison Crème Anglaise on the door.
Time for Stephen – no mean pedaller and a selfconfessed drift obsessive in cars more suited to that style of self-expression – to do some driving. Not drifting. As our northern sojourn resumes on the N85 towards Sisteron, his initial impressions align with mine, especially over the steering, which has so little real feel it’s left to the seat of
your pants and blind faith to gauge how much grip is left in the tank. Having said that, he acknowledges that there’s always masses, so it’s largely a communication thing, and one that you probably get used to over time.
No one is immune to the way this car can deliver a flurry of sucker punches, though. Even by Lambo standards, it looks astonishing. All width, wedge and drama, and utterly beautiful. And if that’s the stuff of dreams, the engine – maybe one of the last great naturally aspirated V12s – is a legend in the making. For sheer unhinged excitement, no turbo motor past or present, however powerful, can hold a candle to it. As the straights become longer on the A51 towards Grenoble and I take the wheel again, we ponder the proposition that acceleration ain’t what it used to be, smaller and more efficient blown engines and seamless double-clutch transmissions morphing the sensation into a characterless, linear surge similar to that of an Airbus A320 taking off. Which gets you down the road but is a bit rubbish.
Shall we? At this point the blacktop is so straight and long it has a vanishing point buried in the rippling haze of the horizon. Traffic has simply ceased to exist. I select Corsa – with its enhanced soundtrack, dedicated blood-red TFT instrument display and hard-nut powertrain/suspension settings – paddle-click down into third and (some oldschool parlance needed here) drop the hammer. What happens next is absolutely bloody fantastic – a rush so raw, so visceral, so violent it pushes the air from our lungs and, slamming through fourth and fifth with the delicacy of a hydraulic ram, all but rinses the moisture from our eyeballs. Over in just a few seconds, it’s a stunning illustration of how the Aventador S can serve up a straight-line experience that embeds itself in the memory for good. Our peak speed is logged in the trip computer, vouchsafe never to be revealed. It’s still some way short of the entry before it: 198mph, no doubt achieved by a fearless Lamborghini test driver. I wonder how he resisted that final 2mph…
Traffic (much of it annoyingly, sometimes dangerously, mesmerised by the Aventador’s presence), coffee, comfort breaks, photographs, salad baguettes and salted caramel ice cream rule the next hundred or so miles as we close down the distance to the D996 and, to be fair, it slips by in quasiGT style, inflicting no notable fatigue on driver or passenger, although actually sleeping (Stephen, not me) isn’t easy.
IN PLACES SMOOTH AND FAST, IN OTHERS challengingly lumpy and curly, the D996 has more or less everything a supercar in search of validation could want. I’ve never been here before, and if I could choose a Lamborghini in which to feel out and immediately exploit
‘The way the nose spears towards any apex I point it at is mighty and unerring. You just have to trust it’
an unknown road like this, it would probably be a Huracán Performante, mostly because of its size, agility and remarkable tenacity. That said, the best stretches of the route aren’t titchy and so the Aventador’s size isn’t such an issue. Its fundamental reserves and margins – power, grip, braking – are all so huge, the security blanket so impregnable and expansive, that exercising that fabulously ferocious engine and utterly lockeddown chassis at speed with something approaching impunity is a hell of a supercar kick and overwhelms any desire I may have to sweat the small stuff. Yes, the steering’s rather synthetic responses still grate, but the way the nose spears towards any apex I point it at is mighty and unerring. You just have to trust it.
How the car deals with the lumpier sections of the D996 is particularly impressive, too, but the Aventador S is very prescriptive in extremis, never feeling that it wants to indulge the driver and bend to your will, and lacking feedback. It’s not a car you’d want to slide around and modulate on the throttle for the sheer hell of it. You get the feeling that it’d just get away from you, and you’d become part of the scenery.
After a splendid evening at the fine Maison Crème Anglaise B&B, we effectively do just that and, with no great enthusiasm, hit the grey-green blur of the A6 to Paris and Calais beyond, Stephen relieved that he finally nailed his sunset shot in the fields behind Montreal’s medieval fortified houses, me glad that he did. My wisdom tooth has resumed another dormant phase and, despite a certain regret that our delivery duties are coming to an end, all is well with the world.
Stopping on a lonely Essex side-road for Stephen to rattle off a final few detail shots before dropping him home, a Mk1 Ford Focus pulls up and, scrambling out of the back seat, there really is the kid who wants to live in my house and sit by the window. Later, driving along an uncharacteristically active Whitstable High Street close to midnight – and as inconspicuously as I can – a young female partygoer a little the worse for wear shouts, at the top of her voice: ‘IT’S A F**KING LAMBORGHINI!’
So much for that.
Left: TFT display changes colour to correspond with the selected driving mode (in Corsa it glows red). Below left: 6.5-litre 730bhp V12 surely one of the last great naturally aspirated engines
Top left: leaving the factory. Above left: police at tollbooths only interested in a photo-op. Above right: standard Eurotunnel carriages a tight squeeze in a twometre-wide Lambo
Below left: big roads and big scenery provide a suitably epic backdrop for the vast – and stupendously rapid – Aventador S. Below: rediscovering nothing, but nothing, attracts attention like a pearlescent white Lambo