The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - Prestige - PAUL GOVER CHIEF RE­PORTER

IT didn’t hap­pen on 43 pre­vi­ous vis­its to Ja­pan over more than 30 years but fi­nally I am driv­ing on the streets of Tokyo.

The clock is tick­ing to­wards mid­night yet the ci­tyscape is brightly lit and filled with the fi­nal surge of com­muters on the way to home-bound trains to end their work­ing day in the cap­i­tal. It’s so fa­mil­iar and yet so very, very dif­fer­ent.

I have just driven up the same hill where my vir­tual Nis­san GT-R winds past 240km/h in the dig­i­tal re­al­ity of Gran Turismo. This time I’m man­ag­ing barely 40km/h as I pass the front door of the Sony head­quar­ters where the GT gamers do their best work.

Soon I’ll be do­ing a lap of the Im­pe­rial Palace, on roads that I know from the Fast and Fu­ri­ous fran­chise, and later there will be a stop at Shin­juku train sta­tion, where an as­tound­ing four mil­lion peo­ple tran­sit ev­ery day.

It’s a dream drive from the vir­tual world that’s made all the more real be­cause it’s hap­pen­ing at night, when Tokyo is at its bright­est best and also clos­est to the scenes on my PlayS­ta­tion. Since it’s Ja­pan, you might ex­pect me to be driv­ing a real-world GT-R in Tokyo. Or per­haps the rad­i­cal new Honda NSX. Or per­haps set­tling for a hum­ble Mazda or Nis­san or Toy­ota.

No. Not a chance. Not one of the home­grown mak­ers is keen on let­ting for­eign jour­nal­ists loose on Tokyo’s roads. They are po­lite yet firm and the an­swer is al­ways no.

So, in­stead, I’m strapped into a Lam­borgh­ini Hu­ra­can LP580-2 and the Italian ex­otic is mak­ing my 44th visit to Ja­pan a land­mark one as well as cross­ing off a bucket-list item.

The Lam­borgh­ini is even more out­ra­geous in Ja­pan than it is in Syd­ney or Mel­bourne, rolling in front of a bumper-to­bumper back­drop of Ja­panese taxis that look as if they have just driven from the pages of the Toy­ota cat­a­logue from 1979.

It’s al­most Blade Run­ner other-worldly, an im­pres­sion that’s em­pha­sised by the ram­bunc­tious sound­track pump­ing hard from be­hind me as the highly tuned V10 runs on the max­i­mum-at­tack Corsa drive mode.

There is al­most no chance to un­leash its full 427kW, apart from a cou­ple of brief bursts in first and sec­ond gears, but it’s still giant fun.

The Tokyo speed limit is mostly pegged at just 50km/h so I shouldn’t tell you the car’s data log­ger records 108 a cou­ple of times on an el­e­vated free­way. The av­er­age speed over 90 min­utes is less than 20km/h.

Even so slow, it’s a full-scale im­mer­sion in a driv­ing cul­ture that is so dif­fer­ent from our own, even when I’m driv­ing a Hu­ra­can — priced at $331,000 in Ja­pan, not far from the $378,000 in Aus­tralia — that I know well from a Phillip Is­land track at­tack ear­lier this year.

The first im­pres­sion is ob­vi­ous: the Hu­ra­can is hi-tech and high-end, look­ing fab­u­lous in the prime valet spot out­side a swanky new Tokyo ho­tel. I love the en­gine start, which looks more like the “Fire” but­ton in a jet fighter, the grippy twin seats, the dig­i­tal dash and the theatre of the en­gine start-up.

But things are dif­fer­ent this time, as I’m sit­ting in a left-hand drive car and Ja­pan drives on the right like Aus­tralia. The sat­nav is in­com­pre­hen­si­ble but I have a good friend in the co­driver’s seat.

Peter Lyon has lived in Ja­pan for 26 years and knows his way around Tokyo, can read the AUS­TRALIA is a bright spot for Lam­borgh­ini. New boss Ste­fano Domeni­cali, for­merly the head of Fer­rari F1, wants to check the com­pany’s lo­cal suc­cess in dou­bling sales over the past two years.

“We are in an in­cred­i­ble mo­ment. In Aus­tralia, the mar­ket is fine,” Domeni­cali says. “I want to go there soon. To un­der­stand this suc­cess. And to keep it up.”

Domeni­cali could make it as early as next month, with a visit to in­clude the fast-growing Mo­tor­clas­sica event in Mel­bourne.

“For me, ev­ery mar­ket has a dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter­is­tic. But when the light is switch­ing on sud­denly, reach­ing more than 100 (an­nual sales), this is a light that I need to un­der­stand. “We need to make sure we are in the right di­men­sion for Urus (the com­ing su­per SUV) in Aus­tralia. My feel­ing is that car will be fan­tas­tic for Aus­tralia. That is why I want to be there.”

The Urus will have se­ri­ous off-road abil­ity thanks to an old­school au­to­matic to send twin-turbo V8 power to each wheel. Driv­e­train test­ing is un­der way in the deep sand of the Mid­dle East and Domeni­cali says the con­ven­tional trans­mis­sion is bet­ter for off-road con­di­tions than the twin­clutch job used on a wide range of ve­hi­cles in the Volk­swa­gen Group, which owns Lam­borgh­ini.

“(It is) what is needed for off-road per­for­mance. No dou­ble­clutch au­to­matic can man­age this level of torque,” he says.

“We will have a turbo for only one rea­son ... torque at low rpm. We will have a V8 with bi-turbo. This is the first time that Lam­borgh­ini will use a turbo but not in a su­per­sports car.”

The su­per SUV has the po­ten­tial to more than dou­ble Lam­borgh­ini’s an­nual sales from the 2500 cur­rently achieved by its su­per sports Hu­ra­can and Aven­ta­dor. road signs and speaks Ja­panese like a na­tive (handy when we pull up for the photo-op out­side Shin­juku sta­tion).

As feisty as I re­mem­ber from the track time and a road test on home roads, the Lambo seems much big­ger in the mael­strom of Tokyo traf­fic. I’m wor­ried ev­ery sec­ond about bump­ing a kerb or a car, of just do­ing the wrong thing in a (very) for­eign coun­try.

But the Ja­panese are po­lite driv­ers, Lyon-san is spot-on with his cor­ner calls and I be­gin to re­lax and en­joy my­self.

Af­ter 30 min­utes I feel con­fi­dent enough to rush up to the red­line in first gear from one of the end­less red lights. It’s fast and loud but the Ja­panese driv­ers ig­nore me and catch up quickly as I stop for the next red.

I can re­port that the Hu­ra­can is com­fort­able, the lights are good, the out­ward vi­sion is not as bad as I had feared and that it turns even more heads in Tokyo — out of po­lite ad­mi­ra­tion, not envy or ag­gres­sion — than any­where in Aus­tralia. Then it’s time to turn back to the ho­tel, with one last blast on the V10 trum­pet, be­fore shut­ting down for the night.

The job is done, the dream is achieved. Car and driver alike have sur­vived.

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