HOLY GRAIL

The wildest Aven­ta­dor we’ve ever seen, the new SVJ Coupe is also the most glo­ri­ously fo­cused ver­sion yet of Lam­borgh­ini’s age­ing but still out­ra­geous hy­per­car. jon wall flies to Por­tu­gal to drive it

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You can hear it on the in-car video, just af­ter I’ve ex­ited the tight Parabólica In­te­rior hair­pin, the sixth cor­ner on the test­ing and im­mensely tech­ni­cal Es­to­ril rac­ing cir­cuit, which hosted the For­mula 1 Por­tuguese Grand Prix back in the 1980s and ’90s. Ac­cel­er­at­ing hard into the short straight that leads to turn 7, I flip the right-hand shift pad­dle and, with the 6.5-litre V12 howl­ing right be­hind my ears, I’m mo­men­tar­ily thrust for­ward and then pinned back into my car­bon-fi­bre race seat as the gear­box punches up from third to fourth. Quite spon­ta­neously I let out a loud ex­ple­tive, which I won’t re­peat here, though the won­der is that that I’m not eff­ing and blind­ing my way along the track’s en­tire 4km length, so vis­ceral is the ex­pe­ri­ence of driv­ing a ma­chine that only a few weeks ear­lier an­ni­hi­lated the pro­duc­tion-car record at the fear­some Nür­bur­gring Nord­schleife with a 6:44.97 lap.

Few cur­rent car man­u­fac­tur­ers have so much drama and flamboyance hard­wired into their DNA as Lam­borgh­ini, the com­pany that pretty much in­vented the con­tem­po­rary su­per­car when it un­veiled the near­legendary Miura more than 50 years ago. So the Aven­ta­dor SVJ Coupe I’m throw­ing around the Cir­cuito do Es­to­ril is firmly in that tra­di­tion, a spec­tac­u­lar wedge of ex­cess al­most 5 me­tres long that’s wrapped in a ther­monu­clear shade of metal­lic green and fes­tooned with geo­met­ric in­takes, slots, skirts and split­ters – plus a big black wing slung across the tail. Equally in­cred­i­ble is the au­ral ac­com­pa­ni­ment that only a huge, nat­u­rally as­pi­rated multi-cylin­der mo­tor can pro­duce, a fu­ri­ous as­sault of sound em­a­nat­ing from a pair of fat ex­hausts half­way up the Lambo’s rear end that rum­bles, growls, yells and crack­les, and threat­ens to turn legs to jelly and in­sides into – well, let’s not go into that, shall we?

No one will ever say that fa­mil­iar­ity breeds con­tempt when talk­ing about the cars from Sant’Agata Bolog­nese: this is the third time since 2012 that I’ve driven an Aven­ta­dor and, as I wan­der be­tween the red, white and green au­to­mo­biles lined up on the Es­to­ril pit­lane like a mech­a­nised Ital­ian tri­col­ore, I’m at once awestruck, ex­cited and ap­pre­hen­sive – just as I was six years ago. That fris­son, how­ever, also de­rives from the knowl­edge that this new SVJ – the ini­tials stand for Su­per­ve­loce Jota, a nomen­cla­ture promis­ing ridicu­lous speed and pre­vi­ously be­stowed upon a mere hand­ful of quasi-race-spec Mi­uras in the early ’70s – is in sev­eral key ar­eas a rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent beast from ear­lier Aven­ta­dors. In other words, it’s lighter, more pow­er­ful and, thanks

Al­most ev­ery­thing has been tweaked in one way or an­other in the ef­fort to achieve ul­ti­mate au­to­mo­tive in­san­ity

to the use of an ar­ray of ad­vanced tech­nolo­gies, more fo­cused (and, though it hardly needs say­ing, even more un­fea­si­bly rapid).

If the es­sen­tials – mid-mounted engine, all-wheel drive, ac­tive sus­pen­sion, car­bon-fi­bre struc­ture, scis­sor doors – re­main much as be­fore, al­most ev­ery­thing has been tweaked in one way or an­other in the ef­fort to achieve ul­ti­mate au­to­mo­tive in­san­ity. Thanks to new ti­ta­nium in­let valves, re­vised cylin­der heads, re­duced in­ter­nal fric­tion and other im­prove­ments, the mighty V12’s out­put is raised (al­beit by an un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally mod­est 20 ponies) to a max­i­mum 759bhp, the en­tirety of which comes on song slightly be­low the engine’s 8,700rpm red­line – at which point mat­ters are verg­ing on the ma­ni­a­cal. Al­though peak twist of 720Nm isn’t reached un­til 6,750 revs, a broadly flat­tened torque curve means in­creased grunt at lower engine speeds and, thus, greater flex­i­bil­ity when com­pared with re­cent Aven­ta­dor SV and S vari­ants. Big, high-revving, non-tur­bocharged and deliri­ously noisy power units such as this are a crit­i­cally en­dan­gered species, a fact that alone makes this Lambo a petrol­head grail.

Then there’s rear-wheel steer­ing, 50 per­cent stiffer anti-roll bars, a car­bon fi­bre­com­pos­ite-rich diet that’s re­spon­si­ble for a 50kg weight sav­ing (down to 1,525kg) and ultra-sticky, made-to-mea­sure Pirelli P-Zero Corsa tyres, all doubt­less mak­ing a mean­ing­ful con­tri­bu­tion to the Aven­ta­dor’s feats of ath­leti­cism on the ’Ring – and th­ese days a sub-seven-minute lap of the Green Hell is as key to sell­ing fast cars as any sub-three-sec­ond 0-100km/h time (the SVJ dis­penses with that in a blink-an­dit’s-done 2.8) or 325-plus top whack. The real noise, though, con­cerns the adop­tion of Aero­d­i­nam­ica Lam­borgh­ini At­tiva (ALA) – or, in plain English, ac­tive aero. This brainy sys­tem, which was pre­viewed last year on the Hu­racán Per­for­mante, di­rects air us­ing move­able planes within the front split­ter and el­e­ments ahead of the rear wing ei­ther to re­duce drag or in­crease down­force. It can even vec­tor the air­flow to one side dur­ing cor­ner­ing, flat­ten­ing the car, max­imis­ing grip and sta­bil­ity, and per­mit­ting higher exit speeds. We’re also told that down­force is up by 40 per­cent over the nowdis­con­tin­ued SV, a num­ber that from my own ex­pe­ri­ence seems en­tirely be­liev­able.

Kindly – though, for our pur­poses, un­help­fully – the man­age­ment of Es­to­ril cir­cuit has de­cided to resur­face the track just days be­fore our ar­rival. Sure, the inky new bi­tu­men makes a per­fectly stark back­drop for brightly painted mo­tor­cars, but it’s also

slip­pery as an ice rink, so that even if I were able to drive the SVJ quick enough for the ALA to make a dif­fer­ence (some­thing I very much doubt), in th­ese con­di­tions that’s un­likely to hap­pen.

But what’s im­me­di­ately ev­i­dent, from the mo­ment I ease my­self through the door, over the broad sill and into the snug driv­ing seat, is that the Aven­ta­dor is as thrillingly idio­syn­cratic as it ever was. Af­ter ad­just­ing the chair – which on this US$500,000 car (it’ll cost way, way more in Asia) is done via a sim­ple mech­a­nism be­neath the squab, much like the seats on a hum­ble run­about – and po­si­tion­ing the cen­tral mir­ror, it’s clear that I can see next to noth­ing through the rear win­dow, and what lit­tle that can be seen is ob­scured by slats. As I’m in a 340km/h Lambo, you might think the view be­hind me is aca­demic, though it’d still be nice to have some idea what’s go­ing on back there.

The engine barks an­grily into life, I hit the Corsa (track)-mode but­ton, flip the up­shift pad­dle and ease the Aven­ta­dor into the pit­lane proper be­fore ac­cel­er­at­ing out on to the cir­cuit. Up into third with the throt­tle down and there’s that same bru­tal kick from the old-school, sin­gle-clutch, seven-speed gear­box. Over to the left, a dab on the brakes that pushes me hard against the seat­belt and into the first right-han­der – my God, this thing has phe­nom­e­nal grip even on this sur­face – and then back on the loud pedal, the engine bel­low­ing, the re­sponse in­stan­ta­neous, the racket mind-blow­ing.

Ex­it­ing the main Parabólica turn that leads into the pit straight, un­wind­ing the lock and throt­tling hard, the speed builds un­til I stamp on the car­bon-ce­ramic an­chors at more than 250km/h. A gi­ant in­vis­i­ble hand hauls me back for the ap­proach­ing cor­ner, an­other right-han­der, the engine pop­ping like small-arms fire as I change down rapidly from fifth to fourth to third, be­fore it wal­lops me in the back­side once more to­wards the next bend.

With more laps the con­fi­dence grows, so I’m ac­cel­er­at­ing out of cor­ners more ag­gres­sively, the oc­ca­sional tail wig­gle eas­ily con­trolled by the all­wheel-drive sta­bil­ity, four-wheel steer­ing that’s amaz­ingly pre­cise and com­mu­nica­tive (and es­pe­cially so for a car this long, wide and heavy) and sim­ple throt­tle con­trol. In­cen­di­ary though the SVJ is, it also strikes me as a re­mark­ably for­giv­ing – would you be­lieve even safe? – car to drive fast,

one that de­liv­ers in spades the deeper you dig into its wealth of abil­i­ties, though it em­phat­i­cally isn’t a ve­hi­cle that lends it­self to daily use.

Not that buy­ers of the 900 Aven­ta­dor SVJs that Lam­borgh­ini plans to build are likely to be de­terred by the fact that their bright green – or blue, or red, or yel­low, or what­ever ri­otous hue they fancy – hy­per­car is hardly the thing for trips to the mall or the school gate (in fact, to do it full jus­tice you re­ally need a track). In­deed, if they do fire up their ex­trav­a­gant pur­chase as fre­quently as once a week it may of­ten be just to lis­ten to that awe­some engine.

In­stead, they’ll be in­vest­ing in a car whose mix of tra­di­tional and lead­ing-edge tech­nolo­gies, shat­ter­ing speed, in­com­pa­ra­ble charisma and out­stand­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties have be­come all too rare in the con­tem­po­rary au­to­mo­tive pan­theon – and it’s no co­in­ci­dence that th­ese very qual­i­ties seem in­creas­ingly in dan­ger of dis­ap­pear­ing com­pletely. And when that dreaded day does ar­rive and we’re all be­ing fer­ried around au­tonomously aboard four-wheeled wash­ing ma­chines, bored sense­less and idly tap­ping on our smart­phones, we may well think back to such mag­nif­i­cent anachro­nisms as the SVJ and weep.

clock­wise fRom this pic­tuRe: the view of the lam­BoRgh­ini aven­ta­doR svJ most likely to Be seen By lesseR Road useRs; aven­ta­doRs in the es­to­Ril pit lane; caR­Bon-fi­BRe Rac­ing seats

clock­wise fRom Right: still cRazy af­teR all th­ese yeaRs; the svJ’s cosy in­te­RioR; ouR man at speed on es­to­Ril ciR­cuit

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