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
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