So how do you feel in the moments, those precious few seconds, before climbing aboard the new Lamborghini Aventador to drive it for the very first time? Nervous? Yes. Intimidated? Of course. This, after all, is a car that costs $350,000 and can catapult itself to 62mph in less than three seconds on its way to a top speed of 217mph.
Yet the overwhelming impression, the sensation you become more aware of than any other when handed the keys to this howling monster of a machine, is one of pure, child-like excitement. Because more than anything else, the Aventador – all 690hp and 6.5 liters of it – is just an impossibly exciting car.
In many ways, and despite its cutting-edge technology, it's actually an old-school kind of a car. Lamborghini refers to it as a “super sports car,” claiming that it “redefines the market with its brutal power, outstanding lightweight engineering and phenomenal handling precision.” In the end, though, it's still a big old bruiser of a machine, with a monumentally large V12 engine in its guts – and an exhaust note to make your heart explode. Same as it ever was from Sant'Agata, in other words.
What's different this time around, though, is what lies beneath the typically extrovert exterior. Gone is the conventional manual gearbox and the legendary Bizzarrini V12 engine that did service in everything from the Miura to the 4099th Murciélago. Instead, the Aventador is powered by an all-new 60-degree, 6498cc V12 that's mated, like it or not, to a 7-speed paddle-shift gearbox. And at its core sits a no-expense-spared carbon fiber monocoque with single-seater-style pushrod suspension at each corner.
The brakes are similarly state of the art, featuring carbon-ceramic discs with six-piston calipers at the front, four at the rear. Even its body parts are fashioned mostly from carbon fiber (although the hood, bumpers and doors are made from aluminum). What we're talking about, in other words, is a car that may look and sound like a traditional raging bull, but one that's very much at the leading edge of things technically. Nowhere is this more apparent than inside.
As with the Murciélago, the doors open upward to reveal a cabin that initially seems a long way away, the high-backed driver's seat seeming to nestle just inches above the ground. But when you climb inside, the similarities between old and new come to an abrupt end. The Aventador's cabin is every bit as new and revolutionary as its engine, gearbox or suspension. And mostly, it works as well as it looks.
Whether the new digitized instruments will receive universal approval will remain a talking point for years to come, you suspect, but the basic ergonomics inside this car are at least 250 times better than of old. What you notice first is the fundamental correctness of the driving position – the fact that you no longer need to tilt your head toward the center of the car to sit comfortably in it, and that your legs point in a perfectly straight line toward the pedals.
Soon after that, you might also register how much better organized the center console is, and how much clearer the instruments are to read, even the minor ones. You'll realize, too, how much less intimidating this car feels inside (compared with the Murciélago) once you're ensconced behind its new flat-bottomed wheel. Its controls are better laid out and visibility is much improved, not just out of the rear but to the sides and front as well. Result? That vaguely terrifying sense of entrapment that descended upon you in the Murciélago has gone, replaced by a more conventional, far less confused driving environment.
And yet it still feels unequivocally like a Lamborghini inside this car, especially when you discover the start button beneath its bright red cover within the center console and summon the courage to give it a prod. Do so and you'll hear a familiar charismatic scream from the starter motor, followed by a quite outrageous eruption of revs when the engine fires. As if climbing into a bright red Lambo via one of its vast scissor doors isn't theatrical enough on its own.
Then again, Lamborghinis have never been designed for the meek, and the Aventador is clearly no exception to this rule. Everything it does, it does with gusto, with purpose, and it starts from the moment you fire it up and pull the right-hand gear paddle back to select first. A big digital display shows the number “1” within the instrument panel, and as you release the brakes and apply even the tiniest amount of throttle, the drama begins. Instantly.
Even at 5mph this car sounds and feels fantastically alive beneath your backside. To begin with, the steering seems lighter and a lot less cumbersome than you remember, the ride massively more refined than of old. The entire car, in fact, feels more mature than you might expect, given the history.
The mild shake from the steering column that betrayed the Murciélago's age (it was based loosely on the Countach, for heaven's sake) has disappeared completely, replaced by a feeling of total rigidity from the car's core. There's not so much as a hint of shimmy through the cockpit now, even if you rumble one of those vast 335/30 rear tires across a nasty transverse ridge. Yet, at the same time, the suspension seems taut to the point of perfect control. Everywhere.
And, of course, the addition of a carbon fiber tub hasn't just introduced a new-found integrity to the Aventador's core structure; it has removed pounds from its waistline, too. The quoted dry weight is just 3,472lbs, so call it about 3,571lbs with fluids. That's phenomenal, given the car's size and the fact that it's four-wheel drive.
The result is that it's not only faster and much more nimble than the Murciélago but also cleaner and more fuel efficient into the bargain. No one spends $350k on a Lamborghini because of how frugal it is, but the fact that it returns 16.4mpg on the combined cycle is to be applauded, albeit quietly.
But the big news inevitably concerns its performance, and I can tell you here and now that it is astonishing – to the extent that you don't just climb aboard an Aventador and nail the throttle to the floor at the first sign of a decent road. You build up to that moment, slowly, and discover other things about this incredible car en route.
Like how explosive its throttle response is, even at 4000rpm, and how switching between its drive modes (Strada, Sport and Corsa) alters not just the gear-change speed and severity but the crispness of the engine mapping as well. And then there's the gearshift itself, which Lamborghini claims is 40 percent swifter than a Gallardo Superleggera's, making it “one of the world's fastest ever automated gearboxes”.
It's not a dual-clutch system but it does pre-select ratios, so the effect is almost the same – in theory. In practice, however, it's a long way from swapping ratios as quickly or as smoothly as a Ferrari 458 Italia or McLaren MP4-12C. As ever, Lamborghini has engineered the shifts to feel as dramatic as possible. In Corsa mode you get a mighty thump in the back on upshifts and a huge burst of revs on downshifts. Which is great when you're in the mood for it but not always 100 percent desirable.
Having said that, it's difficult not to be in the mood for it when you've got 690hp of V12 thundering away behind your head, plus one of the best-balanced mid-engined chassis in existence through which to deploy it. And when you do finally let rip in the Aventador, having established how smooth the ride is at low speeds, how crisply it steers at any speed and how delicious it sounds at any revs, the most surprising thing is that it's nowhere near as terrifying as you thought it might be.
It's fast, cataclysmically so – of course – but it's also smooth and creamy and refined, in a way that no other Lamborghini has ever felt. The maniacal, vaguely disturbing vibration that would accompany your every move in a Murciélago above 5000rpm has been eradicated, entirely, and instead the Aventador boasts a far more grown-up strain of performance. One that's bigger and more potent than ever on paper, hence the mildly comical 2.9sec 0-62mph claim and, I'd guess, a 0-100mph time that's comfortably inside seven seconds.
But there is one caveat to the Aventador's gigantically improved position in life, and it's not something that can be dismissed lightly, this being a brand-new version of Lamborghini's biggest and baddest creation. For all its rough edges – its engine vibration, its compromised driving position, its OMG handling balance and its wobbly steering column – the old Murciélago was also a fantastically charismatic car to drive. It felt, on occasion, as if you were wrestling with the devil himself if you tried to drive it quickly along a challenging road. And as long as you actually made it to the end of that road without crashing, the pure intensity of the experience was second to none. Despite being a vastly better car than the Murciélago in every way imaginable, not to mention a far quicker car on any stretch of road you'd care to aim it at, the Aventador doesn't quite capture your attention in the same way.
In one sense, it's almost too good for its own good dynamically. The thrill (or should that be the terror?) of the chase isn't so extreme in this car, mainly because it sorts all the bad stuff out well before it pollutes the driving experience. And that just feels a bit weird for a Lamborghini.
Don't get me wrong: this is one heck of an excellent car, one that will over deliver to its intended audience and keep Lamborghini flying for many years to come, you'd hope. But it also proves that, sometimes, the odd wart can be a strangely alluring addition. Fact is, I'll miss the Murciélago, even though (or perhaps because) it scared me half to death each and every time I climbed aboard.