In the supercar arms race Lamborghini remains a bit of an outlier despite the increasing influence of Audi DNA within the Italian automaker’s designs. While other manufacturers transition to smaller displacement motors supplemented by forced induction, the Italian automaker remains staunchly loyal to natural aspiration. They were also happy to take a spectator seat to the hybrid hypercar battle between McLaren, Porsche, and Ferrari, a contest that appeared to have more to do with proclaiming the wildest magazine statistics rather than delivering the most engaging driving experience.
Still, you don’t cultivate the name recognition that Lamborghini has without proven world-class performance, so the company threw its hat in the ring with those seven-figure cars with an eye-watering sub-seven minute Nürburgring lap time of their own – a now-unavoidable performance metric for any OEM looking to have its road-going sports car offerings taken seriously.
But rather than designing a new model with an exotic (and, let’s be honest, largely unnecessary) hybrid powertrain to deliver the goods, the company looked to the Aventador – a five year old model at the time that was often maligned for being more show than go, particularly in the corners. They also reworked its chassis, drivetrain, aero kit and other mechanical elements to create the LP 750-4 Superveloce, which tripped the stopwatch at 6:59.73 and came within a breath of the Porsche 918 Spyder’s time, despite its comparatively old-fashioned approach.
An impressive feat no doubt, but with production capped at only 600 units in total, the Aventador’s newfound handling prowess was still hard to come by even for those with the means to shell out for the SV’s half-million dollar asking price. But now Lamborghini has taken the engineering efforts applied to the Superveloce and taken them to the new, readily available Aventador S, a significantly updated version of the big V12 bruiser than now serves as the standard configuration for the model.
“This is the next generation Aventador as well as the expression of new technological and performance milestones in super sports car development” -Stefano Domenicali
This isn’t the first time a CEO has waxed poetic about a refreshed version of a six-figure automobile, so we headed out to Auto Club Speedway to put Lamborghini’s latest production flagship through its paces and to see for ourselves if this iteration can now dance with the best of them.
The S Treatment
While the original Aventador wasn’t exactly lacking for power, Lamborghini engineers saw fit to give the 6.5-liter V12 a spec bump through optimizations to both the variable valve timing and variable intake systems to bring the redline up to 8,500 rpm and output to 730 horsepower and 509 pound-feet of torque, the former a 39hp increase over the original configuration used in the Aventador.
Coupled with Lamborghini’s seven-speed Independent Shifting Rod single-clutch automated manual gearbox, which carries over from the previous iteration of the standard Aventador, the company says the S can get to 62 mph from a standstill in 2.9 seconds and reach a top speed of 217 miles per hour.
The bodywork sees some attention too. The front fascia is more aggressive, taking “design inspiration from nature in its shark and snake-like features,” says Aventador R&D manager Daniele Cenciarelli. But he’s also quick to point out that form still follows function here, as the reshaped nose improves airflow to the engine’s radiators while enhancing its aerodynamic efficiency, the latter of which is up by 50% on the whole versus the original Aventador.
These efforts also bring an improvement to front downforce of more than 130% over the previous model, and when the active rear wing is set to low drag mode that improvement jumps to more than 400% versus the Aventador S’s predecessor. That wing’s three distinct settings – which are determined by the vehicle’s speed and the drive mode selected – work in conjunction with vortex generators created in the front and rear of the chassis’ underside to maximize air flow and also assist in brake cooling.
A new “Ego” driving mode makes its debut here as well, adding a fourth option to go along with Strade, Sport and Corsa, that allows drivers to create a custom preset of their preferred traction, suspension, and steering settings from those other pre-defined modes.
That’s all good and fine, but what of the handling? After all, nobody was complaining about the original Aventador’s prodigious straight line thrust or its head-turning looks, but more than a word or two has been penned about the car’s penchant for understeer. Fortunately the bulk of the revisions to the car are seen here, with revised suspension geometry, new upper and lower control arms, revised rear springs, and a new active damping system working in concert with a newly implemented four-wheel steering system.
Like most four-wheel steering systems on the market, Aventador S’s setup turns the rear wheels in the opposite direction of the front wheels at low speeds to improve cornering urgency, and the same direction as the front wheels at higher speeds to improve stability. Considering the significant chassis revisions, Lamborghini also saw fit to tweak the traction and stability control systems in turn, recalibrating the software to take full advantage of the new steering system and allow for more torque to be sent to the rear wheels.
Behind The Wheel
Our introduction to the Aventador S began with a low-speed slalom course, which allowed us to get acclimated to the four-wheel steering system. While supercars usually have quick steering, the Aventador S turns in with such urgency that it takes a moment to calibrate to it – winding through the cones it became clear that the car could carry a lot more speed and less steering input than was being asked of it, and once the threshold of grip was reached, instead of being greeted by front end push the car simply communicated that through minor, predictable rotation, allowing the driver to back off or simply adjust the angle with the throttle if one felt brave enough to do so.
The high speed slalom served as our next exercise before our stint on the full course, and here we could get an even clearer sense of the car’s newfound neutrality and sharp turn-in, with autocross-like speeds allowing for more exploration of the Aventador S’s willingness to work with mid-corner throttle inputs to rotate the car into position.
Still, it’s Auto Club’s sports car circuit where the car’s true nature could be fully realized. Switched over to the Corsa drive mode, which sets the transmission, suspension, and steering to their most aggressive settings while adjusting the traction and stability control to their least intrusive behavior and sending 80% of the torque to the rear wheels, the Aventador S is a legitimately thrilling machine on track.
Though the gearbox is still unrefined and undoubtedly showing its age, it is still in its element out on the track, and its penchant for delivering wide-open throttle upshifts with the impact of a sledgehammer to the back of your skull might seem archaic by modern standards but it somehow makes sense here, adding a sense of drama that pairs well with the V12’s bellow as the speedometer quickly surges past 160 mph down the main straight.
Still, it’s not a supercar without its flaws – weight remains more or less unchanged from the original Aventador, which means this mid-engined two seater weighs in at roughly two tons in US spec. Its mass you’re aware of almost everywhere on the track, particularly during hard braking as the heft situated behind you shifts around. Headroom is also an issue – at 6’3″, your author simply could not sit in a proper position for track driving with a helmet on. Yet it’s somehow easy to forgive the Aventador’s shortcomings simply by virtue of the car’s unyielding charisma and Lamborghini’s refusal to bend to industry trends that focus on well-mannered civility at the cost of emotion.
Long live the imperfect V12 supercar.