It wasn’t until I hit 145 mp/h (233 km/h) that I thought: “This could be dangerous.”
By then, I was leaving the straightaway and entering the high-banked left turn, pressed hard into the seat of the Lamborghini Aventador S as I roared my way around the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.
A buck and a half, on that track, in that car, wasn’t fast. A pro driver behind the wheel of the Aventador could have hit 200 mp/h without stretching the Lamborghini’s limits. Other drivers that day hit 160.
But I’d never driven a super car on a racetrack. Besides, I’d just noticed the “air bag” icon was illuminated on the dashboard.
I had come to Fontana, about 50 miles east of Los Angeles, at the invitation of the Lamborghini people. The half-day event included a chalk-talk on the Aventador S’s attributes, a coach-led turn around a short track, a “slow slalom” and then a “fast slalom” exercise, and then a few hot laps around the Auto Club Speedway’s “Sports Car Course”.
Lamborghini calls the Aventador S a “super sports car”, and I won’t quibble. Driven by a rumbling V12 engine that makes 740 horsepower (552 KW) and 508 pound-feet of torque (689 Nm), the sleek, reptilian coupe is said to be capable of rocketing from zero to 60 mp/h in less than 2.9 seconds and of hitting a top speed of 217 mp/h.
The 2017 S version makes 40 more horsepower than the Aventador that Lamborghini debuted in 2011. It also is the first Lamborghini production car to combine four-wheel drive and rear-wheel steering.
Together these attributes create a drive feel that is responsive and very sticky. In the slow slalom sections, the car’s turning radius felt tiny, like it would be capable of navigating a supermarket parking lot and, maybe, even the aisles inside the supermarket.
On the fast slalom section, I couldn’t get the back end to bust loose no matter how sharply I turned or how hard I was accelerating. The car remained stable and planted up to and including the mandatory brake-slam stop at the end of the slalom.
The naturally aspirated Aventador S manages its power through a seven-speed automatic gear box and four drive modes. Strada (or “Street”) is for that supermarket run. Sport engages more engine and more engine sound, and sharpens the steering and suspension.
Corsa (or “Course”) unleashes everything, for the track, and requires manual gear selection through the paddle shifters. The “Ego” mode allows the driver to make specific individual selection in power, steering, suspension and other details.
For looks, Lamborghini designers were reaching back to the company’s Countach and Diablo cars of the past, giving the new Aventador’s body a bit of shark and its nose a bit of snake. (Like the Miura, Huracan and other Lambos, the Aventador is named for a famed four-legged hero of the bullfighting ring.)
For feel, Lamborghini’s engineers went a little bit old school. There’s no turbo here, and there’s no dual clutch transmission – standard on most performance cars.
Instead, this Aventador has a single clutch transmission. That gear box, with so much horsepower and torque, creates an extremely engaged driver experience. The car hurtles forward under hard acceleration and leaps through the gears with neck-snapping force.
Lamborghini may be making a virtue of a necessity with the gear box. Having opted not to use the dual clutch transmission, which has scored high marks as part of the Huracan power train, the company has taken some criticism for using such old-fashioned technology in its flagship sports car.
Its visceral feel became more evident to me when, following the driving coach, I put on a racing helmet, belted myself in, and began running the short part of the sports car course.
The Aventador S shot violently from corner to corner, eating up asphalt and holding tight lines through the turns. I couldn’t force the car to lose traction, it seemed, even under the heaviest acceleration, downshifting or braking. The only limitations were my own.
Lamborghini is advertising the Aventador S as a daily driver that can perform on the track. The designers have given the car some user-friendly qualities.
The airplane-like cockpit, tucked inside an all-carbon-fibre monocoque shell, brings everything within easy reach of the pilot. Standard and optional amenities include Apple CarPlay, heated seats and a very good heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVA) system. The interior can be dressed in carbon fibre or Alcantara leather, and the seats and steering wheel can be customised with bespoke upholstery and contrast stitching.
Provided you’re limber enough to swing through the dihedral doors, then angle down and into the snug, low-slung race seats, and also limber enough to get back out, this could be your daily driver.
There are limitations. The eight-gallon (30 litre) gas tank will take you barely 100 miles of driving, thanks to the shockingly low fuel economy. And overnighting, in addition to frequent gas stops, would require savvy packing, since the front end “trunk” will hardly hold more than your toothbrush.
Daily driving would also mean growing comfortable with the tight steering, the stiff suspension, and the neighbour-waking roar of the V12 engine. It would also mean exercising restraint, or risk filling that small glove compartment with speeding citations.
My concern on the track was getting a citation for going too slow. As we left the small course and headed onto the NASCAR straightaway used by the stock cars, sports cars and sprint cars, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to keep up with my more seasoned fellow drivers.
Down the first stretch, approaching the big left hand bank turn, I saw the speedometer climb from 125 mp/h to 135 mp/h before I put my eyes back on the track.
The other drivers weren’t racing away from me, but on the second lap we were all faster. Down the straightaway I caught 145 mp/h, and was still accelerating, before chopping the throttle and swooshing through the big turn.
I never did find out why the air bag icon was illuminated.
Lamborghini is not a volume player. Though the Aventador is reportedly the best-selling V12 car in history, last year the company sold only 3457 vehicles globally.
Those numbers will no doubt go up when Lambo begins selling its Urus SUV, some time next year.
For now, the company is looking for a few good drivers ready to pony up a base price of $US424,845, including the $US3700 gas guzzler tax, to acquire one.
They’re getting ready to entertain a few more who insist on driving 217 mp/h with the top down. This month, Lamborghini unveiled the Aventador S Roadster at the Frankfurt auto show. That one starts at a reported $US460,247.
2017 Lamborghini Aventador S Coupe
Quick take: Visceral, old-fashioned, modern technology.