When you slam the Aventador Roadster’s scissor door closed after a long drive, blip the remote and walk away, your overall sense of wellbeing is off the scale. You grin like an idiot, chuckle spontaneously and plot a way of doing the drive all over again.
Why? Because Lamborghini, for all the arguably overwrought visual drama, bull iconography, vocal histrionics and dodgy merchandise, does pure driving emotion like few, if any, others. It has a highly developed understanding of its customer base, and while its modern range – including this Aventador Roadster-has its flaws, Lamborghini unfailingly targets the heart of the car enthusiast and fires an arrow straight through it.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Lamborghini, and its current flagship car, the Aventador, has a 15-month waiting list.
Some 1274 examples have been delivered since mid-2011 – itself a feat when you consider last year’s earthquake in northern Italy affected production. A total of 922 Aventadors were delivered in 2012 alone – more than twice the number of Murcielagos sold in that car’s best-selling year (2007).
According to Lamborghini, 2007 was the high watermark for super sports car sales. But when the crash came in 2009, sales in this market dropped by 40 per cent. Speaking to us, Lamborghini boss Stephan Winkelmann said the firm weathered the storm because of ‘balanced distribution and the fact that more than 70 per cent of [our] sales occurred outside of Europe’.
Rather oddly, he said this while absent-mindedly stroking the flank of an Aventador. The man clearly loves his Lambos.
The European market never recovered from the ’09 crash, while the US and Asia-Pacific regions are showing signs of growth, so America is expected to take the highest share of Aventador Roadster production, with Asia-Pacific countries, and Singapore in particular, continuing their love affair with the brand. But the UK, interestingly, could be the second strongest territory for the car – a literal island of hope in a tragically flat European market.
So, on to the main event: the newest Lamborghini, the car the Sant’Agata executives proudly call ‘the most extraordinary series production Lamborghini ever built’. Say hello to the (deep breath) Lamborghini Aventador LP700-4 Roadster.
The wildly theatrical styling, described by designer Filippo Perini as ‘origami sculpture’, finds few critics in these parts. Modern, edgy and Area 51-militaristic, the Roadster has valet parking attendants leaping in front of us in Miami, begging us to park in front of their hotel (‘you can have a free meal, free accommodation, girls-whatever you want’). Never had that on a press launch before…
The removable two-piece hard-top roof is made from carbonfibre, RTM (Resin Transfer Moulding) and forged composite – the latter material one that Lamborghini has pioneered with Callaway, the golf club manufacturer.
The roof weighs 6kg and takes three or four minutes to remove and place in the nose compartment. I managed to squeeze in a soft travel bag with the roof panels installed in the front. Good job, then, that the ‘customer doesn’t care about utility’ according to Winkelmann.
Structural stiffness is rated at 22,000Nm when open and 24,000Nm when closed, compared with 35,000Nm for the coupe. That appears to be a disproportionately large gap, but on track at the Homestead-Miami Speedway the Roadster’s structure feels rock-solid and the trick inboard pushrod suspension seems uncontaminated. The carbon-ceramic brakes are less convincing, however; on track we are allowed four-lap stints, by which point the pedal has gone soft. Ultimate braking performance seems unaffected, but the same cannot be said for your confidence.
The track experience dominates this review as the road driving in Florida amounts to little more than swerving valet parkers on Ocean Boulevard, but it’s clear that the Aventador Roadster is every bit as rabid as the coupe. In many ways it’s more impressive than the last coupe we tried, thanks to some MY13 updates.
At 1625kg the Roadster carries 50kg more than the coupe, but you don’t feel it. Our test car is fitted with bigger wheels than those we’ve experienced before on the coupe (an optional combo of 20in on the front, 21in rear) with larger tyres (255/30 and 355/30 respectively), which means that any added push at the front caused by the extra weight is offset by a sharper turn-in. The Aventador darts into corners, aided by a wonderfully linear steering response.
Despite what you might have read elsewhere, the Aventador is not a complete pussycat to drive. The weight of the engine is noticeable, and while the mass is better contained than in Lambos of old, you still need to be respectful of the Aventador’s size and performance. The control feedback – which is generally light and direct – lulls you into overdriving the car; you can and do feel like wringing it out fully at every opportunity rather than building up to it like the Murcielago. Get it wrong and the Aventador feels clumsy and leaden. Get it right and it feels hardwired to the road. Either way, the fact that it responds positively to skilled driving is a good thing in our book.
The high-compression (11.8:1), short-stroke (76.4mm), variable-valve, 6.5-litre 12-cylinder engine is a triumph, and new-for-2013 improvements such as cylinder deactivation and stop/start add to the Roadster’s already impressive repertoire. The revs flare like a whipcrack and the thrust is relentless all the way through to peak power (690bhp) at 8250rpm – a piston speed of 21 metres per second. It’s difficult to ignore the comparison with the Ferrari F12’s 6.3-litre V12, an engine that its maker claims delivers 730bhp at an identical amount of revs.
Top speed is 217mph (identical to the coupe) and 0-62mph is achieved in a claimed 3sec dead – 0.1sec slower than the coupe. But the car feels even faster than this, such is the noise from the 60-degree V12: a searing shriek that cuts right to your emotional and physical core. Curiously, if you road-tested the car with the roof fixed in position and the transmission in its default Stradale mode, you’d wonder what all the fuss is about. But lower the tiny rear glass section (which drops like a guillotine) and select Sport or Corsa, and the volume, detail and impact of the engine note rises exponentially. It raises goosebumps like no other road car I know.
The four-wheel-drive Haldex IV transmission and seven-speed paddle-shift single-clutch automated-manual gearbox cope with the engine performance impressively. Low-speed manoeuvring is easy and clutch take-up is progressive even in the heaviest and hottest of traffic situations.
An electronic clutch varies the torque distribution, but in general driving conditions the split is 30/70 front-to-rear in Stradale, 10/90 in Sport and 20/80 in Corsa. Lambo’s R&D director, Maurizio Reggiani, confidently explained to us that he prefers the car in Sport mode: ‘It is ultimately slower than Corsa over a lap, but you can have more of this…’ he said, holding an imaginary steering wheel, crossing his arms and smiling.
The transmission calibration has also been tweaked for 2013 to smooth the shift action. At low speeds it feels silkier than on the last Aventador we tried, but while there’s a noticeable softening in Corsa mode, it still threatens to dislodge a vertebra during full-bore upshifts. Downshifting and rev-matching, however, are nigh-on perfect.
In all driving modes, understeer is the harbinger of the limits, signaled by a pushing of the nose and weight releasing from the steering. It’s at this point that the differences in the chassis modes make themselves clear. In Stradale you simply wait for the car to compose itself and plant the throttle as hard as you can to recover any lost speed. In Sport, a similar hard throttle application rapidly turns understeer into oversteer that you’d better be quick to catch. In Corsa, the car finds pretty much the same traction as Stradale, but with less steering angle required to keep it on course. Sport, as Reggiani predicted, is the most entertaining mode, allowing enough opposite lock on exit to make you feel like you are in control of the car, but not so much that you find yourself constantly fighting the Roadster’s bulk.
After a full morning on the Homestead track (including a full banked turn on the oval plus a tight infield section), the Aventador has proved itself to be well balanced, capable and insanely fast. But there is a nagging feeling that it’s a little one-dimensional. You tend to drive up to its limit, but not on or over it. The car performs at its best when you are stitching corners together with one unbroken line, rather than a muddled series of inputs, corrections and counter-corrections. For the driver, this means you focus on braking and turn-in points – the mathematics of driving – rather than going for a seat-of-your-pants, chuck-it-in-and-gather-it-up approach. If this is what you crave, a Ferrari 458 should be your weapon of choice.
Again, our road drive was frustratingly restricted, but we know from experience that the Aventador is much better as a fast-road car than it is as a track weapon. Indeed, there are few more capable, more balanced and more indomitable ground-coverers at any price. In Roadster form the chassis would appear to be uncorrupted by the extra weight and loss of rigidity over the coupe, and it would be a surprise indeed if the carbonfibre monocoque exhibited any flex on our harsh British roads.
The driving position is adequate, although the pedals on right-hand-drive cars are more uncomfortably offset than on left-hand-drive versions. The steering has a long reach adjustment for those (like me) who like the wheel to sit close to the body. I find the TFT display a little gimmicky, but can’t fault its clarity, while the Audi-derived switchgear is predictably high-quality.
Visibility is fine and you soon get used to double-checking the over-the-shoulder blind spot when overtaking. The rear-view camera makes parking relatively simple: well, if you don’t crack under pressure from the crowd that gathers whenever you stop, that is…
There is little doubt that the Aventador Roadster is a total and immersive supercar experience, certainly more so than the coupe. If you can handle the attention and the noise, the open-top car is the default version, provided you can afford the extra GBP 40,000 it commands. In terms of price, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the Aventador (both Roadster and coupe) are extremely good value.
There are two reasons for this. Firstly, with such a long waiting list the car is likely to command a premium for quite some time. Secondly, can you think of another new car that gets close to delivering this type of speed and drama for the money? A McLaren 12C Spider offers comparable performance, but it is intentionally not the extrovert that the Aventador is. In relation to the used market, the Aventador Roadster sits neatly below the Ferrari F50 (at around GBP 400,000) and on a par with the Porsche Carrera GT (circa GBP 250-350k). Intriguingly, all three have carbonfibre chassis and all three have open tops. By Nick Trott & evo