Viva La Rivoluzione
A funny thing happened in 2015: Lamborghini suddenly got serious about making its big, 12-cylinder flagship go around a corner, not a traditional strength of such models.
Yes, the Aventador has had racy inboard, pushrod suspension from day one, but like so many previous V-12 Lamborghinis, it was still far better at going fast in a straight line than a curved one. That changed with the Aventador SV and was quickly followed by the Aventador-based Centenario. My fervent hope was that this would be a permanent change in philosophy, and having now experienced the Aventador S, I can happily report the revolution lives.
The Aventador S’ improved handling is primarily a result of a rear steering system that can turn the rear wheels up to 1.5 degrees in-phase with the front wheels for better high-speed cornering or up to three degrees opposite the front wheels for better low-speed cornering. Lamborghini claims this has the same effect as lengthening the wheelbase 28.6 inches at high speeds for better stability or shortening it 19.7 inches at low speeds to improve the turning circle. In either direction, the wheels adjust in 5 milliseconds, so quickly as to be completely imperceptible. The system works at all speeds right up to the car’s 218-plus mph (351-plus km/h) drag-limited top speed.
To show off the improvement, Lamborghini arranged a simple slalom test pitting the outgoing Aventador against the new Aventador S. The difference is palpable. With rear steer and a quicker steering ratio, the S changes direction much more willingly and with less effort. The effect is most greatly felt in the rear end, which feels heavy and intractable on the old car. On the new car, the weight behind the driver transfers much more quickly, It feels like the rear end is working with the front rather than being dragged along around the corner. On the whole, the system has the effect of making the rear end feel hundreds of pounds lighter, despite the fact it weighs exactly the same. The roughly 13 pounds (6 kg) added by the rear steer hardware has been canceled by a new exhaust system that saves roughly the same amount of weight and sounds better. A standard, U.S.-spec Aventador weighs about 4,100 pounds (1,860 kg).
Other improvements to the car’s behavior come from a revised aerodynamic package, which features a more aggressive front splitter, better control of airflow around the sides and beneath the car, and an active rear wing with three positions. In total, they improve downforce by a claimed 130 percent. Lamborghini also says it has improved the trade-off between drag and downforce by 50 percent. Also on the docket: an extra 40 horsepower for a total of 730 hp on the American scale with all of it on the top end, magnetorheological dampers with new software, new rear tires with stiffer sidewalls designed to withstand the additional forces generated by the rear steer, new all-wheel-drive calibration software, and new software for the seven-speed, single-clutch, automated manual transmission,. There’s also an EGO (yes, seriously) driving mode, which gives you the long overdue ability to make individual changes to the steering, dampers, and powertrain rather than stick to the three preset modes of Strada (street), Sport, and Corsa (race).
With ugly weather looming near the Ricardo Tormo race track west of Valencia, Spain, Lamborghini sent us straight onto the track first thing with only a briefing about the track rules. Being on a track, the Corsa setting was the natural choice of driving mode, but I was never comfortable with it. The car felt tightly wound and was always responding to my inputs with greater outputs than I had intended. The flashing of the stability control light was a constant fixture of corner exits. Then I remembered how much Randy Pobst had preferred Sport mode to Corsa in the old Aventador.
What a difference. In Corsa, the steering is heavy and only loads up more as cornering forces build. Sport steering is lighter, so you don’t have to muscle the car around. The throttle, far too touchy in Corsa, becomes progressive and linear in Sport and allows for far better control exiting corners. Suddenly, the stability control light didn’t show its face. Going a step further, I set EGO mode to my preferred calibrations and found the car a surprisingly willing track companion.
I do wish you could set the stability control system to its Corsa mode independent of driving mode. If you’re not in Corsa driving mode, your only stability control options are on, Sport, or off. Sport is a bit more aggressive than Corsa.
Thankfully, it’s a small point to belabor. The Aventador S is remarkably stable for a big, heavy, mid-engine car. With stability control off, it’s a little bit of a handful and demands a certain driving style, but it’s hardly the bucking bronco you’d expect it to be. Most importantly, it does not like to be trail-braked. Doing so will take too much weight off the rear end and cause it to dance around. If you’ve introduced even a little too much steering, that big V-12 will attempt to pass you in the corner. I’m pleasantly surprised to find the rear end steps out predictably and not all that quickly, allowing you to easily catch it with quick hands. Likewise on corner exit, a lead foot will kick the back end out, but it’s predictable and easily controlled, unusually so for a mid-engine car.
In general, though, its default cornering balance is mid-late corner understeer. If you finish your braking in a straight line and turn in smoothly at just the right speed, the S will sail through the corner and allow the all-wheel drive to pull it out of the exit. Ask a little too much of it, and it’s mild to moderate understeer all the way through. With stability control on, your only option is to stay off the throttle and wait it out. With it off, a well-timed stab of the throttle will loosen the rear end and put the car into a small four-wheel drift, which if done correctly will point the car out of the corner. Precisely how it will react depends on your driving mode, as each has a different front/rear torque bias, with Strada set to 40/60 percent front/rear, Sport at 10/90, and Corsa at 20/80.
Should you choose to keep stability control switched on so as not to ball-up your $421,350 USD car (before options and customization), you’ll find it’s very polite about correcting you. It doesn’t grab angrily at the brakes or shut the throttle off. Rather, it brakes just enough to keep the car straight and restricts the throttle only enough to prevent oversteer. This eliminates the option to correct understeer with the throttle, so you’ll just have to drive better on the way into the corner.
The Aventador S is also remarkably composed over bumps and curbing. The upgrade to magnetorheological shocks is a welcome one because even in Corsa mode they soak up bumps nicely and keep the chassis settled and planted to the ground.
The weak point remains with the transmission. As refined as Lamborghini has been able to get it, the compromise inherent to a single-clutch automated manual remains. Shifts are comparatively slow and clunky, exacerbated by the incredible acceleration g’s before and after the shift. The new software is an improvement, but it’s still nothing like a Huracan or any dual-clutch-equipped competitor (Lamborghini says there simply isn’t enough room to package a dual-clutch transmission with the engine pointed backwards and the transmission between the seats). As a result, upshifts still induce a big shunt, though it’s no longer the shovel to the back of the head it used to be. Upshifting while exiting a corner feels as though it could unbalance the car, though it never did. Coming completely off the throttle at high RPM also introduces a shunt as it would in a high-powered manual transmission car, though it’s been mitigated somewhat by transferring engine torque forward to reduce dive.
Processing all these nuances at once requires practice. The Aventador S remains a wickedly quick car. The accelerative capability of that screaming V-12, which sounds as good as ever and spits fire constantly from the tailpipes under full throttle, is enough to make even power-jaded supercar drivers widen their eyes. Corners arrive in an instant, and with the car firmly against trail braking, getting your braking point right is critical. The big carbon-ceramics seem to lose their initial bite as they heat up, and the pedal gets a little longer. That being said total braking force doesn’t diminish, and the pedal is easy to modulate. The weight transfer also takes a little getting used to. It happens quickly and can fool you into thinking the car’s going to get loose when it actually has plenty of grip left. Once in the corner, it’s best to have adopted a race car-like reclined seating position because the low windshield header can make looking through some corners difficult if you sit upright.
It’s no exaggeration to say the Aventador S is much better on the track than the original Aventador. As you might expect, it’s not as capable or easy to drive at race speeds as the hardcore Aventador SV, but it’s a big step in the right direction. What’s it like on the street, though? It’s largely improved there as well.
You’ll find a much nicer car to live with day to day. The adaptive magnetorheological shocks are a godsend, enormously improving ride quality and reducing interior noise. The transmission shifts more smoothly than before, though it’s still with a frustrating shunt. It’s slow, lazy, and left to its own devices in Strada mode, so I’d recommend flicking those wonderful paddles at your fingertips or at least setting it to Sport. The quicker front ratio and rear steering help the big car feel much more nimble, though no smaller, on a tight canyon road. Again, seating position matters because it can be difficult to look through corners, and the seat’s lowest vertical position isn’t that low. Lay it back.
Unfortunately, I cannot give a full account of the Aventador S’ on-road performance capability because it began to rain just as we set off on our road drive. Despite Pirelli’s assurance that wet weather performance is improved on these specially designed PZero tires, even moderately aggressive driving on wet roads would induce understeer or oversteer and bring on the stability control.
I do have one request, though, and that’s to ditch the rear wing position light on the dash. It flashes every time the wing changes position, which is almost constantly on a track or windy road as you speed up and slow down. It’s very distracting, and it’s useless information, anyway. Aside from an updated digital instrument cluster without the frames around the gauges, the interior is largely the same, though only the older-model, Audi-sourced infotainment system is showing its age.
Since the introduction of the Gallardo, Lamborghini has seemed content to focus its handling refinements on the smaller, lighter supercar and let the Murcielago and now Aventador stick to straight line shock and awe. Thankfully, those days are done. The Aventador S is the latest example of a refreshing new trend in building more rounded, capable, 12-cylinder Lamborghinis. As good as the Huracan is, there remains an allure to the big, angry, no-quarter Aventador, and we can’t help but smile a little broader as it strikes more blows against the laws of physics.