“HANG ON,” I HEAR you mutter as you peruse the hero shot of our bright-orange Lamborghini Aventador LP700-4 test car, “haven't I seen one of these before in Prestige Hong Kong?” Indeed you have – not once, but twice. So why, I also hear you ask, are we revisiting it in these pages yet again?
My reasoning is simple. Although I've driven several Gallardos – the outgoing “entry-level” model whose decade-long production run helped guarantee the long-term survival of the Italian automobile company – I've never sat behind the steering wheel, let alone fired up the magnificent 6.5-litre V12 engine, of the Aventador, a car that many say is the most sensational (and very probably the best) machine ever to roll out of the factory in Sant'Agata Bolognese. Not only that, but aside from the wildly more costly Bugatti Veyron, and the incoming trio of hybrid road rockets from Ferrari, McLaren and Porsche, the Aventador has quickly been adopted as the yardstick by which all other hyper- and supercars are judged.
If the above weren't enough, it looks amazing, sounds glorious and moves like few cars on Earth. So when I click open the email asking whether I'd like to spend a day in the company of this ferocious beast, there's really no other answer than a fevered, “Yes, yes, yes – please!”
Named, says Lamborghini, after an exceptionally fearsome fighting bull of the 1990s, the Aventador stunned the motoring world when it first appeared in mid-2011, its audacious shape mixing huge trapezoidal intakes, knife-edged creases, flattish planes and exquisitely complex curves that flare over the wheel arches and around the tail to quite breathtaking effect, bringing to mind notions of earthbound stealth fighters and even, or at least in my wayward imagination, flying saucers. No one turns their head even a fraction these days when a 458 or MP4-12C cruises past them, but more than two years after its launch the merest sight of this outrageously hyperbolic creature has people reaching for cameras and smartphones, unashamedly to snap away at it. (In fact, I can attest that on my day out with the Lambo I derive almost as much pleasure admiring it from our chase car as I do from driving it.)
It's not just in appearance that the Aventador represents a quantum improvement over its predecessor, the Murcielago LP640, but probably in every other respect too. In place of what's essentially an old-fashioned steel space frame in the earlier car, Lamborghini's engineers have developed a high-tech carbon-fibre central monocoque, onto which aluminium frames have been attached at each end to carry the engine, transmission and suspension (the latter is pushrod, as in a pukka racing car), a combination that's both way lighter and far stiffer than before. In spite of displacing 6.5 litres, just like its predecessor's, the LP700's normally aspirated V12 motor is also all new, finally replacing an almost-50-year-old design that first appeared in 3.5-litre guise in the company's 350GT of the mid-1960s. It's lighter than the old lump and, because it has a shorter stroke, it's smoother and revs much more freely, too. As for power, there's obviously a good deal more of that also, with a maximum output of 700 metric horses (which works out at around 690bhp) available at 8,250rpm, and a thumping 690Nm of torque at 5,500rpm. For such a high-performance engine it's remarkably untemperamental, not only being content to dawdle in surprisingly high gears, but also pulling lustily when the TFT read-out indicates as low as 1,000 revs.
For the gearbox, Lamborghini has abandoned three pedals in favour of a Graziano-built two-pedal, single-clutch, robotised seven-speed set-up with three manual modes. Although the Aventador can be driven as an automatic, it's soon apparent that the normal Strada manual mode is really the only option for in-town driving, working well enough in spite of being a little clunky. Sport, on the other hand, is far more fun when there's an open road in front of you with very little traffic, while the extreme, manual-only Corsa track setting (which I don't even try) is reportedly plain bonkers. Naturally – and just in case you'd forgotten that the Lamborghini brand forms part of the Audi empire – in whatever mode you select, power is continually fed to all four wheels through an electronic Haldex central differential, which promises greater traction than any of the Lamborghini's direct competitors.
But I'm getting ahead of myself here, as I haven't even described getting into the car, which involves swinging up the scissor door, stooping down, inserting my left leg over the high wide sill and into the foot well, lowering my backside onto the seat and finally retrieving my right leg before pulling the door down shut – and once I've managed that, I discover I've done something rather painful to my neck. These contortions alone are sufficient to convince me that no owner, however passionate about the Aventador, is going to use the thing every day.
And yet, despite its width (almost 2.3 metres from mirror to mirror), its lowness (the roof is less than 1.3 metres from the ground) and the somewhat restricted vision (which is actually better than I expected, and there's a rear-view camera to aid with parking), the Lambo is far less of a handful than I expected and – dare I say it? – almost easy to drive.
Naturally the performance is insane. I'm in Hong Kong, where the fastest I'm allowed to drive anywhere is 11okm/h – a mere one-third of the Aventador's maximum speed. So I'm not going to put that to the test, but I can tell you that the acceleration is phenomenal, the car gathering momentum so fast that I feel as if I'm in a barrel being hurled over the edge of Niagara – and this while I'm actually going uphill. To achieve the claimed 0-100km/h time of 2.9 seconds (I'll say that again: 2.9 seconds), I'd have to select both Corsa and launch control, but even driven in normal mode the LP700-4 is blindingly quick, the sense of unquenchable power and speed only intensified by the noises from the V12 engine right behind me, a thrilling aural mash-up of snarls, wails and crackles.
Its stopping power is equally awesome, Lamborghini claiming that the massive carbon-ceramic discs can haul it to a standstill from 100 in a mere 30 metres, yet it all feels controlled and progressive. Not that I need to brake too hard on the winding stretch of country road I eventually find, as the chassis and suspension simply refuse to let the car get out of shape no matter what the tarmac throws at them. I should say here that as a man from Lambo is sitting next to me, I've sensibly decided not to switch off the ESP traction control system; had I done so, things might have been considerably wilder. The steering is brilliant, wonderfully precise and with bags of feel, though I can't really say the same for the ride, which is firm at best and, at worst, teeth-rattling.
I haven't mentioned the cabin, which blends Italian braggadocio – the starter-button cover recalls that of a guided-missile launch switch – with more sensible German tech, though I'm especially impressed by the big virtual dial that commands attention through the upper half of the steering wheel, whose default mode shows an “analogue” tach and digital speedo, though it can be reset the other way round. The seats and driving position, not so incidentally, are superb, and though there are resemblances to the Gallardo's cockpit here and there, it's far more modern and way, way superior.
As a real-world proposition, of course, no one in their right mind is going to use their Aventador for the daily commute – and in any case the average owner is likely to have a fleet of vehicles in the garage far more suited to that purpose. There'd also be the frustration of owning a motorcar that they'd rarely have the opportunity to drive at anything close to its limits, let alone their own.
And yet…if several million dollars were burning a hole in my pocket and I was looking for the ultimate outlandish toy, I'd be unlikely to find a better candidate than this big Lamborghini. For the Aventador is a phenomenon as much as a car, a force of nature that cocks a snoot at almost every contemporary convention, yet does so with such joy and flamboyance that it's impossible not to love it.