TO SAY THAT LAMBORGHINIS are rare is something of an understatement. Sure, you might spot one twice or even three times a week in Hong Kong, London, Los Angeles or Singapore, but that doesn't make them so commonplace that heads don't swivel compulsively whenever a car from Sant'Agata Bolognese appears – always spectacularly and invariably noisily – on the street or highway.
Indeed, to put their relative scarcity into some kind of perspective, consider that in 2013 the Volkswagen Group, which owns the Italian supercar maker, delivered more than 9.73 million motor vehicles to customers around the world; of those, little more than 2,100 were Lamborghinis. Reflect too on the fact that it took almost 11 years to build 14,022 Gallardos – Lambo's best-selling model ever – a number that roughly equates to half of VW's current daily output. So although Lamborghini President and CEO Stephan Winkelmann says production will grow with the introduction of the Huracán, the long-awaited replacement for the Gallardo, don't expect annual numbers to rise much above 3,000 units. That means the new car should still be covetously thin on the ground, even if it can't quite be counted alongside the California condor or the Iberian lynx on the list of the planet's endangered species.
Unveiled at this year's Geneva auto salon and rolled out in Asian markets from September, the Huracán LP 610-4 – it's named after a 19th-century Spanish fighting bull – builds on the elements that made the Gallardo such a game-changer for the company, yet it's far more than a mere skin job. It looks fabulous, of course, melding the sharp-edged triangles, trapezoids and hexagons of the Aventador with the slightly cab-forward stance of its predecessor, and resembling an angry snake from the front. Although lines such as these could belong to no other automobile but a Lamborghini, it's elegant, fresh and contemporary – and despite measuring 4.5 metres and being a little longer than the outgoing car, it somehow seems smaller than it is.
As with its predecessor, a naturally aspirated 5.2-litre V10 sits behind the cabin: wonderfully old school, yes, but – thanks to new cylinder heads, a combination of direct and multipoint injection, and start-stop technology – cleaner, more fuel efficient, more powerful (up by 40bhp to 602, or 610PS) and more torquey (560Nm at 6,500rpm, but with 75 percent of that number available from just 1,000rpm) than the previous engine. And though conceding some 40 horses to the rival McLaren 650S's twin-turbo V8, it makes up for that modest power shortfall by being so insanely noisy that it threatens to shatter windows whenever you press the starter (which, as with the Aventador's, resembles a fighter jet's weapons button).
The platform is still largely built from aluminium, but now features carbon fibre for the transmission tunnel and the rear passenger cell and door sills, substantially increasing rigidity while also reducing weight. Sourced like all recent Lambo gearboxes from Graziano, the seven-speed transmission is no longer the venerable semi-auto e-Gear of yore, but a thoroughly modern dual-clutch (doppia frizione, which I can almost imagine ordering in Starbucks), with three modes – Strada, Sport and Corsa – selected via a brightred anima (“soul”) switch mounted on the steering wheel (which is also where you'll find the indicator, wiper and high-beam controls). The anima also adjusts suspension, steering, power vectoring to all four wheels, and even the exhaust note, and is thus not unlike Ferrari's manettino.
Although fast, previous Lamborghinis factored plenty of fear and unpredictability into the driving equation, but this latest supercar could hardly be more carefully or cleverly modulated. All-wheel drive first arrived at the marque with the launch of the Murciélago in 2001 and has since been fitted to all cars except a number of special-edition Gallardos. For the Huracán, however, it's been massively tweaked with an electronic front differential that can handle up to half of the engine's torque (normally the split is 30:70 front:rear, though in some conditions as much as 100 percent can be fed to the back wheels). This is backed up by a battery of electronic systems, including centre-mounted gyro-scopes and accelerometers that monitor and control almost every aspect of the car's behaviour, from the weight and feel of the dynamic, electromagnetic steering to the settings of the optional active suspension.
The leading-edge tech also extends to the cabin, where traditional gauges are replaced by a TFT display that can be switched between several modes, one of which offers a navigation map directly beneath the driver's line of sight. A slim console linking the dash with the transmission tunnel is the location for the supplementary gauges and switches, the multimedia controls that broadly resemble those of parent Audi's MMI system, and the starter button, as well as the horseshoe-shaped lever that lifts to engage reverse gear. Manual gearbox shifts are effected via the enormous paddles behind the wheel (purists may be disappointed by the unavailability of a three-pedal, stick-shift option), and there's a modern electronic parking brake mounted on the console. Completing the cockpit is a pair of super-supportive bucket seats clad in a combination of Alcantara and leather. Visibility through the steeply raked front screen is great, while the side mirrors reveal a broad sweep of the road behind – which is just as well, as the louvred engine cover is virtually useless as a rear window.
Not that much coming from behind is likely to bother you anyway, as the Huracán leaves most other vehicles for dead in its dust. In spite of the unholy racket on start-up, in Strada mode it's refined, relaxed and even easier to drive than the Gallardo, being happy to dawdle at 50km/h in sixth or even seventh, though the supercar soundtrack serves as a constant reminder of its latent, pent-up power. But switch the anima to the Sport position and the fireworks begin, as torque is vectored towards the rear axle and the entire car becomes, well, animated.
It's then that you realise just how great it is to drive this new Lambo. Throttle response from the naturally aspirated engine is instantaneous, yet the plethora of electronic systems means that even when travelling very, very fast, the car seems so totally in control you're rarely even close to losing it. In fact, short of deliberately pointing the thing at a brick wall at 200km/h, I'm hard pressed to imagine a context in which you'd come horribly unstuck.
Engine howling and tailpipes popping and crackling, the Huracán darts along twisty roads like a demented bat, the carbon-ceramic brakes hauling off the speed, and the quick and precise steering carving a sharp line through the curves. Outside of a racetrack, or perhaps a Bugatti Veyron, this is about as epic an automotive experience as it gets, with cyclonic acceleration (0-100km/h in 3.2 seconds, just two-tenths slower than its McLaren competitor), and grip and handling that verge on the unbelievable – and all served up with the supersized attitude and personality that we've come to expect from a car that wears the fighting-bull badge.
A 650S may just have the edge on the road and on the track, and Maranello's forthcoming twinturbo 458, which could well put the frighteners on both, also looms. Yet stiff though the challenge is that each competitor poses, neither can detract from the huge strides this “baby” Lamborghini represents, or how satisfying – and, indeed, desirable – a car it is. It looks amazing – prettier, certainly, than the McLaren and easily as gorgeous as the Ferrari. It sounds like a proper supercar should – and for how long will we be able to say that about any automobile? It drives amazingly. And as a technological achievement (and not least for Lamborghini) it verges on the brilliant.
What's not rare and covetable about any one of those?