James May. Three Lambo Aventadors.

Whenever I see an Alfa Romeo drive by,” said Henry Ford, “I tip my hat.”
If I wore a hat, I’d also tip it at any Lamborghini that drives by. Since I don’t, I usually just smile to myself or maybe even applaud the driver lightly. Thank God there are Lamborghini owners in the world, bringing these absurdist performance artworks, this automotive pageantry, out onto the streets for the rest of us to enjoy. Lambos are the perfect riposte to po-faced Ferraris and overpowered German executive saloons, and no matter how good the day already is, it improves on the appearance of a Lambo.
Words: James May

This feature was originally published in the June issue of Top Gear magazine

Here's a new one, the Aventador: 6.5 litres of V12 pumping Italian piston power shrouded in a body built from carbon fibre and aluminium, and then artfully arranged on double-wishbone and pushrod racecar suspension. Nice, isn't it? I've got the fizz. Being a Lamborghini means it's a supercar and therefore rather useless, but as Ovid told us, that may simply make it art. Anyway, the Albert Memorial is useless, and we're quite happy with that.

I must say it's a long time since I studied the shape of a new car like I did this Lamborghini's. In broad terms, it's very Lamborghini-shaped: cab forward, long wheelbase, a fat arse and a general sense of bulk at the rear tapering to relatively bugger-all at the front. The windscreen is steeply raked and makes only a token effort at levelling out for that bit in the nose where you put your ‘soft overnight bag'.

The more you look at it, though, the more interesting it becomes. The back seems to have been inspired by some kitchen implement designed to cut vegetables into interesting patterns. In fact, the whole car is based around a simple and infinitely variable stylistic theme that is technically a plumped-up quadrilateral, but that we'll call a lozenge. For the musically inclined, this basic lozenge shape is like the subject of a Bach fugue. The more you listen, the more you notice it cropping up where you didn't notice it last time.

It's in the wheel spokes, the lights, the various vents and ducts, the glass slats over the engine bay, the mirrors, the stalks the mirrors are mounted on, and so on and so on. There's always another detail springing from lozenge philosophy waiting to surprise you.
Look, for example, at the curious and delicious relationship between the rear wheel and its arch. The wheel is necessarily round, but the arch isn't a regular curve. It's been corrupted slightly by The Lozenge. It's wonderful. There's the odd departure as well, such as the way a rear haunch appears from the three-quarter angle. It looks like a damp dock leaf draped over the hip of a naked supermodel.

Look, I know it's all a bit childish, and there's more than a hint of Transformers about it. It even has an extending wing thing at the back. But it can't be dismissed as simply a masturbatory pubescent fantasy, as some would have it, because it's much, much cleverer than that.
We have three Aventadors to play with, a black one, a white one and an orange one. I choose orange. For one thing, the colour lends a soft and slightly chewy quality to the complex shape, but more to the point, this is a Lamborghini, and there's no point in trying to be cool about it. You're going to look a bit of a berk anyway.

Climbing aboard, the first thing I notice is that a Lambo still doesn't smell as nice as a Ferrari. The second is the first of several signs that this sort of car is beginning to seem like a bit of a dinosaur. It's a fair old clamber, to be honest, and pulling the scissor door shut feels like an operation that will one day put my back out.
There's more lozengy tomfoolery in here, notably in the instrument binnacle, which is doubtless designed to make the driver feel like a fighter pilot.
Then there's the engine start button, which lives under a red flap on the centre console. Don't be ridiculous, Lambo! It's only a car.

Press this, and the engine starts with an indulgent blip up to about 3,000rpm, which is a bit embarrassing in public. The instruments come alive, glowing in blues and yellows like the face of an IWC Jacques Cousteau diver's watch. Rev the engine, and the sweeping tacho needle colours the scale in as it passes; select a gear with the paddles, and the appropriate number enlarges like the icons down the bottom of an Apple Mac screen. But 'tis all illusory, as these are actually screens.
This means they are, to some extent, reconfigurable. Hold a button on the end of the wiper stalk, and the dominant central dial can be switched between rev-counter and speedo. I choose the rev-counter, because I'm abroad, and so the actual speed doesn't matter.

There are too many buttons in here, though, including some for voice control, phonebooks, and what have you. Are they expecting me to do some work? Somehow, communications and satnav yoke my soul to the drudgery of the everyday. All I want to do in my Lambo is drive around. How can they take such a purist and uncompromising stance on the engine, the structure and the suspension, and then clutter the cabin with the trappings of admin? I blame Audi. Just because you have this stuff in a cupboard somewhere, doesn't mean you have to use it on every car. I don't put balsamic vinegar on my Sugar Puffs.

More relevant buttons include those that change the engine, gearbox and suspension settings between Strada (road), Sport (sport) and Corsa (track), and the traction control switch, which I'm forbidden to touch on this car. Fine by me.
Other things I notice: the seats are good. The dash reflects annoyingly in the windscreen, but would, because it is the size of a squash court. The engine sounds restrained. Now that's a bit of a surprise.
It's definitely a V12 sound, but quite old-fashioned and mechanical, definitely created by things going up and down and round and round rather than by any creative tampering with the exhaust. Smooth, too, and fairly quiet. This Lamborghini is refined.

Select first; pull away. This is not a trendy double-clutch gearbox, but a robotic manual that now seems as old as the hat worn by Henry Ford, mentioned above. It was done this way to save weight and space, but also to give the driver, says Lamborghini, "the emotion of the shifting". I've no idea what they're talking about.
Initial pull-away can be difficult to achieve smoothly, and sometimes, just as you lift off at a crawl, the clutch decides to engage fully, meaning the function of the accelerator seems to have been reversed. But once on the move, it works rather well.

On the move, however, is where the Aventador frustrates me slightly. First up, the relationship between the driving position and the car's extremes conspire to make it feel wider than it is. Trouble is, it's already very wide, and the extra margin at the nearside, added out of neurosis, can make oncoming traffic intimidating. Progress is constantly interrupted by the fear of planting a catastrophic kiss on the side of a Fiat Doblo.
This is the great paradox of the supercar. A car with enormous grip and slingshot acceleration ought to be most fun on a winding road. But the quest for power begets bulk and ultimately width, meaning that pleasant, scenic B-road is the one where the car can't be used with confidence. Most really nice roads, in Europe at least, tend to be narrow.

Visibility is also a bit shonky, and at any oblique junction you really need a small boy walking ahead with a series of coloured flags.
I find a broader bit of tarmac and give it the beans. The acceleration is, of course, apocalyptic, and a fantastic and hitherto-unknown world of hairy overtaking opportunities presents itself. Something nice happens in the furious thrashings of the engine at around 3,500rpm, where a faint and faintly foreboding dark rumble asserts itself.

Drop it down a few cogs for a truly ballistic passing manoeuvre, and something else interesting happens. As the power piles in, the front shimmies slightly before settling down and providing lovely meaty but fast-acting steering feel. It's a fleeting thing, this, but feels like an intimacy. It's lovely.
The ride, unsurprisingly, is pretty tough, even in the Strada setting. But it's a sophisticated sort of firmness, born, I suspect, from the rigidity of the bodyshell (a carbon-fibre monocoque with aluminium used for the opening bits), which, as we know, frees the suspension engineer to do his best work without having to accommodate the bendiness of the superstructure.

Given that a supercar is actually largely unusable on the real road, all this could be done away with and the ride made more bearable. But somehow this wouldn't be right. The quest for stiffness and the equally unbending insistence on using proper track-car suspension gives the Aventador credibility, and, in a strange way, permits the extravagances of the stylist. If it were not a serious performance car at heart, it would be naught but a novelty item. This is why we like wristwatches that have been to the moon, even though we only wear them down the pub.

So I stick it in Sport. The ride stiffens up even further, the throttle response becomes a little crisper, and the gearchanges more vicious. More overtakes are committed, leaving a broadening wake of good humour behind the Aventador. At least I hope so. There goes a prat in a bright orange Lamborghini. You have to laugh, surely?
But it still feels a bit too wide.

So I find an autostrada and, weirdly, the Aventador starts to make more sense than it has all day. It helps that Italy's motorways, especially in the South, have proper bends in them, a legacy of their development after the war from more mundane roads.
At high speed (whatever it is; I've still got the tacho up, and the speed is just a number in a window somewhere), it settles down nicely. Peak power of 690bhp means there is always the luxury of lots of it in reserve, and the ride improves. As I said, the seats are great, and the poor over-the-shoulder visibility becomes less of a problem, because the mirrors are actually excellent when everyone's going the same way.

Great, long sweepers are dispatched in the curling echo of a V12, etc., etc., etc. It's exciting, it feels planted.
What really amazes me, though, is that the Aventador is just so damned civilised. The engine delivers its muted howl, it transmits enough fascinating tremors through the buttocks and fingertips, it nags away behind your head very slightly. But it's never granular, or intrusive, and it never booms. It's a creamy soup with a few interesting solid bits in it. This Lambo is relaxing.
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