A Lamborghini Aventador S is a statement car. It’s a statement that you’ve made it, that you’ve got money to burn, that you want a big, bad, impractical supercar and are willing to throw down $420,000 to make that dream a reality.
When I think about blowing nearly half a million bucks on discretionary vehicles, I try imagine how many different experiences I could cram into the limit. I’d get an AirCam, an E39 BMW M5, a Lotus Seven, a dirt bike, a Honda RC30, a paraglider, a Hobie Cat, and either a KTM Super Duke R or a Ducati Multistrada. I haven’t done the math, but all that—some of it new, some of it secondhand—should scrape in way below $400k. Perhaps it’s not fair though, to compare Lamborghini’s newest supercar with a barn full of dirt bikes and moldy boats.
But the Lamborghini Aventador owner doesn’t care about experiences, unless that experience is making everyone else around him (or her, but you can admit that your stereotypical Lambo owner is a certain type of dude) know how rich they are.
In the olden days, performance cars had lithe, aerodynamic shapes to cheat the wind and capture hearts. When someone did catch a glimpse of you howling by in your sinewy Italian machinery, any gawking would be ephemeral. Today, phone cameras roll and an Aventador driver will find himself the unwitting star of a hundred tiny films. Bend the fender or get ticketed and you’ll find yourself more famous still. It’s all a bit gauche.
For those looking for attention, an Aventador is hard to beat. Post a picture of yours at a McDonald’s drive-thru and it’ll do better than Instagram’s other darlings: cliff jumps, girls in bikinis, and Paris. And though a picture of a fluffy kitten might get more “likes,” they won’t be the jealous, longing likes that’ll light up your Lambo post. #theyhateuscausetheyaintus #richkidsofinstagram #aventadors, etc.
It’s a sentiment that resonates with a lot of people, apparently; Lamborghini has more than doubled sales in the past five years, from 1,602 to 3,457. And that sales growth is not just from YouTubers and Instagram bros. If you’re too old for social media, an Aventador will transform you into a Cars and Coffee gawkee and spark conversations with well-connected local players.
I hope by this point you’re rolling your eyes and thinking “Hashtags be damned! What’s wrong with the world, aren’t Lambos about speed, scissor-doors, and V12 insanity?” That’s the question I hoped to answer during my time with the car in Valencia.
(Full Disclosure: Lamborghini needed me to drive their new Aventador S so badly that they flew me to Spain, fed me rabbit paella and nougat ice cream, then watched as I turned off the ESP and blasted off around the track as I concentrated quite hard on extracting satisfying smoker slides from their $420,000 car.)
Indeed, the new Aventador S seems like it might be undriveably fast. The power has grown—from an already-respectable 700 horsepower—to 740 BHP, downforce is up, and they’ve added snake fangs to its new, pointy snout.
When you hear the giant V12 screaming down a straightaway at 8500 RPM or gaze at the 355-section P-Zeros, it’s clear that this is a bona fide supercar. The “S” model is a mid-cycle facelift with more power, four-wheel steering, new dampers, and an attractive new face.
At the launch event, I didn’t even bring a smartphone (and everyone made fun of me for it), so I had the chance to experiment instead with all the various settings and stability control programs over a few on-track sessions. Then I spent the afternoon exploring the mountains in an unguided, V12-powered tour of the Spanish countryside. Here’s what I learned.
The Aventador S is almost—but not quite—the most powerful Lamborghini available. That title goes to the Aventador SV, a less-sophisticated, 750-BHP brute (only two-wheels that steer) which briefly lost the top spot when the limited-to-40 units 770 BHP Centenario was on sale but wasn’t yet sold out.
The SV featured continuously-adjustable magnetorheological dampers to control its pushrod suspension, and the Centenario debuted a first for Lamborghini: four-wheel steering. I reckon it’s all hand-me-down tech from Audi boffins; the Q7 has four-wheel steering and the R8 sits on similar, uh, meteorological dampers. The Aventador S gets both systems.
Thanks to the first 4WS Prelude in the 80’s, I’ve always thought of four-wheel steering in terms of improving a car’s turning circle or for enabling smoother lane-changes, but Lamborghini presented their concept as a way to change the handling characteristics by way of a “virtual wheelbase.”
Short-wheelbase cars are nimble at low speeds, but twitchy at higher speeds. Long-wheelbase cars are more stable at high speeds but cumbersome at low speeds. The answer? Make all the wheels turn. Using the same system that first appeared on Lamborghini’s Centanario, the Aventador S turns its rear wheels up to 3-degrees in the opposite direction of the front wheels at speeds under 43 mph—for a virtual wheelbase 20” shorter than the actual wheelbase. At higher speeds, the rear wheels turn in the same direction as the front wheels, adding up to 28” to the virtual wheelbase.
Lamborghini brought a 2WS Aventador LP 700-4 along for us to take through a slalom for a back-to-back test against the 4WS “S”. The 4WS made a massive difference in low-speed agility; the new car felt light and nimble while the LP 700-4 felt like a cramped beast reluctantly putting up with the slalom and biding its time until it could stretch its legs.
Listen: getting into a Lamborghini is an event. You get to pull one of those crazy doors down for the very first time, check out the radically raked A-pillars, and then do your best to work out how to start the car (Hint: check under the red hexagonal flap half-way down the center).
When you do find the starter button, the engine management system automatically blips the throttle as it fires up—eliminating any chance of a subtle getaway, but pleasing to bystanders and, presumably, your ego—then the giant twelve settles into a busy mechanical whirr until you click the right paddle shifter to engage first, and pull away.
The nose tucked into corners and thought there was a bit of understeer, but overall grip was tremendous; just the odd vibration let you know the ESP was at work. The steering wheel writhed on the way out of corners as the all-wheel drive system sent power to the front.
The shifts were the craziest bit, though. In Corsa mode, full-throttle shifts produce an ultra-violent shock from the single-clutch transmission powerful enough to disrupt the balance of the car mid-corner, though easing off the throttle just before shifting calmed them down a touch. You can understand why supercar owners love smooth dual-clutch systems—indeed, many prospective Aventador owners were hoping for a dual-clutch unit in this update—but Lamborghini claimed that the aggressive shifts are part of the car’s character.
Engineer Maurizio Reggiani told me that “With a double clutch, there is no interruption of torque, but it’s not really emotional. This way, you have more emotion, more feeling of the gear, more feeling of power.” By the end of the day I was getting a kick out of these big bangs, and they’re now one of the main memories I have of the car.
Once I’d learned the track and gotten to grips with the car’s performance, I selected Ego mode and hand-picked Corsa steering, Sport powertrain, and Strada suspension. Then I turned off the ESP to complete my home-cooked “drift mode,” which conveniently did away with the aggressive shifts, fed 90 percent of the power to the rear wheels, and softened up the suspension to make the car less twitchy.
Brake hard into a corner, turn in at the last minute to get the car rotating, then feed in the power to get the car drifting through the corner. Get it right and it’s a great feeling; the steering wheel dancing in your hands as the power comes up the drive-shaft and to the front wheels. The torque steer can feel taxing when you’re at the limit. Imagine you’re at full-throttle trying to control a slide, the biblical soundtrack howling away in your ears. You’re working with the gas and steering wheel to dictate the trajectory, and then the steering wheel suddenly comes alive with torque-steer and starts trying to lead the dance, tugging this way and that. Sliding this car demands your full attention.
If you care more about airstrips than track days, it’ll get to 60 in 2.9 seconds and you’ll finally stop accelerating at 217 mph. Two point nine seconds! Insane.
Lamborghinis are legendarily difficult to reverse—but when you press the “R” button on the console, the nav-screen switches to the rear-view camera, replete with bendy parallel parking lines overlaid to indicate the car’s trajectory. The view rearward through the louvers isn’t bad either, and the big, hexagonal mirrors fill in the rest of the picture. I wonder if backing up in a supercar is a driving technique now consigned to the annals of history.
On the street, the S bordered on luxurious. When you’re out of the throttle, the gear changes won’t snap your neck. There’s has climate control, a stereo, and, finally, Apple Play. It only shouted “supercar” when we dispatched slower vehicles and left them quivering in our cacophonic wake, or when we saw the reactions of elated bystanders who were watching us roll by.
Nits to pick? The front splitter gets uncomfortably close to speed bumps. Lamborghini had the foresight to add a button that lifts the front of the car, but the nose drops back down once you crack 45 mph and it’s necessary to press the button again before the next speed bump. Maybe Lamborghini should come out with a setting that always raises the nose at low speeds… or an SUV.
It could be the bottomless power of the motor, or the four-wheel steering upgrade, or the optional center-lock wheels. But a flagship Lamborghini’s killer feature is always going to be its shape. Whether you see a snake, a fighter jet, or a doorstop among the dozens of hexagons and careful lines that recall the Countach, the Aventador’s racy, angular look screams speed and excess in a way no other mass-produced exotic can match.
Ferraris and Porsches come in many shapes and sizes, but Lamborghini has been cranking out wedge-shaped, scissor-doored dream machines for the last 40+ years—and the brand’s signature shape has been burned into our collective brain. Pedestrians literally jumped up and down and waved as we went by, and drivers on the highway pulled out their phones to click off a few pictures.
The car has presence. It has to. Can you imagine Team Salmone riding around town and Gumballing in a measly Huracán, like some cadet? Would you trust that guy to manage your messy Long Island divorce?
I’ll say it: The Aventador doesn’t have scissor doors. Look at these Lambos from the olden days. Countach, Diablo, or Murciélago—none of them got an inch wider with their doors to the sky, which is cool because when I close my eyes and drive from Italy to Le Mans and wait in the long line to park, I’m in a Countach (or 300SL, depending how far in time I travel), and I creep along cockily at idle, spindly door up in the air while I enjoy the breeze and take in the scenery.
An Aventador with doors akimbo could probably get away with it, but you could also crack an Accord’s door open and roll along in traffic.
Besides, aren’t “Lambo doors” that swing out the mark of an imposter? Remember Bam Margera and his Gallardo, to which he famously added “Lambo doors,” or the magnificent cars that graced the pages of Donk, Box, & Bubble? The mark of a retrofitted scissor door is that it swings up at an angle. I dig wacky door swings as much as the next guy, but you don’t have to be Ken Jennings to know that scissor doors ought to flip straight up. I reckon scissor doors look more theatrical and better finished when there’s a frame that goes around the window, too.
The folks at Lamborghini told me that the Aventador’s frameless doors must swing out a bit specifically because they don’t have frames, and must come in at an angle to nestle into place before the window automatically rolls up a fraction of an inch to make a seal with the roof. An added benefit is that the when the doors are closed, the roof has no shut lines or rain rails. That makes for a pretty roof, and the doors do look cool, but they aren’t scissor doors.
They way they swing out is a tiny bit weirder than plain scissor doors. Could scissor doors be played out, a fuddy-duddy supercar-door grandpa? Perhaps Lamborghini thinks so and has gone for a more dramatic swing.
My time with the car—and its extreme capability and exotic looks—underlined the fact that driving enjoyment is a combination of who you’re with, what roads and weather you’re dealing with, and what machine you’re piloting.
If one of the ingredients is off—in this case, the roads and the weather—you’ll be left with something other than a fantastic drive. A car with this sort of performance also makes you acutely aware of the legal trouble you could get in for exploiting its performance. You imagine how you’d drive if your commute included a stretch of unlimited Autobahn, or if you lived in a country (or maybe California) where connections or a wad of cash makes policemen look the other way with regards to excessive speed.
But if you can come to grips with the fact that this bright yellow wedge is just a car, you’ll find it capable at both ends of the driving spectrum, a cosseting Dr. Jekyll that’ll deactivate cylinders and self-tune its suspension to waft you around town in supreme comfort, yet be willing to scream at you as soon as you mash the throttle, ready to beat you to death with those ludicrous kaboom shifts and hurl you toward the horizon like a trebuchet.
This car makes you into a star, whether your dream is to be an F1 ace sliding around the track, a movie mogul getting his car valeted at the Casino de Monte-Carlo, or a Lambo-driving competitive gamer who lives with his parents and has a million YouTube subscribers. The car has more than enough power and now—thanks to the four-wheel steering—the agility to back up its shouty good looks.
Get the exhaust hot and it’ll shower you with a popcorn machine overrun when it’s finally time to back off, slow down, and show the world you’ve made it.
Nick Goddard will give any rideable a chance. When he’s not riding a stand-up electric scooter, the latest superbike, or an ultimate wheel, he’s contemplating how BlaBlaCar and free-floating vehicle share will change the transportation landscape. See more of his work here.