Piloting the last production V12 to ever grace a production Lamborghini through the automaker’s hometown of Sant’Agata Bolognese was a remarkable moment — one heavy with history and responsibility.
(Lamborghini flew me to Bologna, Italy, put me up in a hotel, fed me amazing food and let me loose on the countryside with a fueled up Aventador LP 780-4 Ultimae.)
So many supposedly supercars designed today are created with the causal or newly rich owner in mind (a group that has grown exponentially during the COVID-19 pandemic). Brands like McLaren or Porsche sprinkle racing heritage into their consumer cars, and real enthusiasts can put money down on models that are more interesting, most are generally safe and easy to operate. Lamborghini does this as well — the Urus is the brand’s best seller — but it also produces the most savage, wild vehicles around.
Lamborghini makes cars for Lamborghini fans; people who are willing to pay top dollar for access to its DNA and no other car is more Lamborghini than the last to bear the automaker’s signature twelve cylinder engine: The Aventador LP 780-4 Ultimae. This is not a half-million dollar ride for nouveau rich who intend to actually drive the car. The Ultimae is like owning a circus tiger. Sure, it can perform fantastic tricks under a steady, experienced hand, but turn your back for a second and its ready to rip the leash from its beloved master and serve them up for dinner.
And also like that tiger, the Ultimae is a dying breed. And let’s be honest, the 600 or so owners who manage to get their hands on one will likely cage this beast in their own personal collections. While this is a tragedy (we are very obviously pro-drive the damn cars here) I don’t know if I’d take it for a walk out in public like its a regular house pet either.
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What is it?
The Aventador LP 780-4 Ultimae is the last of a decade-old model that first hit the collective subconscious in 2011. Only 350 coupes and 250 roadsters will be built and all are already spoken for, though 15 of them are currently at the bottom of the ocean, having met their watery grave on the Felicity Ace. It’s also the last Lamborghini to contain the automaker’s spirited (or, depending on your catechism, possessed) 6.5-liter “Longitudinal Posteriore” V12 combustion engine. From here on out, the most powerful engine you’ll be able to purchase from Lamborghini is a V10. It produces 780 CV (or around 770 horsepower), 10 more than the automaker was able to squeeze out for the SVJ.
That growling engine is served up via Lamborghini’s Independent Shifting Rod 7-Speed shifting system. Lamborghini says the ISR provides robotized gearshifts in up to 50 milliseconds. In our experience however, the ISR shifts up to that 7th gear in no time flat and stays there, choking the revs below 4,000 and withhold true torque goodness until the 6,000 rev mark. If you’re boring enough to avoid using the paddle shifters though, you probably deserve such a prosaic ride.
The Ultimae saves weight and increases rigidity thanks to all sorts of carbon fiber bits throughout the body. It comes in at 1,550 kg or 3,417 lbs, pretty good for a 12-cylinder, four-wheel drive beast. That’s 25 kg less than the Aventador S with the same weight-to-power ratio of the SVJ. It comes with a top speed of 355 km/h or 222 mph (which we didn’t even get to flirt with on the winding hilly roads and truck-clogged freeways around Parma and Bologna.) It comes with four-wheel steering to increase stability at high speed. In addition to four wheel steering, the Ultimae is in a permanent state of four-wheel drive — useful on the rough, hilly roads throughout the Italian countryside.
Lambo gives you four familiar drive modes — Strada, Sport, Corsa (Track) and Ego, which is a bit on the nose. Ego mode allows owners to set up the Aventador using their own preferences for things like steering, suspension and traction controls. I kept it in Strada and Sport, doing my best to be a responsible operator on town streets.
Its aggressive styling isn’t just eye-catching — the wide front splitter and open mouth of the LP 780-4 optimizes aerodynamic efficiency and cooling of the important bits. The downforce has been increased by 35 percent, according to the automaker, by decreasing the drag.
As a car made for collectors, it needed to stand out in a crowd. Designers sought to make the Ultimae recognizable as something a little different from your average Aventador models. For the first time, the front hood is in carbon fibre. The engine is showcased with a glass panel as the beating heart of the vehicle recalling a ’90s feel, which really was Lamborghini’s most glorious decade. The entire thing is a little lower, a little longer and anything but understated.
Lamborghini provides 18 standard colors for buyers, with an expanded library of over 300 available in both matte and glossy tones. The cars we drove came with a unique two-tone color scheme, with a darker shade on the bottom half of the car. A pretty cool effect. The Lamborghini signature Y (epsilon) is recalled throughout the car again and again from the details in the leather seats to the shape of the front end. The roof on the roadster is carbon fibre, and must be removed manually to be perfectly slotted in the forward-facing trunk.
It isn’t accessible. Like the Aventadors before it, this is a car that takes skill, time and devotion to master. The afternoon I spent behind the wheel was not nearly enough time to commune with it. Not just an enthusiast car, a pure Lamborghini enthusiast car. You can plug any Tom, Dick or Harry into a 720s or a 911 and they’ll have a time, but it takes a connoisseur of the brand to connect with the drive style of this vehicle and really make it shine.
This is not a vehicle that will babysit the driver. When you get into an Aventador’s driver’s seat, you best come correct. There’s no blind spot assist (despite much of the spots outside your window being fairly blind) and the back-up camera is quite basic. It also comes with an aging map display that makes figuring out the next steps in roundabouts fairly confusing. This is a car that demands your full attention on all aspects—a full body and mind drive and I appreciate that immensely. The seat itself is even mechanically adjusted up to the millimeter for the perfect driving position, increasing the fighter-pilot feel that Lamborghini is always striving for.
That stiff, carbon fibre laced chassis mixed with the rear-wheel steering allows the Ultimae to really hug the curves, allowing even this wide boi plenty of oomph in the corners.
The sound of the engine, well, there is nothing quite like it. Working the paddle shifters delivers immediate, naturally aspirated power to all four wheels. It’s a scream to drive, and would have been outstanding if I could have really opened it up. The Ultimae is capable of 0 to 125 mph in under 9 seconds—absolutely bonkers. To think it will never bellow from a production Lamborghini again is enough to make even the crunchiest green-machine-loving driver in our press pool curse modernity and embrace tradition. We will miss something inexplicable when its throaty call disappears from the jungle.
It isn’t accessible, which you might have notice was also in the good column. After three hours of speeding through heavy traffic and climbing up narrow village roads to hilltop castles, I was soaked in flop sweat from just trying to keep the damn thing on the straight and narrow (well, narrow at least). It doesn’t want to pick through hairpin curves and country roads at 25 mph. It wants to go, go, go and go now. In true Jalopnik fashion I’ll be the first to tell you I failed in my duty to keep the car on a short leash, nicking the carbon fiber splitter on an unusually high curb. My drive partner scrapped the bottom of the front as well on a stealthy bridge grate. Another journalist dumped the whole car into a ditch, earning it a brand-new front end and those are the just the spills we know about on the final wave of journalists.
It’s often considered a damn shame that these wild animals are locked in cold collections, rarely driven though often admired. This is not a car that should live behind glass... it is a car that is best enjoyed on a track. At pokey speeds the transmission gets muddy, trying to keep the car in high gears and not really shifting to where it needs to be. But really, no where on your average Joe public roads can this car really shine (well, not legally anyway.) It’s a chore. There’s no way around it.
The car is difficult to see out of it, it is long and wide and low making every imperfection in the pavement stand out to the driver. While the engine noise is fantastic and the power immediate, the road noise while on constant freeway speeds of 140 km/h creates a whirling affect that occasionally feels overwhelming.
These are complaints of a pedestrian driver. Such trivial marks against the Aventador do nothing to detract from the car’s majesty. It is, as I’ve said before, a car for a certain class of owner.
The end of the V12 does not mean Lamborghini is losing what makes it Lamborghini. There will still be fighter-jet style supercars with hybrids or turbos making valiant attempts to fill gaps left by reduced cylinders. Indeed I was also incredibly blessed to drive a Huracán Evo and honestly, it rocked. It was the kind of enjoyable car that can make a lifelong fan of the brand. But there’s nothing quite like this car—the sound, the responsiveness. This kind of sophisticated savagery is endangered, verging on extinct. We shall not see it’s like again.