As driverless technology and electrification continue to grab headlines with increasing frequency, some enthusiasts are starting to get a bit nervous about the future prospects of driving for the sheer enjoyment of it. But if anyone needs evidence that the high performance arms race remains alive and well in 2018, they needn't look any further than the current battle for Nurburgring lap time supremacy.
After a few elements of the track were revised to enhance vehicle stability on the notoriously dangerous road course in response to a deadly accident during a VLN Endurance race in 2015, and the speed restrictions were subsequently lifted, it was only a matter of time before the production car lap time leader board started to see some new names. Still, Porsche had set the bar particularly high with the 918 Spyder, which posted a blistering lap time of 6:57.00 back in 2013 with their hybrid hypercar, making it the first production car to break the seven-minute barrier.
That record set by the 918 would stand for more than three years—a relative eternity considering how often the top spots have changed hands since this became a standard measurement for sports car performance. Then Lamborghini trotted out the new Huracan LP 640-4 Performante and promptly shattered the 918's record by nearly five seconds, posting a scarcely fathomable 6:52.01 on Pirelli Trofeo R rubber with a car that made significantly less power than the 918 and carried a much smaller price tag. Porsche has since answered back with their own hypercar-besting fast lap with the 911 GT2 RS, but that's a story for another day.
Although Green Hell lap times are a somewhat dubious metric of a road car's overall worth and capability, they do provide some indication of which automakers are truly striving to push the boundaries of capability, and which are focusing their efforts elsewhere.
"This vehicle is not just a matter of one or two technical features," says Alessandro Farmeschi, chief operating officer of Automobili Lamborghini America. "It is about the entire car—that is why we call it the Performante." Though it's easy to dismiss that as marketing speak, the near 36-second differential between the Huracan Performante and the standard Huracan LP 610-4—the latter of which ran a 7:28.0 around the Nordschleife also clad in Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R tires—should give skeptics some pause.
While all the available iterations of the Huracan are capable performers when unleashed on a road course, the Performante is the first road-going Huracan model that prioritizes track prowess above all else. When the call came in asking if I wanted to put Lamborghini's latest high performance missile through its paces on Thermal Club's road course, you can rightfully assume that it didn't take much convincing to get me out the door.
The Performante Formula
Though the Green Hell lap time and Farmeschi's assertion might imply that the Performante is a fairly dramatic departure from the standard Huracan template, it is instead a number of very strategic tweaks that, when coupled with a new, highly advanced active aero system, equates to a significantly more purpose-driven machine.
As weight is typically the enemy of performance, Lamborghini has taken significant strides to reduce mass in the Performante by using the company's own Forged Composite material on various elements of the bodywork. Those include the front and rear spoilers, the engine bay hood, the rear bumper and the aerodynamic diffuser, all of which adds up to an 88-pound drop from the LP 610-4 coupe's curb weight. Composed of chopped carbon fibers in a resin, Lamborghini says that the Forged Composite material allows the automaker to produce light weight components in shapes that are more complex than traditional carbon fiber allows for while maintaining similar structural stiffness.
Output from the naturally aspirated 5.2-liter V10 is up as well. An additional 30 horsepower and an equal number of pound-feet were found through the use of titanium valves and optimizations made to the intake and exhaust systems, the latter of which gets a new raucous soundtrack courtesy of a new set of pipes that have been redesigned to reduce both weight and back pressure. Topped off with a bronze intake manifold, this Italian screamer now dishes out 631 hp and 443 lb-ft,, making it the most powerful V10 Lamborghini has ever produced.
With the Performante's focus on road course capability, it comes as no surprise that the suspension has seen some revision as well. The vertical stiffness is up by 10 percent versus the standard coupe by way of revised spring rates, while roll stiffness increased by 15 percent thanks to beefed up sway bars. Lamborghini also says the stiffness of the radial and axial arm bushings have been increased by 50 percent, which should translate into improved lateral control out on the road. Both the standard electrically assisted power steering as well as the optional Lamborghini Dynamic Steering (LDS) systems have also been recalibrated for Performante duty with quicker ratios.
But perhaps the centerpiece of the Performante package is the Aerodinamica Lamborghini Attiva (ALA) system. Lamborghini puts a new spin on active aerodynamics here. Consisting of an active front splitter and rear wing, like other active aero systems ALA is designed to enhance downforce or reduce drag in real time, depending on the specific driving situation.
Two ducts installed in the engine bay are designed to direct airflow through the channels on each side of the wing. Like the active element of the front splitter, those ALA ducts are controlled by electro-actuated flaps, which can open or close in under 500 milliseconds. When closed, they allow the rear wing to promote high-speed stability like a traditional fixed wing would, offering 750% more downforce than a standard Huracan coupe. Conversely, when the system detects wide-open throttle acceleration, it will open those flaps to reduce drag, in turn improving acceleration and potential top speed.
Deployment speed aside, that's fairly typical active aero stuff, but it's in the corners where the ALA system really sets itself apart. With the air channeled to each side of the wing independently through those two ducts, the system can utilize "aero vectoring", which allows the airflow to be channeled exclusively to one side of the wing or the other during high speed cornering, thus increasing downforce and traction on the inner wheel and counteracting the load transfer. This results in less steering angle being required for a given corner, thereby increasing the speed at which that corner can be taken.
"We are not here to slow you down," says Paolo Biglieri, lead instructor for Lamborghini Esperienza during our briefing before heading out on track. "We are here to take you where you want to go." Sounds good to me, because I'm here to go fast.
The mechanical changes applied to the Performante over the standard Huracan coupe are evident as soon as the ignition button is pressed, as the V10 springs to life with a roar that absolutely upstages any Huracan that has come before it. The new exhaust provides a loud, sonorous snarl to the Lambo mill that seems right at home on pit lane, and I'd dare say that all Huracan models should be equipped with these new pipes.
At the helm the view is more or less the expected Huracan fare, though various components like the air vents, shift paddles, and center console are made from Lamborghini's Forged Composite material to provide a sense of occasion and remind would-be occupants that this is something special even when the engine is off. A special display dedicated to the ALA system also shows the driver what the system is doing in real time while out on the road, but I personally wouldn't recommend fixating your gaze on the dashboard while traveling at the speeds in which the active aero system has a tangible effect on the car's performance.
Even during our slalom warm-up session, the steering revisions applied to the Huracan for Performante duty are instantly noticeable—the quicker ratio makes the car feel more responsive, eager to turn in, and more urgent overall. The suspension is noticeably stiffer too, as Lamborghini has indicated. That's most evident when making use of the Thermal Club road course's curbing though, as brake dive and body roll weren't really much of an issue in other Huracan models at these lower speeds.
But open up the taps on the full course and all the elements that make the Performante a more track-focused sports car come alive. A five percent increase in horsepower shouldn't be especially noticeable, but the car pulls with awe-inspiring tenacity nonetheless, easily cresting 140 mph down the main straight of the South Palm circuit before I get on the binders for the tight sweeper that follows. The Pzero Corsa rubber that these test cars are equipped with doesn't provide quite as much grip as the optional Trofeo Rs that were used to set the aforementioned Nordschleife lap time, but there's still plenty of stick to be had, and they communicate the limits clearly as you approach them.
Carry a bit too much speed through a corner or ask for too much steering angle and the car can start to plow as you might expect, but this all-wheel drive monster is also happy to rotate if you ask it to, yielding progressive and predictable four-wheel oversteer that can be adjusted to taste with the loud pedal—assuming that you've got the ANIMA drive mode system set to Corsa while out on the track, of course. And why wouldn't you?
Although I have no doubt about the merits of the ALA system's aero vectoring function, there are few places on this particular road course where you're carrying enough speed through a corner to really utilize it to full effect. The high speed stability that the ALA system offers in the straights and when braking from triple-digit speeds is undoubtedly welcome though, while brake dive and body roll are virtually non-existent thanks to the revised suspension tuning. This thing is a legitimate weapon on a road course.
For those who feel that Lamborghini's best-selling car to date is a bit too civilized for their liking, I urge them to seek out the Performante. It is visceral without feeling archaic or unrefined, purposeful in its mission but not unduly comprised as a road car. And it is fast as hell. It is, in short, the Huracan that enthusiasts have been waiting for.