In the realm of exotic cars, superlatives come with the territory. The fastest, the quickest, the sexiest - these adjectives are part and parcel of the trade. But in an era of increasingly accessible high performance cars, those headline-grabbing terms don't hit with the same impact they once did. For super sportscar aficionados, there's a modern metric of far greater worth: Nurburgring Nordschleife lap times.
While that lap doesn't tell you about a car's ride quality on the street or how much cargo capacity it has, the 12.9-mile, 154-turn German racetrack is a comprehensive measure of a vehicle's dynamic proficiency, testing not only straight-line speed and cornering grip, but also weight balance, braking capability, heat management, and other crucial performance factors.
Because the demanding circuit brings so many different factors into play, it's not enough for a vehicle to simply be "the most" in a particular discipline if a manufacturer wishes to stand out among their peers. It's a distinction that Maurizio Reggiani, Chief Technical Officer for Lamborghini, knows all too well.
"A sports car is not the sum of many different statistics," he explained during our technical briefing. "It's the final result that you generate with those numbers. For us and everybody else, the final result is that Nordschleife lap time. And the best time currently possible is coming from a naturally aspirated V12 with all of this aerodynamic and chassis control."
When the Aventador debuted back in 2011 it undoubtedly cut a compelling figure, but few would have pegged it as the template for a future world-beating track car. Its visual presence was bolstered by its relatively large size, but with those expanded dimensions came added mass that couldn't be ignored at speed.
With the debut of the smaller, more technologically sophisticated Huracan a few years later, it seemed the Aventador would be relegated to playing second fiddle to its younger brother when it came to outright performance, a notion that was further driven home when the Huracan Performante secured the Nordschleife production car lap record last year. The Performante's tenure in the top spot didn't last long though, as Porsche would best it by nearly four seconds with the 911 GT2 RS just a few months later.
Then, earlier this year, Lamborghini responded back - not with an even more capable iteration of the Huracan, but with the Aventador Superveloce Jota. Taking its moniker from a track-honed iteration of the Miura from the early 1970s, the Aventador SVJ stunned the world with a blistering Nordschleife lap time of 6:44.97 that placed the Italian automaker's flagship at the top of the sports car totem pole.
It's safe to assume that creating the world's most track-capable production road car was no small task - one that required its fair share of innovation along the way. At Lamborghini's behest we headed to Libson, Portugal, to put the Italian automaker's latest and greatest through its paces at Autodromo do Estoril, a fast and technical circuit that would give us an opportunity to find out what really makes this record-breaking machine tick.
The Jota Difference
Now to be fair, this isn't the first time we've seen Sant'Agata apply an earnest track tuning to the Aventador. That came in the form of 2015's SV, which brought an increase in power, enhanced aero, weight reduction and extensive chassis tuning.
The SVJ takes things several steps further to earn its special designation, though. The Aventador's 6.5-liter V12 power plant has seen some attention, scoring new titanium valves, revised intake runners, and reworked cylinder head ports among other tweaks. Those changes result in an output that now stands at 759 horsepower and 531 pound-feet of torque, up 69hp and 22 lb-ft versus the original Aventador. With all four wheels sending the power to the pavement, it equates to a 0-60 sprint of 2.7 seconds on the way to an estimated top speed of 220 mph.
But the Aventador was never lacking for power. To make this machine truly dance, engineers needed to focus their efforts on the car's handling characteristics. To that end the SVJ has been outfitted with a second-generation version of the Aerodinamica Lamborghini Attiva system. First introduced on the Huracan Performante, ALA is an advanced active aerodynamics system that utilizes motor-actuated flaps at the front and rear of the car to strategically direct airflow over those pronounced aerodynamic elements. But rather than simply increasing downforce or reducing drag as needed, ALA can intelligently interpret aerodynamic needs based on driver inputs to determine which side of the car needs more downforce in a high-speed corner.
Known as aero vectoring, the system can direct airflow over the section of the rear wing that's positioned above the outside rear wheel to provide more downforce to it, in turn allowing for greater cornering speeds than would otherwise be possible by reducing the steering angle required to take the turn at a given speed. ALA can also nullify the drag created by the fixed rear wing by shifting the airflow to essentially cancel out its downforce, in turn allowing for higher top speeds on the straights. The result is a 40% increase in downforce over both axles versus the SV while also yielding an improved drag coefficient of -1%.
Further aiding the SVJ's quest for nimble handling is its four-wheel steering system. Introduced last year with the Aventador S, the system turns the rear wheels in the opposite direction of the front wheels at lower speeds for more responsive handling, while at higher speeds all four wheels move in the same direction to bolster stability.
While the cockpit is outfitted much like the rest of the current Aventador lineup, there's a clear sense of purpose that's focused directly on track prowess. Fixed-back, Alcantara-trimmed racing seats are on hand, along with a more liberal use of carbon fiber throughout. Both contribute to the SVJ's official dry weight of 3362 pounds, which equates to the best power-to-weight ratio for a production road car in the company's history.
It only took a lap or two to understand why Lamborghini had chosen Estoril as the venue to showcase the Aventador SVJ's track prowess. The 13-turn former Formula One venue features the kind of fast sweepers and high-speed kinks that put the ALA's aero vectoring capability to good use, while the four-wheel steering system allows the car to change direction with urgency in the technical sections and the massive front straight brings all 759 ponies to full attention. The SVJ is in its element here.
As luck would have it, Estoril was re-paved just two weeks before we arrived, and while you might expect fresh tarmac to provide maximum grip, the lack of a rubber surface coating from use yields just the opposite. While perhaps frustrating for Lamborghini, it really just equated to a more lively experience behind the wheel.
It certainly didn't impact driver confidence either. After we'd acclimated to the track layout the pace rapidly increased, and the fresh pavement made for talkative tires that weren't shy about communicating the limits of grip to us, which allowed us to easily modulate rotation or corral mid-corner understeer with the throttle as needed and carry more speed through fast corners as we learned to trust the new ALA system.
The final turn is a fast sweeper that provides a running start at the main straight where we could truly open up the naturally-aspirated V12 nestled behind us, which sounds particularly incredible howling its way to 8500 rpm in the SVJ due to its new, lighter and less restrictive exhaust system.
The speedo reads 175 mph before we're hard on the carbon ceramic binders to set up for Turn 1. It's here where we're reminded of the Aventador's rear-biased weight distribution. With all that mass unloaded the rear has a habit of getting a bit light, if only for a split second. It quickly returns to the fold though, and we're deep into the throttle again as we push past the apex.
The slower, more technical sections of the course can cause the gearbox to sweat, though. While it's better than ever in the SVJ, the Aventador's single-clutch, seven-speed transmission is still a finicky brute. Although it fired off consistently ruthless upshifts at wide open throttle near redline, when we deviated from those specific circumstances the transmission's response was inconsistent, sometimes yielding pronounced gaps in power while it sorted the gear change out. You can't help but wonder what the SVJ would be like with a DCT like the one found in the Huracan.
Though there are elements of the Aventador that are showing their age, Lamborghini has indeed created something special with the Aventador SVJ. Beyond its wild looks and V12 bellow, the SVJ's sharp handling, confidence-inspiring aero and endless well of power had us yearning for another lap (or ten) every time a session drew to a close. If that's not the hallmark of an exceptional sports car, we don't know what is.