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2019 Lamborghini Aventador LP 770-4 Superveloce Jota First Drive

Beastie bull

Manufacturer
Oct 10, 2018
Writer: Jonny Lieberman

I called the Aventador Superveloce Lamborghini's "bloodiest axe" when I first drove it a little more than three years ago just outside of Barcelona, Spain. Further exposure back in America to that 740-horsepower rolling weapon confirmed, if not strengthened, my thoughts and feelings. To stick with that metaphor, the new Aventador LP 770-4 Superveloce Jota (SVJ for short) is the axe murderer, and oh look: He's licking the blood off the blade. And grinning. I remember thinking that the then-ferocious SV version of Lamborghini's mid-engine V-12 flagship was as wild and as crazed as supercars got—and frankly would ever get. What has two thumbs and was wrong? This guy! Friends, the lunatics are no longer running the asylum. They've burned it to the ground and have gone on to seek higher office.

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Some technical details before we get to the drive impressions: The 6.5-liter V-12 makes more power and torque, as it ought to. As R&D chief Maurizio Reggiani told me, "The story of Lamborghini is based on the V-12." Reggiani's team achieved these improvements a few ways. For one, the flywheel has been lightened, allowing the engine to rev more freely. Two, the intake valves are now made from titanium. They also open earlier and stay open longer. Third, a new, shortened exhaust system reduces back pressure. The result is 19 more horsepower (759, up from 740 hp), and the torque rises from 509 lb-ft to 531. More crucially, that torque is available lower in the rev range and for longer, nearly all of it arriving at 4,750 rpm and staying essentially flat until 6,750 rpm. Compare this to the SV, where peak torque arrived at 5,500 rpm. The reworked V-12 sounds angrier, as well. The ISR singe-clutch automated manual clutch remains, though it's been retuned for even quicker shifts.

The SVJ was put on a diet, with mixed results. The following pieces are made from carbon fiber: front splitter, roof and pillars, monocoque itself, engine cover, rear diffuser, massive tri-post wing, rocker covers and wing mirrors, and large parts of the interior, such as the door panels. Should you opt for the sporty buckets, they are carbon, too. There's even a lightweight set of wheels available (much simpler looking and in my opinion the ones to get). Oh, and the new exhaust weighs less, too. The issue is that Lamborghini has added some new tech to the SVJ, chiefly two-motor rear-wheel steering and the brand's patented active aerodynamic system, called Aerodinamica Lamborghini Attiva, aka ALA, which has been used to great effect in the Huracan Performante, the car that just won our 2018 Best Driver's Car honors. Lamborghini claims that the SVJ and the old SV should weigh roughly the same. When we weighed an SV, it clocked in at 3,900 pounds even. That's 209 pounds less than a 2012 Aventador and a few pounds less than a GT-R NISMO (3,904 pounds). Motor Trend has yet to weigh an Aventador S, which replaced the standard car in 2017.

Back to ALA for a second, or in this case ALA 2.0. Lamborghini claims that the system is 30 percent more effective on the SVJ than on the Performante. Why? The company has learned stuff. Functionally, on the Performante, wing-stalling air was channeled up two separate uprights, and the wing was stalled from the outside in. See that cute/weird-looking mustache on the front of the SVJ? Each flattened hexagon directs air over the car's frunk lid and windshield into a center channel that feeds a duct in the rear wing's central upright. There are two channels within this intake and a flap that opens and closes each. Going forward, the rear flaps (as well as a single front flap) open to stall the wing and reduce both drag and downforce. Hit the brakes, and the flaps close, activating the front and rear wings, providing both drag and downforce. Yup, the system functions as an airbrake. Turn the steering wheel, and one rear flap opens while one closes, providing downforce on one rear wheel while allowing the other to rotate. The functional result for the driver is less steering input and increased high-speed stability.

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Other tweaks to the SVJ over past Aventadors include reprogrammed magnetic dampers, a retuned all-wheel-drive system, super sticky, model-specific Pirelli Trofeo R tires (255/30ZR20 in front, 355/25ZR21 rear), and 20 percent stiffer anti-roll bars. Also, the reworked body panels are 40 percent more aerodynamic than the SV's. Lamborghini claims a 0-62 launch in 2.8 seconds. However, when we tested the Superveloce, we saw 0-60 in 2.6 seconds. The SV was also able to run the quarter mile in 10.4 seconds at 134.7 mph. Expect this car to be quicker. Lamborghini still quotes the top speed as north of 217 mph.

The results of all the new stuff on the SVJ are undeniable. An orange, camouflaged car piloted by the fearless Marco Mapelli flew around the Nurburgring Nordschleife in 6:44.97, setting the new production car lap record—a record formerly held by the Porsche GT2 RS (6:47.25), a car that has set lap records on two tracks we regularly test on, Big Willow and WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Perhaps more remarkably, the Aventador SV's 'Ring lap was 6:59.73, meaning that Lamborghini was able to shave nearly 15 seconds off that car's time. That's more than 1 second per mile. That's remarkable, though not quite as amazing as the jump from the OG Aventador (7:25.00) to the SV. However, when you consider the jump from the initial car to the Jota, we're talking more than 40 seconds. Frankly, that borders on absurd. It also shows that (like we said) the original Aventador just wasn't all that. Moving on!

Lamborghini was nice enough to fly me out to the Autodromo do Estoril racetrack west of Lisbon, Portugal, to have a go in the SVJ. A funny thing happened, however, between the time Lamborghini tested the SVJs on the track and we journo types showed up. Estoril got repaved. What does that mean? No grip. Like none, especially on the model-specific Pirelli Trofeo Rs the SVJ comes with that used to whoop butt on the 'Ring. What to do? Lamborghini removed the fancy shoes and replaced them with P Zero Corsas. The result? Still not very much traction. Oh dear.

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What's a 759-horsepower psychopath like on an unfamiliar racetrack? Quite the handful! The biggest improvement to me going from SV to SVJ is the engine's increased torque. Not only is there more of it, but the extra twisting force also shows up earlier, as it's very easy to keep the big V-12 over 4,500 rpm. Perhaps too easy. Previous Aventadors were always fast cars, but unless you were using Thrust mode—the brand's hysterically named launch control—it took a few moments for the car to engage. Not anymore. Although not quite electric, the SVJ scoots. This proved to be quite a handful on what was the equivalent of a slick track. Does the SVJ oversteer? Understeer? Track true? Based on what I experienced at low speeds, all of the above. But again, the surface was awful.

High speeds are an entirely different matter. I'm lucky enough to have driven the Centenario LP 770-4, Lambo's super-limited, $2.2 million big-downforce hypercar, which can and should be thought of as a predecessor to the SVJ. The Cent also produced 759 horsepower (though it got there more through exhaust rerouting), came with rear-wheel steering, used nostrils on the hood to divert air up and over the car, had underbody smoothing and a massive rear diffuser, and had active aerodynamics in the form of a massive, hydraulically controlled carbon-fiber rear wing. "Now," I said of the Centenario, "you have to learn to trust the car, to trust the aero. The quick steering and revised suspension allow you to brazenly toss the two-ton monster into a corner. Then, for a brief moment, the Centenario feels as if it's going to continue sliding. However, in a beat the aero catches the car, and you find yourself glued. The aero in conjunction with rear-wheel steering is a game changer." You can nearly apply that entire quotation to the Jota, with one big caveat.

Here's the difference between the Centenario and the SVJ: The Jota's active aero works much quicker. This sentence—"Then, for a brief moment, the Centenario feels as if it's going to continue sliding"—does not apply. Entering the kink that makes up Turn 5 at Estoril at speed is a revelation. The SVJ doesn't just feel stable. It feels battened down, rooted, anchored. Even on such a low-grip surface. To me, it's a shocking sensation to experience in a street car. It's instant, too. Even though you're turning the wheel, the SVJ feels like it's riding a roller-coaster track.

The big bull does have a weakness, and it's braking, specifically the feel of the brake pedal, as well as diminishing downforce as speeds decrease. In other words, the pedal is wooden and the rear end squirms around a tad too much, especially when you're get the beast whoaed down from 177 mph in time for a second-gear right-hander that constitutes Estoril's Turn 1. Part of the problem is ABS tuning, but the other part is Lamborghini's insistence on keeping the brakes feeling like a street car despite the SVJ's track prowess. Hey, no car is perfect, and the Jota's high-speed stability more than makes up for the less than perfect brakes. The stability is incredible, actually.

Speaking of incredible, unlike every other American "journalist" who drove the Aventador SVJ in Portugal, I went a day later on a video wave. As a result, although I got about half the track time of everybody else, I got to drive the Jota around the not-so-mean streets of Cascais. After what seemed like hours of low-speed loafing along the coast, it was time to head back to the track. Two things you should know: First, Lamborghini's people stressed that they really, really (perhaps three reallys) wanted us back at the track by 3:30 pm. Second, they assigned us a motorcycle cop to assist us with filming. Block traffic in roundabouts, that sort of thing.

Around 3, we wrapped up filming, and it was time to head back. The officer suddenly, just like that, took off. Like floored it. Gone, baby, gone. I could have stayed and waited for my video crew and Wazed back to the circuit. My other option was to do what I did. Hey man, I was sitting in a half-million-dollar Italian hypercar, bored silly from low-speed video nonsense, and simply said some profane iteration of, "Oh, why not?" I followed the cop. Within a minute I'm behind this freak of a bike cop, seeing 185 kilometers per hour (115 mph) on the speedo as we weave in and out of traffic. I know on one hand it's wrong, but on the other hand, he's the law! This guy's so dedicated that he's actually shooing other cars out of the way. Wish I had video! Rest assured, we made it back well before 3:30 pm. The most amazing part? I never said so much as a word to the officer. I did give him a thumbs-up once we were on the paddock, and he returned the gesture.

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I relate this wonderful, admittedly less than smart anecdote because holy wow dude, is the SVJ righteous on the street! With no traction issues whatsoever, the car just rocked, and rocked in a way that I've never experienced before. Confidence doesn't even begin to describe it. I suddenly felt like a superhero, not only invincible but also with all this insane weaponry at my fingertips. What would Batman drive? The latest and greatest V-12 beastie from Sant'Agata, obviously. If I had a cape, I would.

We recently named the Lamborghini Huracan Performante our 2018 Best Driver's Car. Because both the Performante and the SVJ feature ALA and are extreme, reworked versions of the "base" cars, it's reasonable to think that the Jota is just a big, V-12-powered Perf. Not even a little bit. The Performante is to some degree a fantastic sports car. Rewarding, neutral, balanced—all that stuff. The SVJ is something else entirely. It's a 10,000-volt fist to the face, a flaming baseball bat to the skull, a bomb in bomb's clothing. Does it have a shot at next year's Best Driver's Car? I dunno, as it's a probably a bit too big, a bit too blunt. The Aventador SVJ is, however, a lock to be voted car most likely to beat up the 2019 Best Driver's Car. Sign me up.

Speculation: What we think we know about the next V-12 Lamborghini

The Lamborghini Aventador is approaching the end of its life. First launched in 2011 as the replacement for the Murcielago, the Aventador is the fourth iteration of the longitudinally mounted mid-engine V-12 Lambos. (Yes, the Miura had a V-12 behind the driver, but it was transverse.) The Murcielago was the first raging bull designed fully under the auspices of Audi, Lamborghini's parent company, and had a nine-year life span. If there's one thing you can count on when it comes to Teutonic companies, it is predictability. As such, the Aventador has two more years to go before we see its replacement go on sale.

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The next V-12 will be the first Lamborghini designed completely by the brand's new, as of March 2016, chief designer, Mitja Borkert. Mitja (pronounced "Meecha," like nice to meet ya) has of course been involved with cars released since he's been on board—the Centenario Roadster was the first Lambo he did any work on, and of course the Urus has his fingerprints on it. Never forget, however, that designs are usually locked years before you see them. Speaking of seeing, every time I see Borkert, I implore him to make sure that when a young child sees the next V-12, said kid jumps in the air, waves his or her arms, and starts screaming. That's known as the Countach Effect. Luckily, Borkert has a young son, and he assures me that this will be the case. Additionally, Borkert has some real chops. While at Porsche he designed both the Panamera Sport Turismo and the Mission E Concept, now known as Taycan. Borkert's Terzo Millennio Concept is pretty smoking hot, too.

One of the perennial complaints about the Aventador is the ISR single-clutch transmission. No matter what, the ISR isn't great to drive at low speeds. Reggiani explained that when they began designing the Aventador back in 2008, dual-clutch transmissions were not so good, and those that could hope to handle the Aventador's power and torque (like the Ricardo dual-clutch in the Bugatti Veyron) were prohibitively expensive (ahem—like the Ricardo dual-clutch in the Bugatti Veyron). You can't just swap one out for the other—the ISR's housing is long and skinny, whereas a dual-clutch box tends to be squat and fat. You can expect the next V-12 to have either a dual-clutch or an automatic transmission. Manual? No way.

The car will be a hybrid. Natural aspiration has become a Lamborghini brand value. Sadly, Lambo is close to the limit of what it can squeeze out of a naturally aspirated engine. The solution to more power is to go electric. Expect the hybrid motor to be in the transmission and to be mode dependent. So if you enter a city where gas-burning vehicles are banned (coming sooner than you think!), the new Lambo can putz around in electric mode. Put the car in sport, and the extra electric torque can be sent just to the rear axle. Track mode allows the torque to be meted out to whichever axle needs the boost the most. How much power are we talking? LP 900-4 has a nice ring to it (900 or so combined ponies).

In exactly the same way that the Centenario previewed the Aventador SVJ, you can expect an upcoming though not officially announced final Aventador product to preview the next V-12 car. So in about a year Lamborghini will release another ultra-limited super, duper car. I hear that upfront it's a mashup of the Aventador and the Urus. Interesting, to say the least. And it will be a hybrid.

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