x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Ardour and anxiety in Lamborghini’s latest supercar

This is it: the big one for the year. Having missed out on attending the international press launch of Lamborghini's Aventador, now my time has come.

The 2012 Lamborghini Aventador is a 6.5L supercar that builds on the impressive track record of its predecessors, with 700hp of might for the most discerning of speed fiends driving through the desert. Moe Najati / AwesomeDigital
The 2012 Lamborghini Aventador is a 6.5L supercar that builds on the impressive track record of its predecessors, with 700hp of might for the most discerning of speed fiends driving through the desert. Moe Najati / AwesomeDigital

This is it: the big one for the year. Having missed out on attending the international press launch of Lamborghini's Aventador, now my time has come. And I'm excited. Because, if I think back long enough, it was a Lamborghini that really got me into cars at a young age. My parents bought me a radio-controlled Countach when I was all of seven years old and the die was cast. The Aventador is today's Countach and not in my wildest pre-pubescent dreams could I have imagined that one day I'd get to have one at my disposal for three whole days. I feel like a kid again.

V12 Lamborghinis have always been outrageous. Since the Miura invented the whole mid-engined supercar genre back in 1966, every successive V12 has been more extreme than the last. Lambo doesn't even refer to them as supercars anymore; the company calls them "Super Sports cars". And it's easy to see why, when you even cast an eye over the lithe body of the Aventador. This is extreme. It's the bad boy. And I've been biding my time with a sense of anticipation that's way more intense than the time I found out I was getting a Veyron to play with.

Just look at it. There isn't a single duff line, not a single piece of unnecessary addenda on its angular frame. No wings, no stupid decals, no bolt-on wheel arch extensions - just a perfect amalgam of cutting edge minimalism and brutal statement of intent. It looks like it's doing 300kph when it's stood still. This is what a V12 Lambo should look like. I park it outside my apartment between two SUVs and the roof doesn't even come close to reaching their window lines. It's ludicrous. It's utterly stunning, and that's before I've even lifted its scissor door and taken my seat.

But take my seat I must and, thankfully, the drama and ludicrousness continues inside. The first thing I note is that there is absolutely zero storage space in here. There's a daft keyless fob thing but nowhere to put it, so it'll have to remain in my pocket. I notice that what look like metal door pulls and instrument surrounds are actually plastic, and this is disappointing in a car that costs so much, but the quality of build seems to be up there with the products of Lamborghini's parent company Audi. The design of the cabin is light years ahead of its predecessor, the Murciélago, too, and manages to be nicely laid out and utterly dramatic at the same time. I can feel my pulse quickening - I need to get this mental machine on the open road, away from the concrete jungle and out towards the desert and mountains that exist between Madam and Hatta. Game on.

To start the 6.5L masterpiece that's right behind my head, I have to first lift a small, hinged, red cover that hides the start/stop button. It's a brilliant touch, perfectly in tune with the Stealth fighter looks. I press it and hold it for a second; there's a hum, a whirr, then bam! Twelve cylinders burst into life with a most unseemly racket. The sound is violent and intimidating - again, perfectly in tune with the way the car looks. Even before I've turned a wheel, this thing feels like the polar opposite of a Veyron. Turning wheels, though, is what the Aventador apparently does best, so I ease its pointy nose away from Dubai for the camera - and traffic-free roads that exist an hour away. In this car I could probably halve that journey time without breaking a sweat. 100kph from rest takes 2.9 seconds. Top speed? How about 350kph?

Low-speed manoeuvres are a pain. The four-wheel drive causes the front tyres to grab, rather than just steer, and the entire car feels like it wants to burst. There's so much pent up energy here, it's positively desperate to get off the leash and enjoy some proper exercise. And weirdly, the gear changes in Strada mode, which should be the easiest, are jerky and uncomfortable. So I switch to Sport mode and things are far smoother - it makes no sense.

Soon enough I'm clearing the Dubai traffic and gunning for the open spaces on this perfect Saturday morning. My confidence is building all the time on the arrow-straight highway and, when the traffic thins out and the dunes get higher, I allow the Aventador to flex its muscles. I'm cruising along in sixth gear, it's pretty civilised inside, and I suddenly knock it down into third and nail the throttle. The earth seems to stop spinning on its axis; all time stands still as this ferocious car shoots forward with such alarming acceleration that it takes my breath away. Adrenaline courses through my veins, my heart is thumping, my eyes are fixed firmly on the straight-ahead.

Every upshift brings with it a violent thump in the back. The revs drop ever so slightly with each change, the front end ducks down and it screams forward. Bam, bam, bam through the seven speeds I go, and the Lambo destroys the road in a glorious blaze of Italian firepower. This feels as devastatingly quick as a Veyron but it's far more dramatic in the way it attacks. I laugh out loud, it's simply insane! Insane I tell you!

I peel off the main road, my heart still threatening to burst out of my chest. My legs are shaking, my hands trembling. I'm having difficulty computing the sheer relentless force of this car. And before my eyes opens up a road of such immense beauty, again bereft of cameras and other traffic, with perfect visibility for miles around. The opportunity may not come my way again for years, so I set the 700 horses free and the experience is one I cannot divulge. But I'll take it with me to the grave - I've never before experienced a road car like this.

The tomfoolery must end and, in the name of science, I search out a road that bisects the mountain ranges so I can see how this beast behaves on the twisty bits. And here is where my boundless enthusiasm starts to wane. Because I soon come to realise that, while 700hp and 690Nm make for enormous fun in a straight line or on gently sweeping bends that require minimal amounts of steering input, it's pretty much impossible to harness on challenging corners.

On a race track it would no doubt excel. But on public roads, often with negative camber on the bends, it feels like it wants to throw me off. And, when a car is this powerful, for me to feel confident in pressing on, I need to feel that it's not going to have me executed. There's a lot of mechanical mass shifting around here and though grip levels are enormous, I just know that if it breaks traction I'm going to die. But not today.

The F1-inspired pushrod suspension enables the Aventador to react more like a racing car, moving the component mass in-board. But even this cannot mask the fact that there's too much power here to enjoy a spirited thrash along these epic roads. No doubt if I owned this car then over time my abilities would increase and I could more comfortably explore the upper echelons of the Aventador's performance envelope. But in my three days with it I've not come close.

Give me a 458 Italia, give me an Aston V8 Vantage S, give me an Audi R8 or the Aventador's little brother, the Gallardo, and I'd have the time of my life here. In fact I'm going to return soon in something more usable, more user-friendly. In a car that doesn't scare the living daylights out of me.

I still love this thing, though. It does still make me feel like a big kid and I've come to admire it and respect it in equal measure. I couldn't see myself ever owning one for many reasons but the fact I get to play with them now and then makes up for that. Lamborghini is still out there, operating on the fringes of madness, and that is cause for celebration in my opinion. Because we need this excitement in our lives - we need to be shocked now and then, reminded that something as ubiquitous as the motor car can still surprise us. It's a glorious irrelevance; a totally bonkers yet exquisitely detailed and engineered machine. Yet I seem to be able to derive as much satisfaction from standing and looking at it as I can from driving it. It's quite an achievement.