x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Lamborghini bullish on the future

The LP837 prototype's V12 has 700hp, but it's the nature of the engine's power delivery that is the truly impressive part. That, and the noise.

The Lamborghini LP837, the replacement for the Murcielago, will be famous for its three technical investments: the engine, the gearbox and the carbon fibre chassis.
The Lamborghini LP837, the replacement for the Murcielago, will be famous for its three technical investments: the engine, the gearbox and the carbon fibre chassis.

The man in front of me is doing about 220kph when it happens, just after turning into turn one at the handling circuit on the Nardo test track in southern Italy.

At 240kph or so on a good lap, it's made even more intimidating because, once you've nudged the car's nose around after the one-kilometre straight, you need to constantly balance the big Lamborghini LP837 prototype with delicate, subtle, heart-stopping throttle adjustments.

Even so, 220kph is a significantly quick pace in a corner, and that's when the heavy, glass-fibre camouflage begins to flutter on the back of the Italian's prototype in front of me.

I'm still balancing the mid-engined supercar between the suede steering wheel and the throttle when the fluttering becomes full-on flapping. The air-driven destruction rips off the straps holding down the camouflage, picks up the entire rear clamshell and hurls it 20 or 30 metres into the air, and dropping it back onto the road. Right in front of me.

Hard on the brakes, the LP837 darts left, then right, then left again, picking the gaps in the still sliding and rolling camouflage shrapnel.

And then, when it's out the other side, the big Lamborghini gets back to business.

There are just three of these cars, each in a different stage of development, and they're worth squillions of dollars for their test hack information-gathering alone. These three cars, the very first cars out of Lamborghini's new carbon fibre production facility in Sant'Agata, will give birth to the supercar that will replace the legendary Murcielago.

This corner is an enormous handful in the Murcielago. It's high, heavy engine means the back end wants to overtake you - and when a Murcielago's rear end steps out, it takes professional levels of car control to recover it.

Not so the LP837. This car is sensitive to every subtle nuance you even think about making with the throttle or the steering, and it won't bite. Yes, it's fast, this car. Very, very fast. It's considerably quicker than the Murcielago around here (considerably faster than the Gallardo, too), but it's much easier to drive.

For all the musings about why the all-new V12 didn't get direct fuel injection, the engine is a masterpiece of sound, fury and stupendous accuracy to the driver's foot.

The dry-sumped V12 has 700hp, yes, but it's the nature of the engine's power delivery that is the truly impressive part. That, and the noise.

It doesn't lack for torque, with 690Nm of it arriving at a tallish 6,000rpm, but around here, you don't notice a hole anywhere.

It just fires up, barks and settles in to a surprisingly quiet idle. In its Sport or Corsa track modes, it opens the third exhaust pipe up and then it's loud, but otherwise this is a Lamborghini you can sneak home in late at night if you need to.

But the car will be famous for its three technical investments: the engine, the gearbox and the carbon fibre chassis.

With that combination, it is a jet of a thing. The Lamborghini tech boss, Maurizio Reggiani, insists it will blast to 100kph in under three seconds and will have a 350kph top speed, and I've got no reason to doubt him.

With the V12 howling, the bellow in your ears is shamelessly belligerent, but with a sheen of smoothness the old V12 never had. It's like the only tremors coming from the motor are the ones Lamborghini wanted it to have, rather than the ones they were forced to live with.

No other car in the world changes gear this fast. From first to second hammers home in just 0.05 seconds in the Corsa mode, and not smoothly, either. There's a marked, metallic "bang" and a shudder runs through the car and then it's back, ripping all 700 horses into the road again.

You can shift smoothly if you want to (it's very smooth in the default) and it doesn't shudder when you're juggling first and reverse, but Lamborghini thinks people will prefer it this violent when it's at maximum attack. At 119kg, the gearbox weighs a single kilo less than the existing one, but carries a seventh gear and can simultaneously disengage one synchro ring as it engages the next one, which is why it's so fast.

But while the engine hauls to 8,500rpm (the production cars will be limited to 8,250) beautifully and smoothly, it's the chassis that stars.

No other supercar feels this integrated - and this is a prototype. It is so easy to drive, quickly or slowly, that it basically eradicates the direct, physical threat you felt every time you stepped into a Murcielago, but it's no less an event for it.

Stand on its brakes and the LP837 clamps down into the road with none of that feeling that the engine is trying to overtake you. You can even do it with steering lock on and it won't bite.

You can tip it in violently or smoothly and it won't hurt you either way. You can drive it on understeer or, with the more-liberal ESP of the Corsa mode, you can back it in with a touch of oversteer and it is so complete, so accurate and so integrated that it reacts to your commands almost intuitively.

You can throw this thing around with the same level of trust as an EVO IX and it never gives you the impression it will bite. It leaves it to you to sort out your preferred cornering stance and, at night with the camo removed, it's as solid as a rock at 310kph on the high-speed bowl. It's a superb machine. Already.

This carbon fibre tub weighs just 147.5kg and the entire body-in-white is 229.5kg, but it boasts an astonishing 35,000Nm/degree torsional stiffness, and that's the key here. Expect the entire car to be about 1,500kg, a good 160kg lighter than the Murcielago.

The front and rear suspensions use pushrods and the springs are about 10 per cent stiffer than the Murcielago's, even though the thing rides with sublime comfort that sets new standards. Its ride quality borders on Audi A6 or BMW 5 Series levels.

The driving position is brilliant, sitting low in the carbon tub and feeling deeply engaged as an integral part of the car, though the massive tunnel gets in the way every time you try to put the seat belt in.

All three of these prototypes are miles from being ready. That doesn't matter, though, because Lamborghini has got the core of the car right. The details might not end up being to everybody's taste, but after two days and two nights hurling this thing at up to 315kph in 35C heat, I wouldn't argue with its heart and soul.