x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Lamborghini’s new Huracán maintains the supercar company’s spark

Kevin Hackett heads to Spain to fire up Lamborghini’s much-anticipated new supercar, the Huracán.

The Huracán builds on the success of its bestselling predecessor, the Gallardo, with a range of improvements, including a dual-clutch automated transmission, an all-new fuel-injection system and active suspension. Courtesy Lamborghini
The Huracán builds on the success of its bestselling predecessor, the Gallardo, with a range of improvements, including a dual-clutch automated transmission, an all-new fuel-injection system and active suspension. Courtesy Lamborghini

When I was a young boy, my parents bought me my first radio-controlled car. It was a yellow Lamborghini Countach – one, I now realise, that was modelled on the early, unspoilered version. It had functioning lights and an insatiable hunger for AA batteries. To me, it was the closest possible thing to an Earth-based alien spacecraft and, looking back, it was the first thing that got me into cars. When I eventually found out that the rakish Countach was a real car and that, yes, some of them were, indeed, painted yellow, it was game over. Cars, and supercars in particular, became an obsession.

That excitement regarding Lamborghini has never gone away and, in the years since, I’ve driven dozens of them on road, track and even ice. Each one has been different, flawed and uniquely exciting. I’ve even driven a Countach and a Miura and, yes, I still have to pinch myself as a reminder that this is not a dream anymore. It’s my job.

Since the first images of the new Huracán LP610-4 dropped into my inbox a few months ago, I’ve been itching to see the thing, never mind drive it. And now my time has come, in the same locale and on the same Ascari track in Spain that I only recently got to know the McLaren 650S on – a car that provides the new Lamborghini with some potentially serious problems. The Huracán, if the Gallardo is anything to go by, could be here for the next decade and it has to be brilliant – has to be – if it stands any chance of fighting off the McLaren, the Ferrari 458, the Porsche 911 Turbo or the forthcoming Audi R8 replacement.

Early signs are positive. At the (at times overblown) press conference before the assembled hacks are let loose in the new cars, we’re taken through various presentations that leave no one under the impression this is simply a pumped-up Gallardo. The “Ooora-khaan”, as the Italians refer to it, shares some basic engine architecture with its ancestor, but that’s it. Everything else is new – here are some of the highlights.

It’s built around a hybrid chassis formed from aluminium and carbon fibre composite materials that give it strength almost equal to that of a full carbon tub, without the nightmarish manufacturing and repairing expense. It’s 10 per cent lighter and an incredible 50 per cent stiffer than the Gallardo. It weighs 1,422 kilograms without fluids or passengers, which is important because, by reducing weight in its structure, this has allowed Lamborghini to at last address one of the Gallardo’s few flaws: the Huracán now has a proper dual-clutch automated transmission with seven speeds. This gearbox is heavier than the old robotised manual that made the Gallardo feel rather agricultural when compared to its rivals, but because the new car is lighter and stiffer, the weight trade-off was no longer an issue. This, in itself, is a huge development.

Its new active suspension is closely related to that in Audi’s R8, with magnetic damping and the stupendous 5.2L, normally aspirated V10 has been re-engineered to produce 610hp (hence the nomenclature) and 560Nm of torque, 75 per cent of which is available from just 1,000rpm – so it’s a hugely flexible unit. It now has stop/start tech and an all-new fuel-injection system, making it cleaner than before, too. If green motoring is your thing then any car like this will be viewed with disdain, but you have to applaud such efforts to make them less toxic.

The cabin, another of the Gallardo’s foibles that proved it was time for a serious overhaul, is entirely new, too, enveloping its occupants in technology. A straight, horizontal dashboard incorporates hexagonal styling cues, harking back to some of Lamborghini’s past masters (the rear valance on the Miura looked very similar to this) and there’s a 12.3-inch screen in place of traditional instruments, which you can alter to show the info that you want – speed, revs or a satnav map. Audi may have donated some of the switchgear, but it’s better disguised this time around and is much more Italian in style, although the feeling of Germanic precision is here in greater quantities than ever before.

But what of that exterior – normally the first thing that I home in on? Some have lamented that it lacks visual drama, but just wait until you see one for real, as opposed to on a screen. It’s a glorious amalgam of traditional supercar wedge styling cues (you can even spec a Miura-like black slatted engine and rear glass cover), athletic prowess and murderous intent. There’s nothing here that could be improved – something that one of Jaguar’s styling directors agrees with me on – and, while looks are naturally subjective, park one of these next to any of its rivals and I’d wager that, prejudices aside, you’d agree the Huracán wins hands down. It is absolutely stunning.

Lamborghini is at pains to point out that this is an entirely usable car on an everyday basis. While not toning down any of the excitement that any car bearing the name should be capable of mustering, this they say is the most civilised one ever built and should open it up to a wider section of the market than ever before. The new gearbox, new cabin, new suspension and revised steering (the wheel itself now resembles a more sensible version of current Ferraris’, with easy to operate switches in place of the previous column stalks and centre-console buttons) all come together, says its maker, to make this a perfect car. “To us,” says Stephan Winkelmann, Lamborghini’s president, “the difference is like dusk and dawn.”

So, as was the case with Jaguar’s F-Type, it’s clear that everything has been thrown at this. While supercars only make up about one per cent of all automobile purchases worldwide, Lamborghini doesn’t do anything else, so this will be its volume seller, at least until the Urus SUV materialises in a couple of years. And there’s only one way to judge this car, so it’s high time I stopped rambling on and got in the thing.

The doors open in conventional style (scissor doors are reserved for the flagship V12 models), but the Aventador doesn’t have a monopoly on visual drama, as the start switch is covered by a hinged, red, fighter-plane-style flap, which you flip open to ignite those 10 cylinders behind your head. Put your foot on the brake pedal, press the button and wait for barely a second before a blare of revs announces to everyone within a five-kilometre radius that you’re ready for business, after which it settles down to a glorious mechanical chatter.

As I edge my orange car out of the narrow pit lane at Ascari, I can immediately tell that it’s more user friendly than any Lamborghini before it. The noise is all there, the low-slung drama and the trademark impracticalities inherent in this kind of machine, but there’s a feeling that this is better made and more intelligently designed than any Lamborghini that has gone before it.

The gearbox seamlessly shifts without interrupting the power and torque delivery (at last) and you can leave it in auto if you like or operate the shift paddles and hold on for dear life after selecting Sport or Corsa (Track) modes on the steering wheel rocker switch. Lap follows lap after lap, and I’m able to push this car harder, in more security than I could with the McLaren, which felt like it needed a bigger track to liberate its full repertoire. It doesn’t feel quite as supernaturally quick as the twin-turbo Brit (or, for that matter, a 911 Turbo) and it’s not quite as dynamically sharp, perhaps, as a 458, but the four-wheel drive system that robs it of those tiny amounts of driving purity do mean that you can drive it harder for longer. And, when Sport mode is selected, the rear end becomes much more lively, slipping and sliding in a perfectly controlled manner that makes me feel like I’m a more skilled driver than I actually am. It feels like I’m on the ragged edge, but, in reality, I’m just having riotous fun without coming close to killing myself or the car.

For absolute performance, there’s always Corsa mode but, when Sport is this much fun, I don’t feel the temptation to explore those extra reserves. Before I get too carried away, I call time on my track excursions and prepare myself to get it on the road, where the Huracán should show its true character – that’s where the flaws, if indeed there are any, will come to light.

There’s something exquisite about naturally aspirated propulsion and this car’s linear torque delivery feels exploitable, usable and thrilling. Not once do I feel shortchanged or wish there was some turbo action going on; instead I’m able to dispatch anything that I choose to with a downchange and a squeeze of the throttle. For road use, I select either Strada or Sport modes, depending on how noisy or how focused I want it to be, and I discover that Lamborghini’s officials are right: this really is an entirely usable supercar. Visibility is excellent, the suspension is comfortable on rough surfaces and keeps it pointing in the right direction when you hit unexpected undulations at silly speeds.

When a series of lengthy tunnels homes into view, I naturally revert to excitable teenager mode and lower the windows before gunning it. I’m rewarded with a soundtrack that’s electrifying, as the pent-up frustration of that beautiful engine is unleashed and, while there’s no need now to lift off the throttle when moving up or down a gear – doing so causes fireworks to explode in the quad exhausts. In these tunnels, it sounds like machine-gun fire and I hurry from tunnel to tunnel, repeating the process inside each one.

Does it stack up against its admittedly brilliant rivals? Yes it does. While the others each bring their own advantages to the table, the Huracán need not feel threatened. This car has bags of personality, it’s a piece of modern art, a scalpel-sharp supercar that’s brimming with technology, and it makes me feel alive, even when I’m just looking at it. To climb inside and drive it hard has been one of 2014’s undoubted highlights – that magic, that spark which set me up for life with an immovable obsession with silly cars, is still there.

khackett@thenational.ae

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