Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Lamborghini Aventador LP700-4 Roadster

“Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” John 2:10.

Lamborghini’s Aventador Roadster, arguably the best varietal ever bottled by the Sant’Agata Bolognese winery, is the perfect way to celebrate 2012 global sales up by 30 percent, a healthy backlog of Aventador orders, and the company’s 50th birthday. While the rest of the car world frets electrics and hybrids, Lamborghini is toasting its middle age with a $448,295 dolce spumante.

This is hardly the first time a manufacturer has popped the cork on a coupe to woo sun worshippers, but there’s more to this Roadster (which is actually a targa) than solar-heated seats. To minimize the loss of structural integrity, its carbon-fiber tub is reinforced with thicker rocker sections and additional composite material laid over the driveline tunnel and firewall.

With the two gloss-black roof panels removed, torsional stiffness is 37-percent lower than the coupe’s but, short of a lab measurement or bad-road, sibling comparison test, you’ll never notice the slightly softer foundation. Resealing the cockpit by plugging the top panels’ locating pins into four windshield sockets and securing two rear latches restores 6 percent of the lost stiffness.

Each top panel weighs only 13.2 pounds thanks to the Lamborghini’s first application of its forged-composite process, which squeezes 1-to-2-inch carbon fibers laced with resin and packed into a precise mold in a heated 1100-ton press. To bask in the admiring paparazzi glow, you plug the tops into receivers fitted to the trunk. That consumes 90 percent of the limited luggage space, a problem for your valet to resolve.
Other Roadster-specific features are twin pop-up B-pillar posts that deploy in the unlikely event of a rollover, side-window glass beveled along its top edges for tight sealing, and a small glass panel between the rear roof pillars that can be lowered to orchestrate the back breeze and V-12-engine serenade. The total weight gain is a modest 110 pounds.

While sculpting the original Aventador, Lamborghini’s chief designer Filippo Perini drew inspiration from shiny green beetles with zigzag legs, the F-22 Raptor, and the B-2 stealth bomber. His team added a few stylish hexagons to the Roadster to underscore Lamborghini’s admiration of the sixth element—carbon. Four overlapping tempered-glass panes set inside two elongated hexagons solve the problems of maintaining a view of the engine while venting heat and providing weather protection. Other hex shapes surround the exhaust pipes, cover the fuel filler, define the door openings, and guard the engine stop-start button against accidental use.

On the dark side of this bad beetle, there’s a powertrain layout as mesmerizing as the jagged exterior. The 691-hp 6.5-liter V-12 mounted just behind the cockpit has the output end of its crankshaft aimed forward. A power takeoff sandwiched between the engine and the seven-speed Oerlikon-Graziano automated gearbox spins two driveshafts offset to the right of the car’s centerline. One drives the rear limited-slip differential housed inside an extension of the engine’s oil sump, the other delivers torque through a Haldex coupling to the open front diff. While up to 60 percent of the available output can be routed forward, in practice the front twist varies between 0 and 30 percent. In other words, the Roadster’s rear Pirelli P Zero boots— now offered with APP TECH forged wheels in an optional 21-inch size—do most of the work, as they should for optimum steering and handling.

Instead of diving into the hybrid end of the pool, Lamborghini engineers dipped a toe into heightened efficiency waters with two new engine-control schemes. One bank of cylinders is disabled while cruising in upper gears at speeds below 84 mph by temporarily interrupting fuel delivery. At traffic lights, a stop-start system shuts down the whole engine, relighting the fire on cue in only 180 milliseconds with a starter powered by a super capacitor. EPA highway mileage climbs from 17 to 18 mpg, while the Aventador’s 11 mpg city rating is unchanged.

Fuel economy is likely a low priority for anyone stepping into the scissors-door’s maw and swinging a leg over the Roadster’s foot-wide sill. Once the entry procedure is mastered, the firmly bolstered bucket seat, flat-bottomed wheel, sparkling liquid-crystal instruments, and a center-console control array worthy of a 747 begin their beguiling act. Punch the starter button to cue the 12-cylinder rock-band yowl and you begin believing that this seat really could be worth its outrageous price, a mere $44,100 more than the coupe’s.

The Adventador Roadster’s unmatched dynamic range is the clincher. Instead of surfing through tedious configuration menus, tapping two buttons commands your choice of Strada, Sport, and Corsa modes while programming key powertrain, chassis, and body-panel variables. Corsa delivers the physics equivalent of a horizontal bungee jump: Clicking the paddle shifters smartly will whipsaw your viscera to 60 mph in about three seconds and through a quarter-mile in eleven. Timely wheel and pedal work deliver near-1.0-g cornering and head-banging, 1.0-g-plus braking. The audio track sounds like a stirring mix of Winternationals and Le Mans rips. Strada is where the steering and ride soften for the ride home from a hot day at the track and the seven-speed gearbox upshifts with Hydra-Matic politeness. Sport is the happy compromise where the hydraulically assisted steering effort is dialed back from exercise-machine mode, the wheels wage peace with bumps, and a choice between manual or automatic shifting is provided.
The Aventador Roadster’s brilliant performance portfolio and endearing manners spot it in the thick of the 200-mph club that currently includes three Ferraris (458, FF, F12berlinetta) and McLaren’s MP4-12C. A 991-series Porsche 911 GT2 RS will likely join the throng in a year or so. What distinguishes the Roadster in this illustrious group is that it offers a turbulence-free alfresco mode without compromising its driving virtues. That, and the fact that it achieves its speed without resorting to turbocharging, is what makes this car a smart alternative to Bugatti’s Veyron 16.4 Grand Sport at roughly one-fourth the price.