Auto accessorizing is key at California’s Pebble Beach concours, where even 20-somethings seem to be driving newer supercars or older certified classics. On this Project Runway, you wouldn’t want to make the wrong impression. A Mercedes S-Class? Must be our Uber driver. A Porsche Boxster? Pizza boy.
Ah, but then there’s the Lamborghini Aventador S. Now we’re talking pizza mogul, with the resources to drop $424,825 on this Italian flagship—or a heartburn-inducing $525,000 for my liberally optioned test car, including nearly $60,000 in extra carbon-fiber jewelry. Sure, the little Caesar with the size-6 Prada loafers could have a Lamborghini Huracán for barely half that price—and that includes the brilliant Performante version that can actually outperform the Aventador—but as a Lamborghini rep here reminded me, regarding the Huracán’s relative unsuitability for a certain buyer, “The doors don’t go up.”
That willingness to spend an extra $200,000 on a swingin’ pair of scissor doors, a 6.5-liter V-12 engine (versus the Huracan’s ten cylinders), and a brag-worthy 217-mph top speed will mark the Aventador man or woman. That’s a rare group, even by supercar standards. Lamborghini sold a record 3,457 cars around the world last year, 1,041 of them in America, but only about 250 of those American sales were Aventadors. Yet Lamborghini’s global sales of 1,104 Aventadors was the most for any V-12 model in its history. For perspective, it took Lamborghini a decade to move 4,000 Murcielago V-12’s around the world, meaning an average of around 400 per year. The Aventador has lured 5,500 buyers in barely half that time. Finding even 1,000 global customers a year for a roughly half-million dollar car isn’t easy, and that works out to a cozy $500 million annual gross for Lamborghini and its dealers; by any measure, the Aventador has been a screaming success. To keep it that way, Lamborghini has steadily improved its halo car.
From its debut in 2012, there was never any doubt about the Aventador’s straight-line explosiveness. But hampered by a two-ton curb weight and relentless AWD understeer, the Aventador often felt like a Lamborghini bull trying to tiptoe through a china shop. Basically, the thing just didn’t want to turn.
The handling rescue began with the suddenly, spectacularly capable Aventador LP750-4 Superveloce, which served notice by cracking the seven-minute barrier at the Nürburgring. That SV model also upended my skepticism and recalibrated my view of Lamborghini performance when I romped it around the Formula 1 track in Catalunya, Spain.
The Aventador S now inherits much of the SV’s institutional knowledge, with a cherry on top via new four-wheel steering first seen on the $2-million 2017 Lamborghini Centenario, of which just 40 models—20 coupes and 20 convertibles—were built. With the $494,000 Superveloce topping the lineup, this 2017 Aventador S becomes the “base model” in the way that a $2 million Aspen lodge is a “starter home” for the young gentleman of leisure-slash-ski bum.
Of course, there’s nothing basic about this Klingon warship, from its newly snake-fanged front bumper to that reptilian V-12—now with 730 horsepower, up from 691—that hustles the Aventador S to 60 mph in 2.9 seconds.
Departing in the Aventador S, I head straight for Laureles Grade Road, which ascends and descends before finally butting up against Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. On this all-you-can eat switchback buffet, the Aventador immediately flaunts its newfound appetite for curves. Tuck into corners at lower speeds, and the Lambo’s rear wheels pivot up to three degrees opposite the fronts to boost cornering. Above about 80 mph, depending on conditions, those rear wheels turn in sync with the fronts by up to 1.5 degrees to make the car more stable. The practical effect, Lamborghini says, is like stretching the wheelbase by nearly 29 inches at high speeds, or shrinking it by 19.7 inches in tighter corners. Electric actuators spur that rear-wheel action in 5 milliseconds. There’s more: Lamborghini says the reshaped front splitter, improved underbody airflow management, and a three-position active rear wing boost downforce by 130 percent.
The result? The Aventador no longer feels like it’s dragging an exotic caboose when you urge it into corners. Even the steering ratio is quicker, helping the Aventador S dive-bomb like the supercar it was always purported to be. There’s still palpable understeer, as I notice when I get confident enough to push the limits of the stiffer-sidewall Pirelli P Zero tires—specially designed around the four-wheel-steering system—on staggered wheels, with 20-inchers up front and 21’s in back. But it’s clear that, like the big-brother SV, the Aventador S could now be coaxed into a catchable drift where conditions allow, especially in its “Sport” setting, which by default sends 90 percent of power to rear wheels. (The streetgoing “Strada” mode splits power 40/60 between front and rear, while the track-based Corsa mode gets a 20/80 split.) Adjustable magnetorheological shocks for the pushrod suspension are also retuned, taming the Aventador’s more brutish tendencies on bad pavement.
The rear-steer gear only adds about 13 pounds, barely worth mentioning in a such a beefy machine. But even that gain is somewhat offset by a newly lightened exhaust that launches a V-12 artillery attack through these canyons. Through genteel Carmel By-the-Sea, it's so loud that people practically duck for cover, even on this Pebble Beach weekend that clogs streets with convoys of supercars.
But start pulling on the Aventador’s antenna-sized paddle shifters and you’ll find contact with the car’s sore thumb: its creaky, cranky, single-clutch automated gearbox. The vastly more affordable Huracán enjoys a vastly superior dual-clutch unit. But Lamborghini says the Aventador’s longitudinally mounted V-12 doesn’t leave enough room to squeeze in that transformative seven-speed. Here, I found the Strada setting especially useless. The transmission oozed through gears like it was filled with congealed carbonara, and lurched so obtrusively that I thought its clutches were failing, or the software out of whack.
Fortunately, the mid-engine Lambo’s “Ego” mode doesn’t describe the default state of Lamborghini buyers. Instead, owners can mix, match and save individual settings for the powertrain, steering, suspension, and stability control via the familiar “Anima” switch on the steering wheel. Putting the powertrain in “Corsa”—and you might as well get all the rocket-sled thrust you paid for—and the other parameters in “Sport” made for the most rewarding experience, though the transmission always felt a beat behind the proceedings.
Of course, with more horsepower on tap than a Dodge Hellcat, you can pretty much leave the Lambo in third or fourth gear and just concentrate on your driving line and the (excellent) standard carbon-ceramic brakes. When the road stretched out and I buried the throttle, the Lamborghini felt like it was itching to test that 217-mph top speed. And on the roller-coaster elevations of Laureles Grade, dozens of other drivers were clearly itching to test their own cars—everything, on this Pebble weekend, from museum-quality vintage Porsche 911s and Ferraris to McLaren P1s, Koenigseggs, and almost anything else you could imagine. I pass more than one police car during my runs, but they’re going in the other direction, and by the time they could turn around, they’d have a dozen other hot rides between them and their Italian target.
The Aventador's uniquely interstellar style still commands attention, and its price tag guarantees that posers need not apply. Yet when the Aventador first showed its face around Pebble Beach five years ago, it blushed at its performance deficits versus its rivals in front of the world's wealthiest buyers. It's not blushing anymore, nor bluffing. Like the Huracán, the Aventador S proves that Lamborghini is truly serious about challenging all comers in supercars, and not just for preening near fashionable beaches—Pebble, South, or otherwise.
Lawrence Ulrich, The Drive’s chief auto critic, is an award-winning auto journalist and former chief auto critic for The New York Times and Detroit Free Press. The Detroit native and Brooklyn gentrifier owns a troubled ’93 Mazda RX-7 R1, but may want to give it a good home. Email him at Lawrence@thedrive.com.