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2021 Lamborghini Sian first drive review: Mild-hybrid heart and V12 soul

Mild-hybrid power and wild styling combine to make a truly special Lamborghini supercar.

When Lamborghini says you can have a few hours behind the wheel of its first production hybrid supercar, you're not going to let a rainy British winter's day stand in your way. So I find myself in the heart of the British countryside with the keys to the Lamborghini Sian FKP 37 in my hand, and the Millbrook proving ground's alpine test circuit and high-speed bowl at my disposal.

The Sian's name comes from the Bolognese word for lightning. The alphanumeric appendix refers to the initials of former Volkswagen Group head Ferdinand Piech -- the man responsible for bringing Lamborghini into the Group's portfolio -- and 1937, the year of his birth. Only 63 examples will be built, commemorating the incorporation of Automobili Lamborghini in 1963. Naturally, every car is already spoken for.

On sight, the Sian activates all the same neutrons that fired when I first saw a photo of the LP400 Countach. Like all the best Lamborghinis, the Sian's design appears to have been lifted directly from the imagination of an excited child.

But even by normal Lamborghini standards the Sian looks futuristic and wild. Mitja Borkert, Lamborghini's head of design, went out of his way to give the Sian an especially large amount of eye-catching details, with creases and cutouts everywhere, bringing the Sian right up to the line of looking ridiculous without actually crossing it. I mean, it has fins that wouldn't have looked out of place on a 1960s Cadillac Eldorado. It's a bold choice.

The interior, by contrast, is quite restrained -- on the Lambo scale, anyway. The steering wheel is especially spartan with not a single button or switch. The Sian gets the same larger, portrait-oriented infotainment screen as the Huracan Evo, although its positioning is far from convenient, located quite low and far from the dash. Still, it makes the cabin feel more contemporary than that of, say, the Aventador. From the missile-key-style guard for the engine start button to the shapely, 3D-printed housing for the air vents and the illuminated supercapacitor sign, there are still plenty of flourishes to make you and everyone around you think you're driving a spaceship.

Lamborghini

But what's most important about the Sian is what's under the skin. The Sian is based on the Aventador SVJ, with an identical chassis and suspension, and the same V12 engine. The Sian, however, adds a small electric motor to make this Lamborghini's first production hybrid.

A quick bit of history: In the ancient before-times of 2013 when Ferrari, McLaren and Porsche launched their so-called holy trinity of hybrid supercars, Lamborghini was notably absent. At the time, Lamborghini's then-CEO Stephan Winkelmann dismissed the Ferrari LaFerrari, McLaren P1 and Porsche 918 Spyder as compromised and overweight. Adding big, lithium-ion batteries to a supercar simply wasn't on Lambo's roadmap. Fast forward a few years and Lamborghini showed the world how it would enter the world of electrification, debuting the Sian FKP 37 at the 2019 Frankfurt Motor Show.

What makes the Sian stand apart from all other hybrid cars is its lack of traditional lithium-ion batteries. Instead, the 34-horsepower electric motor is powered by a supercapacitor and integrated into the gearbox.

What's a supercapacitor? Anyone who's pulled apart a broken gadget will have encountered these small cylinders soldered to circuit boards. Their ability to quickly store and deploy large amounts of energy make them great alternatives to batteries when ultra-fast recharge time is a benefit and their quick depletion isn't a problem. A flashlight using a supercapacitor instead of a battery may only run for an hour, but it will recharge in 60 seconds.

Total output for this mild-hybrid V12 is 808 horsepower.

Lamborghini

This ability to rapidly cycle from empty to full and back again, over and over without deteriorating performance, makes a supercapacitor a viable alternative to batteries to power a mild-hybrid supercar. Traditional batteries can deliver a steady stream of electrical power for extended periods, giving an EV better range but perhaps less performance and slower charging times. A supercapacitor, on the other hand, can deliver a quick burst of power that's depleted rapidly but can be recharged as soon as you hit the brakes. This is Lamborghini's take on the hybrid -- less of a noble effort to reduce fuel consumption, more a loophole that lets the company get on the electrification train without compromising weight or choice of engine.

The Sian's 6.5-liter naturally aspirated V12 is the same engine you'll find in the Aventador SVJ, just with titanium inlet valves and some ECU tweaks. In the SVJ, this engines produces 759 hp; in the Sian, 774 hp. Add in the 34 hp from the electric motor and you get to the staggering total output of 808 hp. That's in a car that costs somewhere between $2 million and $3 million, depending on spec, easily four times the sticker price of the Aventador SVJ.

For both cars, accelerating to 62 mph takes 2.8 seconds and their top speeds are a claimed 217 mph. Off the line, the benefits of the Sian's electric motor are minimal. At higher speeds, however, the electric motor fills in the spaces where torque might be lacking, allowing for smoother and quicker acceleration at speed.

The interior looks futuristic, but it's not exactly ergonomically friendly.

Lamborghini

The Sian feels exactly as exhilarating to drive as a traditional V12-powered Lamborghini should. And if you're ever able to take a Sian to the track, you can expect similar performance to its Aventador SVJ sibling -- which just so happens to hold the Nurburgring production car lap record, by the way.

The single biggest difference between the cars is in the transmission. The Sian and Aventador SVJ share the same single-clutch, seven-speed gearbox, but in the SVJ, the gear changes are downright brutal. Each shift is an act of violence that can really throw you off. Sure, it adds to the drama of diving a car as theatrical as the Aventador, but this does little to help performance -- or comfort.

In the Sian, meanwhile, the electric motor fills those vast torque gaps to make gear-changes feel as smooth as those from the most sophisticated dual-clutch gearbox. This makes slower driving significantly more comfortable and improves stability when changing gears at speed. On Millbrook's banked, high-speed bowl, in heavy rain, the last thing I wanted was to be violently thrusted forward and back while trying shift at 140 mph. The difference the hybrid system makes to shifting is night and day compared to the Aventador SVJ.

Only the upshifts are smoothed out, however; coming back down through the gears is still somewhat harsh. It's still a lot better, though. This makes the experience of driving the Sian less of a, well, experience, but it'll definitely result in a car that's easier to live with.

Lamborghini Sian
Lamborghini

Aside from the dramatic difference in gear changes, overall, the hybrid system is remarkably transparent. The supercapacitor itself only adds an additional 75 pounds to the car's weight and because the electric motor is built into the transmission, the Sian's overall heft and distribution are broadly similar to the Aventador SVJ.

The Sian's throttle response is rapid without being twitchy, giving you immediate access to all the power you need. The naturally aspirated V12 needs little help on that front, but the subtle enhancement provided by the electric motor is a welcome addition. Through twisty, technical sections of Millbrook's handling circuit, the Sian uses it's rear-wheel steering to virtually shorten the wheelbase and the immense mechanical grip gives you incredible confidence while cornering.

The only restriction in navigating tight turns is the visibility. Lamborghinis rarely make many concessions to comfort or practicality, and the Sian is no exception. The seating position is slightly higher than desirable for a mid-engine supercar. Between the restricted headroom and the raked windshield, hairpin turns involve a lot of ducking and diving while trying to eyeball the apex. Merging into traffic is equally daunting as the Sian's blind spots are large enough that you can lose sight of a reasonably sized house. Luckily, everyone else on the road will be extremely aware of where you are -- if not because of how the car looks, then certainly because of how the car sounds.

A sonorous engine note is such a key part of the Lamborghini experience it would be sacrilegious to sacrifice this while building a hybrid. Thankfully, the Sian upholds that tradition. There is nothing like the wail of a naturally aspirated V12.

Long live the V12.

Lamborghini

Free-breathing V12s might seem anathema to an electrified future. By developing a hybrid system that technically ticks the box for electrification, without having to compromise on weight or making any real difference to fuel economy, Lamborghini's loophole allows the company to keep using these big, loud engines. The Sian is a hybrid like a Formula 1 car is a hybrid -- technically qualified for the classification, but a Prius it ain't.

By far, the best thing about the Sian is that it extends the lifespan of the naturally aspirated V12.