Lamborghini Essenza SCV12 first drive review: An ode to raw combustion

The Essenza isn't just Lamborghini's quickest, most brutal production car yet, it's a raucous end of an era.

Tim Stevens Former editor at large for CNET Cars
Tim Stevens got his start writing professionally while still in school in the mid '90s, and since then has covered topics ranging from business process management to video game development to automotive technology.
Tim Stevens
4 min read

This isn't some wild one-off. This isn't just Lamborghini being Lamborghini and making another loud, outrageous and limited-edition hypercar for kicks. This is not yet another unattainable bauble destined to be parked up in some collector's garage next to a dozen other unattainable baubles. This is a farewell, a fanfare or ode to the wonder that is the Lamborghini V12.

The company has been wedging 12-cylinder engines into its cars since the early '60s, a power unit that evolved and grew for decades to drive every top-shelf machine the Italian automaker has ever produced. A new, 6.5-liter V12 was designed to power the Aventador into production and with the end of the line for that car and that engine comes the end of the line for unassisted V12s.

The Aventador's replacement will still have a V12, but it'll have a hybrid system as well. Will it be good? Of course it'll be good, it'll be a Lamborghini, but it'll mark the biggest generational shift that the company's supersports cars have ever seen, an era that comes to close with the car you see here.

Basically, if Lamborghini's history of V12s is a long sentence full of colorful words, the Essenza SCV12 is a big exclamation point bang at the end.

Lamborghini Essenza SCV12 is the last of the big-bull V12s

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What's it like to drive? Well, before I dive into that, it's important to realize just how little this car shares with the Aventador. Yes, that 6.5-liter V12 at the core is much the same, uprated to 819 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque. That's a 60-hp bump over the Aventador SVJ, but don't focus on the numbers or you'll miss all the mechanical glory.

You see, that V12 may share a lot with the one in the regular Aventador, but here, it's been rotated 180 degrees. Where before the transmission hung off the front, sending power to a front differential for all-wheel drive, in the SCV12, a new transmission hangs off the back, spinning only the rear wheels.

The aged, hated seven-speed automated manual on the Aventador has finally been put to rest. Here we get a race-ready six-speed Xtrac unit that is so stout the rear suspension mounts directly to it. Yes, the chassis of the car supports only the engine, ending where the transmission attaches. Behind that you'll find a jaw-droppingly gorgeous pushrod damper setup that I could have stared at for hours.

If you haven't guessed by now, this is a fundamentally different machine from the Aventador, so wild it's legal only on the track and even there, it isn't allowed in any racing series globally. No worries, Lamborghini will provide plenty of their own opportunities for on-track action for the 40 lucky souls who get to put their names on one of these.

Lamborghini Essenza SCV12
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Lamborghini Essenza SCV12

It looks as wild as it drives.


Just 40 Essenzas will be made and all are long gone. So, if you had the requisite $2.6 million burning a hole in your pocket, you'll need to spend it on some other piece of exotica.

While I myself am not so flush with cash that I could call one of these mine, I was lucky enough to spend a morning behind the wheel of one. My playground was the tiny infield course at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. This tight, twisty, 1.1-mile track is typically used for the sorts of driving experiences you see plastered all over Vegas billboards. It's no Spa Francorchamps, but polite beggars such as yours truly can't be choosers.

It was a cold morning to boot and rain the prior day had washed the broken asphalt of the infield circuit clean and green. Grip was at a premium, then, not exactly what you want for your first exposure to an 819-hp hypercar. Thankfully, traction control is on offer, as is ABS, and I took solace in that fact as I strapped myself in and headed out onto the nine-turn circuit.

First impressions were less of the car and more of the engine's glorious, ear-shattering cacophony that seemed to penetrate my very soul. I had a microphone pinned on me before I left the pits so that I could document the experience, but the sound was so loud I couldn't even hear myself talking. That, then, is why the video you see embedded here relies on voiceover.

Lamborghini Essenza SCV12
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Lamborghini Essenza SCV12

Long live the V12.


Soon I got over the initial sense of awe and got down to business over two too-brief sessions. As the brakes and tires warmed and I relaxed, I started to dial down the traction control and dial up the power, something easy to do on the many-faceted steering wheel that wouldn't look out of place in a Formula One car.

By the end of my second session I was running maximum power and the lowest level of traction control and having a wonderful time. I've been lucky to drive a few race cars over the years and I'm happy to report this didn't feel anything like any of them. It was of course wildly fast but also playful and engaging. And, yes, it certainly felt aggressive.

In other words, it felt like a Lamborghini, the most pure expression of wild performance I've been lucky enough to drive and a fitting tribute to all that the brand has become. And what comes next? I don't know how the Aventador replacement will look, sound or drive, but I do know that it too will be a Lamborghini. In other words, it's sure to be wild and I can't wait to see it.

Editors' note: Travel costs related to this story were covered by the manufacturer, which is common in the auto industry. The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's staff are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.