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Pagani Huayra: Hands-on with Pagani's latest hypercar

Pagani may not have the heritage of Ferrari or Lamborghini, but the Huayra cements its reputation as one of the greats. We went to Italy and took Pagani's latest out to experience a true hypercar.

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Pagani makes the kind of cars that most people dream about. They've got big wings, big engines, interiors out of 1940s sci-fi, and designs that look like they came from Mars. They're also pretty rare -- there are around 150 Zondas in the world, and only a handful of Huayras. A trip to Pagani has been on XCAR's imaginary list for a while, so the day I received an e-mail inviting me to try out the firm's 730 horsepower Huayra was a rather good one.

Pagani Automobili is based on a rather unassuming industrial estate near Modena. The only clue to its location is a tiny sign bearing the company's name, logo, and an arrow. Oh, and the hypercars milling round outside.

Since the Huayra launched in 2011, many have been keen to find out what the successor to the Zonda would be like. It didn't look as mental and it had a name that seemed unpronounceable (Hu-why-ruh, so you know), but it did have 720 bhp and a twin turbo 6.0-litre V-12 sourced from AMG. So interests were piqued.

I'll admit that when I first saw the press pics of the Huayra I wasn't overwhelmed. The Zonda was such a huge departure from the norm, the lack of big wings and such on the Huayra was slightly concerning. However, when you take a deeper look at it, the Huayra's comparative restraint is utterly charming. There's smooth paneling, carbon fibre nip slips, and details hidden behind grilles that unless you look pretty hard, you may miss. Shame on you.

It's been designed with aero in mind, but keeps its wings hidden. Pagani wanted the Huayra to feel like a plane on take off, so gave it actual wings to play with. The car has active aero inspired by fighter jets. There's two wings buried on its bonnet, and two sitting on its rear, which adjust to what the car's doing at any given point. If you need to go quickly in a straight line, they'll stay hidden, allowing the car to be a slippery as possible; if you reach the end of that straight and need to stop quickly, they'll deploy to act as air brakes. They'll even pop up while you're cornering to keep the car balanced. That's smart.

Smart stuff is all over the Huayra: its carbon fibre tub is bulletproof thanks to the many composites its made of; it has a single clutch gearbox to save weight, as the extra poundage which a DCT adds on top would negate the extra speed it can swap cogs; and its wheels are made from a single block of aluminium over five days (kerbing them would be horrible). There's plenty of detail and plenty to gawp at.

We all know that a Pagani's interior is a bit of a highlight -- it's covered in aluminium, leather and carbon fibre and creates the most wonderful space for a driver to sit in.

Each switch has been milled from aluminium, anodized, and stuck lovingly in place. The leather is perfect, the carbon fibre shiny and bright. Being inside the Huayra is a very tactile experience. Horacio Pagani knows his cars have visual presence, he also knows the exterior is the bit a driver gets to enjoy the least, so he made sure the interior was just as aesthetically pleasing.

Looks are one thing, but drama doesn't just come out of a designer's pen. Pagani's Huayra is an experience like no other.

With 730 bhp being fired from its V-12 through a pair of giant rear wheels, the soggy day I had the car wasn't ideal for high-speed hijinks. I did give it a proper bootful at a few choice moments and things got...slippery.

The noise it produces is best heard, according to Pagani, from inside the cabin. With the windows up, you hear its V-12 screaming away and all is well, but if you crack the window ever so slightly you'll hear its turbos at work. Oh my, it sounds good. It takes in an enormous breath, then exhales like a wind god with a case of gas. It is mighty and it is glorious.

Prod the throttle and noise floods the cabin as the car effortlessly lunges forward. You don't need to have it at full throttle to experience its power. Long straights become very small indeed. Pagani says the Huayra is a more GT than supercar, but it's pretty hard sprung for long distance GT-ing. That said, it means that when you plant your foot it doesn't lurch anywhere, nor does it lean in the corners. Zero to 60 mph happens in 3.3 seconds and its top speed is 230 mph, though I got nowhere near achieving either.

Its steering is just right -- neither too light nor too heavy, and it offers incredible feedback. Admittedly you'd hope for that when you're dropping $1 million on a car, but know where you're pointing the front of the car and you can feel what it's going over.

It handles rather like an Elise, in that it's very direct. There's plenty of feedback on offer and it's controllable to the last. You feel every slight movement of the car and it gives you time to correct or modify them to keep yourself on the straight and narrow or correct your line.

You can feel how light it is when you're on the move, too. Small inputs make the Huayra dance and fly along the road; there's no body lean and you feel way more connected with the car (and by extension, the road) than you do in the likes of a Mercedes SL. An odd comparison I know, but where the SL has "light" in the name, the Huayra's 1,300kgs means it actually is.

Very few people will ever get to experience the Huayra at full chat. Few will ever even get to see one. I had a day to play in one of the world's most coveted cars, and you know what? I'll never forget it. It was fast, fun, beautiful, and aurally unlike anything else I've ever driven. But above all, the Pagani Huayra is special. All the details are just so, it's silly fast, and it feels like a hypercar should feel -- calm, composed and batshit all at once.

There's no massive company behind the Huayra -- Pagani is a small operation -- and because of this it stands separate from the other hypercars out there. No matter how good the LaFerrari, McLaren P1 and Porsche 918 really are, the Huayra will always feel just that little bit more individual, a little more...elevated than the rest.

Engine 6.0-litre twin turbo V-12
Power 720 bhp
Torque 740 lb. ft.
0-60 mph 3.3 seconds
Top speed    230 mph