You can usually judge the impact of a truly special car by the questions you get when people see it. When I first reviewed the Tesla Model S, early in its production run, the first question was usually: "Is that a Tesla?" Years later, on the Model X, it was: "How do the doors work?" When it comes to most Ferraris and Lamborghinis, people want to know how fast they'll go or how much they cost.With this car, though, that first reaction was rather different: awed silence, occasionally mixed with muttered profanity. The Aventador Roadster is such an incomprehensible thing to behold that most people need a few seconds simply to absorb it. It is special, a monster of a supercar that embodies everything a Lamborghini should be. But that everything won't be everyone's thing.
A HISTORY OF EXCESS
To trace the origin of the Aventador you must trace the origin of Lamborghini. The company was founded in the mid-'60s as a sort of counterculture Ferrari. One of its first cars was the 1966 Miura, a long, low, stunningly beautiful machine with a V12 mounted behind the seats. It was the fastest car of its day and would go on to define what a supercar should be.The Miura was replaced in the mid '70s by the iconic Countach, for many the ultimate supercar of its era -- at least for its appearance, if not its driving characteristics. A complete stylistic departure from the Miura, that car's angry, angular shape made it look like something from another time.The Countach dominated the '70s and '80s, replaced by the slightly softer-edged Diablo, which owned the '90s. The Murcielago was Lamborghini's big car for the Noughties, and then in 2011 the company introduced the 700-horsepower, V12 Aventador. The roof came off a year later, creating the Roadster we have here.
The Aventador Roadster eschews traditional drop-top supercar motoring by offering neither a retractable hard nor soft top. It instead relies on a pair of carbon fiber panels, weighing in at about 25 pounds combined, each able to be removed and stored up in the frunk. Fans of '80s and '90s sports cars such as the Pontiac Firebird and Toyota MR-2 might think of this as a modern reinterpretation of the classic T-top, and they wouldn't be far off -- but don't tell that to anyone in Bologna.This design takes advantage of the base Aventador's rigid, carbon fiber chassis, which did require some extra reinforcement to still stay strong without a fixed roof. Its weight, however, increases by only 110 pounds -- virtually nothing in a car of this size.Drive comes from the same 6.5-liter V12 as in the coupe, delivering 700 horsepower to all four wheels through a seven-speed automated manual transmission. Intriguingly, the engine relies on supercapacitors to power its start/stop functionality -- futuristic solid-state energy storage that provides more juice more reliably than just a traditional battery. That, plus cylinder deactivation to shut down half of the engine's 12 cylinders when not needed, means the Aventador Roadster can manage up to 16 mpg on the highway. OK, that's a long way from Prius territory, but it's a fair bit better than the gas-chugging Lambos of yore.
The Aventador Roadster is 80 inches wide and 188 inches long, giving it very nearly the same footprint as a Hummer H1. With a height of only 44 inches, however, it's a full 4 inches lower than a new Mazda MX-5. Driving an Aventador, therefore, becomes a game of managing ample proportions from a decidedly prone position.Easy? No, but nothing about the Aventador is easy, and that's partly what makes it such an experience.Open the doors, which reach skyward as only Lamborghini doors should, then scamper down into the seat and look around and you'll find generous wing mirrors that provide surprisingly decent visibility out the sides. The rear-view mirror, however, shows only the top of the engine cover. You needn't worry about tailgaters in here. You'll never be able to see them.And that's just one reason why you should never follow an Aventador too closely. The other is that the prodigious heat coming out of the centrally mounted exhaust is more than enough to melt a tailgater's bumper.Other than that, on the surface, the Aventador is no harder to drive than any other modern car. The single-clutch "ISR" transmission will take care of itself in automatic mode, there are only two pedals on the floor to worry about and the steering wheel works as steering wheels should. There's even a very traditional column-mounted stalk for the turn signals, versus the wheel-mounted controls on the Huracan and most modern Ferraris.
But those familiar elements are quickly betrayed by dozens of foibles that can make the simple act of getting from A to B occasionally unpleasant. First there is the suspension, a beautifully engineered setup from Ohlins using pushrods to reduce unsprung weight. It gives the Aventador impeccable manners at the limit, but unlike many modern supercars it has no easy "comfort" button. It's all race, all the time.That transmission does offer a variety of settings, three in fact, but even the most relaxed -- Strada, or "street" -- sees the car bucking and lurching like a wayward bull with every shift. Dial it up to Corsa ("race") and that bull gets a shot of adrenaline. Each upshift is like a kick in the back, accompanied by a 50-millisecond cessation of hostilities from the fire-breathing exhaust.In Corsa mode, the car is so incredibly loud that law enforcement officers the next county over will be calling out APBs should you ever really open it up on public roads. It's a banshee wail like Formula One cars made when they still sounded like Formula One cars. It is near-deafening in the cockpit, and absolutely delightful with the roof removed.
It's the perfect accompaniment for the brutal performance of the Aventador. At launch, the car will eagerly spin all four tires. In a corner, the Aventador Roadster slings around with aplomb, but not quite deftness: think rock on a string rather than ballerina on stage. This is a big, heavy car, and it always feels that way, but it's a big, heavy car with seemingly limitless adhesion and the kind of precise steering feel that has become an unfortunate rarity.
The Aventador Roadster is a sublime experience. The look is striking, the sound enticing and the driving impression unlike anything else. What the removable roof demands in weight and cost it more than repays with more sounds, more smells and more exposure -- if you're into that.And you'd better be, because there's no way to drive this car subtly, no way to slip away for a stealthy run through your favorite, quiet roads. This car draws a crowd, and if you're in the lucky position to be able to afford something like this, you'd best be prepared.I am not in that lucky position, and while it's difficult to even fathom a car that, as configured, costs just short of $530,000, this is a car that I have a huge amount of affection for. When more and more supercars are evolving into things you could realistically and comfortably think about driving every day, the Aventador isn't. This car is beautifully demanding, charismatically coarse and totally, totally epic.