Lamborghini's biggest bull, the Aventador (formerly subtitled LP 700-4) is going on six years old now. It made its debut at the Geneva show back in early 2011, in many ways the logical progression of that car that came before, the Murcielego. Aventador had more power, better handling and a lot more technology.
Now, though, it's getting a little long in the tooth. Don't call it a crisis, but as Aventador moves into middle age, it's due for some upgrades. Welcome, then, to the Aventador S, a moniker that puts it squarely in the noble footsteps of the Countach S and Miura S before. On the surface, changes made to this new bull are minor, but believe it or not this is a car that feels radically different from before, despite having all the same charms -- and a few of the same foibles.
The four 4s
To summarize what's new in the Aventador S, Lamborghini coined the term "4 Masterpieces." That specific term may be a bit hyperbolic, but it is a nice, quick way to run through the new elements in this still fairly old car.
The first element, and the most important, is four-wheel steering. With the new Aventador S, the rear wheels now turn up to 3 degrees. At low speeds, the rears turn opposite the direction of the fronts, virtually shortening the car's wheelbase by 500 millimeters (about 20 inches).
At higher speeds, though, the wheels turn in the same direction as the front, virtually lengthening the wheelbase by 700 millimeters (28 inches). All this may not sound like much, but as I'll show you in a bit, it actually makes a remarkable difference -- as does the variable steering rack, borrowed from the Huracan.
The second "masterpiece" is four-wheel drive. The existing, Haldex-based system as found on the original Aventador remains, but like many other things on car it has been retuned, now sending 90 percent of the power to the rear in Sport mode, but dropping that down to 80 percent in Corsa (race) mode, to provide better balance and, crucially, more stability when getting off the throttle. (But don't fear, the Aventador S still likes to wag its tail in the braking zones.)
The next element is indeed all about those driving modes, of which there are now four. Strada (street), Sport and Corsa (race) modes return, now joined by a custom fourth mode called, appropriately, "Ego." Here you can choose your ideal engine, steering and suspension settings to create your own perfect configuration.
Want to go fast on a tight, bumpy circuit? Sharpen the steering and the engine but soften the suspension. Want to go fast on a big, smooth circuit? Select maximum power and stiffen the suspension but leave the steering on a more leisurely setting. Want to go slow on a bumpy road? I'm sorry to say that you may have selected the wrong car.
The final element of the four is the active suspension on all four wheels. The magnetorheological dampers and overall configuration haven't changed from the old Aventador, but the tuning is drastically different, the new rear-steering meaning the development team had to throw every setting out the window and start fresh.
Other notable changes include revised aerodynamics, with more than twice the downforce up front thanks to a new, snake-inspired nose. (Seriously, dig the fangs.) A new diffuser is tucked up under the rear straddling a new, lightweight exhaust. And, there's a revised, active wing with three positions.
Last, but not least, power is up by 40 horsepower to 740, thanks almost entirely to a raised redline: now set at a whopping 8,500 RPM. That's a lot of moving pieces moving very quickly for a motor this size, but what a glorious noise it makes at the limit.
What hasn't changed
Importantly, the Aventador S hasn't gained any weight. The rear-steering system added 6 kg to the equation, but a new, lighter, titanium exhaust resulted in a 6 kg savings. So, all square.
More tragically, the electronics package within the car hasn't changed -- at least, not much. It's the same basic navigation and media interface that was on the car in 2011, a system that looked dated even then. Now it's positively archaic, but it has received one major enhancement: Apple CarPlay. As an Android user I can't help but lament the lack of Android Auto, but then I can't afford the car anyhow.
Another, even more unfortunate carry-over is the transmission. It's the same, single-clutch unit that was on the original Aventador. The shift-maps and indeed its shifting technique has been revised, supposedly, but where more and more cars are making great strides with brutally quick yet comfortable dual-clutch setups, Lamborghini insists that this unit is the best solution based on weight and packaging concerns.
I drove the new Aventador S in Valencia, Spain, a part of the world that's been swept by violent winds and torrential rains of late. Lucky for me, my first window of opportunity on the Circuito Ricardo Tormo happened to be dry, and I took advantage of it.
Hustling around the mostly tight and twisty course, better suited to featherweight MotoGP machines than heavyweight supercars, I wish I could tell you that my first impression was of the increased power or the revised handling. No, the first thing that captivated me about the Aventador S was the flames shooting out of the car ahead. Under full throttle the new, triple-stacked central exhaust shoots out a well-defined cone of blue flame that would make an F-16 on full afterburner blush. It certainly put a big, dumb smile on my face.
After I'd gotten over that realization I turned to the more important aspects of the car, and after just a few turns it was apparent just how much of a transformation that rear-steer system is. I've been lucky to experience it on a number of other cars, including the new Porsche 911, but never have I found it to be as transformative as here.
The old Aventador was quick but never hid its weight, moving with grace but not necessarily alacrity. The Aventador S is very different, turning in sharply and cleanly to the apex, so sharply that I found myself unwinding the steering as I got a feel for that new, variable ratio rack.
Yes, I know this is a system that's not exactly beloved on the Huracan, and it is indeed the same basic hardware here, but given hustling around a much bigger car like this requires much more active inputs on the wheel, I eventually found myself liking it. Hopefully you will too, because it isn't an option.
Pushed to the limit and through the apex of the longer turns the Aventador S still tends towards understeer. And, indeed, as the rains came later, sweeping away the track's morning grip, it was always the front that washed out first. While nobody likes understeer, this gives the car a reassuring feel at the limit. That's important when you're managing 740 horsepower.
Overall, though, the impression is still that of a much more nimble car than before, and one that is way more fun on the track.
That transmission, though
When you're probing the upper-reaches of that new redline in Corsa mode, grabbing for the next gear still results in a concussive kick in the pants. Every shift at the limit is a jarring experience, something that, as I noted in the last Aventador, does add to the character of the car.
Remember, this is a car with an angry bull on the nose, not a dancing horse, and so you should expect the experience to be occasionally brutal.
Honest, I can live with the kicks and the ferocity on the track, even if they do unsettle the car. However, it's on the road where this transmission continues to really annoy.
With the car in its most comfortable settings, gentle acceleration away from a stoplight results in a series of uncomfortable lurches as the car reluctantly gathers speed. Driving a car of these massive dimensions is bad enough in a city -- add unpredictable, hesitant acceleration to the mix and it just gets that much less pleasant.
Familiar, yet radically improved
What sounded like a very minor update on paper delivers a car that really is markedly improved. Additional power is always great, and that V12 is as incredible as ever, but the biggest improvement comes in the new dynamics, enabled by the rear-steering system and complemented by the revised suspension and electronics.
Yes, the transmission is still a weak point, and the patently archaic infotainment experience is a letdown -- especially given the availability of much better systems in any number of Audis that could be had for less than the taxes you'd pay on this new supercar. Regardless, the Aventador S is still a driving experience unlike any other. It is a wonderful, sonorous, brutal thing, a supercar for those who want to drive with bravado, and I continue to be smitten by the thing.