2018 Lamborghini Huracan Performante: Lambo's fiercest yet

Lamborghini says its Huracan Performante is perhaps the fastest production car ever. Join us on the track as we find out for ourselves.

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
6 min read

When it comes to supercar "special" editions, it doesn't take much to get enthusiasts frothing at the mouth with anticipation. Slap on a couple extra decals, open up the exhaust a bit, and then kick back and watch the world line up to pay the 20 percent premium that's been tagged on to help inflate those already-epic profit margins.

It's a tried-and-true formula, and so I hope you'll forgive me if I wasn't expecting much when word started to spread that Lamborghini had a tarted-up Huracan coming to market. Turns out the joke is on me, because with one of the most advanced active aerodynamics systems on a road car, the new Huracan Performante is properly special -- no ironic quotation marks required. 

Lamborghini's Huracan Performante lights up the pit lane

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Active aero 

It's almost de rigueur for supercars to have giant wings on the back that flop about, articulating wildly like peacocks strutting their stuff as their owners flog the cars around the racetrack. The idea is pretty straightforward: angle the wing up for more downforce, then flatten it out to reduce drag. 

The Performante has a big wing out back, too, but it delivers the same feats of aerodynamic cheating without resorting to any histrionics. That big rear wing is totally fixed; it doesn't move, relying instead on internal trickery, a system Lamborghini calls ALA. That stands for Aerodinamica Lamborghini Attiva, though that "ala" means "wing" in Italian is hardly a coincidence. 

2017 Lamborghini Huracan Performante

Ducts ahead of the rear wing feed air through the vertical supports. 

Tim Stevens/Roadshow

Instead of the wing itself moving, it's actually hollow, with channels inside fed by a pair of ducts on the top of the engine cover at the rear of the car. Air runs through the wing, exiting in a series of slits beneath it. When the ducts are open and air flows through, the wing stalls, an aerodynamic situation in which drag is dramatically reduced. Close the valves and the air flows normally, giving you maximum downforce. Neat.

There's a similar ducting setup on the front splitter. Tucked beneath the nose, four air valves in total working in concert to provide maximum downforce for maximum grip in the corners, then opening up to reduce drag in the straights, giving you the best acceleration and speed. 

If that weren't clever enough, the car can even channel air differently left-to-right, meaning more grip on the inside of the car in corners, helping the thing to turn far better than it should. 

Does it work? We headed to Italy to find out.

Autodromo de Enzo e Dino Ferrari

2017 Lamborghini Huracan Performante

Chilling in the pits at Imola

Tim Stevens/Roadshow

It may seem a bit tragic to test a Lamborghini at a circuit named after the founder of Ferrari and his son, but nomenclature aside, the circuit that winds through the middle of Imola in Italy is an absolute classic. It's been stunted somewhat over the years thanks to having ever-tighter series of chicanes added to reduce speed and increase safety. Yet it's still a brutally fast circuit, offering the kinds of fast, flowing corners that can really show the aerodynamic attributes of a car. 

And on the track, the Huracan Performante felt absolutely at home. I've been lucky to spend plenty of time in Huracans in the past and the transformation in the Performante is remarkable. The variable steering is sharp and light, and while some may lament a slight lack of feedback, the it helps the nose of the car to feel very willing. 

Suspension is stiffer by 10 percent, rollbars stiffened by 15 percent, and the car's stability and traction control systems have been refined to dial back the assistance and make the experience feel more raw -- and of course, to take advantage of that extra grip offered by the aerodynamic system and the bigger, stickier Pirelli P Zero Corsa tires wrapped around 20-inch bronze wheels. 

The result is remarkable. The car darts into the tighter corners and flows into the faster ones, feeling edgy and alert but not nervous. It encourages you to push harder into the corners and get your foot flat on the floor earlier, leaving more time to stretch the legs of that 5.2-liter V10 engine. 

It's the same engine as the base Huracan but retuned here and fitted with a lighter exhaust that exits higher. The result is 30 more horsepower for a total of 631. The new exhaust also leaves room for a bigger rear diffuser, providing even more downforce. 

But, the best thing the exhaust does is let that V10 really sing, and it is quite a song. The Huracan was already among the best-sounding supercars on the market. The Performante is its new greatest hit. 

The car is an utter delight on the track, carbon ceramic brakes providing incredible stopping power, tires offering tons of grip yet breaking away progressively, and the car itself feeling completely unflappable. This is a big step up over Lamborghinis of yore, which have typically prioritized street performance over track. 

But that then begs the question: what's the new Performante like on the street? 

Hitting the road 

2017 Lamborghini Huracan Performante

The interior is more focused, but still livable.

Tim Stevens/Roadshow

It didn't take long to find some open roads cutting through the Italian countryside, and that's a good thing, because the Performante isn't exactly a great choice for road tripping. The bucket seats are thinly padded and made of carbon fiber, a great combination for track prowess. 

Not so much for the street. The Huracan doesn't quite have enough headroom for me, and the fixed recline on the seats meant I couldn't cheat and get more by laying the seat back. This left me scrunched down, and between that and the lack of padding, my lower back was aching in no time. 

There's also a fair bit of road noise to contend with, particularly from those brakes, which squealed with complaint at every intersection. I can't say as I blame them, though, since they'd just seen me through an hour's worth of hot laps at Imola. 

But, beyond that, the Performante isn't really much worse to live with on a daily basis than the base Huracan. The infotainment system is dated, but still more functional than most exotic cars , the air conditioning made me shiver on a sweaty Italian summer day, and even the sound system is more than respectable. 

The unrelenting sunshine in that summer day not only gave plenty of opportunity to test out the AC, but it gave me plenty of time to admire the stunning look of this thing. Clad in its hero color, a satin orange, the Performante looks like a dream. In bright sunshine a hint of metallic sparkle comes out in the paint and it never failed to draw a crowd. It also looked utterly amazing in every photo we snapped. #nofilter 

The one to get 

2017 Lamborghini Huracan Performante

That orange is worth the price of admission alone.

Tim Stevens/Roadshow

It's hard not to look at the outrageous styling and sound and sheer presence of a Lamborghini and not think the whole thing is a bit juvenile. But, as an unabashed big kid myself, I have no shame in saying I'm a big fan. That said, in the past, a Lamborghini wouldn't be the first car I'd choose when heading off for a track day. 

That changes with the Performante. It's a legitimately great track car, and yet it still delivers the same overwhelming driving experience everywhere else, as does the rest of the Lamborghini family. 

If you fit in the seats and can afford the $30,000 premium over the base Huracan for a starting price of $274,390, there's no reason not to get the Performante. It's blisteringly quick on the track and still tolerable on the streets. And if you do, make sure you get the orange -- assuming you don't mind turning heads everywhere you go.