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2020 Lamborghini Aventador SVJ Roadster first drive review: Illogical yet sublime

Taking the roof off of a car designed for maximum performance on the track might not make much sense, but here the rules of logic do not apply.

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 I first drove the Lamborghini Aventador SVJ coupe, it was appropriately on a racetrack -- Estoril in Portugal, to be specific. That's appropriate because the SVJ is an Aventador that's been thoroughly gutted and re-tooled for on-track performance. And on that race track the car was a delight; a truly stellar day of driving, but I confess I was a bit disappointed to never turn a wheel in the car on a real, public road.

2020 Lamborghini Aventador SVJ Roadster

My first run in the topless, $573,996 Aventador SVJ took place amid some very different surroundings. Palm Springs instead of Portugal for one thing and instead of a circuit my drive covered a strip of sinuous road stretched across the desert. On-road, in other words. And that's also appropriate, because while the SVJ Roadster gives up little in on-track performance compared to the razor-sharp coupe, of the two, this one's far more likely to ply its trade out in the real world.

Of course, with pristine weather and scenic hills dotted with multimillion-dollar mansions, Palm Springs is pretty far removed from reality in many respects, but it still poses a far greater challenge to comfort and usability than Estoril. And when it comes to usability, the Roadster failed its first test before I had even left the parking lot.

I popped the latch on the frunk to store two small camera bags and was greeted with the sight of the SVJ Roadster's pair of carbon fiber roof panels. Like with the Aventador Roadster before it, the SVJ is basically a modern T-top. While those panels stow neatly and securely between the front wheels, latched in place to prevent damage during the extreme Gs this car can generate, they leave little storage room for anything else. So, if you're planning on going somewhere topless, you'd better send your valet on ahead with the luggage.

Not a car designed with practicality in mind, then, but that shouldn't come as a surprise. The SVJ, or Superveloce Jota, is the hardest, quickest Aventador yet, refined and tuned and augmented to make it a weapon unlike any other on the track. The interior, already spartan in the normal Aventador, was whittled further, the carpeting removed, door panels swapped with raw sheets of carbon fiber and interior door handles replaced by de rigeur pull-straps.

2020 Lamborghini Aventador SVJ Roadster in Verde Scandal

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On the outside, the SVJ Roadster wears a new suit of aerodynamic armor that's even more aggressive than its coupe predecessor -- and that's before you paint it in a suitably outrageous color like the Verde Scandal you see here. The Roadster carries a redesigned engine cover and wider side intakes than the coupe. But, importantly, the Roadster maintains the SVJ's biggest party trick: active aerodynamics.

Dubbed ALA 2.0, the SVJ Roadster has a series of valves, a pair on the front splitter and two more beneath the rear wing, which manipulate the air traveling over and under the car. The front valves can open to duct air beneath the car, reducing the efficiency of the massive splitter beneath the nose. The rear valves open to push air up the wing's central stalk and out through a series of slats cut into its trailing edge, effectively stalling it out.

This means the Lamborghini Aventador SVJ Roadster can dynamically trade drag for downforce, giving maximum grip in the corners and maximum speed on the straights -- specifically, 40% more downforce than the slightly less racy Aventador SV, despite having roughly the same drag. How much speed does that equate to? Try 217 mph, exactly the same as the coupe.

Acceleration is down a 10th, 2.9 seconds to 60, likely thanks to the 110 pounds carried by the Roadster. That's weight difference you certainly won't feel on the road given we're still talking about a 3,472-pound car here.

2020 Lamborghini Aventador SVJ Roadster

6.5-liters of uncorked insanity.


A not-insignificant portion of that weight is the 6.5-liter, 759-horsepower V12 that sits just aft of the driving compartment. Revving up to a whopping 8,700 rpm, it's the most powerful series production engine Lamborghini has ever created -- though with only 800 SVJ Roadsters planned, the concept of "series production" is relative.

I'll be perfectly honest that the numbers and figures all cease to matter the first time you flip up the cherry-red ignition cover and stab at the button beneath. The bark of the SVJ's V12 is even more of an aural assault than the coupe, largely because there's less separating you and the engine. Its exhaust is rambunctious, crackling and shouting with every shift of the car's often-clumsy seven-speed transmission.

Around town, that awkward transmission, that unruly exhaust and the rather extreme tune on the adaptive suspension result in a car that is, perhaps unsurprisingly, uncomfortable. Where the adaptive dampers on many a modern sports coupe go from soft to hard at the touch of a button, on the SVJ Roadster they just go from hard to harder, and there's no way to mute that exhaust.

If these issues concern you, I might suggest you consider the slightly less bonkers and far more civilized Aventador S. Those feeling more naughty, however, will want to take the SVJ well out of town before its merits begin to shine. And that's exactly where I headed.

2020 Lamborghini Aventador SVJ Roadster

Taste the rainbow.


As the road climbed and doubled-back on itself, and as I was able to explore the upper-reaches of that digital tachometer, the SVJ Roadster immediately came into its element. The steering is deceptively light, more so than you might expect given the size of the car and the sheer volume of the Pirelli Corsas it rolls upon (255/30ZR20 on the front, a whopping 355/25ZR21 at the rear). Despite all that and the seemingly endless amount of grip on offer, the car is communicative and sharp, telegraphing every imperfection and tiny piece of gravel on the road.

Those sticky tires sent much of that gravel flying through the air, resulting in a somewhat painful drive for me as we ran nose-to-tail in a flamboyant convoy of a half-dozen Technicolor Lambos. I sit tall, meaning the top of my head was exposed poking up through the Roadster's absent roof, putting me very much in the line of fire.

A pair of roof-mounted windscreens that clip in along the leading edge, designed to cut buffeting, also did a fine job at shielding me from any further brain injury. Even without these in place the cabin of the Roadster is quite civilized from a wind noise perspective. Perhaps it's because the V12 is so loud that you don't notice it, but I've been in many, far lesser convertibles and targas that boom and buffet and torture the ears more than this. Lowering the sliver-like rear window increases airflow through the cabin measurably, also serving to change the tenor of the engine more than I'd expected given the absence of a roof. Want to enjoy the exhaust? Put the window up. More into hearing the greater mechanical intake-related noises? Drop it down.

And what about the car's hallmark ALA system? You'd have to be going an awful lot faster than the law and common decency would allow to really feel it on public roads, but there's no reason the Roadster's system will be any less effective on the racetrack than with its coupe cousin.

2020 Lamborghini Aventador SVJ Roadster

Don't overthink it. 

Tim Stevens/Roadshow

So what we're left with in the Lamborghini Aventador SVJ Roadster is a car that's perhaps even more extreme than the coupe in terms of its character. And, as ever, it's hard not to question the merit of a track-oriented convertible, gutted in pursuit of weight savings and then saddled with another 110 pounds of baggage so that the roof can come off. Running topless is, after all, rarely a desirable trait for the circuit.

But I would advise you to get the heck out of here with that kind of logic. As ever with Lamborghini it's about the experience as much as the performance, and the experience of piloting the SVJ is exactly the kind of infectious outrageousness that makes even the most stoic of drivers start giggling. I know I certainly did.

Watch this: Lamborghini's Aventador SVJ is more than a 'Ring monster

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.