Lamborghini Aventador SVJ The Brentador is the first and only SVJ in the country, and we drive it. As Lamborghini prepares to join the world of electrification, is the 759bhp Aventador SVJ Sant’Agata’s best ever attempt at purely petrol powered perfection? We take Bren Garage’s SVJ, the first and only one in India to find out. Words by Adam Towler. Photography by Gaurav S Thombre.
EXTREME MAKEOVER AVENTADOR SVJ - 350KMPH LAMBORGHINI DRIVEN IN INDIA!
Pullovers. Hoodies. Sweaters. Whatever you want to call them, the appeal of the most powerful, most advanced and most spectacular purely petrol-powered Lamborghini ever made, and ever likely to be made given we’re almost certain the Aventador’s replacement will be a hybrid, hinges on bringing along some additional outerwear. Not because the big old brute’s heating and ventilation system conforms to any stereotype of Italian supercar electrical inadequacy. No, it’s because of those seats — those infamous bucket seats, the long-standing nemesis of the evo road tester.
Roll up said garment and place it at the back of the cushion. Now free fall, gracelessly, contorting and awkward, down into the seat. Next, wriggle one’s backside forward so it’s resting halfway up the squab. Markedly supine, but it works, because the big Lambo’s wheel can be pulled right out, and splayed knees aren’t an issue with the pedal location. Headroom is also increased, but most of all the backrest now clamps usefully across the shoulders, and doesn’t try to ram you forward in abject agony. The pullover becomes an oversized lumbar support and driver endurance can now be measured in hours, not minutes.
THIS IS THE LAST AND ULTIMATE PURELY INTERNAL COMBUSTION-POWERED LAMBO
So it begins, sweater in place, SVJ unloaded from its custom trailer (doesn’t fit on regular single-car transporters) one February morning, bright and sunny. I feel guilty waking the slumbering SVJ, to encourage all 15 litres of oil and 25 litres of coolant into percolating around that giant beast of an engine. It cranks over with the shrill, fast-paced whirring signature of a proper Italian supercar, before catching with window-rattling force, soon expelling voluminous clouds of condensation and heaven knows what else. Edging out of the side road outside of Bangalore, on the NH to Hyderabad, the car’s nose jutting upwards and shuddering with non-existent damper travel due to the deployment of the essential nose lift, the world turns inward. It’s a massive purple Lamborghini with gold wheels and a towering rear spoiler, so yeah, it’s what I was expecting, but… eyeballs swivel, workers cease working, drivers swerve distractedly, bikers chase us with mobile phones held aloft in reverence. It’s a strange experience — excitement, incredulousness at seeing something so wild on Indian roads, which then builds into an oppressive kind of interest that suffocates you with its intensity.
THERE’S I MMENSE POWER (AND VOLUME) ON TAP, BUT YOU’RE UNLIKELY TO TURN IT UP TO 11 INITIALLY
Stop-start traffic through the hordes of mobile phone-wielding bikers makes for painfully slow progress, the Lambo wedged in on all sides, its driver feeling pathetically self-conscious. The old single-clutch automated ’box clunks and clonks out of first gear, but I’ve already given up with Auto mode, the shifts just so clumsy and slow it’s annoying, and I’d much rather control the car myself. In fact, I soon give up on the everyday Strada mode altogether, because while it’s virtually impossible to hear its cylinder deactivation working, the slight hesitancy and then pulse of power of it switching in and out soon grates.
It’s not until an hour’s past that driver and car can get into a rhythm, but there’s one overwhelming snag. I can’t think of a car I’ve driven with less rearward visibility. You don’t expect a panoramic vista in a car such as the Aventador, but just as a wartime RAF pilot’s failure to spot a yellow-nosed Messerschmitt on their ‘six’ could have fatal consequences, the SVJ driver’s licence is always in mortal danger through their inability to spot anything behind.
The SVJ’s active aerodynamics system — the trickery that stalls the front and rear wings on the straights to cut drag and aids corner turn-in by stalling one half of the rear wing as and when required — is to blame. When conditions favour the rear wing to be stalled, flaps in a central bifurcated duct at the base of the rear wing open, and because the middle wing support and the wing itself are hollow, air rushes up into the void and then jets out of tiny holes on the underside of the wing, detaching the airflow.
However, on a practical level, the hungry gape of the Aerodinamica Lamborghini Attiva intake and the thick stem of the central support mean that there’s merely a triangulated sliver of clear Perspex either side of the stem to see through, and a distorting, quivering sliver at that. In daylight, visibility is almost zero; at night, it’s a disorientating mess of scrambled light beams, and however much you crane your neck like a hysterical chicken, there’s no angle that allows you to confirm whether there’s a car directly behind you, or much further back in an adjoining lane. Neither do the side mirrors assist, for those sassy Sant’Agata hips are just too wide for them to show much more than chiselled purple flank. If only you could toggle the SVJ’s reversing camera, or even better, the mirror was replaced by a permanent rear-view screen.
Naturally, a ’70s supercar hero would simply grin from behind his oversized Aviators, drop a cog and rinse the V12 for all it’s worth, but this is the NH 275 in 2019, the era of the not-so-smart motorway with occasional speedbreakers, not so occasional vehicles coming the opposite way and the very occasional but horribly scary stray cow. So I don’t. Which is all the more galling because every subtle but high-definition channel of communication the SVJ relays — and it is a car of constant, animated conversation, even at a steady cruise — suggests it would like to be gently cantering along at about 200kmph. That’s not to say I’m not a little more liberal with the throttle; even at little effort the V12 still sounds staggeringly good, and as I’ve discovered, the hi-fi is equally staggeringly bad. But it’s just all so gloriously exciting: that noise, that view out, that sensation of raw speed. What it must sound like from the outside, carving through the morning light with those fat Jota exhausts jutting out high, I can only imagine.
The dramatic reach and distinct echelons of the V12’s performance bring to mind a particularly large musical instrument, perhaps like the pipe organ from a cathedral. There’s immense power (and volume) on tap, but you’re unlikely to turn it up to 11 initially. While this latest revision pulls readily from very low revs, it’s between 3000 and 4000rpm that it really gets going. There’s a marked band of accessible torque here, accompanied by a grating, gristly, beautifully mechanical growl. Tap in and out of this band and the SVJ covers ground with effortless and imperial ease, yet it’s like playing the aforementioned organ with over half the stops still pushed in: there is still nearly 5000rpm remaining to conduct in this orchestra.
Quickly the implications of accessing the full 759bhp begin to crystallise in the mind. It’s obviously going to be a fleeting moment of obscene physical sensations, mechanical urgency and intimidating volume, followed almost immediately by drastic self-censure. As I suspect, you can’t really prepare yourself for the sensation of speed and force that a wrung-out SVJ provides on any road. Back at the Estoril race track in Portugal last summer it felt biblically quick, but this is 100 per cent more visceral. The SVJ digs in and always wants to move forwards, clawing frantically into the asphalt. That engine, though: the efforts to remove reciprocating mass have given it the spiky, intimate viciousness of a demented two-stroke. We howl through; spit, bang, snuffle and crackle on the overrun past whatever we find on the highway. It’s gloriously irrelevant, and more important in so many ways than ever.
EVERY SUBTLE BUT HIGH-DEF CHANNEL OF COMMUNICATION SUGGESTS IT WOULD LIKE TO CAN TERALONG AT 200 KMPH
I’m amazed once again by how nimble and precise this car feels. Crucially, there’s such a natural response and weight to the steering — without it the car would be a nightmare of approximation and intimidation; with it there’s one input into a corner, and the faith that you can place something so wide exactly where it needs to be on the road. I’ve long since settled on my preferred driver settings: Corsa for engine and ’box, but either Strada or Sport for the damping depending on the surface beneath. The flexibility of Strada is continuously impressive, the SVJ remains wonderfully fluid over the road as long as the speed exceeds 50kmph. Conversely, it’s Sport I engage when the road deteriorates, because it prevents the car’s nose from kissing the ground when provoked by a heavily undulating section.
The brakes are Herculean, but work them really hard and you sense the shadow of that extraordinary lump of mass behind you, the car shimmying slightly, just a tacit reminder of the physics in play. Corners are in two parts: a definite sense of rotation on the way in as the four-wheel steer does its work, then another delicate jink as torque is shuffled rearwards on the exit. Driving the SVJ has now become instinctive; I’ve even made peace with the gearbox, refining the subtle lift that smooths out the changes at middling revs and throttle applications — it’s a human-mechanical interaction after all, and I almost feel nostalgic that it’ll soon be replaced by another seamlessly proficient twin-clutcher.
The SVJ hangs in there, still keen, poised, exhausts (so I’m told later) flamboyantly spitting blue flames, me a little tipsy on the sheer immersive activity of driving. I drive on and on until I can go no further, then kill the V12 and listen to the amusingly loud fans attempt to dissipate some of the readily apparent heat. I’m exhausted but it feels right: it’s the last and ultimate purely internal combustion-powered Lambo, and I want to savour every last damn mile I can.
It’s a car rife with contradictions of course, and chief among them is that its flaws conversely make it what it is. It’s huge, ergonomically bizarre and in some ways hopelessly outdated, but view the proposition as a whole, then to strip away those inadequacies, frustrations and challenges would somehow cheapen the experience; they’d normalise it, dilute it.
How can Lamborghini distil all those perverse and wonderful things about the Aventador into a future, antiseptic, electrified world? For the sake of everyone who truly loves cars, I’m counting on Sant’Agata having a mightily good plan.