LAMBO CENTENARIO BIG BULLS / #2016
How do you celebrate a centenary? A trip to the bingo hall? A nice cup of tea with some cake? Not if you’re Lamborghini, you don’t. You make your maddest car even madder.
Words: Charlie Turner / Photography: Tom Salt
It’s 6am, and the mercury is already heading rapidly north at Nardò, VW Group’s top-secret test facility on the heel of Italy. After multiple security checks of increasing ferocity, we’re finally into the inner sanctum and staring at the reason for all the secrecy: the Lamborghini Centenario. Hunkered down on the tarmac, it’s a monument to carbonfibre precision that would rival any modernist sculpture on its visual merits. Except, in this case, your appreciation of its stunning lines is disturbed by thoughts of its brutish potential.
The Centenario is Lamborghini’s posthumous birthday present to its legendary founder Ferruccio Lamborghini, who would have been 100 this year. But it represents more than a nod to the old man – it’s the most recent in a chain of jaw-dropping motor-show unicorns that started with the Reventón, then punctuated the last decade with highlights including the Aventador J, Sesto Elemento, Estoque and Veneno. More poignantly, it was the last car presented by Stephan Winkelmann at the Geneva show, following the announcement of his sudden departure to quattro GmbH and the appointment of Stefano Domenicali in his place. It is, then, an automotive baton for a company under new leadership, a touchpoint for what went before, but also an articulation of Lamborghini’s future direction. Sticking to the brief of its forebears, the Centenario is strictly limited production – only 40 will be made: 20 coupés, and 20 roadsters.
Nardò is where the VW Group comes when it wants to develop something antisocially, intergalactically fast. It’s where the team comes to cruise up to and through the 320kph zone; and with the Centenario’s vmax in excess of 350kph, today will not be a slow day. Best concentrate, then, and avoid removing five per cent of the genus from existence.
“It’s powered by a 6.5-litre V12 that idles at 850rpm and red-lines at 8600rpm”
The Centenario is powered by a mighty 6.5-litre #V1
2, which idles at 850rpm and red-lines at 8600rpm; it produces 770BHP / 566kW (23BHP / 14kW more than the Aventador SV, not a car you would ever accuse of lacking punch) and 690 Newton-metres. It’ll smash to 100kph in 2.8 seconds, and if you’re brave enough (and have enough air left in your lungs after the shouting), will explode to 300kph in 23.5 seconds. Harnessing all the madness and applying it to the road are bespoke Pirelli P Zero Corsas: 255/30 ZR20 on the front and 355/25 ZR21 on the rear, poor things. At the front, the more aggressive twin-deck splitter generates massive downforce, and channels the airflow over the car and down the sides via the sideblades; but it’s at the rear where the dark art of airflow is let off the leash. The Centenario features one of the largest diffusers this side of a Le Mans racer – combine that with the removal of much of the bodywork behind the rear wheels, and an active rear wing that extends 150mm, and you get 227kg of downforce at 280kph.
The biggest hardware news is that the Centenario is the first Lamborghini to employ rear-wheel steering, a system that provides increased manoeuvrability at speeds below 72kph and increased stability at higher speeds, in effect shortening and lengthening the wheelbase by 1200mm depending on attack speed. Despite all this added technology, the Centenario weighs in at 1520kg, 55kg lighter than an Aventador.
While the carbon-fibre obsession runs deep, it’s the materials science in conjunction with the aerodynamic and tech developments that deliver the numbers. With first deliveries due at the end of the year, I’m part of an exceedingly small group that’s been invited by Lamborghini’s head of R&D, Maurizio Reggiani, to experience and give feedback on the whole package. “Today you work for Lamborghini,” I’m told.
After a safety briefing on the six-odd-km ribbon of tarmac that forms the handling circuit in the centre of Nardò, we’re led out to four Aventadors of various potency. At the back of the queue lies the standard white Aventador coupé; next in line is an Aventador SV, is fitted with the first iteration of the rear-wheel-steer system; and it’s THE car that persuaded the board that the tech was worth pursuing. In front of that is the Centenario; and then the lead car, another SV driven by Lamborghini test driver Mario Fasanetto.
I opt to build up my tolerance to the insanity and start with the Aventador, immediately regretting my decision as the others disappear up the road while I’m left doing all I can to keep them in sight. After the first four-lap stint, I’m still struggling to process the track layout, and the fact that the other three cars made the Aventador look relatively ordinary. And seriously questioning my ability. Coffee time.
Recaffeinated, I grab the SV with the prototype rear-wheel steering and am relieved to find myself sticking with the Centenario. The difference isn’t just the additional 36kW, but the stability and responsiveness of the car. Where the Aventador felt large and brutal, the SV feels predictable and nimble. It’s a genuinely eye-opening comparison, and the laps pass with addictive repetition.
After more coffee, I finally lower myself into the familiar, yet subtly different surroundings of the Centenario’s cockpit. With only 40 being made, the lucky owners are able to be more demanding regarding the personalisation of their slice of Lamborghini history, and the carbonfibre-clad interior of our car (no. 0) is exquisitely executed. It’s hard to know what a R32-million interior should feel like, but this feels close, helped in no small part by the bespoke 10.1-inch portrait screen that occupies the centre console and features an all-new infotainment system Lamborghini describes as its take on the connected car. It comes with suitably angular graphics and features the usual suspects (media, nav, car set-up), plus telemetry that logs your lap times, gear selection, throttle inputs and braking points – all of which will be reviewed by the development team and its boss, Maurizio Reggiani, following the laps. No pressure, then.
I lift the fighter-jet safety flap (something I never grow tired of) to reveal the start/stop button, turn the engine, and the familiar V12 barks into life. But this one has a far harsher, deeper bass tone which suggests its potency and builds as I head down the straight after Mario.
Where the SV was a leap forward over the ‘standard’ Aventador, the Centenario moves the needle a lot further and represents a more complete package. In full-fat Corsa mode, on the first flying lap of the session I’m seeing 280kph at the 100m braking point for Turn 1. BRAKE, drop a gear and let the aero work its magic through the long left-hander, which tightens to a super-late apex. After which you need to shed a LOT of speed, and another three gears. The Centenario remains wonderfully stable throughout the high-speed transition as the balance of the front and rear aero weaves its magic, while the rear wing and magnetorheological dampers constantly adjust to optimise the car’s attitude. It’s hugely confidence- inspiring, and totally addictive. As the Centenario devours the 6.2km course, it’s constantly communicating: dive too deep into one of the tighter corners, and it will understeer; but let it flow, and the way it batters entry, apex and exit makes you grin... broadly.
In Sport, the Centenario becomes a lot less focused on obliterating lap records and a LOT more amusing. Want to slide your R32-million hypercar? This is the mode for you. As the laps accumulate, you learn to trust the Centenario in a way that feels unnatural in such a rare and precious thing. You delve deeper into its aero, and it rewards each committed approach with scintillating speed. Where the Aventador was mildly dismissive of your efforts, the Centenario keeps pushing you to go deeper, work harder and help it bully physics. Changes from the remapped gearbox are riflefast but come without the SV’s ferocity, which keeps the car more stable as it hunts down its next target. The brakes are spectacular, but I’d have liked a firmer pedal with more feel; however, that’s a personal thing, and may or may not be changed before deliveries start.
Having the chance to explore the margins of the car’s performance, and to play development driver for a day, was a rare privilege. More important is what the Centenario’s depth of capabilities says about the future direction of one of the last purveyors of hypercar madness. And it’s good news. Lamborghini still knows how to make proper hypercars. Cars that exist at the furthest margins of acceptability, and are all the better for it. Cars that demand respect – and then reward it.
The red line is at 8600rpm. You’d have to take an extra dose of brave pills to hit it.
Aventador SV had a mere 552kW. Centenario ups the ante to 566kW and 690Nm.
Rear-wheel steer provides low-speed agility and high-speed stability.
This is the kind of sculpture TopGear appreciates. And it’s mobile. Very mobile.
Mostly familiar in here, bar the enormous new portrait screen.
Centenario too analogue and hard to remember? Then just call it LP 770-4...
“The Centenario features one of the largest diffusers this side of a Le Mans racer”