One of the world’s greatest driving roads should be experienced in one of the world’s greatest supercars – it’s time for the Aventador S to meet Jebel Jais
It’s a dry and beautifully warm afternoon in the jagged shadows of the Hajar mountain range in Ras Al Khaimah and, as I’m just a couple of turns into a road I’ve heard so much about for the past few years, I can’t help thinking there’s an entire Top Trumps Rolodex of cars more suited to having fun with on this snaking stretch of perfect tarmac. A Lotus Elise Cup 250 with all the lightweight options would be an absolute riot. Hell, even an MX-5. The almost absurdly wide Aventador isn’t the sort of car to sharpen your blade up here, much less choreograph a dance between positive and corrective lock. Gobsmacking grip and go are its primary weapons, and forming a bond of trust with four-wheel steering that doesn’t quite communicate the precision and iron resolve of the front end is taking some time.
This isn’t any old Aventador, oh no. It’s the fastest and finest Aventador you can actually buy this side of the hardcore SV. And this isn’t any old stretch of blacktop, either. I’m almost ashamed to admit that this is my first visit to Jebel Jais but already I know it won’t be my last. I’m just wondering about the wisdom of popping my cherry here in a car as outlandish and brutal as this.
For me, both the car and road have been a long time coming. The Aventador has been around for seven years and, SV notwithstanding, there’s always been a sense that it’s timing was most unfortunate. Undeniably one of the world’s greats, its shine has nevertheless been dimmed by the onslaught of hypercars that were still being conceived when the mad Lambo broke cover. Since then, the Aventador has sold consistently well but has remained just short of its true potential. Now, however, with seven years’ worth of technical and engineering development thrown at it, the Aventador S is, by all accounts, THE one.
As for the road, I wanted to experience it before the sheer volume of traffic (caused by the recent opening of the world’s longest zip wire and a lofty observation deck) made any sort of spirited assault on it an impossibility. Not that I need have worried about that – as a mid-week experience it appears to still offer enough room on its three lanes to have as much fun – or terror, depending on your car – as you could reasonably hope for.
My drive from Dubai to this unspeakably beautiful part of the country has been a bit of a mixed bag. An Aventador isn’t happy when forced to share clogged highways with thousands of inattentive commuters; it feels restricted, like it wants to escape the constraints of an invisible leash. Its transmission clunks and groans, never appearing settled, although bizarrely it behaves with more panache when in Sport mode rather than Strada. On occasion I managed to give it some proper exercise but this was in short bursts of violent acceleration as I put some much needed distance between me and other motorists who swerve across lanes to get a better look or take an Instagram snap. But now I’m here, exploring what’s for me virgin territory in a properly
Reasoning that there’s plenty of time to get used to the route before I really explore this Lamborghini’s immense reserves, I cool the pace and stand down the brutal, maximum-attack Corsa powertrain and chassis setting for the marginally more compliant and softer-voiced Sport mode. Less frantic, more controllable, it’s still an incredibly quick way to cover distance but I’m free to pay more attention to the way the road zig-zags up the UAE’s highest peak while planning my next attack. And all the while that beast of an engine is belting out its soprano opera just behind my head.
There can be few more inspiring sounds than a Lambo V12 let loose. In a way, it’s the engine that encapsulates the history of the marque, recalling a bloodline that reaches all the way back to the early ’60s and the extraordinary quad-cam 3.5-litre powerplant designed as a quasi-race unit by ex-Ferrari engineering wizard Giotto Bizzarrini. A clenched fist of an engine, taut with compression and explosive potential, it set the bar for everything that followed. By the time it appeared in the Miura in 1966 – sensationally slung sideways – it had grown to 4 litres and 350bhp. With twelve cylinders, four camshafts, six double-barrel carburettors and what must have seemed like a few miles of intestinal chains, it was an engine of some sonic significance. Emotionally, nothing much has changed. Statistically, it’s 52 years later.
To put that in perspective, 730bhp at 8400rpm from 6.5 litres and a 0-100kph time of 2.9 seconds means the Aventador S has more than twice the power and takes half the time to cover the benchmark sprint – pretty much pole position for naturally aspirated supercars and, with a top speed of 350kph, the potential to be an annoyingly persistent, fang-grilled presence in the rear-view mirrors of any hybrid hypercar is equally impressive. I think Ferruccio Lamborghini would have approved.
The significance of the ‘S’ is tied up with the new electronic four-wheel-steering system teaming up with the rear-biased four-wheel drive and sympathetically retuned electronic dampers, the bespoke Pirelli rubber, the advanced aero incorporating an active rear wing that generates 130 per cent more downforce than before and a new fourth setting for the dynamic drive programme called Ego that allows you to mix and match the steering, powertrain and chassis setups to personal taste, whatever your mood or the road. So, quite a lot going on, but to ensure all the systems mesh together and are reading from the same page, there’s one ‘central command’ ECU to harmonise all the inputs with the driver’s – a first
The switchable TFT displays are ace, the missile-fire protect cap over the starter button a little silly and it’s a bit disappointing to discover there’s zero stowage space, save for the narrow, leather-clad corridor behind the seats. If you want even a modicum of practicality, look elsewhere. This is a car that is absolutely unapologetic, remaining true to the reason for its existence.
The Aventador feels every inch as wide as it is. It isn’t one of those cars that shrinks around you. Nor is it one you immediately feel in sync with. The extreme rake of the windscreen gives a letterbox aspect to the view ahead, rear visibility wouldn’t pass the Trades Descriptions Act and the slightly rough cut of a warming 6.5-litre V12 combined with the dozy, drawn-out and slightly shunty auto-mode shifts of the paddle-operated, single-clutch seven-speed transmission conspire to make everything feel the opposite of slick. Or perhaps it’s just the opposite of a McLaren, and deliberately so. No magic-carpet ride, no seamless, lickety-split gear changes, no easy-peasy. Old-school rough edges you have to finesse yourself are part of the big Lambo’s dynamic personality and just as evident trundling along in traffic as they are when a flat-throttle, peak-revs, Corsa- calibrated second-to-third shift threatens whiplash.
Yet warmed, settled and with the leash loosened, it all comes together like a gathering storm, and as I approach the literal end of the road on my first ascent of the day, I can’t really think of a car I’d rather be in. It isn’t just the sinuous course of the road through the ceaseless corners and switchbacks, but also the way the Aventador effortlessly bosses this high-velocity environment, which can sometimes seem like a supercar parade, such is the magnetic draw this place exerts on the region’s driving enthusiasts who definitely don’t hang about, no doubt encouraged by the complete absence of any speed cameras or other normal forms of restraint.
The Aventador S moves through traffic with the kind of sonic warfare only a high revving, naturally aspirated V12 can deliver – corner after corner, straight after straight until I park it up, much to the delight of camera-toting visitors who can’t resist sauntering over to enquire if this is my car. In these instances it’s easier to just say yes and smile, rather than explain the process of borrowing it for a feature in a car magazine. Can they sit in it? Can they have their photograph taken? Yes, they can, so long as they don’t leave dusty footprints in the driver’s footwell and don’t steal my charging phone. To not share just a little of the magic with those who ask for some seems rude somehow.
Because no one is immune to the way this car can deliver a flurry of visual sucker punches. Even by Lambo standards, it looks astonishing. All width, wedge and drama, and utterly beautiful. And if that’s the stuff of dreams, the engine – maybe one of the last great naturally aspirated V12s – is a legend in the making. For sheer unhinged excitement, no turbo motor past or present, however powerful, can hold a candle to it. It causes me to ponder the proposition that acceleration ain’t what it used to be, smaller and more efficient blown engines and seamless double-clutch transmissions morphing the sensation into a characterless, linear surge similar to that of an Airbus A380 taking off. Which gets you down the road but is a bit rubbish.
Shall we? Another descent beckons, this time with a very necessary fuel stop. Driving a car such as this is thirsty work and it pays to keep the tank as full as possible when you’re in the wilds of the UAE’s more remote areas. By necessity, the drive back down to base requires more exertion on the left pedal than the right but, once I reach the bottom, a straight and completely empty section opens up and disappears seemingly into infinity. I select Corsa – with its enhanced soundtrack, dedicated blood-red TFT instrument display and hard-nut powertrain/suspension settings – paddle-click down into third and (some old-school lingo needed here) drop the hammer.
What happens next is absolutely fantastic – a rush so raw, so visceral, so violent it pushes the air from my lungs and, slamming through fourth and fifth with the delicacy of a hydraulic ram, all but rinses the moisture from my eyeballs. Over in just a few seconds, it’s a stunning illustration of how the Aventador S can serve up a straight-line experience that embeds itself in the memory for good, its peak speed logged in the trip computer, never to be revealed.
Mostly smooth and fast, occasionally lumpy and bumpy, the road up Jebel Jais has more or less everything a supercar in search of validation could want. And not having been here before, if I could have chosen the ideal Lamborghini in which to feel out and immediately exploit a road such as this, it would probably be a Huracán Performante, mostly because of its size, agility and remarkable tenacity. That said, the best stretches of the route aren’t titchy and so the Aventador’s size turns out not to be such an issue. Its fundamental reserves and margins – power, grip, braking – are all so huge, the security blanket so impregnable and expansive, that exercising that fabulously ferocious engine and utterly locked-down chassis at speed with something approaching impunity is a hell of a supercar kick and overwhelms any desire I may have to sweat the small stuff. Yes, the steering’s rather synthetic responses still grate, but the way the nose spears towards any apex I point it at is mighty and unerring. You just have to trust it.
How the car deals with the lumpier sections along the approach road to the foot of the mountain is particularly impressive, too, but the Aventador S is very prescriptive in extremis, never feeling that it wants to indulge the driver and bend to your will, or lacking in feedback. It’s not a car you’d want to slide around and modulate on the throttle for the sheer hell of it. You get the feeling that it’d just get away from you, and you’d become part of the scenery.
After a perfect day experiencing this remarkable road in this incredibly complete supercar, I do just that and, as the sun disappears and the orangey rock faces of Hajar begin to fade to black, I return and join the masses as they descend on a moonlit Dubai. And, despite a certain regret that my time in the Aventador S is coming to an end, all is well with the world. That tends to be what happens when road and car are so perfectly matched – they’re both glorious achievements that few will get to experience fully, and they’re both designed for maximum joy in the name of travel. If you have the opportunity to experience either, you owe it to yourself to grasp it with both hands.