Lamborghini’s Huracán has been a flawed gem since its introduction four years ago, never having realised the potential we knew it had locked within. Not any more – enter the Performante
|In-line 4-cyl, 1996cc, turbo||316bhp @ 6500rpm||295lb ft @ 2500-4500rpm||X5.8sec (claimed)||272kph (claimed)||1380kg (233bhp/ton)||$140,000|
Thirty years ago, if evo had been around, for a new vehicle to be crowned our Supercar of the Year it wouldn’t have needed to be spectacularly good – it might have got the gong for starting in the morning without the need to call for a mechanic, or for managing to crack 280kph – a speed that some hot hatches are now closing in on.
Supercars were a rarity, the top of the motoring tree – they were fragile, out of reach for most mortals and were rarely seen unless you were lucky enough to be wandering around the car parks during the 24 Hours of Le Mans. And there weren’t that many on sale in the first place. A new model would come along once every few years and would stay in production without tweaks or special editions being introduced like they are these days. Ferrari’s F40 and Porsche’s 959 might have spearheaded a revolution of sorts but the landscape was nowhere near as full as it is now.
Now a new supercar needs to fend off saloons and estates that offer mind-bending performance. It needs to practically defy the laws of physics and to put an indelible grin across the face of anyone driving it. It needs to push the boundaries of what’s possible, improving on previous (and hugely refined) models that we thought couldn’t be bettered. And this constant pushing, this relentless pursuit of driving perfection that sets a supercar apart from all the rest is what has given birth to the greatest Lamborghini ever made.
That alone is quite a statement. Miura, Countach, Diablo, Murciélago, Aventador: the Lambo big guns. Works of art, standard setters – some of them wild and untamable and now highly collectible – how could a car with ‘just’ 10 cylinders have a hope of stealing even a hint of their glorious thunder? But that’s exactly what the new Huracán Performante has done.
The standard car has been with us for nearly four years, having replaced the hugely successful Gallardo, which had turned its maker into a more mainstream company. And it’s a fine car, make no mistake, but there has always been this niggling feeling that it could be so much better, if only it was more engaging, more entertaining with less tendency to understeer in the twisties. Now that potential has been fully realised with a Huracán that’s able to square up to the likes of Ferrari’s unspeakably magnificent 458 Speciale with no hint of shame. It really is that good.
To fully explore the potential of a car such as this, it should be driven extremely hard and, in our part of the world, that means taking it to either Jebel Hafeet in Al Ain or Jebel Jais in Ras Al Khaimah – two of the greatest driving roads anywhere on the planet and both of them less than a couple of hours from Dubai. Jebel Hafeet can be a bit ‘hit and miss’, with unpredictable traffic volumes, whereas Jais is still an undiscovered jewel in the UAE’s crown for many motorists, especially mid-week. RAK it is, then.
First though, let’s consider the Performante’s specification so we can get a clue as to what’s on offer. Externally the evidence is all there with carbon composite addenda – side skirts, scoops aplenty and a rear wing that resembles a slender slab of polished black granite. The look is scalpel sharp, overtly aggressive, purposeful and brutally handsome – exactly as it should be for a modern supercar – but there’s nothing here that’s just for show because the Performante has been designed and engineered with the most advanced aerodynamics of any Lamborghini thus far.
Active flaps open and close according to driving conditions and, when shut force air through channels to either reduce drag or increase downforce. That rear wing, says Lamborghini, provides some 750 per cent more downforce than the standard, wingless Huracán and then there’s ‘aero vectoring’, which comes into play when the car is in Corsa mode. Delivering downforce on either side in response to steering input, the ducts work independently to make fast cornering ‘really’ fast.
Nestling under a transparent cover, the engine – an upgraded 5.2-litre V10 that pushes 631bhp and 442lb ft of twist to all four wheels and gifts the Performante with startling numbers. Data says it’s good for at least 323kph, a 0-100 sprint time of 2.9 seconds and 0-200 in 8.8. Those, however, are just numbers. And numbers never tell the full story with any supercar.
And already the Performante’s story has been a truly remarkable one, starting with one of the most controversial claims of last year. When Lamborghini unveiled the car to the world on March 1, along with its performance figures it also announced, with a supporting video, that test driver Marco Mapelli had, on October 5, 2016, lapped the Nürburgring Nordschleife in a standard Performante with a time of 6:52.10.
An entire five seconds quicker than the previous record holder, a Porsche 918 Spyder – a car that could obliterate any Lamborghini on any road or track? The world cried ‘fix’ and ’Ring experts, along with rival manufacturers like Christian von Koenigsegg, claimed to have found inconsistencies in the footage Lamborghini had released. It just seemed ludicrous, as though the Italians were just trying to dominate the headlines with claims that were downright fraudulent. A week later, Lamborghini shut them up by publishing the recorded data from the car. It had, after all, achieved the impossible.
And that, as we came to discover, was down to all that trick aero, which allowed the camouflaged Performante to corner far faster than anything before it. With precious few straight sections of track at the ’Ring, it didn’t really matter that it could be outgunned by Weissach’s finest given enough of a run. Through the twisting, undulating, punishing corners of the world’s most feared racetrack, a Lamborghini in production spec managed to embarrass them all.
Since then, of course, Porsche has stolen back its crown with the unhinged 911 GT2 RS, which covered the 20.6km track in a time of 6:47.3 – a feat that didn’t cause anywhere near as much excitement as the Performante’s record – and so the madness continues. It might not be very relevant to most of us drivers but that ribbon of tarmac is still the place where carmakers prove their mettle.
With this Lamborghini’s credentials beyond question, my own sense of anticipation as I point its stubby and pointy nose in the direction of RAK’s awe-inspiring mountains, is understandably high. While I have no intention of setting any records, personal or otherwise, the tantalising promise of an unforgettable day in its Alcantara-covered cockpit has had me on tenterhooks for days.
This is a car that wears its heart on its sleeve. Matt orange paint, Italian flag colour side stripes, exhaust pipes you can sink an arm into and gorgeous lattice-spoke alloys painted in matt gold all collude to give an overwhelming visual impression of focussed performance. Yet the underlying, inescapable beauty of the standard Huracán is still present and correct. This is a car that reaches me on an emotional level even before I’ve fired up its engine.
As I open the driver’s door it feels light but not flimsy in the slightest. The cabin is dark but not oppressive, the ambience lifted by contrasting orange stitching to its black upholstery. Eschewing the normal carbon fibre weave trim that has become a bit passé, Lamborghini’s materials are forged from carbon composites and look more like blackened burr walnut veneers – they’re mesmerising to look at.
The seats are snug and grippy, the wheel chunky and tactile. At the base of the sweeping centre console is the start button. To detonate the firepower housed within the chassis’ mid section, as with any new Lamborghini, you lift a hinged cover (painted red, what else?) and press and hold it down. It takes barely a second for those 10 cylinders to fire up, as they do so emitting a shriek that widens the already gormless grin that’s distorting my face.
Here the controls are familiar, as I’ve driven a fair number of modern Lamborghinis, and there’s not much to complain about apart from some of them feeling a bit cheap, fashioned from plastic where I should expect the cold touch of aluminium. But in all honesty, who’s bothered by such trivia in a car such as this? This is a machine engineered and fine tuned to provide shattering experiences whenever given the chance and, while I negotiate the outer reaches of urban Dubai and their potted road surfaces and kamikaze truck drivers, I maintain the discipline to wait.
Wait until the conditions are right, Hackett. Wait until there’s nothing in the way, wait until the road opens up and disappears into the horizon before it snakes its way up the country’s tallest mountain. So I do, allowing myself only the occasional blip of the throttle to feel the delicious surge that only a large capacity, naturally aspirated thoroughbred engine can deliver. I can just tell the pace is potentially unending, I just need to do the unthinkable. And wait.
Not that this is a problem, though, because despite this car’s propensity for full-bore acceleration and high speed cornering, it never feels twitchy or uncomfortable. At relaxed cruising speeds the engine note is audible but never grates on the nerves and the suspension soaks up the often horrendous road surfaces I encounter between the two emirates. It’s almost a Jekyll and Hyde situation, where you’re well aware that this docility and civility can change in an instant to snarling, almost violent power. The difference being that, unlike the aforementioned character(s), with the Performante you have complete control over its behaviour at all times. Or at least it feels that way.
Eventually I reach the foot of Jebel Jais, having managed to avoid breaching the Lamborghini on some terribly potholed sections of broken road, and I kill the engine. The view is enough to raise the pulse – an arrow straight stretch of perfect black top disappearing into a corner that marks the beginning of a canyon road carved out of the craggy mountain by men and machines.
The sun is low in the sky, casting a beautifully hazy aura that simply adds to the feeling of desolation in this vast mountain range. Outside is complete silence, only the ticking of that V10 making itself heard. There’s nobody else here, the wait will have been worth it, surely.
Let’s go. I lift that cover again, thumb that starter again and feel the whirring of the ignition process commencing. Time, I think, to get out of Strada (or ‘street’) mode and go straight to Corsa (‘track’), so I flick the wheel-mounted switch twice and the instrument display changes to a unique layout that leaves no doubt that the car is primed and ready for action.
Foot down, flat out. I’m manually shifting through the seven-speed, dual-clutch ’box and running it to the screaming red line in each ratio – something singularly satisfying with a non-blown engine that rewards with a completely linear delivery of prodigious power. The patently obvious in the first kilometre that this is a different animal to the standard car – faster, more fleet-footed, nimbler, more responsive. And the noise, oh the noise! A deep bellow that quickly reaches a howling crescendo, it’s enough to make me laugh out loud and encourages unscrupulous use of its heady 8500rpm outer reach in every single gear.
Lift off the throttle as a tight right-hander looms into view and get on the carbon brakes. They wipe away speed with staggering efficiency. Drop two gears, feel the punch in my back as the inertia wallops through the Performante’s drivetrain and hear the delicious bangs and crackles amplified by those cannon-like exhaust pipes as they ricochet off the vertiginous rocky facades either side of the road. It’s thrilling in every respect, stimulating all of the senses like few other automobiles can.
While Sport mode allows some controlled slippage of the rear wheels for more spirited driving, Corsa provides a much more immediate and visceral experience but remains exploitable and, crucially, fun. Firing out of corners feels completely natural, the aero providing unflappable grip while the quicker than standard electromechanical steering gives a feeling of immediacy and accuracy. Point, squirt, hold on, repeat.
Front-end grip is surreal, the nose staying true to the course I dictate without the standard car’s predilection for running wide of the mark. Those tyres are Pirelli P Zero Corsas and they key into the road surface with the tenacity of a leach, the magnetic suspension giving perfect poise and no sense that the car is anywhere near getting bent out of shape. It practically begs to be hammered.
Turn after turn, apex after apex, the road zig-zags up the mountain and is mercifully free from loose chippings or other detritus. Realising this is another prompter to really get on the power so I push it ever harder to see where the limit of adhesion is. The rear wing, far from being a ‘look at me’ add-on, really comes into play when taking tight corners at these speeds, working in complete harmony with the active flaps and slats, pushing it onto the surface and providing grip that borders on the supernatural. Yes, the tail will snap out if I’m too eager on the throttle when powering out of a hairpin but it’s deliciously controllable and easy to rein in with a flick of the wheel.
When I reach the top, I stop the engine, get out and realise my legs have turned to jelly. The excitement, the hit I’ve just experienced has been remarkable and I need a few minutes to compose myself. Already it’s left its mark and demonstrated that the Huracán had so much untapped potential – potential that has now been realised. And there’s no way I’m going to leave it at a single run, either, so back in I climb for the descent.
Those mighty brakes really come into their own now, progressive and powerful without being snatchy or fading away even in extremis. They do squeal, like all carbon ceramics, which can grate on the nerves somewhat, but this is a car about moving, not slowing. As the revs shoot up with each downshift, the cacophony is more than enough to drown out the stoppers until, at last, I again reach the foot of Jebel Jais. Still it’s not enough, I can’t bring myself to stop exploring this Lamborghini’s talents, plumbing its depths, so I turn around and go again.
As my confidence in this car’s abilities continues to grow with each corner and undulation, I sink deeper into its envelope to the point where I feel completely at one with it. The gearbox is a delight, providing whipcrack shifts that could never be matched with a left foot on a pedal. In Corsa each change is met with a jolt through the entire structure of the car, but they’re not as violent as they used to be – there’s an inescapable feeling that the engineering that’s gone into this thing is a match for any contemporary supercar. It feels solid, substantial, like it’s built to last. You’d never have said that about a new Lamborghini 30 years ago.
Another run down, another run up and then, inevitably, a final descent. Time’s up, it’s time to head back to the sprawling urban enclaves of Dubai with their inattentive commuters and speed (sorry, ‘safety’) cameras. It’s time to return this brilliant automobile and that saddens me more than I can describe.
The litmus test for me when it comes to these cars is whether I’ve developed, in my time with them, a longing to possess one. I’ve driven more sports cars, supercars and hypercars than I can remember yet few have delivered the intoxicating hit, time after time, that I need to fall deeply in love with them. This thing, though, I want to steal, secrete away from its legal guardians and bring out to play whenever the mood takes me.
For that’s essentially what the Performante is for. As capable as it is for the daily grind, or crossing long distances in relative comfort, it exists primarily to entertain its fortunate occupants and anyone seeing and hearing it from outside. It transcends the normally accepted definition of the term ‘supercar’ and proves beyond doubt that applying the laws of physics to the art of going fast can turn a previous underdog into a champion. I ache to have one of my own but it’s a love that shall have to remain unrequited. If you, however, have the means then buy one of these while you still can. Cars like this will eventually disappear and it will be our loss.
The Huracán Performante isn’t the most beautiful Lamborghini ever. It isn’t the most outrageous or the fastest. It will never be the rarest, either, but there’s no doubt at all in my mind. It is the greatest and a more than worthy recipient of evo’s Supercar of the Year award.