2018 Lamborghini Aventador S Roadster First Drive: One of a Kind

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The 2018 Lamborghini Aventador S Roadster is the rolling, quad-espresso-swilling, audio-visual performance artist of the car world. Just look at it. It’s the only mid-engine V-12 convertible available. All those straight lines and sharp angles look like the latest stealth technology intended to evade enemy radar. Paradoxically, with its scissor doors, eye-searing pearlescent-yellow “Gallio Tenerife” paint, and its improbably low (3-feet, 9-inches), and impossibly wide (6-feet, 8-inches without mirrors) stance, nothing on the road turns more heads and elicits more mobile phone pics.

While driving from beachfront Santa Monica through the Malibu hills, onward to Camarillo and Point Mugu, I’m nearly certain I was Snapped, ‘grammed, Tweeted, and posted more in one afternoon than I will be in the rest of my lifetime. My 15 minutes of fame has been spent. Were you able to hear the Aventador’s celebrated 6.5-liter 48-valve 730-hp V-12 screaming up to its 8,500-rpm limiter, and spitting-fire, popping off staccato exhaust shots as it descends, you’d instinctually cover your children’s ears to protect them.

Multi-million dollar hypercars—such as the Aston Martin Vulcan, Bugatti Chiron, Lamborghini’s own Centenario, and McLaren Senna—are as likely to be seen as a Yeti at Point Dume. But the Aventador has a real possibility to shriek past you someday. In the seven years it’s been on sale, Lamborghini has sold 7,000 Aventadors worldwide (the silver one shown in these photos is the actual 7,000th example produced). Besides a handful of special editions in its timeline, you’ll find coupe and roadster versions of the LP 700-4, LP 750-4 SuperVeloce (a.k.a. “SV”), and the LP 740-4 S. Our driver today, the $460,247 2018 Aventador (LP 740-4) S Roadster, is the latest example of the mighty Lamborghini V-12 tradition.

The Experience

Lamborghini had removed the two-piece hardtop and secured it in the “frunk,” taking up practically all 4.9 cubic feet available. We’re told the latch system is easy to operate and each panel weighs about 13 pounds, but this is not a top-stowed road-trip car. The upshot is that getting into the Roaster is a snap; no need to fold one’s self in half while limbo-ing past the elevated door and under the waist-high roof. Simply raise the door and plop into the driver’s seat. You’ll immediately get a firm Italian hug from the highly bolstered bucket seat. With your backside practically at ground level, below the door sill, extricating one’s self is akin to swinging your legs onto the dock while getting out of a canoe.

Looking around the cockpit, the instrument cluster is a modern, high-res TFT screen with an animated high-tech look. The trans-tunnel-mounted starter button is ominously covered with a red safety toggle, as if to prevent an errant rocket launch. Flip it up, press the button, and in addition to a tech-swinging, animated gauge show, you’ll get an earful (and gutful) of 12 cylinders erupting to life. When you consider all those metal pieces, with a crankshaft twice as long as a V-6’s, four 12-lobe camshafts, 48 valves, and 12 connecting rods, oscillating, spinning, reciprocating, and whipping around, it really is remarkable how smoothly the enormous engine runs. There’s really nothing like a dry-sump V-12; for its history, personality, and linear power delivery. (Side note: the oil reservoir holds 3.4 gallons of the stuff.) We’re glad Lamborghini has, for now, remained committed and loyal to its V-12 and natural aspiration. It very well might be the last of its kind in this era of turbocharged downsizing. #SaveTheV12

Alright Already, Let’s Drive!

Once running, simply pulling an enormous paddle engages Lamborghini’s Independent Shifting Rod, or “ISR” (single-clutch automated-manual) transmission—there is no “D” button, yet D will appear in the gauge cluster. From the hotel driveway in Santa Monica, smoothly engaging the clutch and taming the engine’s 730-hp and 509 lb-ft of torque felt like a staggering task. It revved and grabbed, then on the first automated upshift to second gear, there was what felt like a half-second of no-man’s-land between gears. If the throttle was even partly pressed, there was that telltale, embarrassing fore/aft head toss of the single-clutch box. For drivetrain packaging reasons, Lamborghini cannot fit the now-industry standard double-clutch that’s found in the Huracan.

Although incremental improvements have been made to ISR, leaving the car to shift of its own accord in automatic Strada (street) drive mode still feels like giving a first lesson on a manual transmission. The other modes tended to tach-out and bang auto-upshifts. We quickly accessed the programmable (for powertrain, suspension, and steering) Ego drive mode. Around town, we selected Corsa powertrain (the most obnoxious exhaust setting with manual shifting), Strada suspension (softest), and Sport steering (most intuitive; more on this later). Manually shifting with a generous throttle-lift between gears is a smoother workaround. Incidentally, first gear is good for about 50 mph, and second gets you up to 80-ish, so we didn’t need to shift much in town.

Canyon Carving

Probing the Aventador S Roadster’s handling limits in the canyons inland of Malibu was frustrating at first; later revealing. Why? Traffic. It turns out people actually live, work, shop, and commute in Topanga. We believe we found the least committed BMW 3 Series driver in the Western Hemisphere, following at 25 mph in a 45-mph posted limit. Eventually, we found ourselves on the road “less traveled by,” and things got interesting. Four Aventador S Roadsters (ours the yellow one) took a conspicuous line, chasing a lead car – the demonstrably smaller, more nimble Huracán Performante. As the pace increased, that little Huracán became harder to pace. A typical lane width is 12 feet, about 10 feet in these canyons. The width of the Aventador is more than 7 feet, including mirrors. Think of it this way: less than the length of a legal pad of paper separated us from disaster, either with opposite traffic, Armco rails, or a dirt shoulder, or a cliff. Attention must be paid.

In an attempt to focus the Aventador S, we switched the Ego magnetorheological suspension setting to Corsa. That’s too harsh, plus the steering goes heavy for heavy’s sake. Sport was again the best setting for these roads with both compliance and control. Still, on a particularly tight, downhill hairpin, the car teeter-tottered; first lifting its left-front, then right-rear tire off the ground, which certainly got our attention.

To the steering itself: the Aventador S features both a variable ratio up front (10.0-18.0:1) as well as rear-steering out back. At speeds below 130 kph (81 mph), the rear wheels steer up to 3.0 degrees in opposition to the fronts; above that speed, up to 1.5 degrees in unison with the front. (This is the reason it has a relatively tidy 37.7-foot turning radius, about the same as an Alfa Romeo Giulia.)

There’s a way to do this sort of virtual wheelbase manipulation well, as has been demonstrated by Porsche, among others. Unlike the seamless Porsche four-wheel steer system, the Aventador S’ is noticeable, especially in Corsa, less so in Sport. Lamborghini claims that 0.005-seconds after the steering wheel is turned, the rear wheels react accordingly. While that theoretically seems plausible, in practice, there’s something that’s not quite right. There’s also a reluctance to return to center, requiring a concerted effort, which might have more to do with the front tires’ width. Either there’s more delay at the rear than claimed, or the variable ratio up front is too active – or maybe the combination of those plus the all-wheel-drive system varying front/rear bias is simply too much to control flawlessly. Whatever the case, the result is that the steering, and thus the car itself, isn’t intuitive in its handling responses. And that’s not a good thing on a narrow, consequential road.

Flat-out in Camarillo

Emerging from the hills, we found ourselves on a deserted farm road. Two miles of flat, straight highway proved an ideal place to finally stretch the Aventador’s legs. With its 255/30R20 front and 355/25R21 rear Pirelli P Zero tires, the combined contact patches add up to 48 inches of rubber on the road. That’s more than a 2016 Formula 1 race car. Corsa, Corsa, Corsa! were the apt settings when we flat-footed the throttle and grabbed upshifts at the 8,500-rpm limiter. In this situation, more engine torque is shuffled to the rear, up to 90 percent, in fact. The upshifts were quick, reported to take just 0.05 seconds, but they were brutal and violent as ever—apparently an Aventador tradition and part of the “performance” experience.

Considering all the bits in this mammoth motor, it’s truly remarkable how quickly and smoothly it revs, delivering what feels like limitless, linear acceleration. It was all I could do to keep grabbing gear after gear without hitting 8,500 rpm. There’s more a sense of horsepower than of torque, although 509 lb-ft at 5,500 rpm is not a trifling amount. Just after grabbing fifth gear, we reached 150 mph. Given enough asphalt, the S Roadster’s top speed is the same as the 110-pounds-lighter S Coupe’s drag-limited 217 mph. At about this time, we were thankful for the S Roadster’s revised aerodynamics that provide 130 percent more downforce with 50 percent better efficiency (downforce versus drag) compared to the original Aventador. We were also grateful for the standard 15.7- and 15.0-inch carbon-ceramic disc brakes.

Back to Earth

Reaching the coast again, we turned south onto Highway 1, using this appropriate location as the opportunity to press the dashboard button that lowers the rear window. We were shocked at how much more engine noise comes into the cabin – as well as the air blast that ensues. That little window has a big job and it does it well. After city, canyon, and farmland driving, somehow, the Aventador S Roadster felt most at home on Pacific Coast Highway.

In his First Drive of the Aventador S Coupe in Spain on the famed Ricardo Tormo circuit, Scott Evans praised it as a worthy track companion. And although this real-world drive didn’t afford us the chance to explore the Roadster’s true limits, I’m sure we’d agree. Yet, with the sound of the engine purring away through the gentle bends, and the Southern California sun making its way toward the blue horizon to our right, the Roadster, the road, and the setting were finally in perfect harmony.

Sure, you could rent a Mustang convertible, go for a drive down the coast, and come to the same conclusion. But, as one does when driving in a caravan of Lamborghinis, we pulled into the lot next to “The Rock” at Point Mugu. We drew a crowd—again. Locals, tourists, even those in our group were filling up the memory on mobile phones with photos. The Aventador S Roadster’s unabashed, unbridled, unapologetic all-encompassing over-the-top performance—in all senses of the word—and the reactions it produces, not just in its privileged passengers, but gob-smacked onlookers as well, is automotive art at its best. Want the best-performing Lamborghini? Get the Huracán Performante. Want the best performance art? That would be the Aventador S Roadster.

2018 Lamborghini Aventador S Roadster
BASE PRICE $460,247
VEHICLE LAYOUT Mid-engine, AWD, 2-pass, 2-door convertible
ENGINE 6.5L/730-hp/509-lb-ft DOHC 48-valve V-12
TRANSMISSION 7-speed auto-clutch manual
CURB WEIGHT 4,150 lb (mfr)
WHEELBASE 106.3 in
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT 188.9 x 79.9 x 44.7 in
0-60 MPH 2.6 sec (MT est)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 10/16/12 mpg
ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY 337/211 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 1.61 lb/mile
ON SALE IN U.S. Currently



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