PORSCHE 993 CARRERA RS. FERRARI 458 APERTA. AND NOW THE Lamborghini Aventador SVJ, modelled here in Roadster form. Like the aforementioned, this car marks the end of an era. One that has spanned six decades, creating dreams, posters and video clicks like few others.
Just as air-cooled 911 flat-sixes and naturally aspirated Ferrari V8s were substituted for water-cooled and turbocharged units respectively, so too Lamborghini’s V12 will soon be an engine discussed in the past tense, as it is to be replaced in early 2021 by a hybridised variant. But the future can wait, because a 759bhp V12 doesn’t wait for anyone.
Between this SVJ Roadster and its coupe sibling you’ll find few differences. The removable carbonfibre roof is the obvious change; coming away in two pieces it’s a test of your origami skills when securing it in the front luggage compartment for the first time. It’s a long way from the automated extravaganzas employed by Lamborghini’s neighbours in Maranello and, er, Woking, which add complexity and weight in order to deliver some kerbside drama. Then again, an Aventador has never needed to worry about delivering on the latter.
Roof on or off, an SVJ Roadster is pure street theatre. For all the X-wing door dancing to Taylor Swift that Tesla Model X owners still think is original, any Aventador will still draw a bigger audience and more camera phones when parked in a backstreet than Elon’s SUV dancing in Times Square. Especially one dressed to the nines in enough carbonfibre aerodynamic battledress to bring a whole town to a standstill. Don’t ask how I know this…
Aerodynamics is why the SVJ Roadster looks like its coupe namesake. In Lamborghini speak it’s called ALA 2.0 (that’s Aerodinamica Lamborghini Attiva). To a group of teenage schoolkids it’s apparently ‘sick’ and worth decamping from the shelter of a school bus in a monsoon for to fire 20 questions at the driver. ‘How much power?’ ‘How fast?’ ‘What does it cost?’ ‘Is that rear wing active?’ That last question is not what you expect a 13-year-old to ask on a wet Monday afternoon when the perception is that kids don’t get excited by modern performance cars unless they are on a screen and they are in play.
To answer the young lad’s question, yes it is an active wing, but like all these things it’s not that straightforward. There are two slots positioned at the front of the car and an intake at the base of the engine cover, ahead of the support for the rear wing. Depending on the situation these are either closed off, leaving the front splitter, rear wing and diffuser working as normal – although normal for an SVJ means 40 per cent more downforce than on an SV – or opened up to introduce you to a world of active aero, all neatly illustrated live via a graphic in the instrument binnacle showing what the airflow is doing and where it’s heading.
It’s when less downforce is required and reduced drag desirable – when travelling at speed in a straight line, essentially – that the flaps open up. The front ones reduce the volume of air flowing over the car by allowing more to travel under it, thus reducing pressure on the front splitter. Meanwhile at the rear air is forced into the aerofoil and through a number of tiny openings to disturb the airflow under the wing, therefore stalling it. When downforce is required again, under braking, say, the flaps close and the splitter and wing return to working to their full effect. The really clever bit is that ALA 2.0 can also manage this left to right to alter downforce on each side of the car through corners.
There’s more, because ALA 2.0 is also linked to the SVJ’s magnetic damping, rear-wheel steering, dynamic steering and four-wheel-drive system. All this is designed to improve the SVJ’s cornering speed over that of an SV. The centre clutch of that four-wheel-drive system now disengages under braking to improve feel and increase agility on turn-in, and the SVJ Roadster even gets the same bespoke Pirelli tyres as the coupe, with Corsas standard and an R tyre available as an option.
If you want to stay behind in the classroom and learn more, there’s plenty to get stuck into. The spring rates are the same as on an SV, but the anti-roll bars are stiffer and the dampers retuned to suit the car’s additional weight (50kg over a 1525kg SVJ coupe), the lastest dynamic steering set-up is permanently set in Corsa mode and the rear-wheel steering has a smaller operating window in terms of angle. Those who think Lamborghinis are a little one-dimensional, with a single focus on the wow factor, should have paid more attention. Like previous SVs and SVJs, this latest edition, of which Lamborghini will build just 800 examples, is as advanced as any rival you care to mention.
‘It manages to maintain an organic feel to how it transitions through a corner’
Madder, too. The door will take your chin off if you’re not concentrating as it rises straight up, the roof will scalp you if you’ve left it in place, and if you take no effort to perfect your entry technique – bum in, head bowed, legs swept over the sill and in – you’ll come a cropper and need the number of a chiropractor. Getting out will still most likely result in a hand making contact with the ground.
The starter button hidden beneath the red jet fighter toggle cover will make you grin even if you’ve been fortunate enough to find yourself in this position many times before. Toggle up, button pressed and the curtain rises on an automotive theatrical performance like few others. The sound of the starter motor whirring is enough to send frissons of energy through your fingertips. When those dozen cylinders are filled with their explosive mixture and ignited, your body still tenses, no matter how many times you’ve experienced it. It’s brilliant drama. It’s what makes cars exciting, and few do it as well as Lamborghinis.
The nuanced differences between the SVJ coupe and Roadster aren’t easy to spot on the road. Then again the step from an SV to an SVJ is similarly hairline-thin in overtness, but the detail is there when you start to explore. You still feel perched over the front axle, even though it seems like it’s a fair distance ahead of you, and there’s enough real estate behind you that an inner-city developer could squeeze a dozen one-bed flats on the engine cover and charge more than the SVJ Roadster’s £387,987 entry price for them.
Yet the SVJ quickly feels no more of a space thief than a Huracán. It’s helped by a quick front end that’s responsive and a rear end that is one of the few that demonstrates the benefits of rearwheel steering so clearly. Its responses are much quicker than you are expecting and yet it manages to maintain an organic feel to how it transitions through a corner.
The steering’s not as linear as you’d hope for, the desired single application of lock broken as you always feel you need to make a small adjustment through each turn to keep the nose true and your trajectory on course. On a tricky road it can make for a busy wheel between your fingertips as the front tyres are susceptible to being knocked off line if you’re not prepared to modulate your pace; on a poorly surfaced road you need to knock the damping back (you’ll need to be in the customisable Ego mode for this) to allow the chassis to breathe and prevent expensive bits of aero-enhanced underfloor from making contact with the surface.
Get it just right and an SVJ Roadster will take you on a wild ride, helped in no small way by that colossus of a V12 – 6.5 litres, 759bhp, 531lb ft of torque and a 8500rpm peak makes for one of the most scintillating engines on sale today. While it may not have the reach and range of performance of the Ferrari 812 Superfast’s 12 cylinders, Lamborghini’s V12 still delivers thrills and spills (and probably some bellyaches later in its life, too) that few other engines can. Just as BMW and Porsche’s engines of half the cylinder count have and still do captivate us, Sant’Agata’s V12 remains as iconic as the cars it has been installed in.
‘Supercars should raise a smile, and that’s exactly what an SVJ Roadster does’
Even the comically bad automated gearbox is a virtue, because it makes you change gear via the paddles and immerse yourself deeper into the inner workings of the powertrain like few others. Short shift if you want, but use anything less than three-quarters of the rev range and you are doing yourself out of not only a sensation of relentless acceleration but also the opportunity to play The Cannonball Run theme tune in your head as the revs keep rising and the red line approaches.
If your experience of a V12 is a silky-smooth Jaguar Double-Six, this is nothing like that. The complete opposite, in fact. It’s feral. Violent. Experiencing it and hearing it is as addictive as Haribo on a road trip; you just can’t help yourself.
And this is where the SVJ comes together, because it has a chassis beneath it that’s as controlled as it is engaging. You feel every shimmy under braking, every kilo having an affect as you lock the front tyres in the direction you need them to go, and you feel every one of those 759 horses explode out of the blocks when you find the courage to squeeze, squeeze and squeeze some more on the throttle pedal. Torque shuffles between axles, tread blocks compress, exhaust howls. The SVJ disappears to the next dynamic test.
And then you remember to lower the small window behind the headrests and expose yourself to the valve gear working at its maximum, with the engine’s intake and exhaust fighting to be loudest. Remove that roof panel and what wind noise there is doesn’t stand a chance against the mechanical orchestra over your shoulder.
Overconfidence is ill-advised, though. It’s easy to think you have the measure of the SVJ. You build a flow with its steering, settle into a rhythm with its chassis so it can work for you rather than fight against you. While the brake pedal feels softer than expected, the huge 400mm front and 380mm rear carbon-ceramics never leave you wanting. The Corsa tyres, even in maddeningly wet weather, find grip and purchase and the time to shout back to you. But get brave, stupid or develop an overinflated belief in your own ability in a car as long, wide and portly as this and the bite will take more than a few stitches to heal. For all the civility Audi has injected into a modern-day Lamborghini’s DNA, it still demands respect, still expects you to be in control and on top of it all. When it breaks away it stings hard.
Up to that point the SVJ is as beguiling as, and possibly more thrilling and exciting than any supercar you care to mention. It lacks the precision and the violence of a McLaren 720S, and its V12 isn’t as multilayered and textured as that of the 812 Superfast, but it is no less of a car because of it. As have all Lamborghinis before it, the SVJ Roadster delivers an experience like no other. Some consider it an experience not worth the shouty exterior, one that parks on the wrong side of acceptability with a large whiff of lottery win about it.
But Supercars are meant to be fun. They should raise a smile on those fortunate enough to drive them and those who get to hear and see them go by. And that’s exactly what an SVJ Roadster does.
So when Lamborghini’s naturally aspirated V12 is only available with electrical assistance we’ll miss it dearly. We’ll miss it like we missed Porsche’s aircooled flat-six, Ferrari’s naturally aspirated V8 and those screaming Honda VTECs before they gained a turbocharger. And if this is to be the mid-engined V12 Lambo that ends a run that started in 1966, I can’t think of a more fitting way to go.
Engine V12, 6498cc Power 759bhp @ 8500rpm Torque 531lb ft @ 6750rpm Weight (dry) 1575kg (490bhp/ton) 0-62mph 2.9sec Top speed 218mph Basic price £387,987
+ All the theatre of the coupe, that magnificent V12
- Gearbox still the weak point