WHEN LAMBORGHINI ANNOUNCED THAT its Huracan Performante broke the Nordschleife series production car seconds, it was met with scepticism by considering that the car that set the previous was none other than the Porsche 918 hybrid Spyder, the hyper car that had a total system output in excess of 900hp. More to the point, the Performante was faster than the standard Huracan by over 30 seconds around the same track. It all sounds too good to be true, especially as we first drove the Huracan three years ago when it was launched. Around the Ascari circuit, it was found to be blistering quick off the line, but hard braking before each corner found its rear bucking and weaving requiring the driver to fight with the steering to keep it under control. Not exactly confidence inspiring. So how could a car that starts out with iffy handling turn into a world-beater with some go-faster mods that the Performante seemed to be defined by in a nutshell? An overall weight reduction of 40kg would make a marginal contribution to the improvement of the car, and uprating its V10 powerplant to make 640hp and 800Nm of torque helps too. However, the biggest transformation comes from the aerodynamic improvements namely in the form of something called Aerodinamica Lamborghini Attiva (ALA): it is also the Italian word for wing. This patented active aerodynamic system was developed by Lamborghini for the Huracan Performante and provides an active variation of aero load for high down force or low drag. Normally, a car with high levels of downforce has plenty of grip and stability; the fester it goes, the more stable it feels. The downside to this however, is that it creates more drag, which slows the car.
ALA, apparently offers the best of both worlds: downforce and stability when you need it and low drag when you want quick acceleration. Unlike some other active aerodynamic systems such as the dramatic movable wings in the McLaren P1 or Bugatti Veyron, ALA works in a much more subtle way where from the outside, it appears as if there are no moving parts. When ALA is off, the active flaps inside the front spoiler are closed, generating the desired high downforce for high-speed cornering and full brake conditions. When ALA switches to on, the front flaps are opened by the front electric motor, reducing air pressure on the front spoiler and directing airflow via an inner channel and through the specially shaped underside of the car. This drastically reduces drag and optimizes conditions for maximum acceleration and top speed.
The aero-vectoring effect of ALA is nothing short of magical. The immediate impression is one of stability at high speed and subsequently under heavy braking. Unlike mechanical differentials or brake vectoring systems, the progression of the turn-in by ALA is feels more natural, it just turns in without that assisted feeling of an invisible hand that suddenly shifts the nose inwards towards the apex. When asked if his team had considered including active-rear wheel steering as well, Lamborghini engineering chief Maurizio Reggiano explained that it had been considered as well but eventually his team decided that it wasn’t necessary. “The active rear-wheel steering system would have only added 6.5kg to the car, but at Lamborghini, we don’t believe in adding technology for the sake of it,” said Mr Reggiano. “When we were developing the ALA system for example, there was also the possibility to independently control the left and right front flap to work in tandem with the rear, but the turn in was so sharp, it made the car too nervous for our liking. So adding rear wheel steering would serve no purpose since ALA works well enough on its own.”
This is in stark contrast to when I first drove the standard Huracan at the international launch four years ago, it was found to buck and weave under heavy braking. You really had to fight the steering wheel to keep it in a straight line and it was all too easy to overwhelm the brakes around the Ascari circuit. This time around, the standard Huracans were used as pace cars by Lamborghini’s driving instructors while we gave chase in the Performante. Despite their superior talent, I could tell they had to work hard in their cars. Keeping up in the Performante however, was a doddle. You still had to concentrate, but its stability and effortless acceleration allowed us to give the instructors a run for their money. The idea of a Lamborghini as a track car used to be a romantic notion as Lamborghinis never really lived up to their billing. It wasn’t because they didn’t drive well, just not how you would think they’d handle. You always had to work hard in a Lambo but its fans would accept it as part of suffering for their art, a bit like how women are happy to endure excruciating pain in stilettos.
This time around, the Performante is at last a Lamborghini that lives up to its billing. But is it really capable of lapping the ‘Ring in 6 minutes and 52.01 seconds? In the days after Lamborghini announced this achievement, the internet was rife with disbelief. Not only because there are lots of Porsche fen boys out there, but the Raging Bull’s erstwhile reputation for rather ropey supercars probably contributed to this widespread scepticism. However, given how much confidence it inspires with its grip and stability, as well as the ferocity of its acceleration (by the end of the main straight of the Imola circuit, I could see figures in excess of 250km/h flash on the digital speedometer before I had to slow down, not for the first corner; but to avoid rear-ending the pace car) it certainly feels possible if this car was placed in the right hands.
Petrolheads really shouldn’t take anything away from this criticism. The Performante is one of the last of a dying breed of sports cars powered by a high-revving naturally-aspirated big displacement engine. It makes a sound that’s to be savoured. Surely it won’t be long before we’ll never be able to hear the likes of engines like these again. Another vestige from the past is how only a Lamborghini seems to be able to get away with a green paint job. In Verde Mantis, it brings to mind the outrageous Italian sports cars from the 1970s. While we’re at it, I wish that the louvered engine cover was available for this car to complete the homage – it is on the standard Huracan – glass engine covers are so passe. Inside the Performante’s cockpit, it’s an orgy of Alcantara and forged composites, a form of carbon fibre that looks more like hewn granite. It’s an interesting look and this material is used extensively in the car’s structural as well as aesthetic treatments.
For someone of my 1.78m frame, the Performante’s cabin is snug and just manages to avoid feeling claustrophobic. With a clear focus for track use however, Lamborghini seems to have missed a trick by not designing a sculpted roof panel that would have bought a few precious inches that would have made wearing a helmet much more comfortable. We had a brief opportunity to sample the Performante on public roads as well. Although the drive was short due to time limitations, the roads surrounding the Imola circuit were bumpy enough to acquit this car convincingly of its ability to offer a reasonably comfortable ride. Incredibly, the numerous undulations, bumps and the occasional pothole, failed to catch out the low slung Performante and never once did its suspension bottom out. Under the management led by Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Stefano Domenicali, Lamborghini looks set to be at the start of a renaissance if the Huracan Performante is anything to go by. It shows a new found inclination towards real performance that takes the fight to the like of Porsche as well as the boss’ former company, Ferrari.