The 2019 Lamborghini Aventador SVJ Proves Time Can Fix Anything

When the Aventador came out, it was fast and loud, but not a track monster. Now the final variant holds a Nurburgring record. What a world.

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Charlie Magee

The best barbecue is cooked slowly, over a low fire, where the meat changes just, incrementally over time. Most people don’t cook their brisket long enough; conventional wisdom says beef is finished cooking at around 135 degrees, and chicken finishes up in the 160’s. But brisket is a different kind of meat. When it gets to around 165, it stays there, for what seems like forever, and folks will call that done and remove it.

But this phase of the cooking is actually called “the stall” and you have to push through that, keep cooking slowly, for a few more hours, and the temperature will rise to the finished 205 degrees, for a perfect brisket. If you don’t make it through the stall, expect an underdeveloped end product. Low and slow, with lots of patience, and the forethought to push through the stall – that’s how legends like Aaron Franklin do it. Same goes for supercar manufacturers, who, despite the flash of selling six-figure machinery, operate on tight budgets and frequently serve up half-baked product for a few years before getting it right.

The Lamborghini Aventador is on its eighth year now, and for most of those years, it was served undercooked. While the aggressive styling is unquestionably Lambo, and was utterly stunning on arrival, the dynamics left a lot to be desired. I recall remarking, while driving the original in the canyons, how it had to be driven like a front-wheel drive car, with heavy trail braking, summoning all your “anti-understeer” techniques. The SV version, in 2015, was better, a bit livelier, a bit lighter and tighter, but honestly, not by much.

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Charlie Magee

The Aventador S, in 2016, brought with it a rear-wheel-steering system, which, though not a true substitute for svelte proportions, certainly was a large improvement in the handling department, especially in low-to-medium speed corners, where the car’s massive stagger and rear-biased weight proportions fought corner entry tooth-and-nail. Rear steer also helped to improve the Aventador’s maneuverability in urban driving and parking, as a nice bonus. Still, after five days with that product, I saw it was closer, but not all the way there–if it were a brisket, we could take the Aventador S’s temperature around 190.

Now, we find ourselves at the legendary Estoril Circuit in Portugal with the latest, and presumably, final iteration of the Aventador, the SVJ. The ‘J’ if you know your Lamborghini history, stands for “Jota,” the most extreme version of any Lamborghini model. In the past, privateers, under authorization from the factory to take the cars beyond their production limits, have built the “J” spec cars.

This one is a full factory effort, one that the Italians seem incredibly proud to show off, and which has already rewarded Lamborghini with a Nurburgring production car record, an astonishing 6 minutes, 44 seconds–three seconds quicker than Porsche’s GT2 RS. The Aventador has always had the power to put up impressive numbers in a straight line, running in the high-160’s in the standing half mile, but to anyone who drove the original Aventador in 2011, the idea that this platform could, in seven years, be a ‘Ring record holder, is truly impressive. I would have told you the agility not only wasn’t there, but also that it never could be. I now stand corrected.

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Charlie Magee

To build an Aventador SVJ, almost everything in the car has been massaged, starting with the V12 Engine. In Lambo’s opinion, a naturally aspirated V12 is the perfect engine for a super sports car, and while this author can’t deny the effectiveness of, say McLaren’s 3.8L twin-turbo V8, I have to agree, on sound alone. We’ll get to that. To extract more power out of the already potent 6.5L naturally-aspirated engine, Lambo went old school: lighter flywheel and clutch assembly for more revs, titanium valve springs and new cam profiles, longer intake runners, and a shorter, louder, lighter exhaust. The result is 770 horsepower and 531 lb/ft of torque. While the peak torque occurs higher than in the previous engine, that doesn’t tell the whole story–there is more torque all over the entire power band, not just at the peak. The new engine makes more power everywhere.

The sound is, frankly, without peer. Listening to a pair of SVJ’s running nose to tail down Estoril’s front straight is more like sitting front row at LeMans than at your average California track day. It’s a piercing howl, one that no amount of turbocharged horsepower could possibly reproduce. While Lamborghini is clearly trying to build the highest performing car they can, equally, if not more important, is the theater of it, and the sheer volume and pitch of the SVJ screams exotica.

Lambo’s chassis engineers have gone all the way in order to cut weight from the SVJ, and it seems they have done so from, basically, everywhere. From the extensive use of carbon fiber in the body and interior, to lightweight, center-locking wheels, lightened suspension and exhaust components, and an engine bonnet without struts or a power latch, (meaning lift-off), they have touched it all, and done weight reduction in such a way that the car’s center of mass is exactly the same as before, but with rear steer and the ALA active aero system added in.

Speaking of ALA, Lamborghini’s Active Aerodynamics system on the SVJ is advanced and yet, charmingly simple. Unlike Pagani, McLaren, or Ford, with hydraulically operated wings and air brakes, Lamborghini’s system is comprised of a flat undertray, additional nostrils in the snout, and just a couple simple flaps to direct key bits of air to key places. In the front, a notable splitter has two small flaps, and in the rear, an air intake at the base of the large wing’s center stanchion has two small flaps, both electronically, not hydraulically, activated.

The rear flaps send air either around or inside the wing. Yes, inside the wing. When opened, the air flows through the center stanchion, and out of a small slot on the underside of the wing. In ‘strada’ driving modes, the flaps are closed, and the wing is maximally effective across the entire surface. In corsa mode, the flaps selectively open, allowing air into the wing, which trickles out the back just such so that it stalls the aero effect, for maximum slipperiness and minimum drag on straightaways. It’s incredibly trick, but that’s just half of it. The other half is to remember that there are two flaps, left and right, on both front and rear. In high-G cornering, the SVJ can stall just one half of the wing, by opening or closing just one side, to add downforce or stall as needed for a particular corner. Given that the wing itself doesn’t move, like the ‘Aeromotions’ aftermarket units or previously mentioned hydraulic wings do, you approach the car with some level of skepticism–these flaps, and the “out” slits are quite small–could it really work that well?

Short answer: yes; much better than you’d think. You see, the entire car has been engineered to optimize ALA. The magnetic shock settings, the spec-compound Pirelli Corsa (or optional Trofeo R tires), the gearbox tune, power curve, and front & rear steering settings all work in conjunction with ALA to make the SVJ dance. And that’s good, because of what we were told in the morning briefing.

“So, there’s a bit of an issue,” Maurizio Reggiani, head of Lamborghini R&D says, as we get to the track. “We came here a month ago to figure out tire pressures for the track day, and it was perfect. And then we got here, and something was different. Turns out, they repaved the entire surface two weeks ago. And it is, uh, very slippery. No rubber on the track at all, and lots of fresh oils from the asphalt.”

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Charlie Magee

He wasn’t kidding. Though I don’t have a “before” lap of Estoril to compare it to, I know slick when I feel it, and this track was slick, especially with the morning chill. In my first of three four-lap sessions, I left the SVJ in ‘Sport’ while I got my bearings, and found that on the less-than-ideal surface, it moved around a lot. While the Lambo folks were apologetic about the track conditions, I actually found it interesting to note that “moved around a lot” didn’t mean “terminal understeer,” older Aventador models’ prevailing handling characteristic.

While, yes, it would push if you mashed the throttle with the wheel turned, a sharp lift off the throttle wouldn’t just tuck the nose, it would actually induce mild oversteer and require a correction, first with the steering, then back on the throttle to straighten. This, this rotation, is new. But with 770 horsepower on tap, the first session required real focus, which, considering the intentional sensory overload of the SVJ, is a challenge.

“Kinda hairy, huh?” I remarked to two other journalists on the launch. They agreed, following up with a head-nodding “…at least this one rotates!”

A quick chat with Ugo, Lamborghini’s aero genius, revealed that by leaving the car in ‘Sport’ mode, rather than ‘Corsa,’ I wasn’t fully utilizing the active aero, and I should be sure to put the car in Corsa next time out.

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Lamborghini

I was glad for my initial mistake, because he was right: I could feel the added stability on the first lap back out, especially in Estoril’s turns 8 and 12, the fastest bends on the track. Granted, familiarity with the circuit and heat in the Corsa tires played a part as well, but still, there was a noticeable difference with the ALA working full kick. Same goes for the front straight, where I saw, repeatedly, top speeds between 275 and 285 KPH (170 & 174 mph) with extremely conservative braking points (Turn 1 is a 50 mph bend). Even on the short, bent, middle straight, I saw nearly 220 KPH.

The monstrous ceramic brakes did eventually fade, but only after dozens of track sessions with different drivers, and even then, they came back after cooling off. One of my very few criticisms about the inputs of the SVJ covers the brake pedal tip-in. I would prefer a firmer initial pedal. But Mr. Reggiani reminds me that the target customer isn’t exactly a racing driver; the target customer prefers a softer pedal for less jerkiness, as they are more likely to be lapping Knightsbridge than Silverstone.

It probably doesn’t need to be articulated again, a 6:44 Nordschliefe time says a lot, but the SVJ is crazy, crazy fast. I haven’t had a go in McLaren’s multimillion-dollar Senna, but lots of folks on the SVJ launch did, and reported an extra 10 mph on the front straight with the SVJ. (Though in fairness, those same folks reported how much later you can brake in the Senna). Lamborghini’s opinion that a naturally-aspirated V12 is the perfect engine for a supersports car would be hard to argue here, as there are very few cars on the road that offer this level of speed, with this level of theater, at any price. No turbocharged engine on the planet sounds as wild as the SVJ’s combination of a big-bore twelve and a short exhaust, not only inside, not only trackside, but also the far side.

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Lamborghini

I received a message from a fan that he could hear the SVJs lapping Estoril from his home, more than a kilometer away from the track. To say it sounds like a Formula One car would be underselling it; today’s F1 cars sound like garbage. Because of the displacement, it actually sounds better than F1, with a shrieking wail on the boil, and a cacophony of pops and bangs on the overrun.

The Aventador’s ‘ISR’ 7-speed, single-clutch gearbox carries over, albeit with new tuning, and aside from the comically ancient Audi-MMI system (circa 2010), it’s the only part of the car that feels old. Upshifts are long, and downshifts are dramatic. Lamborghini’s commitment to having the paddles fixed on the column rather than the wheel, if you listen to their pitch, is so that no matter where your hands are, you know where the paddles will be. I think they are on the column because this is one of the last cars on the road with gear changes so violent, you actually don’t want to perform them until the wheel is pretty much straight. Let’s hope they move on to a strong dual-clutch for the Aventador’s replacement, if one exists.

At $515,000 base price (more like $600,000 out the door with options), believe it or not, the SVJ feels like a value. Though Estoril’s slippery surface prevented us from seeing what this car can do in optimal conditions, it did demonstrate that this is the first and only V12 Lambo in the company’s entire history that can really, really dance. It’s the fastest, most powerful Lamborghini ever made, but also, one of the most agile, even compared to its excellent Performante little brother. And perhaps most shocking is that all the aggression, all the wings and scoops, the carbon fiber and the active aero, hasn’t ruined the ride, the comfort, or the usability of the car in any way. (Note: The carbon bucket seats sit about 1.5 inches higher than the “comfort” seats. It makes a big difference at the six-foot mark).

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The author, clearly enjoying himself.
Lamborghini

It’s remarkable, really, how good the Aventador SVJ is to drive, knowing where it started back in 2011. And like any good barbecue chef will tell you, the secret to the perfect hunk of meat is doing it low and slow, making very small adjustments, then waiting to see what happens; working through the stall, and knowing when the right moment is to serve up a perfectly cooked cut. For Lamborghini, that time is 2018, because the balance of performance, (reasonable) streetability, theater, and tech has broken down the toughness and created the perfect piece of Italian murderous meat.

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