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Top Gear On Ice: Lambo Aventador

  1. I have seen fear, and it is orange. The keys are in it; the scissor door is open; the engine is thumping away happily in that slightly lo-fi, muted way that cars do when sat on new snow and… everyone is avoiding the Aventador. I’ve seen a couple of people approach it with eager eyes, look up and down the road, pause for a moment and back away. As if any sudden movement might provoke attack. Then again, if you were here on this -20 degree morning, a full-fat moon still hanging tubbily in the sky, you’d understand.

    Access to our ice track is down some distance of hilly, snowy track that has apparently been chewed through by a plough with deliberately jagged edges, leaving bluish knives of ice at the fringes. The margin leaves only three inches of clearance either side of the 2.2-metre-wide LP700-4. Grip is on the low side of marginal, pedestrians adopting a kind of low-gravity shuffle, arms out and fingers spread, like bulky tightrope walkers, and even cars on studs require a little fizz of wheelspin when they pull away. You get the feeling that getting it wrong isn’t so much a matter of time, but a matter of the severity of the inevitable. So most members of the Top Gear team are opting for something a little less expensive, obvious and… feral to begin the first morning of the first day. There has been an unseemly scuffle over the keys to the Range Rover. Thing is, someone has to drive the Lambo. We need to find out if four-wheel drive allows you to actually use a car like this in an environment extreme enough to hobble an elk. What - as they so ominously tend to say - could possibly go wrong?

    Words: Tom Ford

    Photos: Lee Brimble

    This article was first published in the March 2012 issue of Top Gear magazine

  2. I stride up to the waiting Lamborghini with a confident air, skid on a patch of ice and crash into the open door face first, smashing my nose on the door and ending up legs akimbo on the floor. I look up and see a Lamborghini delivery driver watching with a facial expression that seems to encompass both fascination and abject horror. “Bumped by doze! Slippy izzernit!” I exclaim, gurning like a cretin. Nobody moves. I gingerly clamber to my feet with the lorry driver wondering why anyone is about to let Mr Bean drive a £247,667 hypercar down what appears to be a bobsleigh run designed by a sadist.

    Getting in involves the usual bum-first, legs-last slide into the driver’s seat, made somewhat more complicated by bulky Bibendum-spec clothing. For a minute, I’m seriously worried that I won’t be able to feel the pedals properly in my ridiculous boots, but then realise that it’s so cold that I can’t feel my actual feet anyway, rendering the point somewhat moot. Once inside, the usual Aventador cues apply: you sit low and relatively laid out, seemingly at the point of an arrowhead. Vision is acceptable, but looking backwards is pretty pointless; the glass fins of the engine cover are iced over, though now steaming gently as the motor warms. The rear view is basically a picturesque but completely useless fractal. The satnav chirps, and I notice that it is set for Sant’Agata, Italy. We are not in Italy, and I am a bit scared.

    First job is to pull out onto the road proper, and I’m expecting at least a throb of drama. But the LP700-4 just creeps gently out. Treating the throttle pedal like it’s the trigger of a crossbow pointed at my testicles has helped, but I’m still surprised. After all, a Lambo in the snow is unfamiliar and exciting, but also intimidating. Out here, grip is more important than power, but I doubt that 6.5-litre V12 stuffed into the middle of the Aventador has left any of the 691bhp or 508lb ft of torque at home. Everybody stares. And the Aventador does look pretty bloody out of place, a cocktail among cups of tea.

  3. We do have a slight advantage not offered to most hypercar drivers, mind. The Aventador is on full winter tyres. I didn’t even know that they made Pirelli Sotto Zeros in 335/30 20. The front wheels are a slightly smaller 255/35 19, but that’s still pretty big. To put that into perspective, the rear tyres on the Lambo are each 335mm wide: the magazine you’re holding is about 285mm top-to-bottom. Call for that sort of rubberwear is understandably rare: not many hypercar drivers bimble around when the going gets snowy. The next few miles demonstrate why. The Aventador might be AWD and on snow tyres, but the system it uses is called Haldex IV and is not the same kind of gnarly, ultra-mechanical 4x4 you get from something like the Defender. Basically, in the Lambo, it’s set up to aid high performance driving, rather than tidy up ultra-slippy surfaces. As I’m forced to nerf the back end on a snow bank to bring it back into line on a downhill section, I remember that the Aventador is essentially a rear-biased sports car (80 per cent rear under hard acceleration) with a limited-slip coupling that sits in line with the driveshaft, controlling the torque split between the front and rear axles. Too much wheelspin at the rear, and it allows more torque to the front to help, but snow crawling isn’t really in the remit. The system also incorporates an eLSD, or electronic limited-slip differential, so that power can be transferred across axles when one side is spinning, meaning - in theory - that 85 per cent of the power available can be thrown at a single wheel with grip. This is bugger-all use when you’re off the throttle and barrelling down a snow-covered hill, with the rear making a solid attempt to overtake the front. I find myself making a high-pitched mewling noise, like someone quietly setting fire to a kitten.

  4. We make it to the ice lake undamaged, and I swear people can hear my buttocks unclench. Here we have ice, but also space. A red rag to an orange bull. In the name of ‘testing’, I launch into a series of enormous donuts. The Aventador shimmies through the wheel and pedals, picking out every ridge in the ice, whuffing out V12 defiance that echoes around the entire valley. It’s childish, pointless, noisy and antisocial. It is also sublime. Heaven really is a place on Earth, and it smells of unburned Super. And it gets better: the track is now open.

    Truth? The Aventador feels pretty much like a rear-drive car right up until the very last second. On the road, unless you are travelling at illegal speeds, or it’s lashing down with rain, you’ll struggle to sieve the subtleties of the Lamborghini’s AWD drivetrain. But here, on ice, the system becomes transparent. I know this, because on the lake I manage third gear at 6500rpm, with the steering wheel banging merrily away at the lockstops. The speedometer is reading 112mph. For some, this would probably be the start of an epic description of motoring heroism, but we’re on ice. I’m only doing 35mph.

  5. This is not quite consequence-free drifting, but the chances of causing fatal damage are mitigated into inconsequentiality. You might snap a few bits off, but you’re unlikely to turn the Aventador’s carbon tub into a hexagon-themed coffin. This tempts you into pushing a little bit harder and exploring the LP700-4’s limits a little bit more thoroughly, doing stuff you’d never, ever, dare do, even on a racetrack.

    So, third gear from the seven-speed ISR ‘box, ESP off, Corsa mode. A quick jab of throttle and the Lambo slews sideways and keeps going, making a noise like a lion roaring into a pillow, seemingly with no input from the front wheels. But add a little throttle and the nose is gently flicked back into shape just as you think it’s all over. You just have to trust and never give up. The 1,575kg of weight switchblades back over and you start to pray for the lock of a London cab, the 43/57 per cent front/rear distribution accelerating the flick and necessitating hand speed I’ve only ever seen on Bruce Lee DVDs. Which means that you have to rely on anticipation to keep the car heading in the right direction. And rhythm. Now, I do have rhythm, but it’s the rhythm of a demented bear kept in a three-foot cage in a Taiwanese zoo. So I tended to use the snow banks to nudge the Aventador back into line. This is massively impressive to look at, presumably as long as you’re not a Lamborghini PR person.

  6. So what have we learned? That the Aventador LP700-4 can cope with conditions that would see a normal rear-wheel-drive hypercar floundering. That it fills the air with drama wherever it goes. That no matter where you drive it, you may not have enough space to really push its considerable limits. And that the world is a better place simply for its existence.

    Job done, Lamborghini. Job done.

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