First drive: our debut in the Pagani Huayra

Posted on: June 11th, 2012


Words: Tom Ford


Pics: Jamie Lipman


Horacio Pagani is pirouetting around his office pretending to be a ballerina. Which wasn’t what I was expecting to find when I woke up this morning. But there’s sense to the oddness – he’s explaining his theories on centralisation of polar moments of inertia with reference to mid-engined supercars. Which, weirdly, I was expecting to find when I woke up this morning, except possibly in a slightly more practical fashion, because I’m here to drive the new Pagani Huayra, the £800k (RM4 million), 730bhp twin-turbo V12 that’s had me in fits ever since I first saw it some 18 months ago.


We do a lot of chatting. About Veyrons, and Carrera GTs and supercars in general. It’s hard to concentrate, simply because there’s a little voice in the back of my head chanting “I want to drive the car now”. There’s a Huayra downstairs. I really do want to drive the car. Now. But Horacio loves cars. And engineering. And talking about them. So I smile and become engrossed, and the little voice gets subsumed by a torrent of car-stuff that pours through HP’s office in an invisible but slightly petrol-scented fog.


We talk about the future, and the past. But the one thing that constantly comes through in glorious high-def is that Horacio Pagani, with his black jeans and Pagani-branded white linen shirt, sweep of steel grey hair and wire-framed glasses, is really, really into this stuff. He’s obsessive. He’s also a bit mad. He’s brilliant.



The last thing he does before we go and see the car, is sit there and tap his temples with both hands, clutch his right fist over his heart and then make a kind of Tommy Cooper gesture with both hands extended, palms down. It translates – broadly – that to make a decent supercar, you need to combine intellect (the head), soul (the fist to the chest) and physical craft (the hands).


When you see the Huayra, you’ll understand…


Let’s just get this straight from the off: the Huayra is a proper exotic, a stop and stare supercar. The interior is a baroque mix of hyper-modern and traditional, blended with a bit of weird, and garnished with leather. The finish is millimetric, the quality unbelievable. The tub itself is carbotanium (carbonfibre with titanium threads woven through the structure), with molybdenum front and rear suspension subframes hung from either end. The roof section is only structural in that it’s somewhere to hang the gullwing doors (the tub itself is strong enough without), and every titanium nut, bolt and length of Aeroquip hose is bang on and Pagani branded. It’s like a giant jeweller’s workshop.



It’s not, to my eyes, a pretty car, though the adaptive aero package (two pairs of flaps at either end) adds some technical vibe that’ll surprise you when you really get going. And it’s definitely cleaner and leaner than pretty much any other supercar out there, forgoing the bulky physical weaponry of the Aventador or Veyron.


But we knew all that. I’m here to drive it. It starts gruff and throbby, but not exactly spine-tingling. Turbos rob sound, and even though this is an AMG-tuned 6.0-litre V12, it sounds muted in comparison to the twelve-cylinder hoof of the Zonda. Click first from the exposed sequential gearlever (it has paddles – I totally forgot to use them, such is the beauty of this one element alone), and pull away.


And find that the single-clutch seven speed ‘box is a bit jerky. Whoops. It’s not good at pottering, bluntly. The engine is hugely torquey and it doesn’t suit the single-clutch trying to be smooth. There are reasons: Pagani cites weight, a 100kg saving over a DSG ‘box rated to cope with the Huayra’s 700+lb ft of torque, and also positioning. The gearbox of the Huayra is tucked up behind the engine in a very odd place. Instead of lying lengthways and hanging out behind the rear axle (you’ll often see the casing of a gearbox between the rear wheels of a mid-engined car), it lies transversely across the beam, making a ‘T’-shape with the back of the engine. Now while this might sound like a small thing, it brings the Huayra’s centre of mass nearer the physical centre of the car, making it inherently easier to control. Technically, it centralises the Huayra’s moment of polar inertia, the place around which the car will rotate when enthusiasm gets the better of talent. Which is where we came in.



Ok, so it’s good for dynamics, but rubbish at slow-speed stuff. Which does raise a few eyebrows at first. Happily, the dynamics are impressive, which helps. You can see out of the car, it feels relatively small, rides brilliantly and has excellent steering feel. It also manages to absorb bumps with a liquid softness that inspires confidence and manages a lack of roll without a spine-cracking ride. Which is nice. It also refuses to try and bite your arm off, even with the ESP switched off, though this is still a 730bhp car that weighs 1350kg. Be warned people, third gear wheelspin is eminently possible.


But that’s all a bit by-the-by as soon as you hit the throttle. Because the engine is absolutely, one-hundred percent mental. Boost is hard and insistent, and the car sounds like a literal explosion. It’s not pretty, or operatic, but it is something you can’t help wanting to experience again and again. And again. Dumpvalves choosh, exhausts hum, things whine. It’s like an exploding jet engine. With a gearbox.


It’s also fast enough to make you squeak, though it does get a little light at silly speeds, and when it decides to oversteer – which it does eventually – the boost makes it much harder to guage accurately than the Zonda. Not that I ever managed to guage that very accurately either, it has to be said. The flaps operate above 50mph, and act as airbrakes and stabilisers, though on the roads I was on it was hard to figure out if they were doing anything too specific. Later on the motorway, I’m sure they helped stability in hard braking from high speed, but I’d need to hit a track to figure out the finer points – the Huayra is too fast for extended full-bore runs on a public road. Anyone who tells you different should think about the size of the accident you’d likely have, and how much of Italy you’d scrape off the map.



So. I don’t think it’s as fast as the Veyron. But I sincerely don’t care. This is the kind of car that I thought cars like this would be like when I was a kid, if that makes any sense at all. Flawed, a bit weird, exciting, surprising, a massive handful and absolutely, stupidly brilliant.  It makes a Veyron look like a washing machine.
It makes everything else look grey and dull, and a bit soulless. And that’s because it’s not perfect, rather than because it is. It’s the vision of one man and a close-knit team of engineers, rather than teams of scientific committees working under the auspices of a megacorp.


It’s the physical manifestation of Horacio Pagani’s mind. And that’s why we love it.


Price: £800,000 (RM4 million approx)


The Numbers: 5980cc V12 AMG biturbo, 730bhp @ 5000rpm, 987Nm @ 3500rpm, 0-100kmph in 3.2 seconds, 378+kmph top speed, weight: 1350kg


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