Believe it or not, there are companies out there that traffic in giving people who dream of being famous a synthesized taste of celebrity. Those desperate to imagine themselves world-renowned can rent fake paparazzi to follow them around and snap their picture, mock up fake gossip rag covers about themselves, or hire actors to pretend to be slavering fans desperate to catch a glimpse of them. But there's a far less pathetic way to know what it's like to be a Gosling, a Swift, a De Niro: Drive a Lamborghini Aventador S roadster slathered in yellow paint.
People will point. People will stare. People will wave at you like they’ve known you for years, even though they've never so much as seen you before in their life. People will shout out unbidden complements. Occasionally, they’ll get mad at you for no reason. And the pictures: People will snap off photos and videos with their phones constantly, holding their black mirrors both horizontally and vertically, to blast your image across the various social media networks so their friends, family, and frenemies all know they were simply in the presence of this atomic wedge of taleggio.
“What a car! Lemme shake your hand,” said a fifty-something man with salt and pepper hair wearing a windbreaker when I stopped to fill up the car at a quiet gas station on Manhattan's Upper West Side. And sure enough, he walked right up and proffered his right mitt—even though I was seated in the car, about to turn onto 96th Street. A guy in his thirties stopped his car in the center lane of the FDR Drive—literally stopped it cold, damn the nine thousand New Yorkers behind him trying to drive home on a Sunday evening—in order to catch some footage of me as I drove past.
And, much like happens to the famous, people will try and take advantage of you. A guy tried to pull a grift on me while I was parked on Riverside Drive, having just completed the cumbersome process of assembling the carbon fiber roof that's required every time you plan on locking up and walking away; pulling up alongside me, he spun a tale of woe in his thick Italian accent, claiming he had several $3,000 leather jackets he'd brought over from his (and the Lamborghini's) homeland for a fashion convention but couldn't bring back because he'd have to pay duties on them, so he wanted to give me them, if only I'd be good enough to give him what amounted to the taxes on a single jacket? He couldn't believe me when I politely told him to buzz off; I can only assume he thought anybody with a half-million-dollar car wouldn't care about the few hundred bucks for some very low-quality knock-off outerwear.
And the kids! Anyone worried by the media-advanced narrative that "kids today don’t care about cars or driving anymore" only needs to spend a few hours tooling around in a brightly-colored Lambo. Sure, maybe the youth of today don’t like Highlanders and Accords and all that. But know what? Neither do most adults who drive them. Roll a mid-engined supercar past them, though, and watch the jaws drop like PewDiePie just unicycled past while playing Fortnite. "Can I kick your ass for your Lamborghini?” a middle-school-age kid sheepishly shouted from the sidewalk, clearly put up to it by the friend filming him with a camera phone.
Much like actually being famous, this sort of attention can grow wearisome if you're not in the mood for it. One upstate New York gas station stop (not surprisingly, there were quite a few of those, but more on that in a minute) wound up stretching out to the length of a Doug DeMuro review, as one person after another came over, eyes wide, to ask questions and snap pictures. But lean into the Lamborghini Life, and the joy you can spread is delightful. At supervising producer Cait Knoll's post-wedding breakfast, smiles spread like syphilis across New York during Fleet Week; a steady stream of people came over to go for rides, or to hear it rev and see it spit fire. (Sadly, it was too bright out to see any flames burst forth from the three-into-one exhaust pipe, but YouTube makes clear that the Aventador's more than capable of doing an impression of an afterburning F-16.) I don’t think any car I’ve ever driven has delighted and entranced people the way this thing did. It’s a rolling day-maker, a roving conversation piece for people you’ll never even meet: Honey, guess what I saw today!
That said, for all the visual grandeur of this Lambo, the driving experience leaves room for improvement. For one thing, this will likely surprise exactly zero people reading this, but the Aventador is an absolute gas guzzler. I burned through just shy of two whole tanks over a dash more than 300 miles of driving. The tank, by the way, is about 19 gallons. I was never great at long division, but even my back-of-the-napkin math is good enough to figure out that's less than 10 miles per gallon.
Then again, not only does it fit a 730-hp naturally aspirated V12 between the driver's coccyx and its Hadron Collider-sized rear wheels, but I drove this thing like…well, like you would if you had an Aventador S for a long weekend. I ripped off acceleration runs every chance I could, and left it one or two or three gears lower than I might otherwise, just to hear it sing. With the car in track-ready Corsa (or in my preferred configuration, with the car's configurable Ego mode set to keep the powertrain dialed to Corsa, the steering to Sport, and the suspension to street-happy Strada), the pops and snarls on overrun are violent; I winced at them in tunnels, even when I knew they were coming. The car popped off one in Manhattan so loud, I heard it echo off the skyscrapers. If anyone living along First Avenue between 36th and 32nd Streets called 911 to report gunfire around 5 p.m. on October 4th, sorry to make you worry: That was just the Lamborghini Aventador S's exhaust, cooking off a backfire as fierce and loud as the blast of a .30-06.
Some die-hard gas-burners have squawked about the Lambo V12's incipient hybridization, but let's face it: slapping an electric motor between those dozen cylinders and the drive wheels isn't going to ruin anything. The car’s hardly light now—it weighs about 4,200 pounds before you slide your butt into the slim seat—so the weight of the added motor and batteries won’t make that big a difference. And with the engine spinning at 8,000 rpm, it'll still sound like the battle cry of a thousand Amazons. It’ll just be smoother around town and save some gas.
Let's all pray that Lamborghini's R&D team finds a way to make that engine play nice with a dual-clutch transmission, though, because the Aventador's current sequential manual gearbox is an abomination. Oh, how times change; when the car came out less than a decade ago, the sequential manual was an aging but still relevant piece of technology. Now, however, dual clutches and even torque converter automatics have advanced so far, this feels like punishment. You learn to take your foot off the gas on shifts, as though pumping an imaginary clutch, or else it bangs uncomfortably hard from gear to gear in lower cogs. You don't care when you're caning it—the wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am gear change becomes part of the charm—but considering how few opportunities there are to open up a car of this power level in the real world for more than a few seconds, you'll spend far more time cursing that forcefulness than enjoying it. Automatic mode—the default in Strada—is even worse; it lurches and pauses on 1-2 shifts like the gearbox in the old Smart ForTwo, and its tendency to find the highest gear ASAP and struggle to downshift can leave this car in traffic limbo, trying in vain to close gaps in traffic and just plain feeling...slow.
Ergonomics are another weak spot—if, admittedly, one that's assumed as part of the V12-powered-Lamborghini experience. The lack of legroom is a definite issue for anyone more than six feet tall, with the tight, oddball proportions pushing legs into awkward positions that force lactic acid to build up in new, exciting places. After the first 90 minutes behind the wheel, I had to make a pit stop strictly to stretch my aching legs—and wound up limping around the car for a couple minutes trying to work out the kinks in my muscles. (God knows how NBA stars manage to squeeze themselves into this thing.) And the view from the driver's seat sucks—though, as Mike Spinelli can testify, it's way better than in Lambos of old. You can’t see any stoplight closer than a block away, and the blind spots are big enough to hide King Kong.
These are all ultimately minor quibbles, though, distractions from the joys that flow freely from this sweet machine. While every car is capable of moving people from A to B, the Aventador feels like that rare vehicle that was designed for entertainment first and transportation second. That astounding performance atones for all those sins and more, obviously—not just the sweet glee with which the V12 howls up to redline, but the immediacy of the steering, the flatness of the chassis as it dives through traffic like LeBron trying to save a ball before it goes out of bounds. But it's also the silly details, like the start button's flip-up red cover that looks like it was pulled off a Vanguard-class sub's missile launch station. The two-piece manual hard top is a particularly delightful piece of work. Mechanically, it’s a simple solution: the panels are light, weighing in around 12 pounds a piece, and both fit snugly and easily into the frunk. But more to the point, it's fun to imagine the super-wealthy masters of the universe who buy this $500,000 car angrily trying to follow the byzantine instructions to drop and stow the roof (think Ikea-by-way-of-Italy), or scurrying around under an overpass to pop the panels back on during a sudden burst of rain.
The smaller, cheaper, and less powerful Huracan is a far better car to drive, with a verve and agility to its every move that the Aventador, for all its talents, just can't match. Likewise, as I found out when I lived out of one for a week, it's a far more livable car, with an ergonomically-superior interior and proportions better suited to driveways and country roads and pretty much every other situation. (Except parking, where the bigger car's scissor doors are far superior to the wide-opening portals of the already-wide Huracan.) But I see why you’d want the Aventador instead: Simply put, it’s more fun. It’s appealing because it’s less logical; sounds counterintuitive, sure, but isn't that sort of the point of a half-million-dollar supercar?
After all, it's not like there aren't plenty of vehicles happy to play to the superego side of the supercar psyche. Cars like McLarens and 911 GT models view the supercar as a right-brain product: designed and honed to conquer quantifiable, logical goals, like lapping racetracks and setting speed records. Cars like the Aventador see it as a left-brain problem, a play for the id: how can we make this thing awesome? Luckily, both schools of thoughts wind up leading to the same place, resulting in hyper-powered, well-balanced speed machines. But you can feel the passion, the joy, in the Lambo in a way you don’t in some other supercars.
To play with Justice Potter Stewart's now-clichéd words, trying to define a supercar is like defining pornography: you know it when you see it. The Lamborghini Aventador S roadster, for all its performance, may not even rank amongst the quickest, fastest, most powerful, or most expensive cars in this crazy world we now live in. By any of those objective measures, it doesn't rank it among that most hallowed class of automobiles.
But try telling that to the people staring as it drives by.
The 2018 Lamborghini Aventador S Roadster, By the Numbers:
- Base Price (Price as Tested): $467,442 (Call it half a million bucks)
- Powertrain: 6.5-liter V12, 730 horsepower, 509 pound-feet of torque; seven-speed sequential automated manual transmission; all-wheel-drive
- EPA Fuel Economy: 10 mpg city, 16 mpg highway
- 0-60 MPH: 3.0 seconds (manufacturer figure, but that was for 0-100 km/h, so maybe 2.9 for the 0-60 on a good day)
- Width: 79.9 inches, or just narrow enough to avoid being forced to wear those tiny orange lights required by law on vehicles more than 80 inches wide
- Primary Competitors: Ferrari 812 Superfast, McLaren 720S, Paul Allen's old MiG-29