2018 Lamborghini Huracán Performante Is a Supercar Supreme

The Drive rocks the Nürburgring record-setter at Imola, the former Formula One circuit in Italy.

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2018 Lamborghini Huracán Performante Is a Supercar Supreme © 2018 Lamborghini Huracán Performante Is a Supercar Supreme

I’m sitting in the pits at Imola, astride the Lamborghini Huracán Performante, when the Neil Young chestnut pops into my head:

You are like a hurricane. There’s calm in your eye.

“Huracán,” of course, translates to “Hurricane" in Italian. But forget Neil and Crazy Horse. This is Crazy Horsepower, with the Performante about to light off 631 ponies from the 5.2-liter V-10 perched behind my shoulders. (A standard Huracán has 29 fewer horses). Departing the pits, the Lambo emits a face-melting squall that Mr. Young would approve of. It sounds like Marshall stacks have been stuffed inside the Performante’s exhaust, the pipes mounted so high that their hot red glow is easy to spot from the rear.

By sounding this 10-cylinder salute to naturally aspirated engines, the Performante easily wins the aural battle over its turbocharged rivals, the Ferrari 488 GTB, 

McLaren 720S, and V6 powered Ford GT. (The Lambo’s more-affordable cousin, the Audi R8, uses a version of the same V-10). Lifting off throttle stirs beautiful backfires and gurgles from the lightweight, retuned exhaust, a seething cauldron of spent fuel. When I fly past pit lane again in a trio of Performantes traveling roughly 140 miles per hour, their combined 30 cylinders produce such a glorious racket that I can barely hear myself think. But I can definitely see myself smile in the rear-view mirror.

Imola itself is not for the faint of heart, for cars or drivers. This is the former Formula One circuit that took the lives of Ayrton Senna and Austria’s Roland Ratzenberg over a barely-24-hour period in 1984. Yet the Performante was engineered for just these situations, as demonstrated by an epic, 6:52:01 lap at Germany’s Nurburgring, still the fastest ever for a production car. Yes, China’s electric Nio EP9 and Lanzante's McLaren P1 LM—the latter an aftermarket mod of a McLaren designed only for track use—have now gone faster. But neither of those really fits the definition of a series-production, street-legal automobile.

Barroom debates aside, let’s keep things simple: Road or track, the Huracán Performante is a freaking beast. It’s even more impressive when you consider that, until quite recently, Lamborghinis were rarely in the discussion of which supercars were legitimately great on track.

Lamborghini might also work up a nice humblebrag from the Performante’s $274,390 base price, versus $930,000 for the Porsche 918 Spyder with Weissach Package—the ‘Ring’s previous record holder—and an insane $3.7 million for a McLaren P1 LM. In other words, at just $32,000 more than a standard Huracán coupe, the Performante is fairly priced by the loopy standards of supercars.

For me, Imola’s Tamburello corner is where the Huracán underlines its Performante name, and its reason for being. This “straightaway”—actually a seemingly endless left-hand sweeper—beckons speed and fate in equal proportion. After figuring out just how far this real estate stretches, I’m tempted to stay on throttle the way a scuba diver plumbs the black depths. Do that from a standstill, and you’re looking at a 2.9-second squirt to 62 mph (100 kph), 8.9 seconds to 124 mph (200 kph), and a 202-mph top speed.

In just about any older Lamborghini—including the Murcielago, Gallardo and original Aventador—standing on the brake at these speeds would result in the kind of perilous rear-end wobble that introduces your heart to your tonsils. But instead of making me tussle with the wheel, the Performante sheds speed with the strength and precision of a race car.

Say “mille gracie” to the Performante’s latest, specially developed Pirelli P Zero Corsa tires and heightened ABS tuning for the cross-drilled, ceramic-disc brakes. Those tires and brakes combine for shorter stops and surer feedback through the brake pedal. The Pirelli Corsas, or Trofeo track tires if you prefer, mount to handsome 20-inch, bronze-finish forged wheels. Wheels with center-locking hubs are another pit-friendly option. Springs and roll bars offer 10 percent more vertical stiffness than the standard model, while radial and axial arm bushings are 50 percent stiffer, delivering further gains in body and lateral control. And of course, the Performante’s four-wheel-drive system is heavily rear-biased, yet diverts

torque to front wheels to keep things on course.

But the car’s signature, stability-enhancing magic is the patented ALA system, for Aerodinamica Lamborghini Attiva. “Ala” also means “wing” in Italian, and there’s no mistaking the tailfeathers on this peacock: An active wing that combines with electrically activated front spoiler flaps and integrated aero ductwork in the rear engine cover. Like the engine cover, front and rear spoilers, rear bumper, and aero diffuser, the wing is made from Lamborghini’s award-winning “forged composite:” Carbon fibers are chopped, Cuisinart-style, then stuffed into molds with resin. Lamborghini claims the stuff allows them to create complex, geometric shapes that would be virtually impossible with traditional, hand-laid woven fiber. That includes the one-piece wing whose ingenious, hollow support stanchions channel air in a real-time aerodynamic system. All told, the lightweight material shaves 50 pounds of weight versus a standard Huracán. Lamborghini is known for fudging weight figures, but it pegs the Performante’s dry weight at 3,048 pounds, svelte for an AWD car.  

Together with the active front flaps, the Lambo can automatically minimize drag or dramatically boost downforce for high-speed cornering and full-force braking. The system can switch between the two in less than 500 milliseconds. Yet the rear wing itself never needs to move, and the system is 80 percent lighter than a hydraulically operated unit. Instead, four ducts are hidden below the engine cover, with inboard ducts always open for underhood cooling and exhaust ventilation. The outboard

ducts open or close, depending largely on throttle position, via electro-actuated flaps. When the ALA is “Off” and flaps are closed, you’ve got a traditional fixed wing—one that delivers a maximum 750-percent gain in rear vertical downforce versus a standard Huracán coupe. Floor the accelerator, and the ALA flaps swing open. Air flows through the stanchions and out through small ridges below the wing. Whether from a corner in Imola or a stoplight in New York, the Performante is now poised for maximum acceleration or a top-speed run. (Okay, forget the “New York” part.)

It gets better: Because the rear channels are split right and left, the Lamborghini can perform aero-based torque vectoring. Guiding the Lamborghini through the Variante Alta chicane at Imola, taking a generous bite of the candy-striped curbing, I’m aided by a literal wind beneath my wings. Through this fast right-left combo, the Lamborghini switches spoiler flaps as quickly as I can wind the optional variable-ratio steering. Hang a left, and the Lamborghini maximizes downforce on the inner rear left wheel while lightening the outer wheel. That creates a polar moment, counteracts excessive load transfer, requires less steering angle to make a given corner, and boosts overall stability. All told, it’s rocket science, but not rocket science: This supercar is aerodynamically stable—a grip monster as powerful as an ego-tripping Roman god.

The cabin is also generously arrayed in forged composite, including the center console, vents and other trim. In contrast to the familiar tweedy weave of most carbon fiber, the funky composite has a random, almost tortoise shell finish. Some attending journalists hated it. I thought it was cool and different, especially in an industry where woven fiber has become a bit of a design cliché. Also different is the Italian flag decal (what, no checkers?) that highlights the rising, waist-nipping line of the rocker panels, like some hot Italian corset.

As with the standard Huracán, the cabin is like Peter Quill’s spaceship fantasy, an Alcantara-lined bachelor pad for warp speeders. Choose any colors and materials you like to offset an equally vast spectrum of exterior colors, including the Performante’s gorgeous, matte orange “Arancia Borealis” paint. During my tour of Lamborghini’s bespoke Ad Personam studio—along with its expanding factory and a brand-new restoration center and museum in nearby Sant’Agata Bolognese—I fairly drooled over an Aventador in a badass custom shade of matte olive-gray. And don’t forget to credit Volkswagen’s ownership of Lamborghini, including a generous share of Audi technology, for Lamborghini’s quantum leap in technology, build quality and user-friendly features. That includes a lovely version of Audi’s vaunted, Nvidia-powered Virtual Cockpit. That 12.3-inch TFT screen reconfigures into various tachs, gauges, and displays, whose color-saturated animated graphics are even more comic-book aggressive—ZAP! BOOM! POW!—than in Audi’s more-demure R8.

The engine fires up with an Armageddon-style switch, a red cap that you flip up to reveal the start button. Also familiar is the “Anima” steering-wheel switch to adjust the magnetic shock absorbers and other performance parameters. My biggest worry with the Performante, that it would be a kidney-punching chore to drive on public roads—as with, say, the most recent Chevy Camaro Z/28—turned out to be unfounded. Departing the track in a goblin-green Performante for a drive through the countryside, I toggled up the softest “Strada” setting and closely monitored the seat of my jeans. Even on absolutely ruined, gravel-rutted pavement, the Performante proved firm but livable. And the medium “Sport” setting—designed to let drivers tease out some drift angles, versus the faster, pure-performance Corsa mode—will definitely be the Goldilocks setting for most drivers on most streets.

This Lambo whacks through gears with increased vigor but no obnoxious lurching, with massive shift paddles for the seven-speed, dual-clutch gearbox. Torque jumps to 443-pound feet, versus 413 in the “basic” Huracán. The street is where I also paid closest attention to the sensations and g-forces trickling into the steering wheel. As noted, variable-ratio dynamic steering is an option, and while purists can sniff, the car that test driver Marco Mapelli rocked around the ‘Ring was equipped with this Lamborghini Dynamic Steering (LDS) system. Lamborghini says both standard and variable-ratio systems were markedly recalibrated for better response and added feedback, and the feel is definitely more direct than a standard Huracán’s. For all that, however, the Lamborghini’s steering still isn’t as pure as the Ferrari’s or McLaren’s.

So why choose any Lamborghini, versus a Ferrari, McLaren, Acura NSX, Audi R8, Porsche 911 Turbo, Mercedes AMG-GT, et al? One, you’ve melded with the Lamborghini mindset, and you love its muy-macho, screw-you style. Of course, performance, tech and attention-prone styling are virtually a given in this class. So I’ll argue that the naturally aspirated V-10, all by its shrieking self, is the Lamborghini’s standout attribute in today’s supercar marketplace. The direct-rival, mid-engine marvels are all tremendous in their own ways, but do any of them (Audi R8 cousin aside) let you wring an all-natural engine to a dizzying 8,500 rpm? Do any of the others crank out a wall of unfiltered, stadium-rock sound, even when you’re just tooling down the boulevard? The answer is no. From outside the turbo Ferrari 488—as I noted seeing them just a few weeks ago at Lime Rock Park—your disappointed, un-tickled ears barely register that a V8 is working. Ferrari engineers need to work on that, pronto, and fix the demure engine note the way Mercedes has deftly cranked up its once-strangled bi-turbo V8’s. The new McLaren 720S performs spectacularly, and its enlarged twin-turbo V8 sounds much better than congested-sounding 650S—but it still can’t touch the animal howl of this V-10.

That’s all by design. Between laps, I chat in the pits with Stefano Domenicali, Lamborghini’s chief executive and the former leader of Ferrari's Formula One team. Domenicali tells me that the brand’s success depends not on mimicking what everyone else does—including electrification and forced induction—but by heightening what’s unique and special about the brand. The upcoming Urus super-SUV, which we ogle at the company museum, will be an exception to that no-turbo rule. And we’ll see how long it all lasts before Lamborghini is forced to toe some regulatory line. But for now, the brand is enjoying what’s increasingly a rebel attitude.

“Lamborghini dies when it follows the herd,” Dominicali declares. “Electrification and hybridization is the trend, we know this, everyone is doing it. But we are not going to follow. We need to be different, a car that’s not ‘normal.’"

Mission accomplished, Signor Domenicali. Your Huracán Performante is one abnormal car. Ultimately, isn’t that why anyone forks over $300,000 on an automobile?

Lawrence Ulrich,The Autance’s chief auto critic, is an award-winning auto journalist and former chief auto critic for The New York Times and Detroit Free Press. The Detroit native and Brooklyn gentrifier owns a troubled ’93 Mazda RX-7 R1, but may want to give it a good home. Email him at [email protected].

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