First drive: 2018 Lamborghini Huracan Performante in Italy
Confession time: I was mildly sceptical (and I’m certainly not alone here) of the Lamborghini Huracan Performante’s claimed 6min 52.01sec lap of the Nurburgring Nordschleife when it was announced a couple of months ago.
I simply couldn’t see how a 640 hp coupe that weighs around 1,500 kg in road trim (1,382 kg dry weight) could blast around the 20.8 km circuit a massive five seconds faster than the devastatingly quick Porsche 918 Spyder -– a car that exploits all the high-tech engineering and motorsport nous the Zuffenhausen brainiacs could throw at it (albeit four years ago). It seemingly didn’t add up.
But now, after a day spent exploring the Performante’s breadth of capabilities at the dauntingly fast and undulating 4.959 km Imola circuit and across some dubiously-surfaced Italian backroads, it begins to make a bit more sense.
The Huracan spearhead’s point-to-point pace isn’t about brute force -– even though it offers a decent helping of this. It’s more about the supreme cohesiveness of the whole package, enabling it to carry an extraordinary amount of speed into, through and out of corners. It’s not too shabby on the straights either, as reflected by a claimed 0-100 kph split of 2.9 seconds (versus 3.2 seconds for the Huracan LP610-4), 0-200kph in 8.9 seconds (9.9 seconds for the LP610-4) and a top speed of 325 kph.
The raw stats mightn’t be ground-breaking in today’s context, but every element of the Performante has been honed to the nth degree, and its trump card (thankfully nothing to do with Donald) is the pioneering ALA (‘Aerodinamica Lamborghini Attiva’) active aerodynamics system that Lamborghini has promptly patented.
More on this later, but the gist of this tech is that it provides high downforce under braking and cornering, yet low levels of speed-sapping drag on the straights. However, the real clever bit is its asymmetric ‘Aero Vectoring’ capability, which is essentially analogous to a torque-vectoring system (but obviously using airflow), to help get the car turned in to corners.
Chatting over dinner, Lamborghini R&D boss Mauricio Reggiani reveals the tech was first proposed to him by a couple of ex-Toro Rosso Formula One engineers now in the employ of the Raging Bull, and preliminary tests in the wind tunnel proved the system had merit. Further development got the concept to a production-ready stage, and the Performante is the first car to utilise it.
The Huracan flagship’s emphatic Nurburgring benchmark is part of recently-installed CEO Stefano Domenicali’s desire to stamp the brand’s identity as it embarks upon a major growth initiative that entails a massive plant expansion to churn out the crucial new Urus SUV that will be revealed at the Bologna factory in December.
Predictably, one of the Performante’s key upgrades is a subtle massaging of that musical, rev-happy V10, which gains lightweight titanium valves and a low-backpressure exhaust system comprising two fat drainpipes that exit higher up and closer to the centre of the car than the four tips you’d find at the rear of lesser Huracans. There’s visual differentiation within the engine bay, too, courtesy of bronze cam covers (previously seen on the 30th Anniversary Diablo SE30).
These tweaks liberate an extra 30 hp and 40 Nm over the LP610-4 for max outputs of 640 hp at 8,000 rpm and 600 Nm at 6,500 rpm. The high revs at which peak torque arrives might have you thinking this is a peaky motor, but it’s in fact a very tractable unit, serving up 70% of maximum twist from just 1,000 rpm. The free-spinning V10 is hooked up to the same 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox as the regular Huracan, albeit subtly recalibrated for even faster response.
Both springs and anti-roll bars have been beefed up, which means the Performante’s suspension is 10% firmer vertically, while roll stiffness is boosted by 15%. It also gains stiffer (by 50%) bushings to further sharpen lateral control.
Complementing the engine and chassis upgrades is a weight-shedding regime, as part of which the Performante gains ‘Forged Composite’ (chopped carbon fibres in a resin) elements that include the front and rear spoiler, engine cover, rear bumper and diffuser, resulting in it tipping the scales 40 kg lighter than the standard Huracan LP610-4.
So much for the theory, how does it all gel out in the real world? In a word, brilliantly.
For those who have never been there (and I’m guessing this will be the case for most readers), Imola -– or Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari, to refer to it by its officially moniker -– is a proper, hairy, old-school racetrack.
It’s unfortunately remembered primarily as the place where Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger lost their lives during the fateful 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, but this shouldn’t detract from the fact that it’s an epic piece of tarmac, with pronounced elevation changes and fast, ballsy corners such as the downhill Tamburello and Piratella, where you basically take a deep breath and keep the foot flat.
Firing out of pitlane, my eardrums are assaulted by the louder, harder-edged vocal signature of the Performante vis-à-vis its lesser siblings. Throttle response is sharper, too, and, in terms of raw straight-line urge, it feels lineball with its V12-powered Aventador S big brother. The 0-200 kph stats bear this out, as the latter is only a tenth quicker to this mark.
Everything about the Performante feels razor-edged. Where the Huracan LP610-4 was notable for having softened up somewhat compared to its Gallardo predecessor (in line with the top brass’s directive to make it a more user-friendly everyday supercar), the Performante seems ultra-focused in much the same way that the first Gallardo Superleggera was.
The transformation can be gauged by Lamborghini’s test and development driver Marco Passerini’s revelation that the Performante is about 4-5 seconds a lap quicker around Imola than the Huracan LP610-4s that are being used as pace cars for our three-car convoys today.
However, that deficit is partially offset by the fact the pace cars are shod with super-sticky, track-oriented Pirelli Trofeo R tyres that are worth at least 2-3 seconds per lap over the P Zero Corsas that our cars are on. Even so, the lead car ahead visibly squirms under brakes and through many of the corners, where the Performante remains relatively unflustered.
Of course, part of the Performante’s exceptional composure is down to its firmer suspension, but there’s no doubt the aforementioned ALA active-aero system (activated in the hardcore Corsa drive mode) plays a role here. Unlike a conventional active aero set-up, whereby the whole wing changes its angle of attack, the ALA system uses front and rear ducts within which sit electrically actuated flaps that open and close to either ‘stall’ (cancel out) the front spoiler and rear wing, or enable them to generate full downforce (750 per cent more than a standard Huracan).
Reggiani says this not only saves weight (it’s 80% lighter than a conventional hydraulic active wing), it’s also much quicker to activate, with the transition from full-downforce to low-drag mode taking place in less than half a second.
In addition, the rear wing’s inner air channel is split right and left, allowing ‘aero vectoring’ for high speed cornering. Depending on the direction of the turn, the ALA system activates either the right or left side of the spoiler, increasing downforce and traction on the inner wheel, which counteracts the load transfer under heavy cornering.
As alluded to earlier, it’s a bit like torque-vectoring, which means you need to apply less steering angle, and the car also remains more stable, which is particularly confidence-inspiring at a high-speed track like Imola.
What it all adds up to is arguably the most track-capable road car currently on offer (although the McLaren 720S may have something to say about that). The Peformante is electrifying in its hair-trigger responses, yet never seems intimidating in the way the first Aventador and the Murcielago were.
It’s forgiving and adjustable, so even if you dive into a corner too hot or are excessively violent with your steering or throttle inputs, it allows you to recover without having any white-knuckle moments or losing much in terms of forward momentum.
The electronic safety net is non-intrusive in its intervention (especially in Sport and Corsa modes), so the Performante is a terrifically enjoyable car on track, especially with that V10 singing at 8,000 rpm. In fact, the engine spins up to its redline so effortlessly that it’s not too difficult to inadvertently bounce off the rev limiter while your attention is focused on monstering the rear bumper of the pace car ahead.
But perhaps the Performante’s biggest victory is that it’s not a one-trick pony that pummels you into a pulp in real-world conditions. Proof of this is provided by the subsequent road loop, for which Lamborghini’s events team has selected a route that includes some remarkably poor sections of tarmac – lumpy in parts, and sharply corrugated in others.
On the whole, the Lambo copes surprisingly well. Ride quality is composed even in Sport mode, and the only the sharpest of corrugations cause any level of discomfort. The Performante is a realistic everyday supercar, even though most prospective owners are likely to have at least one or two other vehicles in their garage for daily-driver duties.
There’s no chance onlookers will mistake your Performante for a lesser Huracan –- the in-yer-face rear wing sees to that but, just for good measure, there’s also that elaborately sculpted rear diffuser, with its matt-black and gloss Forged Composite elements, plus those two massive exhaust pipes.
The snout is no less purposeful or menacing, thanks to a thrusting, sharp-edged front splitter and a pair of air intake winglets that mimic snake fangs.
There’s no doubt the car looks most striking in ‘Arancio Antheus’ matt-orange -– it’s the signature hue for the Performante –- which contrasts sharply with the numerous black elements, Italian flag pinstriping and bronze-painted Narvi 20-inch forged alloys.
It’s no shrinking violet, and this means its visuals will appeal to some buyers, but not necessarily all. Personally, I prefer the aesthetic purity of the unmolested Huracan. But you can each make up your own minds.
As an overall package, the Performante is a hugely tempting proposition for those who can afford it, and its price premium of around 13% over a Huracan LP610-4 is not excessive considering how much faster and more rewarding to drive it is than the car it’s derived from.
An English colleague perhaps summed it up best over lunch at Imola: “It’s the car the Huracan should have been all along”.
Better late than never. Bravo, Lamborghini.
Photos by Lamborghini.