Huracan Performante on the Transfagarasan

On Christmas Day 1989, Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife were executed by firing squad, ending one of communism's most brutal dictatorships. Legend dictates that the volunteer executioners were so enthusiastic the film crew missed the first shot. Ceausescu's legacy is one of oppression, poverty and misery, but he did make at least one positive contribution to the world.

You can see why it has the reputation now...
You can see why it has the reputation now...
The Transfagarasan Highway was hailed by Clarkson as "The world's best road," and while that might have involved a bit of 'TV licence', it's undeniably one of the best. Criss-crossing the Fagaras mountains (trans and Fagaras), it's 56 miles of asphalt nirvana - socialism's answer to the Stelvio Pass. Back in communist times, you'd have been lucky to see a Trabant splutter by, but today it's become a haven for enthusiasts and their toys.

Karl Marx would have loathed my choice of wheels. There are few more ostentatious tributes to capitalism than a Kermit green Lamborghini, especially one with a giant rear wing. The Huracan Performante is spectacularly, self-indulgently OTT. It is £215,000 worth of Italian sculpture, with a 640hp, 5.2-litre V10 attached.

Much has been made of this car's 'ring time - a scarcely believable 6:52.01 - but it's what that signifies that's really important. The Performante is proof that Lamborghini is serious about making supercars that are good for more than just cruising Knightsbridge. For the first time in a while, the good people of Maranello and Woking are taking note of the old tractor maker.

Firing (order) squad
It's the noise they'll notice first. While the standard Huracan is surprisingly muted, the Performante announces its intent with an outrageous howl. It might not be as polar bear-friendly as Ferrari's twin-turbo V8 - or ultimately as potent - but for pure, visceral appeal, it's in a different stratosphere. Its timbre is race car like, pulling cleanly and consistently from just a couple of thousand revs. By the time peak power arrives at 8,000rpm, it's either gloriously symphonic, or plain obnoxious, depending on your point of view. I'm with the former.

Remembered the spelling yet?
Remembered the spelling yet?
The Transfagarasan Highway climbs to 2,134m and is normally only passable from June to October. It's hard to imagine what it must have been like to build it back in the 70s. Terrified by the USSR's invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, Ceausescu wanted to build a strategic route across the mountains in case the Soviets took a fancy to Romania. From 1970-74, the military used over 6,000 tonnes of dynamite to clear a path with often tragic consequences. The official death toll is listed at forty, but the real figure may have stretched into the hundreds.

It's not the safest road to drive, either. Whoever erected the guardrails was having a laugh. Time and again, you find yourself braking for downhill hairpins with drop-offs promising certain death. Rarely have the anti-fade properties of carbon-ceramic brakes been so welcome.

In this environment, the appeal of all-wheel drive shouldn't be underestimated either. It might not please the hair-shirted diehards, but out here the ability of the Performante to fling itself out of corners that would leave a McLaren 720S leaning on its electronics is remarkable. Against the watch the McLaren is quicker - 0-124mph in 7.8sec versus 8.9sec - but in the real world, the Lambo will be at least as rapid. No matter how good Pirelli P Zero Corsas are, it's still easier to deploy 160hp per tyre than 360.

Interesting? Yes. Useful out here? Hmm...
Interesting? Yes. Useful out here? Hmm...
Out the way, I have ALA!
Lamborghini will also no doubt point to the benefits of its pioneering active aerodynamics, 'Aerodinamica Lamborghini Attiva' or ALA for short. Put simply, flaps in the front spoiler work in conjunction with ducts in the engine cover to either channel air over the giant rear wing to generate downforce, or under the wing to minimise drag. The flaps can even open independently to achieve what Lamborghini calls aero vectoring - varying the downforce from side to side to help the car corner. On the race tracks of the world, this technology no doubt makes a significant difference. Whether it has any benefit on the Transfagarasan is highly debatable, but at the very least, it's good bar bore chat.

Today, any opportunity to deploy active aero is constrained by the plethora of tourists that litter the route. They're here not just to sample the road that Ceausescu had built, but to visit Poenari Castle, the lair of a man that made the communists look a bit wet. Vlad the Impaler ruled the area in the 15th century and is said to have inspired Bram Stoker's Dracula. Vlad's preferred method of execution was to impale his victims as a warning to others. These victims apparently included Catholic monks and a braying donkey. Shame we don't have time to climb the 1,480 steps to the castle today.

Performante so much better than Huracan. Really
Performante so much better than Huracan. Really
Back to the modern world and the million dollar convoy that has brought us here. Lamborghini's laid on pretty much the entire Huracan range for our delectation - Spyder and coupe, two-wheel drive and all-wheel drive, Performante. Driving the ensemble back-to-back simply serves to highlight just how different the Performante is. The transformation is so much more significant than the raw statistics of adding 30hp and removing 40kg suggest. It's difficult to think of another example of a sports car in which a variant has so fundamentally transformed both its ability and demeanour. The leap is greater than, for example, Ferrari 458 to Speciale, or even 911 Carrera to GT3.

Transfagarasan transformation
The standard Huracan feels like it's trying to wrap the ease and accessibility of a 911 in an Italian designer frock. The Performante, by contrast, is a genuine supercar full of urgency, verve and character. The steering is more responsive, the gearbox bolts from cog-to-cog, the ride is firmer but improves with speed and commitment. It's utterly thrilling and now feels in tune with the flamboyant cockpit, which is to subtlety what Jose Mourinho is to modesty. If you take the view that Lamborghini's should be on the more eccentric end of the supercar scale, then it is a much purer statement of the brand's true values.

Better than the obvious rivals too? Maybe...
Better than the obvious rivals too? Maybe...
Even company insiders admit as much. Chief test driver Mario Fasanetto joined us on the trip and accepts that the standard car was developed to be as easy to drive as possible in tune with their customer's needs and that, as a result, he wasn't surprised by criticism that it was a bit soft. The Performante, by contrast, is much closer to his vision of what a Lamborghini should be but is scarcely less easy to live with - you get the impression this is the car the engineering team wish they'd built all along. A car built for a road like the Transfagarasan.

Cruising back to the picturesque town of Sibiu offers scope for reflection. If you're in the market for a quarter of a million pound supercar, you've never had it so good. The McLaren 720S and Ferrari 488 are masterful and with the launch of the Performante, Lamborghini has moved from chorus girl to centre stage. Which would I buy? Right now, for its appearance, its spirit and above all, for the sound of its engine, I'd lean towards the Lambo. Didn't think I'd be saying that when I took off for Romania.

Watch the Lamborghini teaser here







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Comments (30) Join the discussion on the forum

  • moffat 26 Jul 2017

    That was just an advert.

    Great scenery but epically dull video.

  • RamboLambo 26 Jul 2017

    High praise indeed when compared to such magnificent cars as the McLaren 720S and Ferrari 488.
    Interesting to hear that its significantly better than the standard Huracan and a bigger step up than say Ferrari Speciale versus normal 458 as the raw stats don't really reflect that.
    Well done Lamborghini, this is exactly what the Huracan needed and sounds like you have nailed it and delivered an exceptional car with the USP today of a splendid sounding N/A V10 engine. I'm warming to the idea of another Lambo in the fleet - watch this space

  • dukeboy749r 26 Jul 2017

    moffat said:
    That was just an advert.

    Great scenery but epically dull video.

    The article offered lots - and the hope must have been that the video would visually, and audibly, add to that.

    It didn't

  • MDMA . 26 Jul 2017

    A friend has one arriving in December. Just added 2 floor mats on the build. £600 smile

  • xto 26 Jul 2017

    Why do i feel that the comparison to the 720s and 488 is not correct. the latter cars are not "hardcore" track focused cars, while the performante is.

    of course the performante has all the luxury amenities, air con sat nav, radio ect.... but it is a stiped out version of the Huracan.

    i think comparing the performante to the 720s and 488 gives more credit to these cars, effectively these cars are doing what the performante does without the hardcore track focus.

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