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Aventador SVJ Roadster vs. Huracan Evo Spyder

Lamborghini is closing out the decade with two of its finest open-top supercars ever. But which one is best?

By Dan Prosser / Friday, December 27, 2019

Sir David Attenborough's petrolhead cousin turns to face the camera. He looks solemn. With a single wizened palm he pats the beast's flank.

"For the first few months of its life, this young Lamborghini Aventador SVJ Roadster lived in captivity. Bound in cotton, it would be left for weeks on end in a basement far beneath London's Knightsbridge. Only occasionally would it be allowed to unfurl itself and sniff the outdoor air. For brief spells it could roam, but always penned in by buildings, cyclists and Routemasters.

"In moments of unthinkable cruelty it would be forced to roar loudly for the entertainment of onlookers. Sometimes, it would bellow so hard flames would flick around its tail."

But the mournful music changes. Cut to epic sweeping shot of Snowdonia National Park and a rousing string section. We hear our presenter's gravelly voice: "Today, all that changes. Liberated from captivity by the supercar welfare activists at PistonHeads, this young Lamborghini is being released into its natural habitat. Here, it will live a richer, fuller life. Perhaps, in the north of Wales where it belongs, it will even find a Huracan Evo Spyder to be its mate."

That's just the opening sequence. But I've got, like, a whole hour sketched out. There's a really good bit where they go to the Shell watering hole in Betws-y-Coed. If anybody from the BBC or Netflix wants to hear more, call me.

While I wait, allow me to tell you about these cars. In truth they sit at more or less opposing ends of the Lamborghini model line-up. The Huracan Evo Spyder is as close to affordable as Lamborghini supercars get and although it's low-slung and very angry-looking, you should be able to use it as effortlessly as you would an Audi R8. It gets pumped off the production line at Sant'Agata. The Aventador SVJ Roadster, on the other hand, is the most fearsome version of the most frightening series production supercar the company makes. Limited to 800 examples worldwide it will be a rare sight. Road-legal cars do come more focussed than this, but never with sat-nav or AC.

So they're very different machines, but between them runs an uninterrupted thread which means they're not so unalike after all: they are roofless Lamborghinis, the models in the range that afford you unfiltered use of their wonderful naturally-aspirated engines. And that seemed like reason enough to get the pair of them together (never mind that our chosen location on the fringes of the Irish Sea at the start of December was never likely to show any convertible car off to the best of its ability).

The original Huracan was a curious thing. I thought it looked sensational and as has been written countless times since it was introduced in 2014, its 5.2-litre V10 was one of the most memorable power units fitted to any new performance car. But it was never particularly engaging to drive. I always suspected it had been setup to be safe and steady. It felt like a studied effort to persuade nervous Lamborghini prospects that the reputation its cars had - scary, hairy-chested and a bit like hard work - no longer applied. My theory was once confirmed by pointy-shoed former boss, Stephan Winkelpickers.

I thought of the Huracan as the Golf R of supercars. Planted, secure, confidence-inspiring, but not the last word in excitement. Its natural poise was gentle understeer at the limit, which is fine for an everyday hot hatch but kind of unforgivable for a supercar. What I and many others always suspected was that the Huracan could still be safe and easy to drive, but also much more fun. And in 2017 Lamborghini itself seemed to realise as much when it gave us the brilliant Huracan Performante.

Borrowing that model's uprated 640hp engine and adding a whole raft of chassis tweaks - including rear-wheel steering, torque vectoring, revised spring and damper rates, improved handling and more besides - the Huracan Evo that followed was like an entirely new thing altogether. For me, it was the car the Huracan should have been all along.

And can you begin to imagine what happens when you peel away the roof? Well, actually, it's not all good. That fabric hood, the mechanism that makes it fold and the deployable roll over protection all need somewhere to reside. The three or four inches that kit nibbles out of the rear part of the cockpit means the seats no longer slide back as far as you'd like (unless you sit very close to the wheel or you're well below average height). At just about six-foot tall I find myself far too close to the top of the windscreen for comfort, my legs folded awkwardly in some half-baked yoga pose.

The Spyder is also 120kg heavier than the coupe and with the roof in position there isn't a great deal of headroom but, if you can live with all that, the Huracan Evo's decapitation is a welcome one nonetheless. With nothing but a couple of feet of frigid Snowdonian air (and a couple of millimetres of rear deck) between the engine and your left ear, being contorted into the car's abbreviated cabin no longer seems like so much of a hardship.

The Aventador SVJ Roadster doesn't have a complex folding hood, but a pair of composite panels that you lift out of position yourself and slot into the front boot. It's far less convenient than prodding a button and listening to the motors whir for 17 seconds while the roof coils into itself, but it does mean the Aventador's spacious cabin is left intact. So you can sit comfortably, particularly in these multi-adjustable seats that are so much more accommodating than Lamborghini's spine twisting fixed-back buckets.

The chunky steering wheel seems to reach out on its column to greet you, like a ladder pouring endlessly away from a fire engine, and clutching it with sweaty palms you peer out first over half an acre of dashboard, then through the pillbox windscreen and eventually down the road ahead. From there, the Aventador SVJ feels twice the size of the Huracan Evo.

Given these cars are so different in character or, more to the point, since once has an engine two cylinders, 1.3-litres and 130hp more potent than the other, I had just assumed the Aventador SVJ would sound so much more animalistic. In fact, it doesn't. When you wring both engines right the way out you actually feel closer to the Huracan Evo's smaller V10. From within the cabin it even seems to register more decibels. But the ten-cylinder's gruff, off-beat bark that builds to a pin-sharp howl at the top end is nothing whatsoever to the 6.5-litre V12's cultured and more musical tenor. The bigger engine is like a symphony performed live to the V10's thrash metal album track played over a sound system.

Though the Huracan Evo's engine makes more noise, it doesn't dominate the experience the way the Aventador SVJ Roadster's twelve-cylinder does. Third gear is the one. Stab the throttle wide open from low engine speewhere the V10 answers instantaneously. Wake a sleeping monster, though, and you better be ready for what happens - or at least more midrange it pulls forcefully, far harder than the Huracan Evo's engine ever does; between 6,000rpm and the redline almost 3,000rpm later the car explodes at the horizon. It's as though a rocket has been lit. The SVJ fires itself so determinedly along the road it almost feels out of control, like it's going to spear itself clean off the asphalt and into the scrubby moorland before you've had time to back out.

I don't think I've ever been more alarmed in a road car that's gaining velocity rather than losing it. With the air swirling frantically around your neck and the road ducking and weaving beneath you, it's almost too much to bear. Making cars like this available to anybody who has the money to buy one almost seems irresponsible. Which is exactly the way it should be with a V12 Lamborghini. How heartening it is to know that even as the company attempts to wash away its reputation for building fearsome cars, it is still selling models that reinforce it.

In day-to-day driving the ancient automated manual gearbox is annoying, but on an empty road, and particularly in one of the more aggressive driving modes, it's fine. Actually it isn't quite fine, because the hit it delivers in the back with every upshift at the limiter is almost enough to alter your direction of travel. No such worries with the Huracan Evo's dual-clutch transmission, which is far faster and nothing like as raw.

The smaller car confounds twice more. It isn't single-minded like the SVJ, but it turns into a corner with more precision and what feels like better grip. It's darty and agile in that way, whereas the bigger Aventador wants a touch more coercion. And from the Huracan's brake pedal you get immediate response, the pedal beneath your foot barely seeming to plunge into the footwell. The Aventador's second pedal, meanwhile, has an inch of deadness at the top of its travel that gives you a fright every time you step hurriedly onto it. In both ways the Huracan Evo actually feels like the tougher, more uncompromising car.

But only in those two ways. This road in North Wales is as familiar to me as the one outside my home. I've driven it countless times before in all sorts of incredible cars, most unforgettably in a McLaren P1. I thought I'd never experience a more intoxicating machine along this stretch, but on a weekday afternoon in December, the setting sun having finally broken through the gloom, at the wheel of a Lamborghini Aventador SVJ Roadster, I was proven wrong. The sound and the speed, the immediacy of the steering and the exposure to the elements made it something else altogether. I stepped out of the SVJ twitching and jabbering. The adrenaline hit was so intense my body crashed 10 minutes later.

Inevitably, the Huracan Evo doesn't get even halfway to mimicking that. But it's so much more rewarding to drive than an early Huracan. I'm not talking about lurid oversteer, just the kind of balance and adjustability that makes you feel like the car underneath you is doing your bidding, not the other way around. It steers better than ever, too, with the same alertness around the straight-ahead that makes the SVJ feel like a live wire.

I can count on one hand the number of really memorable drives I've had in Lamborghinis. It's rare that I actually connect with them. But in a pair of Lamborghini supercars that have been tweaked and refined almost beyond recognition during their lifetimes - plus with roofs that come away and, most importantly, in the habitat they long for - I'm pleased to say that number has increased by two.


SPECIFICATION - LAMBORGHINI AVENTADOR SVJ ROADSTER
Engine:
6,498cc, V12
Transmission: 7-speed ISR automated manual, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 770@8,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 531@6,750rpm
0-62mph: 2.9 secs
Top speed: 218mph
Weight: 1,575kg (dry)
MPG: 15.8
CO2: 486g/km
Price: £387,988

SPECIFICATION - LAMBORGHINI HURACAN EVO SPYDER
Engine:
5,204cc, V10
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 640@8,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 443@6,500rpm
0-62mph: 3.1 secs
Top speed: 202mph
Weight: 1,542kg (dry)
MPG: 19.9
CO2: 338g/km
Price: £238,000

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