Determined. That was my mindset on not beginning this review with ‘The Lamborghini Aventador LP780-4 Ultimae is the last unassisted naturally aspirated V12 Lamborghini’ — and 'unassisted’ is a keyword, by the way; there will be electrically-assisted V12s in the future. Anyway, why was I so determined on this point? Because how many times do you hear the phrase “It’s the last of the blah, blah, blah” used?
All the time, when anything ICE dies out, and that’s happening a lot because internal combustion is now the devil’s work. This is very sad if you love the hullabaloo and madness of a metal box full of millions of explosions and hundreds of well-oiled, whizzy bits. But even as someone who loves those elements dearly — to me they’re the essence of car — bleating ‘It’s the last something or other’ over and over is, quite frankly, a bit dull.
The problem here is Ultimae in Latin means last, which is a big, grey, elephanty-shaped thing sitting right next to this big, grey, stealth-fightery-shaped bull. And not only is the Ultimae the last Lamborghini V12 as we know it, it’s also the final iteration of the Aventador. I’m jolly sad about that, too.
Now I’ve never been one of those people who subscribe to the notion that Lamborghinis are brilliant only if they are madcap monsters that try to kill you. There’s nothing ‘manly’ about a car that is undriveable, as Paddy McGuinness proved so brilliantly. He trotted out some such nonsense while driving that Diablo on Top Gear. Two seconds later he crashed it into a field. Did he seem manly with that look of sheer terror etched on his face as he realised a Lamborghini was, actually, trying to kill him? No. He looked like a small boy about to cry some poo out of his bottom.
The Aventador isn’t a killing machine, though. Yes, it’s madcap in the looks department and has some classic Lamborghini compromises – a stupidly cramped cockpit, limited vision and it's wider than Jupiter – but, essentially, it’s a wonderful car to drive. It has character - and that isn’t another word for crap, as is so often the case. Here, character means great for all the right reasons, and a big part of that character comes from its 6.5-litre V12 reactor sitting right behind you.
In the same way that motorbikes are basically an engine with a seat on top, the Aventador is, basically, a huge V12 surrounded by some car. It is its everything. And it’s magnificent, and for the Ultimae, the Longitudinale Posteriore V12 – or LP for short – has been turned up to eleventy. It thumps out 780hp – yes, that’s right, nearly 800 big ’uns, and no turbocharging involved remember – which is 10hp more than the already lunatic SVJ. That’s served on a big bed of 531lb ft of torque. The numbers generated are staggering: 0-62 takes 2.8sec, and 0-124 is ticked off in 8.7sec – boom! Eventually it will stop accelerating, but only when you’re travelling at some 221mph. It's mightily fast, then. But how it delivers its fastness is what’s so special about this special car.
Low down in the rev range there’s torque, but this is delivered in a nonchalant, “I do this stuff with my eyes closed” way. This is phase one of its power delivery playbook, and it lulls the uninitiated into a false sense of normality. Phase two begins at around 4,000rpm. It’s when the engine becomes more interested; like it appreciates that you’re now taxing it a little. It responds with a great deal more urgency, but nothing like what happens during phase three.
This is the space-time phase, which occurs very definitely just before 7,000rpm, and is ferocious. It’s when the Ultimae lights its metaphorical afterburners – represented by those high-set tailpipes jutting half-a-foot from the back end – and literally snaps your head back and makes your vision go squiffy. It’s called the space-time phase because, sitting in the car while it’s in progress, you genuinely feel like you are perceiving time differently from the way others outside are. Time seems to slow down, by just enough to allow you to take in the assault on your senses and process the onslaught of information.
At this point there will likely be Tesla owners bleating something about drag races and “My Model S is quicker off the line and therefore better.” Jolly good. If that’s all that matters to you, pop off to Santa Pod and spend a day blowing away top-fuel dragsters. But where’s the soul? Where’s the beauty? Where’s the splendour? It ain’t there is it, because you ain’t got a V12 thunder dome making noise that's even more amazing than its ability to distort time.
It’s multi-layered, and, as you inevitably begin deciphering its intricate notes, you turn into a sommelier of sound. For example, at low revs the V12 rumbles tunefully. You think, “I can hear a kettle-drum roll there.” As the revs climb, this gets angrier, “Oh, the kettle drum’s been filled with angry hornets now,” you say to yourself. Then there’s the metallic tinkling of a triangle, and at one point, I swear to God, a heartily blown tuba. There’s no question about the crescendo: at over 8,500rpm it’s the trumpeted wail of late-80s V12 F1.
There’s a PH video coming, which hopefully will bring all these sensations to life for you. We filmed it in the Brecon Beacons, and, travelling down the M4, en route to the location, the Ultimae reunited me with those age-old Aventador gripes. Knees bent double; head scraping the roof lining; top of the windscreen pretty much at eye level – so using the sun visor is like keeping the sun out of your eyes by tying on a blindfold. The fat A-pillars restrict your sight, too, and these continue as unforgiving beams that run right next to your head, so even the smallest off will presumably lead to a significant brain haemorrhage. And you increase your chances of this happening immeasurably by interacting with the prehistoric infotainment system. It makes no sense at all, so, after picking the car up in Acton, I’d given up using it as I breezed past Perivale moments later.
The rest of the motorway experience was surprisingly good, though. It’s noisy, of course, but not chalkboard-harsh, and the ride quality: well that’s just a delight. I always say that hypercars – the really good ones – are among the best-riding cars there are. Yes, there’s the no-expense-spared quality of the components to factor in, and the meticulous attention to the geometry (the Aventador, by the way, has pushrod dampers front and rear), but I still find it a complete mystery how cars like this absorb bumps so well when they’re so stiff.
It helps that there’s a stiff carbon tub, I suppose. It keeps the geometry exact and the weight down, along with some other carbon elements, including the beautiful latticework bracing above the engine. Even so, the Ultimae’s dry weight is 1,550kg, which is 25kg less than the Aventador S, but not exactly inconsiderable. It doesn’t feel too heavy, though, and bearing in mind the mass of its V12, the encumbrance of four-wheel drive and the Aventador’s sheer bulk, nowhere near as much as expected.
Speaking of bulk, I thought the Ultimae’s sheer size was going to render it completely unsuitable for the narrow, twisting, Black Mountain roads. Surprise number two, then: it felt completely at home. Alright, you need some time to adjust to it and strike upon the best arrangement of its dynamic modes, but, once you’re there, it really does shrink around you. Honestly, it was no more daunting to drive than a Huracán.
The seven-speed automated manual gearbox is its weakest dynamic link. No surprise there, you’re thinking, but not because it’s slow. In Corsa mode the changes are claimed to be over in 50 milliseconds, which seems entirely plausible because they’re brutal. You get a right old thump with each change that, coupled with the violence of the throttle response, upsets the car. So, using the new EGO mode, which allows you to select each element individually, I settled on sticking the drivetrain in Sport and the steering and suspension in Strada. The penalty is lazier shifts, which you’re more than compensated for with greater smoothness and predictability. That’s especially handy because the Ultimae’s four-wheel drive has a more rear-driven bias.
Did I experience some mighty angles out of corners? No. And I’ll level with you: the colossal grip from the Pirelli P Corsa’s (355-section at the rear) meant that, on a warm and glorious day in Wales – yes, they do happen – exploring oversteer would mean stupid speeds and foolhardy commitment. On the road that’s a bit silly. Also, this right-hand-drive Italian-plated car is 001 of the 350 Ultimae coupés that’ll be made (there will be 250 roadsters as well). That's enough to ring the ‘DO NOT BIN IT’ alarm, along with its on-the-road price approaching £450,000 with extras.
Still, I wasn’t pottering in the sunshine. I was pushing to a degree, and, yes, you can feel the Ultimae jinking its wide, straight-cut hips out of corners, but never with a sense of impending doom. I’m quite sure Paddy McGuiness would find it all a bit dull. Despite its mighty power and speed, the Ultimae is, at heart, a fabulously balanced car on the road. A finessed hypercar and far from a monster. Along with its balance, the exquisite suspension keeps every vertical extension, no matter how extreme, checked beautifully - so even a challenging, off-camber corner with a boobytrap crest didn’t fire my heart into my mouth. My mouth was only used for smiles.
The Alcantara steering wheel is one element of the driving position that isn’t a compromise; it's very adjustable. And on the go it’s bristling with feel yet free of kickback and other corruptions. There’s rear-axle steering, but you’re only aware of it from the remarkably tight turning circle at parking speeds. When you’re blasting through the mountains it's unobtrusive and the steering’s savvy gearing and measured weighting raises your confidence still further. It suited me to a tee, more so than the flyweight, hyper-alertness of the Ferrari 296 GTB. This is a car with its ducks in a row, right down to the carbon composite brakes that, Lamborghini says, will stop you from 60mph in just 30 metres. They probably will; the retardation is impressive, but so is the pedal feel when it’s being used with conviction.
So, here's a statement for you: I think the Aventador LP780-4 Ultimae is the perfect Lamborghini. I value cars that are fit for purpose, and the Ultimae does the lot. Think about it. Lamborghinis are meant to be preposterous-looking machines, right? Well, the Ultimae’s styling is the pinnacle of preposterousness, although all the holes and slits seem to have a purpose. It’s also quite possibly the loudest car I’ve ever driven on the road. If you’re buying it to get noticed, then the fire and brimstone from those mortar pipes at the back will get the rubberneckers looking. If you're still wedded to the idea that Lamborghinis have to make your life difficult, then try getting in and out of through the stupid scissor doors – it’s no picnic, I can tell you. And, if you’re one of those idiots that believes Lambos must come with an entry to the Darwin Awards, well it does. Not because of its handling, though. Just pop the sun visor down at 221mph and grab your posthumous gong as you're fired through the pearly gates.
For me that’s all just a distraction, though. I like the way this car brightens up everyone’s day when it arrives – and it really does – but I’m not into showiness. I do, however, love a cracking driver’s car that’s stuffed full of soul. Don’t be fooled by the pantomime: this car is both those things. Underneath the stupidity you’ll find a highly accomplished hypercar. Perhaps not one that, technically, reaches the giddy heights of the Ferrari 296 GTB on track, but the Ultimae makes the 296, and most other hypercars, feel sterile on the road, no doubt about that. Natural aspiration and peaky torque is what makes it so brilliant, and, believe it or not, makes it still relevant as a road car. Only it’s irrelevant in the minds of the legislators, which is a shame. Quiet frankly, I've never thought any car is worth £400k – not when there are so many worthier things that kind of money could be used for. I'd have said a 911 GT3 is all anyone could ever need. Yet...I've found myself pondering this car a lot and thinking that, if my numbers came up, I'd love one in my life – it's just so, so good. The world without the Aventador will be a much duller place.
Specification | Lamborghini LP780-4 Ultimae
Engine: 6,498cc, V12, naturally aspirated
Transmission: 7-speed single-clutch automated manual, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 780 @ 8,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 531 lb ft @ 6,750rpm
Top speed: 221mph
Weight: 1,550kg (Dry)
Price as tested: £447,954
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