I have never stood on an aircraft carrier and listened as a fighter jet takes off. I imagine you’re subjected to quite a racket. I have, however, stood about 500 feet behind aLamborghini Centenario as it combatively launched in Thrust mode, all three tailpipes disgorging a ferocious wail of mechanical insanity. Which is louder, jet or car? I can’t say, but I wouldn’t feel stupid betting on this outrageous bull. I asked Lamborghini’s always-smiling head of research and development, Maurizio Reggiani, why on earth he would build a car this chronically, aurally obnoxious. Through a beaming grin he told me that his customers feel that other Aventadors are “not loud enough.” Touché.
Named in honor of the 100th anniversary of namesake founder Ferruccio Lamborghini’s birth, the Sant’Agata HQed supercar maker is selling a grand total of 40 production cars: 20 coupes and 20 roadsters. There is but a single development car, the bare carbon-fiber coupe pictured here, known as 0 of 20. The coupes cost about $2.2 million; the softtops go for $2.4 million. If you want unpainted carbon like 0 of 20, it will cost you an additional $200,000. All 40 Centenarios are already paid for. In fact, Lamborghini sold 30 of them at Pebble Beach last year by showing potential customers a sketch. Must be nice.
The Centenario is based on the Aventador Superveloce, though as its LP 770-4 moniker indicates, power out of the ferocious and thankfully still naturally aspirated mid-mounted, 6.5-liter V-12 is up from 741 horsepower to 759 crazed cavalli. How did they squeeze out those 18 extra horses? By raising the redline from 8,350 to 8,600 rpm. Top speed—just a tick over 217 mph—remains the same as the SV, and while Lamborghini is claiming a 0-62-mph time of 2.8 seconds, our testing crew managed to rocket sled the Superveloce to 60 mph in 2.6 seconds—same as a McLaren P1. Expect the Cent to be the same or quicker, or even a touch slower. Huh? Well, I got to deploy Thrust mode twice, and it seems to me that the transmission doesn’t shift quite as violently. But maybe I was just distracted by the roar behind my head?
The seven-speed independent shifting-rod transmission—aka ISR—remains, though the logic has been changed. The Centenario has the SV’s LMR (Lamborghini Magnetic Ride) dampers, but here they react even quicker, completing the processing cycle in 1 millisecond. The rear wheels now steer, a Lamborghini first. There’s more carbon fiber and less sound insulation than in the Superveloce, yet Reggiani says the Centenario only weighs 12 pounds less than the SV—a typical Italian “dry weight” fib/claim of 3,344 pounds; that would equate to 3,888 pounds by our measurements. Turns out things like rear-wheel steering and hydraulics for the wing add weight back in. Oh yeah, the massive pop-up carbon wing helps out with active aerodynamics. When in the top position, that wing creates 180 percent more downforce than when it’s down.
As for passive aero, there’s a whole lot of it. Starting with what you can’t see, the underbody has been further optimized to make the Centenario more slippery. The underbody also feeds the comically oversized diffuser, which helps keep the rear end planted. Likewise, the two big nostrils in the hood divert air over the Aventador’s extreme 25-degree raked windshield. These two outlets are fed by openings behind the double front splitters. Those splitters also provide downforce. The carbon-fiber wheel covers whisk hot air away from the giant carbon-ceramic brakes. Let’s not forget those bargeboards! The wildest aero tweak has got to be the vented headlights, which gulp in and then channel air around the Centenario’s bulgy front fenders.
The above paragraph explains why the Centenario looks the way it does. Gotta be honest: This is not my favorite Lamborghini design. The Centenario is extreme for sure, and in unpainted carbon fiber it looks like the proper exotic that it is. However, it’s not sexy like the Superveloce is. It sure ain’t no Countach. Also, like the new Bugatti Chiron, when viewed from the side, the Cent looks like a smaller car is escaping from a larger one, though unlike the two-tone Bugatti, the effect isn’t as pronounced. Although functional, the double front splitters look weird. As for the extreme diffuser and its yellow-tipped strakes, well, it’s frankly bizarre. I do like the rear wheel arches, but mainly because they remind me of an Alfa Romeo Disco Volante. Maybe another color combo would help? So far, Lambo’s only built this one car, plus the identically liveried styling buck/show car we saw on the stand at the 2016 Geneva show. We’ll all have to wait and look at the customer examples to see how another scheme looks. I’m not holding my breath.
I will say that my aesthetic opinion of the LP 770-4 did change somewhat after chasing the Centenario around while driving a modified Aventador SV the engineering team referred to as The Laboratory. Lamborghini also had a regular flavor white Aventador on hand, so we could compare all three. The “base” car was incapable of staying anywhere near the Centenario. Anyhow, from my low perch in the yellow SV Laboratory (a Superveloce with four-wheel steering!), my primary focus was the Centenario’s massive rear tires. Just like the SV, the Centenario’s rear wheels are clothed in gargantuan 355/25/21 meats, only now they are essentially exposed. Then suddenly the big rear wing pops up, and for a moment I feel like I’m chasing Batman’s Tumbler. To slightly revise what I wrote above, the Centenario looks better outside than it does sitting on a show stand and better still when it’s in motion. Also, get used to that Dark Knight-esque view of the car’s wide butt. On the road, that’s all you will ever see. Not that you’re likely to ever see one. …
Lamborghini flew six of us (in two teams of three) out to the heel of the boot of Italy to test drive all three Aventadors on Porsche’s Nardo Technical Center’s 16-corner handling circuit. Breaking my wrist by patting myself on the back for a minute, all six of the journalists given access to the Centenario were hand-picked by Reggiani himself. If I may keep the humble brag going for a sentence longer, yours truly was the only American. See, this was something more than a test drive. Reggiani and his team were soliciting feedback, as the Centenario isn’t quite finished yet. Customer cars go to their new homes in late 2016 or early 2017. What would we change? What didn’t we like?
What would we add? Finally, are they going to listen to a word we say? Who knows, but if the car ships with some sort of high-mounted redline indicator, you can thank me and some German dude.
Those of you with keen eyes and good memories will note that the tires on car 0 of 20 are not the F1-style yellow-lettered Pirelli P Zeros seen on the show car but are the same Pirelli Corsas that the Superveloce rolls on. The yellow-accented tires are still being developed. “A special tire for only 40 cars? That seems like a lot of development money,” I put to Reggiani. His answer was another in a long line of his patented toothy smiles. I’ve played enough poker to know his eyes were telling me (and perhaps one of his engineers confirmed) that this new tire will be available on other four-wheel-steering Lamborghinis yet to come. Seems that as well as the Corsas work on two-wheel-steer cars, for ultimate performance, rear wheels that turn require a special compound mixture and stronger shoulders.
Big preamble out of the way, how does the Centenario drive? Before we hit the track, Reggiani and his crew had us tackle a slalom course with all three cars. Below 45 miles per hour, the rear wheels turn out of phase from the fronts by as much as 3 degrees. Lamborghini claims this has the virtual effect of shortening the wheelbase by nearly 20 inches. Above 45 mph the rear wheels turn in phase with the front wheels by 1.5 degrees, effectively lengthening the wheelbase by almost 28 inches. Back to the slalom, it was immediately apparent that both the Centenario and the four-wheel-steering SV Laboratory car were much more nimble than the stock Aventador. Was there much of a difference in dexterity between the SV with rear-steer and the Centenario? Hard to say based just on a slalom course, but the louder Centenario seemed a touch quicker. Could have just been the sound. But on the track? There is a colossal yet fantastic difference.
That difference is aerodynamics. With the new bodywork producing more than 693 pounds of drag and the wing contributing more than 499 pounds of downforce, the Centenario is considerably more planted to the racing surface than the Superveloce. Now, you have to learn to trust the car, to trust the aero. The quick steering and revised suspension allow you brazenly to toss the two-ton monster into a corner. Then, for a brief moment, the Centenario feels as if it’s going to continue sliding. However, in a beat the aero catches the car, and you find yourself glued. The aero in conjunction with rear-wheel-steering is a game changer. Also note that the rear-wheel steering rate—like the front-wheel steering rate—adjusts based on a mixture of vehicle speed, lateral acceleration, the angle of the steering wheel and the speed at which the driver spins it, the amount of yaw, and driving. Five and a half of my six fast laps were performed in Corsa, the most aggressive, track-focused mode. For you drifters out there, Sport is more rear-wheel-drive oriented, though of course it’s slower on a track.
Once I learned to completely trust the aero, I was able to drive the Centenario harder and harder. I reminded myself of the first time I fully opened up a Nissan GT-R, perplexing myself at how quickly that animal could devour a road. The Cent is much more capable. Lamborghini claims that the Centenario is 1.5 seconds quicker around the Nardo track’s 3.9 miles than the SV Laboratory car. The 18 additional horsepower doesn’t explain the difference, the cars are within 12 pounds of each other, and they’re running on the same tires. The difference then is the aero. I asked Reggiani how much quicker the Centenario would be than the Superveloce around the Nürburgring Nordschleife’s 12.9 miles, as the SV has lapped Germany’s super track in a shockingly quick 6:59.73. Again, I got nothing from the man but that great big smile.
Flipping back through my notes, they mostly consist of “fun!” and “wow!” My big “wow!” moment came on the final lap of my second session. After my first three-lap stint, a Lamborghini engineer (hi, Davide!) told me that I was cutting turn 16 way too short. If I’d just hang the car out and use all the available asphalt, I’d set myself up much better for the front straight. I practiced on laps four and five, and then suddenly, everything clicked. Blasting down the long straight at an indicated 170 mph, I caught Mario, the Lambo test driver I’d been chasing all morning in a stock burgundy Superveloce. I had to lift on the long straight, lest I ran into the back of his red bull. Mario braked for a two count when entering Turn 1. Me? I only needed to tickle the Centenario’s stoppers, and a better driver would have only lifted.
To rephrase that, the Centenario was happy, stable, and balanced entering a corner at over 160 mph. These aerodynamics are borderline magic. For the rest of the lap, I was all over the red SV, leaving the yellow car let’s just say 1.5 seconds back, as after Turn 2 it was no longer visible in my mirrors. Between Turns 10 and 11 is a crest that when taken flat out in cars as tremendously powerful as these becomes a jump that’s reminiscent of Turn 1 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, both in terms of sheer blindness and fourth-gear velocity. I’d been working up the guts to not lift all morning, and on that final lap I held the throttle flat. The Centenario was as composed and planted as anything I’ve ever launched, barely registering the jump. I was reminded of chasing David Donohue over Turn 1 at MRLS in a McLaren 650S, a car that also has active aerodynamics. The Centenario and its race carlike passive aero seemed even less fazed. The way the gray Lambo dug and clawed its way through and out of the corners reminded me of a 600-horsepower Mitsu EVO Pikes Peak car I once got a ride in. I mean that in the best way possible.
For those wondering, yeah, getting a wee bit airborne in a $2.4 million car at more than 100 mph is exactly as thrilling as it sounds, though I’ve learned to temporarily forget about things like value and mortality when opportunities like this come around. Suddenly, and much too early for my liking, Mario flipped on the red SV’s hazards to indicate it was time to cool down and pit. I began shouting Wow! over and over again to myself. The Centenario felt quicker and more confidence-inspiring than anything I’ve ever driven on a track. A language barrier prevented me from properly debriefing Mario as to exactly how hard I had pushed him. Nodding, he raised his eyebrows at me and said, “Fast!” Hey, reality aside for a moment, I felt like a friggin’ hero.
What didn’t I like? As stated earlier, some sort of shift indicator would be much appreciated. Although the 8,600-rpm redline is clearly indicated on the digital tachometer, you have to look down to see it. Not something you want to do when approaching a braking zone at 170 mph. When you pull the right big-ass carbon-fiber paddle, the single-clutch transmission shifts rapidly, though not quite as violently, car-upsettingly as the SV. However, if you can’t see when you’re supposed to shift, you quickly run into fuel cutoff. Reggiani explained that the Aventador’s windshield is too steeply raked to accommodate a head-up display and that putting shift lights on top of the steering wheel is how Ferrari does it. I suggested that they just mount the lights on the roof right where it touches the windshield. We all agreed that during low-speed cornering (below 45 mph), the car understeered too much. Perhaps the new tires will help? Or recooking the AWS formula? I should note that you can quickly get the Centenario out of understeer by hammering away on the throttle. Just take note of where you’re pointed. We three temporary engineers also felt that the Cent could use a firmer brake pedal with less travel. Basically, those were the gripes. One last unrelated note: There’s a new touchscreen infotainment system that’s got Apple CarPlay and a ton of other stuff. It will trickle down to lesser Lambos. And that’s that.
Is the Centenario actually worth more than $2 million? Say the 40 people that bought the thing without ever having driven it, yes. Says me, a person with a literal zero percent chance of ever owning any car priced in this stratosphere? Well, I’ll just go ahead and say, “Sure!” What’s the difference anyway? Plus, the creation and sale of ultra-rare Lamborghinis like this and the Veneno essentially fund R & D for technology and knowhow that will show up on future Lambos. All that said, without hesitation the Centenario is the best handling and most fun to drive Lamborghini I’ve ever experienced. The Centenario is also the only car that’s ever had me screaming “wow!” out loud to myself. Sure, for more than 2 million bucks it oughta. My friends and I play a game. Basically, you list out the top five cars you’d have if reality weren’t in the way of your dreams. The last time I played, my list consisted of Cadillac CTS-V Wagon with a stick, Icon FJ44, AMG G63, Morgan 3 Wheeler, and Lamborghini Aventador Superveloce LP 750-4. Next time I play, four of the vehicles will remain the same, and only the Lamborghini will change.