Sheer bliss: driving the Lamborghini Huracan Performante on road and track
PHOTO BY ALEXANDER KAZARIN
Warning: this article may contain excessive use of superlatives. If you continue reading, you do so at your own risk. Because, as it turns out, it’s simply impossible to drive a Lamborghini Huracan Performante without getting all giggly like a schoolgirl, and this review reflects that reality.
It’s fair to say that, when #Lamborghini launched the #Huracan back in 2013, the motoring press wasn’t exactly falling over themselves with universal praise. Car reviewers, and those of the retired failed racing driving category in particular, complained about its understeer-by-default handling which was presumably put in so that enthusiastic but not terribly talented drivers in emerging markets wouldn’t stuff them all into hedges. In the real world, the Huracan drove just fine of course, it merely lacked the puberal tendency to go very sideways for very long. In the YouTube universe, this is a big deal. While driving on a winding mountain road, probably not so much.
Of course, everybody knew that Lamborghini were going to make a hardcore «enthusiast» version of the Huracan, eventually. What we didn’t really expect is that when they finally did, and called it the #Performante, it would obliterate the #Porsche 918’s #Nurburgring #Nordschleife record by a scarcely believable five seconds. In fact, many people didn’t believe it, period. Conspiracy theories spread across the internet, at least until Lamborghini provided undeniable proof a few days later in the form of Racelogic GPS data. Since then, people have resorted to arguing that the #Pirelli tires it was using were probably a bit stickier than the average set of P Zero Trofeo R that you or I could buy. Even if that would be true, it still means the Huracan Performante is an unbelievable achievement as it beat million dollar, 900 horsepower hypercars around the most challenging racetrack in the world. No #turbos, no electric motors, just a good old fashioned naturally aspirated V10 engine — and a rather brave Italian at the wheel. Lamborghini are clearly proud of the record, even refusing to round the time down to the nearest hundredth of a second in their PR releases, and who could blame them. At a time when Nurburgring lap record claims have almost become a dime a dozen, theirs is the one of the only ones that really shook the car world.
But let’s talk about the car. Lamborghini has never been about being subtle, and the Performante which was mine for a few short days was painted in what can only be described as nuclear waste green. Not that I’ve ever seen nuclear waste, so perhaps it’s not quite as bright green as this Huracan is. Either way, it was an easy car to find in a parking lot. This particularly violent green colour is used everywhere from the brake callipers to the stitching on the dashboard. I do believe that any other car would look positively ridiculous in this colour scheme, but for a Lamborghini it just works. #Italians, how do they do it?
I was expecting to attract plenty of attention driving this thing around Moscow, but I was amazed by the uniformly positive nature of people’s reactions. It’s a car that makes people happy, whether you’re driving it or merely looking. You stop counting the times a mother brings over her child who wants to look at the car, how many thumbs up you get from other drivers, or how often you get to star in people’s smartphone videos. This car literally allows you to make someone’s day simply by allowing them a short moment to take a picture with it. If you let them sit in it for a moment, you’ve probably made their week. People’s excitement, and their assumption that if you’re driving this car you must be a nice guy who likes cars, too, is something I’ve never encountered before. The positivity that surrounds the Huracan is absolutely brilliant — and possibly unique. It’s a rockstar.
It might be because Lamborghinis have always been the stuff of dreams for car enthusiasts. They are the archetypical Italian supercar, the kind of car that you had on your bedroom wall as a kid — a white Countach in my case. Of course, things have come a long way since then. The Italian supercars of old were, if we’re being honest, barely drivable. Your left leg and right arm would need considerable muscle training if you wanted to have any hope of being able to change gear. Even if you managed that, you’d be too scared of mechanical breakdowns to venture more than a few hundred meters from your home. They were undeniably better to look at than to actually drive, the kind of hero you shouldn’t meet. Fortunately, modern Lamborghinis aren’t like that at all. Since being bought by Audi in 1998, they have the kind funding and access to German ingredients that has allowed the Italian chefs to create all-time-great dishes that you can enjoy without feeling bad afterwards. Reliability is now as good as any German car, and it’s pretty much as easy to drive as one as well.
That’s not to say that there aren’t any strange little quirks, though. Take the switches in the interior for example. They look great, to be sure, but they aren’t necessarily convenient to operate. The first time I wanted to turn on the headlights I had to pull over and stick my head below the steering wheel to see which would be the proper switch for that. And because the huge gear shift paddles take up all the space normally reserved for things like the indicator stalk, if you want to indicate left or right you do so by a button on the steering wheel itself. You do get used to it, kind of, but it isn’t very practical. But I’m not convinced that these things qualify as a mistake on behalf of Lamborghini. If anything, weird style-over-function decisions like these make it feel more true to its badge, and itself. It doesn’t want to be perfectly convenient and sensible in every single aspect of its existence. If you want an Italian supercar, you are getting one. It doesn’t want to take life too seriously.
When something goes slightly wrong, you can only laugh. Like when I was getting the huge carbon ceramic brakes nice and warm on an empty road, followed by parking the car for a moment as we changed cameras, and the centre caps with the Lamborghini logo started popping off the wheels as pressure built up behind them presumably because some water had been trapped there and it turned to steam. If this happened on, say, a Bentley, it would be out of character and unforgivable. With this Lamborghini though, it was more like an Italian soccer player offering his mother’s pasta sauce recipe to the referee to make up for the slight foul he just committed. You just smile, pop the caps back on, and continue enjoying one of the best drives of your life.
Now, a Huracan is a very low car, and a Huracan Performante feels like it’s even lower to the ground than that. If there is a way to gracefully get in or out of this car, I haven’t found it yet. But who cares, at least I was giving the crowd a good laugh every time, and I like to think they appreciated my sacrifice. As its name suggests, the Performante is a car which is serious about maximising performance, so light carbon fibre bucket seats are the order of the day to save as much weight as possible. If these seats’ hardness is an indication of just how light they are, they must be very light indeed. But they hug your body nicely and keep you in place as you turn into a corner with some vigour — I love them and the «#track #car» feeling they provide, but if you’re looking to make long drives rather than drive on race tracks I’d go ahead and recommend a regular Huracan with softer seats instead.
This Lamborghini comes with three drive «modes» that you can select with a switch at the bottom of the steering wheel. The options are strada (street), sport or corsa (track) which are pretty self explanatory. In strada mode, the car is quiet, supple, and the gearbox shifts at very low revs. I like to think of this as pointless mode, as I never used it for more than thirty seconds. In strada mode, valves inside the exhaust are closed which muffles the sound of the engine very effectively. This, to me, is a bit like putting duct tape on your baby’s mouth to stop it from making any noise. It certainly works to quiet things down, but it’s morally questionable. Please, for the sake of the children, put your Huracan Performante in sport mode. Let the engine breathe freely, even though it makes quite a racket while it’s at it, because all is right in the world while it does. Corsa mode, meanwhile, turns everything up to 11 and disables automatic shifting so you’ll have to use the paddles. Only when using launch control, which Lamborghini’s calls «thrust mode» with perhaps a slight hint of double entendre, does the car shift by itself in corsa mode probably because you would struggle to keep up and shift at the right time yourself.
With its 640 horsepower, the Huracan Performante has the most powerful version yet of the 5.2 litre V10 which has been used by both Audi and Lamborghini for a while now. In order to make it produce this much power, an enormous 123 horsepower per litre of engine displacement, Lamborghini had to go to considerable lengths and the result is something that is starting to feel like it’s not far away from being a racing engine. It has a hard, addictive edge to its sound and power curve that sets its apart from the slightly more down to earth versions in the regular Huracan and Audi R8. It revs high, very high, and it wants to go there all the time. The rev limiter doesn’t cut in until the V10 is howling along at 8,500 RPM but even then the engine feels like it would like to keep going for another few hundred RPM at least. Peak power occurs around 8,000 revolutions, but in practice it feels like it keeps pulling harder and harder right to the point where the 7-soeed dual-clutch gearbox shifts to a higher gear in the blink of an eye. When you find a spot with enough empty space to keep your right foot pinned to the floor for a few moments, everything turns into a glorious blur of noise, RPMs and a lightning quick relay race by the gearbox as the engine races through each of the gears in what seems like no time at all.
The Performante is properly fast, reaching 100 kilometres per hour after 2.9 seconds and 200 after a mere 8.9. It rips through the air effortlessly as if the laws of aerodynamic drag do not apply to it. If anything I felt the official acceleration numbers may be a bit on the conservative side. But acceleration is not even half of what the Performante is about. From the moment you turn the steering wheel the first time, you realise this is a car that wants to change direction. It has a very fast steering rack, meaning you need very little angle on the steering wheel to get a significant turning angle on the front wheels, and it’s incredibly direct. But even more importantly, the front axle has all the grip in the world now. The front of the car does what you tell it to do, and the tires stick to the road with the same conviction as a newborn kitten putting its nails into your favourite kashmir sweater. When pushed to the limit, there is no terminal understeer but rather the car remains neutral with a slight tendency to oversteer. It really does not feel like an all-wheel-drive car when you turn it into a corner, it’s just so sharp. Once you get into the corner exit phase and you apply the power, the all-wheel-drive system does distribute more power to the front wheel and the car propels itself out of the corner extremely well. It’s all a bit mind boggling, actually. Everything happens very quickly, to the point that the car is redefining what you think is fast and how late you can brake for the next corner. Your brain takes a little while to adjust to just how quick this car is, and once it does I’m afraid that «normally» fast cars suddenly feel a lot slower than they used to.
Launch Control in a Huracan Performante is a pretty violent experience
Lamborghini’s biggest innovation on the Huracan Performante is their active aerodynamics system called ALA. Active aerodynamics are basically a way to have your cake and eat it, too. When you put large wings on a car, you can create downforce but the downside is that you create so much drag that you slow the car down on the straights. Active aero minimises that drag by moving the aerodynamic surfaces to a lesser angle of attack on the straights and then move them back when you need the extra grip in a corner. ALA goes further by employing aerodynamic vectoring — improving the car’s ability to rotate and increase overall grip by changing the aero balance between the left and right hand side of the car. For example, in a right hand corner it will apply more downforce on the right hand side of the car and reduce it on the left, thereby decreasing the grip deficit which the inside wheels have during cornering due to the car’s weight shifting more onto the outside wheels. It’s a very clever system, but of course you will need to be going pretty quickly to notice the system working. Back in July I had the opportunity to drive a Huracan Performante on Moscow raceway for a couple of laps, and when switching between drive modes the difference that ALA makes in cross drive mode was noticeable, particularly on entry into the AMG corner when carrying sufficient speed. It has been said before that developing cars to be fast on the Nurburgring makes them terrible road cars, but that certainly isn’t true here. The car gives you huge confidence that it’s not going to do anything you don’t expect, and that is the key to getting a great lap time. Or simply having fun for that matter.
Given its massive performance potential, the Huracan Performante really does need a racetrack to come into its own, but that doesn’t mean it’s no good to drive on the street. On the contrary, it provides a great sense of occasion no matter where you drive it, providing sensations that are getting ever more rare as the large, high RPM naturally aspirated engines are slowly going the way of the Dodo. This is a car I would buy and keep until the last drop of gasoline has dried up — and put it in my living room after that. Somehow, it is a lot more than the sum of its many #German parts. The Lamborghini Huracan Performante is a very good reason to get rich. Though it could also simply be a good alternative to buying a house or flat. Because, as the saying goes, you can sleep in your car but you can’t race your house. I’m thinking it might be worth it.