Beauty just skin deep?
First Drive/Lamborghini Reventón:Beneath the Lamborghini Reventón's skin beats the heart of a Murcié lago. Why, then, is it €800,000 more expensive? Michael Taylorfinds out
In the centre of car-hating Bologna an impeccably dressed 80-year-old man strode through the rain, squeezing off frame after frame on his mobile phone. He wasn't alone in snapping the million-euro supercar but he was easily the oldest.
He may have been sent by the Bologna commune to convict us for driving in the twin-towered heart of the ancient city. Or it just may be that the Reventón - Lamborghini's 650hp, V12-powered, carbon-bodied Frankfurt Motor Show stopper - has a presence so physically overwhelming that it makes people do things they would never ordinarily do.
Ordinarily, for example, people who are intelligent, perceptive and disciplined enough to build massive fortunes would not pay €1 million for something intrinsically worth €200,000. And, when that cheaper something is a Lamborghini Murciélago LP640, suggesting it doesn't have enough impact on passers-by is a pretty spurious point. The Reventón just has a far bigger impact.
Not very far beneath the Reventón's carbon-fibre composite and steel (the roof and doors are metal) skin lurks an almost-standard LP640 - and this is no accident. Lamborghini freely admits this is a piece of moving sculpture built on a tried-and-trusty chunk of engineering. Lamborghini has blue-printed the engine and ratcheted up the power by 10 horsepower (to 650hp), but on a monster 6.5-litre V12, it can easily claim this within allowable tolerances. Its engine, then, is identical.
The gearbox remains the same six-speed paddle-shift E-Gear system and the tube-steel frame is intact. Its wheels bolt onto identical suspension systems and even the radiator positioning is the same as the LP640's. Whatever your €800,000 bonus to Lamborghini buys, it isn't mechanical engineering.
Don't take that too negatively because, by anybody's measure, the LP640 is a seriously fast car. Dangerously fast. It's the last he-man car the production world makes, with heavy brake and pedal inputs, limited chassis feedback and no skid control systems.
Eking speed out of a Reventón demands the investment of more risk, concentration and commitment than in any other mainstream sports car (apart from the LP640, obviously), which is no bad thing. Not for a Reventón owner the niceties of direct, accurate response and user-friendliness at its limits, even though it's all-wheel drive.
Everything about it screams that it's a manly car. It's deep in its sound on start-up and there's a taut reluctance to its initial response - part heavy accelerator pedal, part rotational inertia - when you blip the throttle at idle.
Like the rest of the car, it's an engine that never hides its direct threats of violence. There's no mechanical pretence here and you should pause every time before firing it up, because you know the two of you are about to have an arm wrestle over who's the boss.
The alcantara-trimmed seats are, like the rest of the Reventón, unique, with the signature arrowed hints reflected in base, but they're not for normal-sized people. Built around the sports seat, they are so narrow that even if you spot somebody you know and pick them up for a spin, they'll only feel impressed for 10 minutes - which is about when their hips will start aching.
The sports seat also sits on higher mounts than the standard seat, so bumps rub your head on the roof lining above the door. The Reventón is a visual impact car, not a track car, and the standard seats are better.
But it's not the seats or the wonderfully integrated interior that get your attention. It's the dashboard. If you don't like the chunky, military-esque typeface of the round digital dials, you push a button and change to something that looks like two runways and works disturbingly well.
In a radical departure from the automotive norm, the alternate display has no tacho or speedo needles. Instead, it uses a pair of converging lines to make something like a path (not dissimilar in shape to the indicator lines from a reversing camera) to mark out the tacho and speedo numbers.
The path on the left is the tacho, with a gear indicator in the centre, and the lines constantly form a wing between the rpm and the gear (it's simpler and easier to follow than that, trust me). The actual speed read-out is in a large circle in the right path, which becomes a rolling speedo.
The scary part is that, on the road when you're pushing and you need to see something at a glance, the new system works far more intuitively than the traditional dial system. Lamborghini has patents pending on the Thin Film Treatment (TFT) liquid-crystal display (expect to see more of it in future Lambos), and while the fighter cockpit view is the most radical, there's no limit to what it can do in the future.
Housed in a carbon-covered, aluminium frame, it's a terrific piece of engineering - the only true engineering breakthrough in the Reventón - and includes a third TFT screen which can scroll around to a g-analyst.
The rest of the interior is classy, if conventional, with the exception of the bolt-in Kenwood entertainment centre that just doesn't feel like a million bucks.
But even while you're playing with the Reventón's new dash, you're being provoked by a catalogue of deep burbling noises from that 6.5-litre engine. Move off slowly and you'll be saturated by the pops and crackles coming out of the engine on downshifts or even on lazy upshifts, and the pops and crackles of the continuously variable inlet and exhaust timing as the ECU keeps it from drowning.
A paddle-shift gearbox that hates and jerks its way through the multi-point turns demanded by its wide turning circle is probably the low point, particularly if you've spent the €1 million on it that 12 of its buyers have spent. Ride quality is not the Reventón's thing. It's better at speed, but around town the combination of taut, thinly padded seats, wafer-thin sidewalls and suspensions built for violence means that cobble-stone streets are best avoided.
Things get better with pace, though. The same bump that braced you at 15km/h (10mph) is barely felt at 60km/h (40mph). The wheel still drops into the hole, but it's no longer a spine-thumping, endless array of vertical inputs. The faster you drive it, the more together the Reventón feels.
Our car was limited to 130km/h, which is just rude. You can slam past that in second gear in a Reventón. There's brutality to everything it does, but it's also extremely flexible, with a lazy ability to twist driveshafts from the tiniest throttle openings.
You sometimes wonder if that's its preference, but when you snap the throttle open, the motoring world has few better, more tingling sounds of anticipation than its four throttle bodies chirping and hissing open, then the roar of tortured induction air over you shoulder.
Each full throttle burst is one long, fanciful immersion in deep, gruff, chronically belligerent bellowing, changing into a ripping, shredding scream to rattle the better-mannered Ferrari V12s into bedwetting. There's an unbelievable richness of timbre as well, and it's achingly, frighteningly ferocious.
It's stable mid-corner as well, provided you're not being ham-fisted with it. Its architecture is so old that its electronic stabilisation programme (ESP) couldn't effectively be retro-fitted, so it relies on all-wheel drive and traction control to stay on the road. If you're not completely concentrating, that's not enough, because it can get wheelspin from all four tyres in even fifth gear in the wet.
There are no doubts that it is indeed capable of the 3.4 second 0-100km/h (62mph) sprint Lamborghini claims and the Reventón's slippier shape makes the 340km/h top speed seem a couple of km/h pessimistic.
But it's the impact, rather than the driving experience, that defines the Reventón. Lamborghini had an idea to do something a bit special, took a straw poll of long-time customers and found they wanted something more exclusive than a Murciélago, but just as easy to service and just as reliable. If that's the brief and that's what they ask for, then that's exactly what Lamborghini has given them.
Its body - inspired by the Eurofighter - does not share a single panel with the LP640 (well, the side mirrors, but they're not panels). Its roof and doors are aluminium, while every other panel is a carbon-fibre composite.
Lamborghini took its entire design staff to an Italian jet-fighter base for a day and pooled their sketches before finalising a design - all in-house.
They've done a brilliant job, too. It has an overwhelming initial impact, couple that with subtle touches that give it lasting strength and its angles and folds give the rear end, in particular, a coherence that the LP640 only wishes it had.
The nose is phenomenally purposeful and detailed and, with its pronounced arrowhead, it's actually better at taking sharp driveways than the LP640 because the overhang is shorter if you take them at an angle.
Still, it's one of two things. It's either a Murciélago with an in-house body kit or, as they'd prefer you to think, the Murciélago as pure art. It's actually both, but it's definitely a crowd puller.
Where a Murciélago will turn heads, the Reventón will snap necks, clog city streets for hours and be the hot topic of coffee-shop conversation for weeks.
The cameras will come out for the pronounced air inlets in front of the headlights, and the more they look, the more they take in.
The rear seems more tapered than the Murciélago, and the tail lights, carbon fibre with LED inserts, are stunners. There is also a carbon-fibre strut across the top of the engine bay (for design, not for bracing) and a transparent engine cover.
Sit and watch for a while and strangers cluster together to trace their fingers down the more obvious arrowheads in the nose before noticing the arrow theme continuing on the engine cover and the dash. Then, with time, they notice the two distinct creases in the rear bodywork and you see them lean in to each other to emphasise their points. And, before they ever see a badge, they are mouthing the word "Lamborghini".
But is that enough, and would you buy one? It's a two-part answer: for enough people it already is; and, you can't, anyway, because all 20 have been sold.
There can be no intrinsic justification for paying five times the price of the (already expensive) supercar on which it's built. As a pure road test, this is - to be generous - not sensible.
But viewed as an art-house Lamborghini - a piece of sculpture you can take to a hotel, restaurant, club or friend's house, rather than waiting for them to come over - it's a machine with an amazing effect on everybody around it.
How many people pay hundreds of thousands of euro for a watch that does nothing more than make them feel warm, knowing none of their friends have one?
If art's your thing and LP640s are just too thick on the ground where you live, go right ahead.
ENGINE:Dry-sump, all-aluminium, 6496cc (396.41ci), 48-valve, chain-driven DOHC V12, variable inlet and exhaust timing.
Bore x stroke: 88mm x 89mm (3.46in x 3.5in)
Compression ratio: 11:1
Firing order: 1-7-4-10-2-8-6-12-3-9-5-11
POWER:650hp @ 8000rpm
TORQUE:Torque: 660Nm @ 6000rpm
SUSPENSION:Front and rear - double wishbones, coil springs, anti-rollbar, front and rear
STEERING:Power-assisted rack and pinion, 12.55 metre (41.17ft) turning circle
BRAKES:Ceramic 380mm x 38mm rotors and six-piston calipers all-round Ceramic 14.96in x 1.42in rotors and six-piston calipers all-round
BODY:Steel roof and doors, all other panels carbon fibre.
LAYOUT:Longitudinally mounted, mid-engined, all-wheel drive V12
WHEELS:8.5 x 18-inch (front); 13 x 18-inch (rear)
TYRES:245/35 ZR18 (f); 335/30 ZR18 (r) Pirelli P Zero ROSSO
GEARBOX:Six-speed paddle-shift, viscous coupling traction system
Length, 4,700mm; width, 2,058mm; height, 1,135mm; wheelbase, 2,665mm; front track, 1,635mm; rear track, 1,695mm.