Generational shift - First drive: Lamborghini Aventador LP700-4

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The Aventador is described by Lamborghini's boss Stephan Winkelmann as a two-generation leap forward. We drive it on track to see if he's right.

After nine years and 4099 examples, Lamborghini's flagship Murcielago has finally been replaced by the equally spectacular £211,000 Aventador. We'll not keep you in suspense, and will simply say that 2011's scissor-door, V12, four-wheel drive supercar is effortlessly better than its predecessor. And in some respects, by quite a margin.

In terms of technology, it's a huge step forward, boasting a carbonfibre monocoque, with aluminium sub-assemblies to mount the all-new F1-style pushrod suspension system on – making this the first Lamborghini to be made this way. The move to carbonfibre is brought about by the desire to save weight  – succeeded with a 30% reduction in the weight of the Body-in-White – and stiffness – the rigidity figure is an impressive 35,000nm/m2. Overall dry weight is 1575kg, 90kg less than the Murcielago.

But the biggest change for Lamborghini fans is that the Aventador is powered by the first post-Bizzarrini V12 made by the company, and therefore hugely significant. The figures for the new engine are impressive enough with 691 normally aspirated bhp (Stephan Winkelmann cheekily commented that turbos are for makers who can't make the numbers without 'help').

In terms of transmission, it's the classic Lamborghini layout of longitudinally-mounted V12, and of end-on gearbox under the driver's elbow. It's now a seven speed ISR single-clutch clutchless manual with paddle shift, putting its power through a Haldex IV all-wheel drive set-up, with variable torque split. Headline figures are 50ms gearchange times in CORSA mode.

Designer Filippo Perini has suitably evolved the Lamborghini line with a car that takes elements of the previous mid-engined cars, right back to the Countach, pushing forward the near-militaristic theme pioneered by the Reventon. It's not instantly beautiful, but it's certainly striking. And as he sketched out the model, he confirmed to Octane that he was a big fan of Marcello Gandini, and hoped his design would live up to his predecessor's. The most striking aspect of the car is its pert tail, and impressive integration of the huge cooling intakes, making this a very taut design. It's very much in the Lamborghini tradition.

Inside, the main innovation is the fully-digital LCD instrumentation, which is fully configurable – and the main options are to lead the panel with a rev counter or speedometer. At the Vallelunga track drive, we left it in the former mode. Other notable points are the excellent and fully adjustable driving position, and simple and logical ergonomics. It's not an intimidating place to sit, although it's clearly quite special. As for the dreadful potential rearward visibility, the mirrors have it covered on the move – and parking camera otherwise.

Firing up the V12 is an occasion itself. The starter is hidden under a fighter jet-style flip switch, and when you engage, it barks into life with real venom. The soundtrack is purposeful, somehow cleaner than the old car – but no less loud. Engaging gear is smooth, as is the throttle response if you trickle away in STRADA mode. Flooring the long-travel throttle is interesting, because pick-up is astonishing, both clean and instant – and unlike the old SV, there is no step in power or urgency, it's just clean power through the rev range. Traction is impressive on new tyres, and it feels like that enormous power has been well harnessed.

Changing up in STRADA mode is also surprisingly smooth, and will be more than responsive enough for road use. So when giving it full acceleration in the lower gears, with a momentary lift-off for up-changes, it's a seemless wave of acceleration, which initially seems almost too calm for a car with nearly 700bhp. However, the numbers tell a different story, with 0-62mph in a claimed 2.9secs, 0-400m in 10.5secs – and equally impressive – 62-0mph in 30m. The accompanying soundtrack is a crisper, slightly harder edged V12 battle-cry than the old car, with just as much volume.

In corners, the sheer amount of lateral grip the car generates is what grabs your attention first. The Aventador resists body roll extremely well, especially as the suspension is far from being harsh, and that all helps build driver confidence. However, it's sensitive about your entry speed – understeering if too hot in STRADA mode, pointier in SPORT, and responsive, with enough opposite lock action to amuse, in CORSA.

But the steering is beautifully weighted and communicates well when really pushing, giving the driver plenty of confidence to play with the throttle to adjust the car in high speed bends. Of course, the Haldex IV torque split is helping the driver massively, sometimes to the point of intrusion, especially in exits – where the level of traction is simply staggering if you get things right. And slightly nervous if you don't.

The braking system is the first giveaway to the car's sheer weight, with the ABS triggering quite early, although there was varying pedal feel across the selection of cars we drove at Vallelunga. On the track, obviously CORSA was the best set-up of the three, even if the gearchanges are violent to the point of destabilising the car on the limit. Tone that down a little, and it would be ideally matched to the Aventador's wide spread of abilities.

Is the Aventador everything we expected? Yes, it improves on the Murcielago in just about every respect – and by that we mean the SV version – and has retained oodles of Lamborghini DNA carefully nurtured from Countach through to the new car. It's not perfect, and probably too soon for a definitive verdict, given we've only driven it on track, but the Aventador is brimming with what makes a Lamborghini so special, and that's why we would heartily recommend it to anyone looking for a supercar to enjoy and make a statement with.


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