Superheated gases shoot upwards, catapulting rocks the size of bowling balls hundreds of metres into the air. Luminous red geysers hiss and spit, while glowing liquid granite oozes underneath a blackened crust that will melt any metal it touches. At 700 degrees celsius, there isn’t much that lava doesn’t devastate.
These sorts of scenes are commonplace on the east coast of Sicily. Standing 3350 metres tall, Mount Etna is one of the most active volcanoes in the world and one of its spectacular eruptions was filmed as the backdrop for the Anakin versus Obi-Wan battle in Star Wars Episode III. Another film crew wasn’t so lucky. In March this year, a team from the BBC trying to capture one of Etna’s angry outbursts managed to get caught in a rain of fire and sulphur. Heart rates trebled among the crew, who fortunately came away mostly unscathed, apart from a few cuts, burns and bruises.
It’s the unpredictability of these mountainous monsters that makes them so appealing. Volcanologists work hand in hand with seismologists to give advance warning, but the truth is until one goes off, you don’t really appreciate how much power there is behind these colossal beasts.
There’s another indomitable Italian that once it goes off, taps into a human’s flight or fight reflex. It has a seemingly inexhaustible supply of power and, just like Mount Etna, it also spits fire.
To start it, you flip up a small cover that reveals a bright red button. Channelling your inner Kim Jong-un, you push down what looks like a missile launch controller. What follows sets the tone for the car — the starter motor briefly spins and the engine fires into life with a hugely excessive flare of the throttle. Loud, over the top, unnecessary, but completely addictive – this is the Lamborghini Aventador S.
Credit: Lamborghini press room
You say you’ve seen it before? Oh, no, that’s the old one. This one has an S on the end, which makes all the difference. Seriously.
The designer took the original and mashed elements from a space shuttle, a snake and a shark together, but the result actually combines function and form. Thanks to the new front splitter and its fins and fangs, downforce has been increased by 130 per cent. The new three-outlet shuttle exhaust also prevents the fire-spitting engine from lighting up the car, which occurred a bit too often for Lamborghini’s liking. In fact, the entire car has had a thorough going over, making the extra S in the name completely justified. There is a new stability control program, interior changes, the brakes have been upgraded, and it sports a new set of boots. But the real news is the addition of rear-wheel steering.
At low speeds this turns the wheels in the opposite direction to the front wheels, effectively shortening the wheelbase, making car-park turns a whole lot easier. At higher speeds it works the opposite way, turning the back wheels in the same direction as the fronts, giving a virtual longer wheelbase, which aids high-speed stability. Couple that with reduced drag, and on paper the Aventador S is a very impressive machine indeed.
But who cares about the brochure, anyway? You want to know how hard it goes, right? Put simply: it’s ballistic.
It’s not often you’re thrown the keys to an $800,000 machine and told to go nuts. And that didn’t happen here either. Instead, Lamborghini invited us to test out its wares in the safe confines of a racetrack; Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit, to be precise. We were put under the watchful eye of the instructors at the Accademia Lamborghini, where it was all about teaching you how to handle this brutal beast.
Channelling your inner Kim Jong-Un, you push down what looks like a missile launch controller
With an instructor in front in the same type of car, we were able to follow his lines to learn the track. Brake here, turn in there, full throttle here. Boring. A quick word with the instructor and we picked up the pace. And hoo boy, does this thing have some pace. Suddenly we’re topping 290km/h on the main straight, looking at the ocean ahead, wondering whether we’ll end up spearing off the track and become great-white fodder. It’s a good thing, then, that the brakes are now up to the task.
While the original Aventador was equal parts beauty and beast, its worst quality wasn’t the cricket-bat-to-the-head gear changes — it was the stoppers. Even on public roads, they would overheat, so you can imagine how potentially dangerous they were on track. The Aventador S, however, has used the new aero package to more effectively cool the brakes, and the final product has paid off. All four cars at the track ran all day without a hint of brake fade, reliably and authoritatively washing the speed off, lap after lap.
The engine has also come in for an upgrade, producing a mammoth 525kW (or 740hp in the old money) and 690Nm from its 6.5-litre V12. And there’s not a single turbo or supercharger in sight. At 4000rpm, the motor has a resonance that echoes through the cabin (and your head), and as it continues climbing toward its 8500rpm ceiling, it utters a wail like no other motor around. Pull one of the large paddle shifters to downshift, and it blips and then crackles and bangs on the overrun, like Yosemite Sam with a pair of AK-47s.
From a standing start, it will hit 100km/h in just 2.9 seconds. That’s quicker than it took you to read that sentence. Keep the foot buried, and it hits 200km/h in 8.8 seconds. With enough road, you’ll crack 350km/h before the laws of physics rein you in. Yes, this is the fastest car you can buy in Australia straight off the showroom floor.
Credit: Lamborghini press room
Tip it into a corner and it darts across, with rear wheels pointing it in the right direction. It sharply cuts a clean line to the apex, deftly communicating with your fingertips, relaying its grip levels and surface condition. It chats with you, involves you in the decision-making process and, unlike the old Aventador, it never threatens to rip your head off in anger. That said, the brutal gear changes do warrant the occasional visit to the physio to realign your neck — the car may have improved out of sight, but the gearbox is still decidedly old-school.
It’s still as beautiful inside with bespoke leather surfaces, a fighter-jet instrument display and toggle switches for the main controls. But it’s a pain to get into, it’s a pain to see out of, has minimal storage, reversing it causes heart palpitations, and it’s wider than Saturn. Does anyone care, though? I mean, come on — it has scissor doors. Game over.
The Aventador S is a proper Lamborghini. It’s brutally quick, looks like a spaceship, has a missile launcher for a start button, spits flames at night, and makes more noise than a Trump protest. At $788,914 before options and on-roads, it ends up being a near-seven-figure machine, but few sports cars can match it for pure theatre or desirability.
It’s not quite volcanic, but like Mount Etna, the Aventador S certainly is explosive.