Let’s just get this out of the way right now: I can’t tell you what happens when you push the Lamborghini Aventador SVJ Roadster beyond its limits.
It’s not for lack of trying. I could’ve done something deliberately stupid to see what would happen, but I’m not in the business of wrecking $573,996 cars ($643,881 as tested) just to tell you whether they oversteer or understeer before they hit a tree. Had my test drive been on a track, we’d be having a very different conversation right now, but on public roads, it simply isn’t possible to suss out the limit behavior of an SVJ without putting yourself, the car, and the people around you in serious jeopardy.
Not that the conditions weren’t right for it. Climbing out of Palm Springs into the San Jacinto Mountains saw temperatures drop to the high 40s, the bottom of the safe operating range for the car’s Pirelli P Zero Corsa summer tires. Sticky performance tires like these harden up and lose their grip at low temperatures. If the car was going to have grip issues, this was the environment that would make it happen. Apparently, snow on the side of the road wasn’t enough of an indicator of road conditions. These tires refused to squeal, much less slip or slide.
To be sure, I co-drove with a guy who’s as fast as I am and knows the local roads better than I do. We wrung the car out for everything it was worth, and it gave up nothing. No push on entry, as all-wheel-drive cars have been known to do. No lift-throttle oversteer as mid-engine cars are wont to do. No wild power oversteer as 759-hp cars sending 60 to 90 percent of their power to the rear wheels are expected to do. The only time we saw a stability control light, even in the most stringent Strada setting, was when bumps in the road caused a tire to lose contact momentarily, but the light was the only indication of computer intervention.
What it did do, though, was give me a stiff neck, which is something I can’t say about any other street car I’ve driven. Race cars? Sure. But neither as a driver nor a passenger have I ever been in a street car that made my neck sore after a few hours of driving. That’s how much cornering g this thing can consistently pull—in sub-optimal conditions, no less. And were the tires wasted by the time we were done? Nope! Plenty of tread left and not much scrub on the shoulders.
I did learn a few things about this car besides its grip, and it’s almost all good news. When I tested the slightly less insane Aventador SV (no J) three years ago, I said it was miserable at anything less than 80 mph and you should just have it trailered to whatever road or track you wanted to drive on. I don’t know that Lamborghini R&D puts any special stock in my opinion, but they certainly addressed a lot of my complaints.
No, you still can’t see out of this thing with its massive A-pillars, gun-slit windows, and blind spots big enough to hide a train, but there’s no point harping on it beyond that. There’s a back-up camera now, and it’s a godsend. This time, the car was equipped with the optional nose lift system, which should frankly be standard, because whatever weight you might save deleting it isn’t worth the damage you’ll wreck on the front end. Also, this car has 759 hp and weighs something like 4,000 pounds. A couple more pounds for a nose lifter is meaningless to this car’s performance. Hell, the extra 110 pounds Lamborghini says the removable roof packs on makes no discernable difference, so what’s a few more?
The electronic wizardry has gotten better, as well, and not just the nearly undetectable stability control. The magnetic dampers’ new programming has softened up the ride quality noticeably without, as mentioned, giving up anything in grip or body control. The old single-clutch automated manual transmission shifts better than it ever has, even if there’s still head-bobbing lag on upshifts. Most cars with transmissions programmed this smartly you just leave to their own devices (see: every PDK-equipped Porsche ever made), but something about this one makes you want to pull the paddles just for fun. When I reviewed the Ferrari 812 Superfast, I chastised the computer for not letting the engine spend enough time at 9,000 rpm so we could hear that beautiful engine and implored you to make liberal use of the paddles. The SVJ suffers no such malpractice.
More impressive is the braking. Lamborghini says there have been no changes to the carbon-ceramic brakes, but I swear they must have a new pad compound. I had a few laps of our figure-eight test during Jonny Lieberman’s review of the SVJ coupe back in June, and I absolutely hated the brakes (though not as much as Randy Pobst hated them). It was the first time I’d ever completely overrun a corner on the figure eight, because the brake pedal went wooden and the car just wouldn’t stop like it should. Six months later, I have no such complaint about the SVJ Roadster’s brakes. You’d rightfully point out I’m comparing street conditions to track conditions, but if the SVJ Roadster’s brakes were anything like the SVJ coupe’s brakes, believe me, I would’ve noticed even at street speeds. Lamborghini says this car just has fresh brake pads instead of the worn pads on the coupe, but it feels like more than that. I don’t know what they did, but they fixed it.
Elsewhere, however, Lamborghini has gone backwards. The rear-wheel steering system, which we had no issue with on the coupe, suddenly feels overeager. The best of these systems are unnoticeable, seamlessly blending with the front-wheel steering to improve cornering. The SVJ Roadster’s feels like it’s jerking the wheels around rather than gently adjusting them. Every time you turn you find yourself chasing the rear steering, making little mid-corner corrections to compensate for its overly aggressive inputs. Get that system to chill out a bit, and this car’s performance will be hard to criticize at all.
Not that your criticisms will be heard. The SVJ coupe is loud, and as you might expect, removing the roof (and especially rolling down the tiny rear window) makes it louder. Much louder. Can’t hear the screams of your passenger over 65 mph louder. Having a fight with your spouse? Don’t want to talk? You won’t be able to hear them if you take the roof off this car. (Note: After a decade of marriage, I highly recommend you not do this. The fight will still be there when you slow down.)
It wouldn’t be a Lamborghini Roadster if it didn’t come with some assembly required, but at least it’s gotten easier. The roof comes off in two panels that stow under the hood and take up all the available cargo space in the car besides the glove box and two coffee-mug-size cubbies behind the seats. A two-piece wind deflector is stored in a comically large foam case strapped to the underside of the hood which must be freed, opened, disgorged, and strapped back in. The deflector itself clips onto the top of the windshield and does a surprisingly good job of keeping the wind mostly out of your hair, though it does add a new noise to the cacophony. But it’s already so loud, who cares?
Forget all that. The SVJ Roadster is just 12 angry cylinders fighting to escape the engine and throttle you for not flooring it often enough. This is a car that speeds up when you downshift off-throttle. It doesn’t care about you or other traffic or anything else. It wants to go fast, and it won’t stop screaming at you even when you give it exactly what it wants. Perfect.
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