At first meeting, the Lamborghini Huracán Performante resembles a giant automotive frown, its eyes squinted, ready for combat. This is, after all, the supercar that a few months ago demolished the lap time record at Germany’s devilish Nürburgring Nordschleife circuit. It delivers 631 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of torque. It reaches 60 mph in just 2.9 seconds. It hits 125 mph in under nine, then tops out just north of 200 mph.
Then you climb inside, start working the pedals, and remember that whole book-cover-judgment thing. The $274,390 track-happy take on Lamborghini’s “entry-level” sports car reveals itself to be the kindest of driving partners, a tamed creature even at its limits.
In braking, in transitions, in grip, in the ability to use its power to full advantage, the nimble Lambo drives like a big racing kart. After a few laps around Italy’s famed Imola Circuit, my notes reflect this curious mix of exotic and approachable:
• very benign
• bags full of torque beyond expectation
• downright comfortable at the limit, partly due to track smoothness
And although it produces 247 fewer horsepower than the Porsche 918 Spyder, it beat the German’s time around the Nurburgring by a whopping five seconds, setting the track record for a series production car at 6 minutes, 52.01 seconds.
Part of the recipe is the revised V10 engine with new air intake ducting, and a lightweight, better-flowing (and less silencing) exhaust system. Lamborghini packed the car with lightweight materials to shave 88 pounds off the base Huracán, dropping the curb weight to 3,047 lbs. It raised spring rates 10 percent, roll stiffness 15 percent, and control arm bushings stiffness by half again as much. It added grippy but forgiving Pirelli P Zero Corsa tires and rejiggered the 7-speed dual-clutch transmission.
But every supercar maker does that kind of thing. The Performante packs a more important weapon, one more easily felt than seen. It doesn’t just cut through the air, it manipulates the atmosphere to its advantage.
“We wanted to take a smarter approach to improving real performance, so we looked at things in a different way,” says Maurizio Reggiani, Lamborghini’s head of research and engineering. “The idea initially was not to come up with a new aero concept, but to discuss how to achieve something big in aero while decreasing weight.”
Lambo calls the result Aerodynamica Lamborghini Attiva, or ALA, which just happens to be the Italian word for “wing.” The patented system uses four simple flaps to control airflow at the front and rear of the car, and it marks the arrival of aero vectoring in the world of production cars.
Engineers have been taking advantage of the air for decades. In 1954, Mercedes-Benz fit a large, folding board on the 300SLR. Under braking, it would rise up just behind the driver, helping slow and stabilize the car. These days, active rear wings that pop up at highway speeds to increase stability are a staple on high-end sports cars.
The Huracán Performante’s aerodynamic package does a whole lot more. It plays with the air over and around it, but not in the fixed manner of most cars with wings, front splitters and air dams do. The electrically actuated flaps operate at each corner of the car, creating variable left-to-right and front-to-rear aero loading. They open and close in one fifth of a second, according not only to throttle position but also cornering state, so that the inboard side of the car experiences greater aero downforce (and therefore grip) than otherwise possible. In a straight line, the system can also incline or stall the wings for maximum downforce under braking or minimum drag at full throttle.
This system even manipulates aerodynamics to help turn the car. If you chained the Performante to a frictionless, hovering table in a wind tunnel, the left-right aero independence—or aero vectoring—would rotate the car. That’s especially impressive given that it uses just four flaps that either open or close, each with a small electric motor.
Air management literally helps turn the Performante into corners, and the Nürburgring record starts to make more sense.
To evaluate the system, Lamborghini’s engineers ran a slalom test. The car in normal configuration could negotiate the cones at a maximum of 37 mph. With aero vectoring, it hit 47 mph—showing the idea even works at relatively low speeds. And the faster the car drives, the more aero vectoring helps in the corners.
(All of this aero trickery is enabled only in the car’s most aggressive “Corsa” driving mode, which also sharpens throttle and steering response and ratio, plus opens exhaust bypasses. If there’s any drifting to be done, you’ll need “Sport” mode, when the aero vectoring’s asleep.)
So, for all the Performante’s visual ferocity, fang-bearing and cost on the outside, it’s a relative puppy to drive at the limit on the inside, with great communication to the driver through the steering wheel and pedals, a comfortable driving position and a supportive seat from which to pretend you’re Mario Andretti or Aeolus—the god of wind.