Best of the Best – The Frankl Family Tests Lamborghini’s Finest
The Frankl Family Tests Lamborghini’s Finest
Yes We Even Bought The Babyseat….
By Nicholas Frankl
The Auto Channel
When Alexander the Great viewed the breadth of his domain- he wept “for their we’re no more lands to conquer”.
Hail the SVJ (the J is for Jota) and what a difference this “J” makes to the world’s best super sports car.
Already in a class of its own - which other racing chariot is equipped with such a glorious normally aspirated V12, is mid-engined and under €500,000? Launched in 2009 with a unique and very stiff Boeing engineered full carbon chassis the Avantador literally took your breath away as the single plate clutch snapped your head into the fine Schedoni leather seat with a ferocity known only in fighter planes and high G theme park rides. With the confidence inspiring security of 4-wheel drive and a benign set up that favored understeer and allowed the majority of owners (rather than professional test drivers on race tracks) to enjoy their cars without the fear of ending their Sunday afternoon amateur rally down a cliff somewhere in the Malibu canyons. I’ve driven all the Avantador models over the years and it’s still one of my all-time favorites the SVJ also attained the status of “King of the Ring” posting an impressive lap of 6:44.97 almost a full minute faster than the original 2011 model – a bit of a late bloomer you might say….
The SVJ takes the performance to new dimensions utilizing the sister V10 cars ALA aero technology that allows drivers on the road to benefit from a relatively simple application of advanced aerodynamic technology. The fabulous E35 highway to Florence takes a “Panoramica” mountain tour up towards the famous Futa Pass. The trucks and most of the caravans go the other direction so this leaves one with a beautiful smooth (except the expansion lines) two lane highway which could be best described as God’s own highway (we are only 250 miles from the Vatican in Roma after all) - especially if you’re riding one of devil’s finest creations.
Last year I discovered how good the ALA worked on the Performante - stunning was the answer - so repeating the same drive in the same conditions with 2 more cylinders and 100 more horse power was a professional responsibility I needed to complete.
I can’t explain fully how quickly I was taking the corners, firstly there is no point of reference as my friend following me in a “normal” Huracan just disappeared in my mirrors within a few upshifts (well actually the side mirror as the rear wing ALA combo inlet totally obstructs the rear view mirror and should be replaced with a rear facing camera like Cadiliac fits) and secondly I was quite engaged with judging very quickly approaching apex’s so didn’t pay too much attention to the instruments - “fly the plane” they instill into every pilot, don’t bury your head in the cockpit, sound lifesaving advise when piloting an airplane and also when flying on the ground in the SVJ. I found the best set up in the “Ego” mode - Lamborghini’s custom setting for the driver to select powertrain, steering & suspension.
I prefer a less weighted steering feel and a ‘softer’ – it’s all relative here, suspension that also absorbs the plentiful bumps without redirecting the car off the road, and powertrain set to corsa mode.
Exiting off the motorway to continue the climb up towards the FUTA pass I had time to rest and reflect on the last twenty minute of maximum adrenaline – it felt a little like one of those F1 refueling hoses had been attached to the top of my neck and an additional adrenal pump turned on. I’m fairly convinced that this is one of the healthiest forms of heart exercise in the world (unless, of course, you over cook it at over a 120MPH on a corner)
Meeting up with the Huracan at the gas station exit we sprinted up the mountain B roads of the SP 59 which are mostly tight second and third gear sprints between a treelined tight ribbon of degraded Italian asphalt. We were blessed with few trucks, of which there are many plaguing the roads big and small all over Italy and no tractors, always a concern when entering blind corners at any speed. Down the hill past the German war grave memorial where over 30,000 are buried, the Futa Pass forming part of the strategic Gothic line during WW2 and into the famous roundabout adjacent to the family hotel and restaurant Albergo, since 1890 feeding the weiry road traveler on horse n cart, bike or Lamborghini! I’d emailed the owners son, Claudio (he’s the 5th generation running the kitchen now) and his father who like mine is also 82 years old, to alert them that we were returning for our annual dose of high carb pasta and high octane expresso. But after receiving no reply, I shouldn’t’ have been surprised to find the joint uncharacteristically (like never) shut for the day. Not to be too perturbed we continued our assault until we reached another spectacular low key biker & car guy pit stop, namely Chalet Raticosa about 10 miles down the pass. Fortunately they too had a pasta recipe and whilst the three raging bulls rested for an hour, hot exhausts ticking away in the slightly cooler mountain air, we obliged with plenty of mama’s home made delights.
Filled up and ready to continue the convoy we were missing my father and his rather svelte Ferrari 458 Pista which not too uncharacteristically had gone missing in action for most of the day and was hold up at the church square entertaining the locals in a town called Vado. So operation Vado it was, once we navigated, with some difficulty, down the narrow mountain lanes and also found a much needed gas station, don’t ask me about the fuel consumption, I don’t know what it was and I turned off the annoying auto start feature because if you’re driving a 759 BHP 6.5 liter V12 that revs to the heavens you want instant engine response and if you are also concerned about the environment (and why not) then you should allocate a part of your toy budget to plant a suitable size forest in Brazil and not worry yourself if it’s 10 mgp or 12 mpg as it rather defeats the purpose.
All the while, up and down the mountain, the SVJ took it all in its considerable stride. It is a wide car for sure but personally I don’t find it intimidating at all, in fact I find the car shrinks around you and is very chuckable aided by world class turn-in, excellent weighted steering ( Ferrari has gone with ultra-light steering on all models and I don’t like it) secure consistent ride and responses plus advanced electronics and driver aids that are there to help but don’t interrupt the fun.
As the convoy pulled into Vada the town came alive, it seemed that the word had gotten out, helped in no small part by the sparling red 488 displayed prominently at the only church in town. School was out too and there isn’t a more genuine car test then local Italian school children from eight to twenty.
With the finest from Sant’ Agata and Maranello on display, coupe and convertible v8, v10, v12 it soon became clear which exotic had the longest line and most selfies. Even after eight years the Avantador still thrilled boys and girls young and old, it was still a challenge to remove the car after an hour of adoration from the drooling circle of children. With the happy families of Vado waving excitedly in the mirror as the sonorous horses ricocheted off their red brick houses and I snapped into second with the rev counter in the red zone I couldn’t wipe the broad grin off my face, a happy day with happy people and a happy car that inspires all who come into contact.
After a superb days driving and as I pulled into the factory gates with the ever friendly guard to raise the barrier my thoughts wondered into the workshops in front of me and the next Avantador which will be with us soon enough and will leap into the 22nd century with a hybrid V12 (still thankfully normally aspirated) but with additional battery power to push it near 1,000bhp. I have no doubt that under the current excellent and passionate management it will be both visually and technically brilliant but it will take the V12 cars into another league even further away from the ‘good old’ analogue days, if only they made a manual SVJ – wow what a treat that would be. Pulling into my assigned parking spot I couldn’t help but notice my new daily driver waiting for its run home over the Tuscan countryside to the extraordinary Opera 02. I was ready for my Urus.
It’s trendy in some circles in Great Britain (soon to be even greater after Brexit) to refer in derogatory terms to any SUV as “Chelsea Tractors” - Chelsea being a Royal Borough of London (The Windsor’s live in Kensington Palace) and one of the more premium zip codes in the country- and world for that matter- populated by lots of lovely ladies with spiffing looking private school educated and groomed children with names like Lilibeth, Humphrey, Geeta & Vladimir often with a title thrown in, although the titles have morphed like the population from Viscount & Earls to oligarchs and maharajahs! They are usually found driving a Land Rover or big Range Rovers with no hint of mud or grass blemishing the highly waxed exterior or cow hide soft leather seats, HRH Prince Phillip loved the original Range Rovers as one could hose down the interior with water after a good days shooting on the highlands of Scotland, the water escaping through holes in the floor.
Naturally with its roots & family lineage firmly in the Tuscan countryside the Urus is a direct descendant of the famous v12 LM002 a favorite of African rulers which often came equipped with self-inflating sand tyres and a machine gun on the rear deck. Founder Ferrucio’s original tractor company carried full off-road all terrain credibility - who better qualified than the storied Sant A’gata manufacturer to produce what is unquestionably the best all-round car in the world today.
Who else can instill outrageous V8 twin turbo power (641bhp) combined with supercar design theme styling, luxuriously comfortable seating for five plus their considerable luggage or three baby-seats with room for bottles and strollers in a wide Porsche / Audi derived chassis with brembo brakes combined with genuine supersports car character and performance plus trans-continental legs & versatility that can take you from the front row valet at Monaco’s Casino Square up the mountain passes to Lake Como and onto St Moritz for a touch of skiing without missing a beat and producing broad smiles on all the faces - turns out our 9 month old little girl loves full power acceleration too!
The Urus is the first practical super SUV, it swallows all the baby gear, allows easier buggy loading than the narrower Porsche Cayenne and even with genuine huge 22inch wheels and low profile Pirelli P Zero’s rides very comfortably.
Sales around the world have taken off with Hollywood celebrity waiting lists and production numbers on track to an all time record for the brand. Competition is fierce, Rolls Royce developed its own cruise ship the Cullinan, sister brand Bentley has the Bentayga which has struggled as a “rebadged” Audi, Aston Martin will soon launch the DBX using AMG turbo power built in a new production plant in Wales and Ferrari is already in secret development of its own four door 4x4 - likely a stretched and raised version of the excellent and popular V12 FF.
But let’s get back to baby Jolina sleeping quietly in her Grecco babyseat and our destination of Lake Como. She’s used to a Cayenne but settled in very nicely with the Urus the green headrest badging attracting her attention as she is rear facing.
The steep rear roof line is a little more challenging to lift an infant into and out of but the extra width is noticeable not just from the drivers side on narrow truck infested Italian B roads but when loading the stroller and accessory bags!
Initially it’s easy to brush off the large Bull as a group badging exercise. That thought stops the moment you climb aboard, press the firm brake peddle and hit the red start button on the center console.
Swapping straight out of the flagship SVJ the cockpit is totally Lambo - with much upgraded and improved touch screen central control center, a 1,000 watt digital stereo with umpteen speakers all over - you’re just higher up than you’re used to! The all encompassing black leather / alacantara lined interior feels fresh and comfortable to the touch highlighted by lime green stitching - all very Muira which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2019 like Apollo 11 & mans moon landing - also the brake calipers which make the appearance ping against the white body shell.
The dash is an enhanced version of what the driver will be familiar with from the Huracan & EVO dominated by the rev counter which changes moods as you change the preselect lever found sitting where (if offered) the eight speed gear lever would be. Once again all the design elements and driver toys will be familiar if you’ve any experience with the other models in the range, switchgear, air vents, and the very useful EGO mode are all here, where the driver can design the key dynamics themselves from normal to hard steering, normal to loud exhaust, sports or track suspension. Choices unique to the Urus include snow and sand mode - these Italians one assumes have over indulged on the grappa - who drives a $250,000+ Lamborghini up a sand dune? Turns out the many devotes in Abu Dhabi don’t watch movies on Friday nights they go sand dune racing - so Lamborghini made sure they could be king of hill not just lords of The Ring.
On the road the car is hilariously impressive as one just doesn’t associate arriving at roundabouts, decelerating fade free from high speed, diving into the apex and torpedoing out of the exit in any machine this large. One would be hard pressed to show this car a clean pair of heels - it’s not just very powerful it’s fast - it’s really really fast in a total master and commander performance that will leave your neighbors and Labrador breathless in the back. High speed cruising is a breeze, with the aggressive styling helping to inform other drivers that you’re intentions are to over take briskly not tailgate for next 20 miles (a particular passion of Italian van drivers) keeping ones driving license will be a challenge simply because the speeds are so aligned with the other V10 and V12 cars but with 10% of the drama.
The white Urus isn’t intimidating to look at or drive, unless you opt for a high visibility color- there’s plenty of choice- then the 4X4 can easily lose itself in the supermarket car park - in dark colors resembling an Audi Q8 in profile - and there is something to be said for that given the more urban & hostile daily environment it will live in.
Francesco and the boys at the Aero Club on the south shore of Lake Como have enjoyed a few different charging Bulls these past few years and were mightily impressed by the new one as was the valet at the Villa D’Este hotel - the Grand Dame of Como - who remarked they were “all over Saint Moritz” this past season and that the hotel owner also had one.
My old friend Eddie Irvine, who lives between Milan and his island in the Bahamas and nearly won the F1 world championship for Ferrari in 1998 calls the Urus - the best car on the market today - and if it’s good enough for him as a drivers car and a high fashion statement for the SheShePoohPooh crowd (The Kardashian’s & Justin Bieber have them too ) then Bravo! To Lamborghini you started it back in ‘63 and now you’ve reinvented the genre as your second act! In Neil Armstrong’s words sitting aboard Apollo 11 on launch pad 39b thirty seconds from igniting seven million pounds of thrust to take him, Aldrin and Collins to the moon “it feels good”.