TG takes the Porsche GT3 RS, Aventador SV and 675LT on a little adventure A cushion. Or perhaps a pillow. Of all the things that don’t feature on the Lamborghini options list, but damn well should, this is number one.
Oh dear, the seats: they’re as thickly padded as a pair of pallets. Maybe that’s what they are, y’know, under the Alcantara. I have plenty of time to appreciate this, as every jiggle of the especially jiggly suspension causes the seat to rub rawly at the skin of my lower back as we process up the M6. Maybe Vaseline should be an option too…
This, as my mother would say, is no one’s fault but my own. I wanted to find out just how hardcore the latest, greatest crop of hardcore track cars is, and racetracks aren’t the place to find out. They just aren’t. What’s hardcore about driving around a smooth racetrack? There’s run-off to save you; nothing coming the other way; if it rains, flags are waved; and, unless your name’s Bernie, they tend to be closed at night. Not much of a challenge there.
Now, night time on the M6 – that’s more like it. Out here, where Stobart battles Dentressangle and smoky X-Type outdrags oily A4, where the aggressive feud of a wet wintery evening rush hour is visible in every angry brake light, each flashing 40 sign and the endless concertina of accele…braking traffic. That’s an environment to strike stress into any carbon-clad, artfully executed, bespoilered, low-splittered, preening-panelled supercar.
So now we’re here, stuck on the M6 as rush hour enfolds our little convoy, and tomorrow we’re going to be somewhere further north where the issue won’t be traffic, but terrain. That’s part two of our quest to find out if these three – SV, 675LT and GT3 RS, the rawest and most uncompromising drivers’ cars of the past 12 months – are fundamentally usable.
Is this irrelevant? Probably. What does usability matter to a supercar? Good question. After all, supercars are for looking super and doing super things. But two things: firstly, these are still road cars, and secondly, aren’t you intrigued? I am about tomorrow – it’s going to be supercar bootcamp.
Look: this is about doing something daft in daft cars governed by nothing other than a spirit of adventure. So no angelic chorus as a stunning car howls along scintillating roads amid wonderful scenery, no religious epiphany on the road to Sant’Agata, no bowing at the altar of Woking.
Instead, the Lamborghini’s hair-shirt seat on the interminable plod northwards past Birmingham and Manchester. This is the easy bit. The cars will cope fine with this depressing slog – this first test is for their drivers.
All three have fixed-position seats that do no more than slide manually backwards and forwards. During a low moment, I discover the Porsche’s is also height-adjustable and spend a surprised few moments with my forehead flattened against the sun visor. Important note: if you’re Danny DeVito, have the Porsche. The McLaren tilts you back into a rake best described as ‘bathtub’, which takes a bit of getting used to, but, combined with the innovative control layout and design, also makes you feel all X-Wing pilot. A low scuttle means the ground seems to slip right under your toes.
The Aventador has nowhere to put anything, bar a mesh pocket directly behind the driver’s seat and a slot halfway down the passenger footwell too small for my phone. Unfortunately, I have neither 10-year-old phone nor extra elbows. But what’s there to complain about? OK, the cavitating cabin manages to be both echoey and claustrophobic, and your entire view forward is through a four-finger-width gap between top of steering wheel and sun visor, but a supercar ought to feel super, and the Aventador does. This bull might not be raging right now, but it’s still a pedigree prima donna – all antagonistic gearbox, spine-crunching ride, searing yellow dash, bare carbon and tyre drone. The rears are 355/25 ZR21s. Now that’s a tyre.
The Aventador SV is the pantomime villain of this troupe, every appearance greeted by a thunderclap. Of my own making, I must confess – I can’t help blipping the throttle. It seems the right thing to do. Other cars retreat to a sensible distance. Maybe blue is coming out of the back.
After several hours, we stop at Charnock Richard services. I seem to have trapped a nerve in my right hamstring, so am quite glad of the Lambo’s prodigious thirst (currently 14.7mpg) as an excuse to stop and swap. By comparison, the others (22–23mpg) are positively virtuous. They sip at their fuel reserves and manage to pack genuine comfort into what little suspension travel they possess. They’re a bit professional. The blouses.
Still, it pays to be circumspect with the McLaren. Those turbos seem vicious – way more spiky than the SV’s vast V12 and at odds with the secure feeling engendered by the seat and driving position. It’s the RS that has the most chattery engine and gearbox, shadows thrown forward through the roll cage a constant reminder of the car’s intent. We turn off at Junction 36, and, uncricking our backs, hole up for the night in Bowness-on-Windermere.
A quick stocktake: the actual physical demands of driving these three are minimal – no thigh-trembling clutches or clanking gearlevers. A quick clench of the fingers is all that’s required. And, although comfort is comparatively coarse and cabin noise significant, it’s not like we’ve just had to drive 300 miles in a Morgan 3Wheeler. We’ve had windscreens, heaters and tunes. The only genuine (and literal) hardship was the Aventador’s seat.
It’s a Hardknott life
“Width restriction 6’ 6”, reads the sign. Ah. I thought I’d made such a good shout commandeering the Aventador this morning. It’s got 4wd and nose lift, you see, the only one here with either – and today’s a day they should come into their own. But the first issue is girth, and the SV is perhaps too well endowed. Smugness arrives through the radio from Ollie Kew in the Porsche and McLaren pilot Jack Rix. I’ll grant them this small satisfaction, because they don’t know what lies ahead.
The Hardknott Pass is the steepest, gnarliest, twistiest, narrowest and most pointless road in the whole of the UK. It was originally built by the Romans, so you’d have to presume even they could make it no straighter. Why they bothered at all is beyond me – the garrison at the summit can’t have had much to do other than repel sheep. Or maybe the opposite. Anyway, it was built, fell into disrepair and then was rebuilt as a tourist attraction in the 1850s – the challenge being to get your Victorian charabanc to the top.
Now it’s our turn. I have doubts any of our three will make it to the apex of turn one – if you’ve been, you’ll know why: the 30 per cent inclines, corkscrew surfacing, potholes, rocks, hairpins, minimal visibility, even the weather. I’m convinced we’ll have to walk ahead of each car semaphoring directions. I’m also wondering if McLaren offers a winch option.
Just getting to the foot of it is tricky enough: the Lambo has had to thread its Kardashian hips past farmsteads and dry stone walls, inducing panic as old English rock threatens to tumble on new Italian carbon. That appears to be the worst of it initially. We cross a cattle grid, the view from our low-slung seats opens up as the walls fall away, the hills rise around us and we pull over to take it all in. Exotic doors swing up, spoilers retract and, once the Lambo’s fan has done its work, we stand in the silence and enjoy Wainwright’s views. I find myself laughing. These cars in this location – they just look bananas.
The Wrynose Pass (25 per cent slopes, hostile demeanour) bars the way to the Hardknott. Think of it as the warm-up before the main event. I have a wager with Jack and Ollie: the Aventador will scrape its nose less than the others, even without using the nose lift. We set off, our growling beasts carefully picking their way up the slope. Scrape tally at the top? Once for the Lambo, three times for the Porsche, six for the McLaren. Which is also the only one with a carbon front splitter…
Each scrape has made us wince and squirm, so at the top we’re on our hands and knees squinting under the noses, making sure it’s only cosmetic. Reassured, we press on alongside the river in this high glaciated valley, over a bridge, around a corner and… yep, that’s the Hardknott. How did they build a road up that face? It zigzags back and forth, a dizzying climb that kicks and rears its way up this cliff. This isn’t driving, this is mountaineering.
Oh well, in for a penny. The Lambo sets off, and right from the word go, the diffs are chuntering, the thing practically hopping itself around the first corners. I’ve forgotten to switch to manual gears, so it goes for second, but the shift takes so long it loses all momentum and we come to a halt. Hmm. I can’t see anything but sky through the windscreen, but the low quarter lights give me some vision. Back into first, manual gears, traction in Sport mode and we’re off again. I take the bends on trust as I have only a rough idea where they are going, but that’s as tricky as it gets. The SV behaves impeccably the rest of the way up. It’s got good steering lock, a strong clutch and plentiful traction. I reach the top of the pass and whoop with delight. I’ve reached the summit of the Hardknott in a ridiculous car. I don’t know why that feels like such an achievement, but it does. I feel like Edmund Hillary. I should plant a flag or something.
Behind, things are less certain. Ollie reports on the radio that the GT3 RS’s dynamic engine mounts seem to be getting confused by the forces. Wheels are in the air, but no g is being pulled, and the car seems to be tensing and releasing, not helped by the tight differential scrabbling for grip.
Still, it’s doing better than the McLaren. Poor steering lock, rear-wheel drive and 661bhp are its undoing. Jack is having to reverse and take second bites at the hairpins, being ginger with the throttle to prevent wheelspin triggering the traction control and shutting momentum down. Progress, it must be said, is faltering.
But eventually the round headlights of the Porsche appear over the final brow, and a few minutes later the lime-green nose of the lizard-hipped 675 appears. “That’s 28 now,” says Jack, popping the McLaren’s door up. The Lambo had scraped just twice, though I’d cheated, using nose lift the whole way up – but that’s what it’s there for, isn’t it? Nevertheless, I’m tickled pink, chuffed as nuts that we’ve got these three hardcore road-going racers to the top of the steepest road in Britain. We’ve climbed the Hardknott, so we stand around like vintage mountaineers, hands on hips, chins thrust out.
We’ve got to get them down again. Rather than turn around immediately we decide to press on to complete the whole pass. We do this because we can’t turn around. So we end up, for reasons of photographic vista as much as anything else, at Wast Water, the view recently voted Britain’s favourite. It’s even better with three supercars in it.
Full of schoolboy high spirits at our success, I prove to everyone that it’s possible to reverse a Lamborghini while sitting on the sill, and with that the rain comes. It’s the leading edge of Storm Desmond, which would go on to wreak havoc across Cumbria, and it makes our journey back across the Hardknott treacherous. Curtains of rain sweep across, the sky blackens and dark descends. Our cars feel tiny and isolated in this landscape.
The Porsche is the car for this – confidence-inspiring, robust and iron-willed, it’s essentially bombproof. The upright seat now seems attacking, and it feels every inch the tarmac rally car. What a weapon this thing is. It laps up these conditions, blitzing through the water that’s running off the hills in torrents, the only one you’d dare drive hard right now. And then it beaches itself on a cattle grid, wheelspinning futilely on this impromptu rolling road. That makes us laugh – until we have to get out and push…
This 675LT has no aircon, and the incessant water exposure means it begins to mist up, the fan doing no more than guffing hot air at the deep windscreen. I grab a cloth to wipe it, only belatedly realising it’s my polish removal towel. Smeariness ensues. We fight our way back east across the Lake District, reversing for belligerent vans and charging tractors, rattling nervously back down the Hardknott, attempting to escape the fading light and rising water. Earlier puddles are now wading tests, and the Aventador SV has many gaping, water-ingestion points.
But all three make it through unscathed. I’ve been so impressed with them today. I’d have forgiven any of them for being tetchy, I’d fully expected the Italian to have a proper hissy fit, but in fact it’s been the star of the show. I’m massively impressed with the Aventador SV, full of admiration for its ability to calmly and considerately deploy a tiny fraction of its power to accurate effect. I pat it goodnight.
Overnight, the tyre goes flat. Typical. We put the compressor on and hear hissing from the sidewall. We spend 40 minutes fussing around with the foam and eventually fix it, but we know what this means – 50mph max. This wouldn’t have been a problem yesterday, but today we want to give these cars a chance to show what they can actually do. So we’re leaving the Lakes, crossing the M6 and heading into the Pennines, where the roads swoop more openly. So here’s the deal: the nearest steamroller-width tyre is 130 miles away in Manchester, and the day is short, so we’ll do pictures first, then dispatch the Aventador to trundle south. Driving impressions will have to wait until full fitness has been restored.
In the meantime, the Porsche and McLaren are relishing the opportunity to show there is a world beyond 3,000rpm and 40mph. These cars are both genuinely sensational. Amongst the very best I’ve ever driven. Ever. Escaping the Lakes is like shedding a straitjacket for these two. I suddenly realise that yesterday they merely coped, today we’re getting the real picture of what they’re capable of. The Porsche is doing what it does best, diving deep into corners on the brakes, then using its tail weight to drive itself out the other side. It’s a car you quickly build a rhythm and rapport with and have genuine confidence in, due to its spectacular steering and communication skills. And the engine is just so special as it winds its way around to 8,800rpm – in this company it feels a complete and utter bargain, fully understandable that they change hands for twice list price.
In the Porsche, you have to drive around the inherent peculiarities of its layout – it’s part of its charm, in fact – but the McLaren makes them feel like weaknesses. As I said earlier, this car moves with you. Almost flawlessly. It’s so natural, so graceful, so effortless; everything pivots around the driver, both literally and metaphorically. You feel a key part of the whole, another component, albeit a squishier and more fallible one. The steering is utterly sublime, the chassis wonderfully deft, the engine… well, do yourself a favour and don’t turn the traction off.
When the turbos ramp up, it’ll wheelspin through every gear, but such is the 675’s dexterity that you can play with the grip and all 666bhp and feel perfectly comfortable doing so. For what it’s worth, I reckon it’s the fastest car here, although its twin-turbo engine doesn’t quite have the charisma of the 911’s chuntering, growling flat-six or the Aventador’s soaring V12.
It’s six that evening before the SV is wearing its new tyres. Less aggressive Pirelli P Zeros have been fitted all round at Lamborghini Manchester, and they’ve transformed the car – less tyre roar and aggression, notably better ride comfort. Early the next morning, I take it for a drive to get a pint of milk. From the next county but one. And here’s the thing with the SV – underneath, there’s a great driver’s car, one you can work with and enjoy, but you have to peel back the layers to discover it. Initially, it’s hard to get past the engine’s massive charisma and aura of intimidation, but when I start to push a bit the SV opens itself up and comes back to me. The front end is accurate, grip is mighty – OK, I can’t, daren’t, play with the balance like I can in the others, but on every straight, I get to open the taps on that epic V12 and feel the force.
It’s a mad, mad thing, the Aventador SV, more force of nature than car. I’m so glad we gave these three, the SV, RS and LT, a little jeopardy on a local adventure by taking them over the Hardknott. There was something wonderful in not having to go to the ends of the Earth to achieve it. It also proved that hardcore cars are capable of more, of doing weirder stuff, that essentially they’ll rise to whatever challenge they’re presented with. I love that the spirit and energy they have can be directed in unusual ways. We might not do this again, but I’m very glad we did it at all. Maybe it’s just the seat, but in more ways than one I am now Lambo-shaped. And I love it.
Photography: Mark Fagelson