What to Read Next

Herding bulls through the Rocky Mountains in the Giro Lamborghini

July 11, 2012

The airy mountain passes of Colorado are behind me, the howl of engines fading, and suddenly it hits me -- I'm still wearing the wristband.

The rubber bracelet resembles a rock concert souvenir, but it would take a Beatles reunion to match this high-decibel show: The 2012 Giro Lamborghini, an annual road tour of Lamborghini owners that included my first drive of the Aventador. This 217-mph, 691-hp, $394,000 Italian bull wields the sharpest horns in the brand's nearly half-century history.

The warm-up act wasn't bad, either. The Gallardo LP-570 Super Trofeo Stradale is the bantamweight, hardcore version of the V-10 sports car that — with financial and technical backing from corporate sugar daddy Audi -- dragged Lamborghini into the modern age of more reliable, everyday-drivable machines. At least for fortunate folks who can afford the Trofeo's $261,000 base price; and can nab one of roughly 30 copies bound for the States, from a limited worldwide run of just 150 cars.

In a three-day convoy of 29 Lamborghinis that torched roads and blew minds from Telluride to Denver, the Aventador blended in and stood out, depending on its mood. Born to its lead role in Lamborghini's exhibitionist family, the Aventador is the diva you'd expect at these ticket prices, with a rafter-shaking, 6.5-liter V-12 and the world-straddling looks of a James Cameron movie fantasy. And when I dutifully trailed a line of older Murcielagos, now succeeded by the Aventador, I noticed how well the brand's exotic cars tend to age, how smoothly they hand off to the next generation -- and how little credit Lamborghini gets for that fact. It's not easy to keep spaceships looking fresh, or to keep them from appearing dated.

Yet the Murcielago's wrinkles and sags were showing, and the Aventador fixes most of them — tummy tuck aside. This is one vast, lane-sucking sports car, an inch wider than a Chevy Suburban, and weighing closer to 4,000 pounds than its listed curb weight of 3,450.

That husky overall weight comes despite the Aventador's lightweight, carbon-fiber structure: A first for Lamborghini, combined with a nifty front suspension design that replaces bulky coil-over shock absorbers with a slim, elegant aluminum pushrod.

That carbon-fiber diet can also be found in the less costly, $225,000 McLaren MP4-12C. Yet the Aventador's brazen style — with enough planes and geometry to give Euclid a mental workout -- makes the McLaren seem generic and almost neutered in comparison.

The X-fighter theme continues in the beautifully rendered cabin, dominated by a sleek banked console that suggests lift-off capability. In modern supercar vogue, a bright, legible digital display greets the driver, with a 9,000-rpm tachometer and animated readouts for each of seven available gears. To start the V-12 Armageddon, just flip open a red metal cap to reveal the start button.

Where the Murcielago, like a high-maintenance partner, forced you to make all the compromises, the Aventador meets you halfway. As in the Gallardo, the Aventador incorporates Audi's intuitive MMI control knob and its screen for navigation, entertainment and vehicle functions. Lamborghini purists once sniffed at the presence of common Audi interfaces in their bespoke machine. But a slick, contemporary Audi system beats a road map and an Italian AM/FM radio, and complaints quickly dried up.

With apologies to its faithful, limber owners on this trip, the Murcielago's unyielding seats, off-center steering wheel and elbows-locked driving position always felt like being waterboarded. And while the Murcielago made real performance strides over its career, its stony, unapproachable nature made my life-in-danger radar flash much too soon.

But when I squeezed past the Aventador's crowd-pleasing scissor doors, its relatively natural driving position, along with more-sensitive steering, made it easier to get comfortable, crank up the pace and focus on the road ahead.

With a short-stroke V-12 perched behind driver and passenger, erupting like Vesuvius in 8,250-rpm heat, the Aventador surges from 0-60 in 2.9 seconds. Churning all four wheels like mad, the Aventador will break the quarter-mile in a hair under 11 seconds, already doing 133 mph. That's all accompanied by a fortissimo soundtrack that would bring tears to Verdi's eyes, or make him dive into the nearest canal.

Pilots can toggle the Aventador's hardware and software systems through familiar Strada (for "street"), Sport and Corsa modes. Switch the Aventador into its maximum Corsa mode, which puts the engine, transmission, suspension and stability systems on full alert, and every nudge of the throttle is rewarded with a rush of V-12 thunder and acceleration that seems headed straight to the clouds.

Some Lamborghini drivers feel that the Corsa mode is for racetrack only. But I end up toggling up "Corsa" just to pick up my dry cleaning — its brute, wolfish nature just seems the whole point of the car. Like its cars, Lamborghini's single-clutch e-gear tranny has come a long way. But whether around town or at warp speed, that transmission still isn't as seamless as the best dual-clutch units from the likes of Ferrari and Porsche.

While the Aventador is the new Lambo king, the Super Trofeo reminded me that the Gallardo — easily the best-selling Lamborghini in history -- is no jester. Essentially a lightweight Gallardo Superleggera with sharper clothes, the Super Trofeo stood out with its skyscraping carbon-fiber rear wing and blood-curdling Rosso Mars paint. The paint symbolizes Italy's national racing color, matched by a cabin slathered in red alcantara suede like some high-priced bordello.

The rear wing is matched by a trick quick-release engine cover, adopted from the racing version, and apparently for when onlookers really, really need a closer look at the V-10 perched in the car's center.

On a smoking run from the vineyards of Leroux Creek Inn in the North Fork Valley to Snowmass, the Gallardo seemed more at home on tightly-coiled back roads than the Aventador -- roads more like the typical race courses where the Super Trofeo competes in Europe. Surprising, perhaps, until I remembered that this Gallardo weighs (officially) a sprightly 2,954 pounds. That's about 500 fewer pounds than a Porsche 911 Turbo or the much-larger Aventador.

The Aventador can also rock its way around a tight radius, but it prefers more room to stretch its muscular legs.

Its natural habitat is the open highway, preferably one with sweeping climbs, challenging descents and optional speed limits.

Our road trippers found all that (minus the optional speed limits) on a life-affirming blast from Snowmass to Vail, where the sun glinted off our Crayola-hued convoy and the Aventador seemed a car without limits — the essence of what an Italian supercar is supposed to be. Entering Vail's cobblestoned village, normally off-limits to automobiles, our phalanx of Lamborghinis — beautiful, flamboyant, ridiculous -- was met like conquering Romans by boggled, camera-snapping onlookers. Approached by a young boy in a Red Sox cap, who instantly identified the Aventador, I let the lad (followed by his brother) hop behind the wheel for a few photos.

"I'm sitting in a Lamborghini!" the boy cried, unable to contain his excitement, or believe his good fortune.

Right there with you, pal.