Test Drive: Lamborghini Reventon

We put Lambo's latest limited-edition, $1.4 million supercar through its paces on an abandoned Italian airstrip. Video and photos galore inside
To house the giant engine and keep the frame low to the road, engineers built the Reventn out instead of up. The rear of the car is more than 2 meters wide. William Snyder

Be sure to check out our photo-gallery of the eye-popping Reventn, as well as a video from inside the cockpit.

When we heard that Lamborghini was offering a first drive of its brand new Reventn, we dispatched far-flung PopSci correspondent William Snyder to Italy without hesitation. The 650-horsepower Reventn-named after a bull that killed the legendary matador Felix Guzman in the 1940s-does 0â€60 in 3.4 seconds (topping out at 211 mph), comes in a limited production run of 20, and looks like the love child of an F-22 Raptor jet and the latest Batmobile. Here’s our correspondent’s report from Bologna.

When I was told about the chance to go to Italy to be among the first to drive the Lamborghini Reventn, I had to consult a gearhead friend to make sure I wasn´t in for more than I could handle. This IM exchange took place last week:

Me: I’m heading to drive the new Lamborghini for a day soon. You’ve driven a couple before, right?

JB: Yeah, they’re pretty easy to drive. Why are you going?

ME: PopSci called yesterday and needs a review of the new Reventn.

JB: Holy ****! You’re gonna drive the Reventn?!

JB: It’s a really powerful car and might not be all that easy to drive. A big mid-engine means it can get loose in turns if you´re hitting them hard, so you need to be careful.

ME: Well, i’ve been mastering Opels and Fiats here in Spain all summer.

JB: Please don’t die.

ME: I’ll probably just roll around in first gear, and then if I get too worried I’ll break it and get out

JB: No. Speed. But remember, don´t die.

Driving advice in my life has always been lighthearted: Don’t ride the clutch. Accelerate through a turn. Watch for cops laying speed traps behind diners. That kind of thing. But now it was getting ominous.

The thought of driving a Lambo, though, was just too tantalizing. The legendary Countach was my childhood fantasy of sexiness, punctuated with a bikini-clad girl perched on the hood like she was floating on a velvet cloud. And I´m not alone. I IMed another friend:

_ME: Dude, test-driving a Lamborghini for work!

John: Lamborghini! Get a girl to pose on the hood. Like the posters!_

But the factory in Sant’Agata stopped cranking out the Countach in 1990, and from what I could find online, the Reventn wasn´t about explicit sexuality. For starters, the paint job doesn´t scream string bikini-it´s a drab gray/green you would expect on a tank or a hunting blind. But somehow (they say it´s the metallic flakes) the color shimmers and pops.

And the body, a carbon-fiber composite glued to a steel frame, pays an obvious homage to stealth fighter jets. Broken lines and sharp angles are not the trend for supercar designs among the other big players, such as Bugatti´s Veyron or the world´s fastest production car, Shelby´s Ultimate Aero.

The Veyron and Ultimate Aero changed the direction of supercars from form and function to straight-up raw power. The Reventn seems to be bridging the gap for Lamborghini. It maintains the Sistine Chapelâ€like standards of good looks while answering the market demand for ludicrous speed. I mentioned this to my mother before leaving.

Mom: Don´t speed, and please don´t die._

What is this? My family and friends are suddenly under the impression that I´m a horrible driver. It´s not like I´ll be cruising through packed Italian streets at 200 mph-Lamborghini set up a day at a municipal airport with the runway as our playground. In such a safe environment, there´s no way I was going slow unless something ridiculous happened. Something like, say, a speed restrictor on the engine.

The Reventn flashed to the front door of the Lamborghini headquarters, and although it looks stealthy, functionally it is quite the opposite-you hear it long before you see it. I checked out the new aeronautic touches, like a display option for the gauges that mimics the cockpit of a fighter jet. Lamborghini also introduced a G-force meter which displays drive forces–longitudinal acceleration during acceleration or braking and transversal acceleration around bends–and projects them onto a 3-D grid above the tachometer.

Heatproof LEDs are used for brake and indicator lights on the back because of the proximity to the engine. And speaking of the engine-it´s impossible to ignore, since it consumes practically all of the rear and is auspiciously visible through the glass â€hood.â€

I prepared to take hold of the wheel and burn across the countryside, when one of the Lamborghini representatives delivered a blow as deadly as a matador´s sword but with the grace of a one-legged ballerina: â€Mr. Snyder, we have a speed limiter on the engine that keeps it at 130.”

A disappointment, to be sure, but I can handle 130 mph, I thought to myself. It´s not great, but we can work around it. â€No, Mr. Snyder, kilometers, not miles. It´s the speed limit in Italy, and we want to be safe.†And there goes the glory.

For the next three hours, we pushed the Reventn from 0 to 130 (around 80 mph) over and over again (see the video below), not even challenging the V12 but certainly testing the cooling system for the ceramic disc brakes. And as I turned a corner listening to the pitch-perfect roar of the engine, lining up on the runway, I realized how fine-tuned the power was in the machine. It hummed with excitement in a way that felt almost like it was alive. Too bad that at 80 mph, the thing was barely even half awake.

What Lamborghini realized with the Reventn is that you don’t need the girl on the hood. The fantasy now is for raw power-a fantasy more subversive than ever in an age where innovative, gas-sipping hybrid concepts far outnumber the audacious supercars at auto shows. With a space-shuttle thruster for an engine, an original body engineered to outrageous perfection and a through-the-roof price tag, Lamborghini is certainly hoping to elevate the Reventn to legendary status among the rarefied supercar elite. Unfortunately, with a rev-limiter standing in the way, it´s a bit difficult to tell if it´s truly succeeded.

By no means is it not a thrill behind the wheel, though, as you can see: