Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: November 30, 2020
What happens when you chop the roof off of a 750 horsepower, 350 km/h top speed supercar? Well it’s not as simple as waving the magic wand tool on Photoshop. Losing the structural roof results in a physical reduction in rigidity, increased weight from the complex roof mechanisms, higher cost, and compromised trunk and cabin space due to required storage of the removed roof. Performance unequivocally takes a hit, and even the best of the best aren’t spared by these laws of physics. Not even Lamborghini.
Their Aventador SVJ Roadster is slightly slower, heavier, and more expensive than its coupe counterpart, but I’d argue that it is infinitely more theatrical and engaging because of it. Without layers of metal and carbon fibre bordering the skies, a tidal wave of dopamine-induced sounds, smells, and tactile sensations flood into the cabin and turn a daily commute into a daily escape. I nearly shed a tear when the unimpeded V12 hit its 8,700 rpm right behind my ears. The rush is pharmaceutical grade.
SVJ stands for Super Veloce Jota, and it’s the most hardcore regular-production vehicle that Lamborghini makes. SVJ is to Lamborghini as Longtail is to McLaren, or GTO is to Ferrari. It showcases their most track-focused models and upgrades, and Sant'Agata’s most coveted rank has only been shared with two other vehicles, the Miura P400 Jota and the Diablo SE30 Jota.
As such, Lamborghini was clever with the SVJ Roadster’s construction, resulting in just a 50 kg weight penalty over the coupe. The roof cannot be lowered with a simple push of a button like the McLaren 720S Spider, and requires a bit more elbow grease. Assembly is required, but luckily it’s not a one-hour job like the Murcielago’s. The Aventador’s carbon fibre roof comes in two symmetrical pieces, and there are quick-release levers behind each seat to unlatch them. Think Jeep Wrangler, both in terms of how the panels come off and how much each one of them cost. They can be stowed in the front trunk area with its dedicated latches and hooks to ensure they don’t flop around when driving at high speeds, but it pretty much nullifies any available storage space for weekend getaways. I couldn’t even squeeze my camera bag up there. The passenger footwell becomes hot real estate.
But without the need to sacrifice precious room behind the driver to stow the roof like how the McLaren 720S and BMW M8 do it, it preserves the SVJ’s natural and intended roofline. So with the roof up, it’s actually difficult to tell that it’s a roadster. The Aventador is still more of a targa if you ask me, but let’s leave semantics out of this.
Only 800 of these flame-throwing Roadsters will be built. It’s not a terribly exclusive club in the grand scheme of hypercars but the production numbers fall in line with other highly sought after targets like the McLaren 765LT and Porsche 911 GT2 RS. The SVJ Roadster stickers at $700,238, which is $68,558 more than the coupe, but we all know that options rule the spec sheet. Our SVJ test vehicle was loaded up to the stratosphere with carbon fibre bits, swelling the final number up to an eye-watering $791,578. The Blu Nethuns paint alone cost $16,800, and while it wouldn’t be my first choice for this raging bull, we have to admit that it is stunning. Otherwise known as Monterey Blue, it’s a deep blue hue that shimmers and glows even under overcast skies.
Sights and sounds aside, the roadster isn’t fundamentally different to drive than the coupe. But there are a few key ergonomic differences that unexpectedly make it a better daily companion. First off, the C-pillar is different. In the coupe, the engine bay and fixed spoiler cover the entire rear windscreen, hampering the view out back. We had to swerve left and right and use the side mirrors instead to see what was tailing us. In the roadster, you can actually see out of the damn thing (okay the view is still terrible but it’s miles better). Furthermore, it has a larger rear window that can actually retract for a clearer view and more importantly, you can better hear the V12. So here’s a top tip if you see a wild SVJ on the street. Don’t tail it. Chances are they won’t know you’re there, and their carbon ceramic brakes are probably better than yours.
Secondly, ingress is much easier when the roof is off, so you’re no longer bumping your head as you pirouette your way inwards. Headroom and forward visibility is more expansive as well, meaning taller folks can actually sneak a peak over the top of the windshield to see if the traffic light has turned green. That also means you can assume a more upright seating position, and the seats aren’t terribly uncomfortable either. Though they lack lumbar support, the padding is quite excellent, and it will take more than a few hours for the first signs of backache to arise. Better yet, being essentially a targa with curved, bezeled windows tilted inwards, wind buffeting is minimal, even at triple digit speeds.
And with the sky doors open, you have front row seats to the best orchestra in town. Listen carefully and you can hear the mechanical clunk of the throttle bodies opening and hissing, the intake roar as air rushes in, and the wail of the twelve cylinders as they turn fuel into noise, spewing musical gases out the mid-mounted exhausts. Adding to the symphony are the artillery salvo of pops and bangs on throttle overrun, and the distinctive Xtrac-like thump as the gears engage. Have a listen to our Exhaust Notes video below to hear it for yourself. But we’re going to stop waxing poetic at this point and tell you what it’s actually like to drive.
The bull’s heart is the star of the show, and you won’t find it cheekily stuffed inside some Bentley or Porsche. This naturally aspirated 6.5-litre V12 is exclusive to Lamborghini. In SVJ form, it’s been massaged with titanium intake valves, modified cylinder heads, a lighter flywheel and clutch, and a lighter exhaust for a grand output of 759 hp and 531 lb-ft of torque. It runs that prodigious figure through a single-clutch automated 7-speed gearbox and sprints from 0-100 km/h in a blistering 2.9 seconds, just 0.1 seconds slower than the coupe.
Yes, it’s mind-bendingly quick but what’s seared into our brain is how the V12 revs. Without turbo plumbing, it reacts instantly to your right foot, like the word inertia doesn’t exist in the Italian language. There’s so little circulating mass in the V12 that the needle doesn’t really rev, it just shows up. On the flip side, that 7-speed robotized transmission is still a dim-witted sore spot in the Aventador lineup. It fires off gears with a distinctive ping but with an unforgiving ferocity, like sitting next to an over-caffeinated teenager learning how to drive stick. When left to its horridly-tuned automatic shifting pattern, the SVJ lugs and lurches with each shift. Rowing your own by tugging the metal paddles, or briefly letting off the gas before shifting, will make it easier on your neck muscles. We learned to love this characterful flaw, though. It somehow made us feel like we were piloting a race-bred GT3 car, and since when were those supposed to be comfortable and cosseting?
That being said, the SVJ is friendlier than it looks. The sheer amount of mechanical grip is staggering thanks to the Haldex AWD system, fat tires, and the SVJ’s active aerodynamics system codenamed ALA, short for Aerodinamica Lamborghini Attiva. Like in the Huracan Performante, there are active flaps all around the body that will adjust downforce on the fly, and will open and close to reduce drag depending on the conditions. Distilled to its most simplistic explanation, ALA allows for 40% more downforce than the SV Roadster, which equals more grip in corners and faster acceleration due to reduced aerodynamic resistance. To be quite frank, ALA doesn’t play too big of a role while strutting around under street limits. ALA will also shut off automatically when outside temperatures are too cold for the flaps to operate properly.
Single-digit, damp weather didn’t exactly give us overwhelming confidence to get well acquainted with the SVJ, but the Pirelli Sottozero 3 winter tires did give us some hope. We’re not particularly sure where they found this rarified rubber in a staggered 20-inch front and 21-inch rear setup. I’ve never seen such thin sidewalls on a snow tire. Potholes and pockmarked roads will continue to be your worst enemy, as a replacement for just one of these shoes will set you back a cool $2,000.
Quick, sharp, and high-fidelity steering offer a healthy dose of athleticism and the SVJ somehow remains magnetically glued to the floor as the speed builds. Gunning it still requires absolute focus, or whatever focus you have left once you realize your peripherals are blurring and your eyeballs are spinning around in their sockets, but it becomes so easy to lean on and trust the car. Furthermore, its rear-wheel steering instills confidence through its tight turning circle and also the predictability of the rear’s movements. I still wouldn’t call the SVJ’s 759-hp output accessible but when the roads open up, it’s not a Herculean task to take a momentary peek at the edge of its envelope.
But before we end this review, we thought we would sum up a few odd pickles we noticed during our drive. The substantially-sized steering wheel is nicely wrapped with leather and alcantara but for such an expensive car, a scratchy plastic airbag cover just doesn’t cut it. Even the Huracan and Urus wheels look more premium. The infotainment system sourced from decade-old Audis is also a step back in time, a stark reminder of the Aventador’s old bones. The same goes for the key fob, which still uses the old Audi design, and not the newer one used in the Urus. And even though the SVJ employs clever tricks like cylinder deactivation and engine start stop, its V12 sips fuel faster than a stranded hiker in the middle of the Gobi. First world problems, clearly.
The Aventador SVJ is a joyful, barely legal piece of machinery lathered in pomp and circumstance, and remains the ultimate roadster that money can buy. The SVJ is a holy relic of how things used to be done, and remains as fundamentally flawed as the Miura, Countach, Diablo, and Murcielago that came before it. But what they lack in ergonomics they make up for in beguiling theatre. The SVJ was purposefully built for those who desire the attention, noise, and performance to back up its outrageously-styled epidermis. Frankly, there are few things in life that impart such a single-minded, cathartic experience, this being one of the legal ones. Who said money can’t buy happiness?
Model: 2020 Lamborghini Aventador SVJ Roadster
Paint Type: Blu Nethuns
Base Price: $700,238
Price as Tested: $791,578
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,943 / 2,098 (excl. mirrors) / 1,136
Dry weight (kg): 1,525
Engine: 6.5-litre V12
Horsepower: 759 hp @ 8,500 rpm
Torque: 531 lb-ft @ 6,750 rpm
Transmission: 7-speed single-clutch automated with ISR (independent shifting rods)
Engine & Drive Configuration: Mid engine, AWD
Tires: Pirelli Sottozero 3; 255/30ZR20 front; 355/25ZR21 rear