Shock, disbelief, and outrage are handed out like flutes of champagne at the average Lamborghini reveal. Consider the Veneno, an Aventador variant someone designed with a machete. Lamborghini followed that with the Egoista, which was basically a Veneno onto which someone had landed a Comanche attack helicopter. Even the name was outlandish, “Egoista” meaning “selfish.” They’ve done such a fine job of certifying themselves as lunatics that their latest concept the Lamborghini Asterion, unsheeted last week at the Paris Motor Show, stirred the pot just for looking so ordinary.
Well, ordinary isn’t exactly a fitting term for the 910 hp Asterion Concept, Lamborghini’s very first hybrid. Initial reactions to the Asterion’s design center around worship, ranging from “Well, that’s a very handsome autocar, Edith” to offers of limb donation.
But before we get to the surprisingly smooth lines, let’s have a look under the curvy bonnet, where we find the very familiar 5.2 liter V10 from the Huracan nee Gallardo. The venerable mill pays out a dutiful 610 hp, just a few more than it does in the Huracan. But that’s not all we find under the hood. The starter also acts as a generator, which powers two electric motors. The latter contribute another 300 hp, and the total goes to all four wheels.
With a total of 910 hp, the Asterion can now keep track of the Porsche 918, the McLaren P1, and the Ferrari The Ferrari. The new hybrid hypercars do offer a certain performance advantage, though detractors argue that the move toward hybrid tech is strictly to satisfy the ever tightening stranglehold of EU emissions regulations on the car industry. And they do have some ground to stand on. The EU plans a fresh echelon of regulations by 2021.
This leap toward high-end hybrids does have some other benefits, however. Of course you can get 910 hp out of Lambo’s 5.2. You can supercharge and turbocharge and tweak and massage and tune, and eventually you’ll get there. Lamborghini would get there, too. But could they do it feasibly? Remember that Bugatti, with all their analog complexity, lost money on every Veyron they sold, and each was over a million bucks. Then there’s reliability. The more horsepower you want to force through the engine, the more likely it will be to detonate into a thousand, $80 shards.
If Lamborghini can get nearly the same effect by bolting up a couple of cheap, simple, reliable electric drums to the axles, you might call it a smart move. The specs agree. It can hit 198 mph, reaching the first 60 in three seconds. And with 300 hp of electrics, it can run at nearly 80 mph for 32 miles.
So it seems odd that Lamborghini would tame out their usual styling madness for such a mad powertrain. The Asterion is smooth, reserved, even sensible. It’s as if we’re two decades in the future and we’re seeing a calmer retro tribute to the Aventador or Gallardo. The Lambo love for a repeating shape, in this case the hexagon, is prevalent, but they’re all rounded and safe, like a child’s toy, post-lawsuit.
The exterior swoops and curves like a model lying under a silk sheet, leaving the rear area a bit heavy and ill-proportioned, but once again, safe. Inside, you won’t find the seats of a Sesto Elemento, which are literally just foam pads glued to the chassis, but the comfortable buckets of a grand tourer. There’s ample leg and footroom. Even the headroom seems sufficient. Woodtone leather and beige make up the bulk of the touchables.
Many fans, long weary of Lamborghini’s focused, bloody intensity, have embraced the Asterion’s comforting lines. But not everyone is crazy about the drivetrain. In fact, Lamborghini CEO Stephan Winkelmann, who has panned hybrids in the past, chuckled, “We’re still not interested [in hybrids],” calling the Asterion strictly a “technological demonstrator.” He went on to say that he’d love to put the car into production, but with a traditional engine, likely the Aventador’s V12.
The truth is, Lamborghini shows concepts, one-offs, and limited editions all the time. Sant’Agata is lousy with them. And we see them and applaud the insanity, grinning and shaking our heads as if we’re at the very apex of respect and disgust, as if in our next breath we know we’re going to say, “Too far.” But we never do.
Perhaps new Lamborghini knew this, that they couldn’t get any more psychotic without us becoming numb to the effect and switching off the attention. So they surprised us the other way. Where before they cornered the market on bleeding edge ferocity, they just showed us that they can conquer the high-class world of grand touring just as easily. Where before they generated reams of rot rod horsepower and noise with old school combustion and displacement, now they can put on a pair of glasses and talk tech with MIT.
And then the CEO plays the whole thing off like it’s just a pile of parts they threw together to keep the hippies happy. Like they could compete with just about anyone. If they felt like it.
Has anyone swaggered this hard since Lamborghini released the Countach? Maybe the Asterion, for all its cool, German practicality and British streamlining, is right in line with Lamborghini’s chief ideal from day one: build cars to surprise people.
Andy Sheehan is a blogger, aspiring novelist, and relentless hoon. He plans to will his 2002 Subaru WRX Wagon to his firstborn, plans his daily commute around the swoop of its roads, and doesn’t plan to ever buy an automatic. A cool-car omnipath, he loves the common Mustang or Chevelle, but hunts for the weird and wonderful Velorexes and Cosmos of the autoverse. And when he can afford a garage, he’s going to turn an MX-5 into a race car.