Review: The Sián is Lamborghini at its wildest

“This is performance that transcends speed, that’s as much theatrical as physical”
by Ollie Marriage | Mar 7, 2021
PHOTO: TopGear.com
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This is, by some distance, the most complicated car Lamborghini has ever produced. Yes, it’s shown us the Terzo Millennio with its batteries-for-body-panels and the V10 plug-in hybrid Asterion in the past, but both of those were pure concepts. The Sián is the first production Lamborghini to feature electrification. Which means you can actually buy one. Well, you could...they’re sold out, despite costing a spectacular £2.5 million (P169 million) each.

But you’re unlikely to see two of them in your local multistory car park, because Lamborghini is only building 63 coupes and 19 roadsters. Numbers that pay tribute to the year Feruccio Lamborghini founded the company: 1963. In fact, there’s brown-nosing galore because the full name is Sián FKP 37: Sián (pronounced sea-ann, apparently) means flash or lightning in the Bolognese dialect, the FKP bit is a nod to late VW Group chairman Ferdinand Piech, and the 37 refers to 1937, the year he was born.

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It possesses a tuned version of the Aventador SVJ’s 6.5-liter, naturally aspirated V12, producing 774hp on its own—that’s already 15hp more than the SVJ. To that is added another 34hp of electrical oomph for a total of 808hp, which is a lot. Enough for 0-100kph in less than 2.8sec and a top speed of around 355kph, claims Lambo.

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This isn’t any old hybrid system, either. It uses lithium-ion supercapacitors instead of a normal battery pack. Supercapacitors are interesting for several reasons: Although they can’t hold as much energy as a regular lithium-ion battery of the same size and weight, they have three times the power density (the speed at which the energy is delivered) and can charge much more rapidly, too. In other words, the supercapacitors are fully topped-up every time you brake and therefore poised to torque fill during gear changes, or add boost when you get back on the throttle. The upshot of all this is the supercapacitors don’t need to be big. The whole hybrid system weighs just 34kg—1kg per horsepower added.

There’s a Countach connection on the exterior—the triple taillights, the Periscopio-style roof scallop, the dent in the hood, the intakes on the door—all a nod to the original poster car, and it’s a brutal thing to try and get your eyes around. Those headlights, in particular—lifted from the Terzo Millennio concept, but also a nod to the next-gen face of Lamborghini—add an extraterrestrial quality to the front end.

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Around the back, a pop-up spoiler that rises to sit flush with the carbon fins on either side is the obvious party piece, but we prefer the four square cutouts just below the slatted engine cover. Vents that open when the exhaust temp hits a certain threshold, but do so without any electrics—just a set of a springs and a magic material (that Lamborghini won’t talk about) that deforms under extreme heat to open the vents and expel heat. Clever stuff. File that and the electrochromic roof panel—switchable between clear and opaque via a button on the dash—under ‘cool stuff to show off to your friends.’

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A hybrid, then, but a mere toe in the water for Lamborghini, a precursor of what’s to come with the Aventador and the Huracan replacements—rumored to keep their naturally aspirated V12 and V10 alive with supplementary electricity, possibly a more conventional plug-in hybrid setup. But that’s to come. This is now.

On the road

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Not strictly driving, but here’s a Sián party piece: Stand someone about a car length behind with an open jacket. Now, blip the throttle. You can play tunes on their coat—every blip causes a gust that blows it open. You won’t be able to do that in the electric future. And nor will you be able to be heard three counties away. That is a good thing, until you consider the sound that emits from the Sián’s trumpeting exhausts—a sonic impact of venting, vengeful V12 full of spitting, bellowing, flecking fury.

The Sian is a ruthless broadcaster. Not fully on it? Everyone can tell. It doesn’t matter if the exhausts are pointed at you or not. Inside, the sound is more nuanced; you get cam chatter and intake suck as well as piston thrash and exhaust yelp. And behind that, ever so faintly and occasionally, a mousey whine from the e-motor. The volume discrepancy mirrors the power and highlights the main issue with the Sián, namely, “What’s 34hp of e-power going to do when you’re shutting off and opening up 774hp?”

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You’re right, bugger all. Those 34hp and 35Nm of e-twist is a pipette in the dam burst of V12 mega-thrust. The e-boost isn’t here to give the engine a leg-up from 774hp to 808hp. It’s here to paper over the cracks in the gearbox. Not a twin-clutch, but a single-clutch sequential head-banger. The Sián’s electric motor, mounted between engine and gearbox, is there to take up the engine’s slack while the gearbox shuffles itself into the next gear. It’s under-equipped for the task.

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In Track-focused Corsa mode, the shifts aren’t too bad because the gearbox forces them home at almost twin-clutch speed. But accelerating away briskly from a standstill, in Strada or Sport mode, when you just want to dispatch the irritating hot hatch without looking like you’re having to work too hard? Watch the first to second shift, it could make you look like an amateur. So, as you’ve always been able to, you end up managing the gearbox, rolling back the throttle before pulling a paddle.

And there are other drawbacks. Where in the world do you tend to see these cars? It’s not racetracks, is it—it’s howling between Middle Eastern skyscrapers or battling Ubers for road position in London. So, you’d expect Lambo to finesse for that kind of use. Instead, what we have is a car with tight diffs that fight and fidget when pulling out of parking spaces, and an engine that hiccups and hesitates when pottering about. And no, it can’t be driven on electric, not even for a single, solitary yard.

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Does that matter? Kinda, yeah. It’s no more electrically motivated than the LaFerrari was eight years ago. But let’s put that to one side and consider the actual driving. Early Aventadors were a handful. They’ve gotten progressively better through S, SV, and SVJ. But the Sián is smoother-handling and more predictable than any of them. It moves so naturally, we thought Lambo had stripped out the 4WS and the variable steering rack.

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The steering is a delight, communicating Pirelli-sourced information to your hands as clearly as the V12 to listeners’ ears. You can lean hard into corners, but you’ll get understeer before oversteer. Once the nose is settled, gas it in second and the rear will arc out. Only momentarily, because then the 4WD will transfer power forward and you’ll be finessing an even four-wheel slide. But having the confidence to do this is the surprise. Body control, chassis rigidity, weight management—the Sián is tight and together through every corner.

A track car, then, but without the daft wings and claimed downforce. Less track-focused than the Aventador SVJ, but simultaneously—because it’s not trying so hard to be super-aggressive—actually flows better around a circuit. It certainly doesn’t lack cornering force or grip. The ride, it’s safe to say, will be savage on the open road.

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But mainly, it’s about the engine, the response at 2,000rpm, the stridency from 4,000rpm, and your total inability as the driver to shift up anywhere other than at the 8,500rpm cutout. You always hold on for that moment because it’s perfect, the build of power and noise into a sublime crescendo. Then pull a paddle and repeat, have the experience all over again.

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This is performance that transcends speed, performance that’s as much theatrical as physical. Yes, it’s ferociously fast, but isn’t everything these days? What gives the acceleration added bite is the drama of it. The fact that the engine is thrashing so hard, the exhausts become giant Bunsen burners, the air a super-heated shimmer pursuing the car. And that ridiculous, awe-inspiring noise.

On the inside

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Driven an Aventador? You’ll recognize the interior, with much of the switchgear and the broad-brushstroke architecture carried over, albeit with a rejigged center console and everything wrapped and finished in the most expensive materials and processes possible. Chunky cross-stitching along the dash, hectares of cognac leather, no surface un-carboned. The screen has flipped to portrait (like in the Huracan Evo) and the chairs themselves envelop you in a buttery leather embrace.

You sit low, deep within the bowels of the car, and clutch a high-set wheel in front of you. It might be based around an Aventador architecture that’s been around for 10 years now, but the interior doesn’t feel long in the tooth. The graphics on the virtual instrument display behind the wheel and the central screen (which includes a supercapacitor status display to monitor state of charge, recharge and boost) are all crisp and responsive, the switchgear operates with a satisfying click, the scissor doors shut with a reassuring clunk. The big clue that you’re sitting in something beyond the ordinary is a ‘Supercap’ badge on the bulkhead behind the seats, a very faint occasional whine from the motor, and a constant sense that you’re piloting something very large, very powerful, and very expensive.

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The stress here isn’t driveability. No, the problem is width and visibility: Fine dead ahead, but for the vertically challenged, knowing where the outer edges of your wheels are is pure guesswork. View out the back? Like peering through a venetian blind without being spotted by your neighbors. But we wouldn’t want it any other way.

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There is a cargo area—a frunk—big enough to contain a crash helmet, but nothing else. Shame, as this is the kind of hypercar you could actually do distance in, if you wanted. Provided you could tolerate the frequent, lengthy fuel stops.

Final thoughts

Should we see the Sián as Lambo’s last gasp? Doubt it. If anyone can find a way of circumventing the regs and keeping petrol alive, it’ll be Lamborghini. Its whole schtick is noise, drama, angles, fire, and fury, and the Sián hasn’t rowed back on any of that. Brakes glow, heat rises, blue tongues flick snake-like from exhausts, the atmosphere ripples. And even on the cusp of the electrified era, this thing’s ability to consume fuel is almost unparalleled.

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As a tribute act, then? A showcase for the V12? There’s something in that, and as these cars get rarer and our exposure to them scarcer, so we attribute more value to them. As yet, beyond a force in your back, no one has managed to make an electric hypercar really bloody entertaining. I don’t blame Lambo for doubling down on what it does best because it stands the Sián apart. It’s a familiar tune, played ridiculously well. One last riff on the V12 guitar.

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NOTE: This article first appeared on TopGear.com. Minor edits have been made.

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PHOTO: TopGear.com
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