Lamborghinis in Japan: the $1.2 million drive

Scything along an expressway towards Japan's north coast in one of the most expensive sports cars on the planet, sublime threatens to take a left turn towards ridiculous as first one snowflake and then several kiss off the windscreen.

If it were a person looking at me like that, I would assume they wanted to knife me on the spot.

The outside temperature is plummeting as we forge into the late afternoon gloom, eight hours of driving done and two still ahead. With $761,000 worth of V12 engine, aluminium panels, carbon fibre trim and insanely wide tyres under my control, there is nothing for it but to dip deeper into my fast-waning reserve of concentration; all the while offering up silent thanks to Sant'Agata.

That's not the patron saint of road trips, mind you, but the Bolognese home of Italian hypercar outfit Lamborghini.

The fearsome weapons of mass distraction it produces - such as the Aventador beneath me and its newly minted little brother following close behind, the $428,000 Huracan - all emerge from the factory with four-wheel grip as standard.

Bloody bellissimo, fellas.

The imminent threat of a blizzard turns out to be a minor flurry; another hour later, though, driving rain buffets us, prompting another silent tribute to the gods of traction.

Until we'd rolled out of Tokyo earlier that day, I had not helmed a 'Lambo', nor any such 'super sports' car, for that matter. When I first encounter the radioactive green Aventador, it's crouched on the Marriott Tokyo's forecourt alongside the new model we've been summoned here to drive, called Huracan (pronounced Oor-A-Carn).

Grievous bodily harm

The Aventador's sharply creased angles seem to radiate contempt for anyone who dares approach it; if it were a person looking at me like that, I would assume they wanted to knife me on the spot. Even the relatively more sedate outline of the Huracan, dressed in gunmetal grey, seems to suggest enough pent-up nastiness to issue a kick to the crotch just for fun.

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Introductions complete, the first challenge is to navigate the $1.2 million pair through Tokyo's fearsome morning peak hour. I take stock of my courage and, finding myself severely wanting of it, hand the Huracan key to the Japanese motoring journalist anointed my co-driver.

When 90 minutes later he offers it back at the foot of a testing stretch of winding road on the capital's outskirts, that boot to the groin looks to be coming my way. But rather than letting our two bulls run, the photographer instead calls us to heel for some low-speed formation shots.

Against this welcome backdrop of restraint, I settle in behind the Huracan's racing-inspired steering wheel and gently probe its capabilities . A startling truth quickly emerges: it neither wants to kick or kill me, it just begs to be properly driven.

Before that can happen, though, there are many expressway miles to traverse, and cultural stops to experience.

Roar attraction

In the meantime, we content ourselves with a game of tunnel tennis. The expressways of southern Japan are dotted with hundreds of tunnels, some several kilometres long. With sparse traffic on the road, it's easy to flip the beautifully designed shift paddles in either car back a notch or two, drop some speed and then nail the throttle for a brief moment.

This turns the tunnel's dimly-lit, soulless interior into an echo chamber of burps, booms, crackles and blares that bring grins to the faces of our support crew. I confidently assert it's the best sound in the world, bar none. I'll be proven wrong inside 24 hours.

Our first intended 'culture' stop is thwarted; we arrive at the Shirakawago heritage site – a postcard-perfect village filled with centuries-old Japanese dwellings – just as both night and light rain descend. It would clearly be a sight to behold in daylight, but we've missed our chance so we press on to the overnight stop - a further 150km up the road.

The Kuriya Yasohachi hotel, in Ishikawa Prefecture, replicates the experience of a traditional Japanese stay, including rooms with woven straw floors, paper walls and futon bedding, plus an Onsen, a Japanese-style hot spring.

The raw and the cooked

Also included is an eight-course dinner consisting entirely of Japanese-style cuisine, where the raw, the cooked and the 'what-the-@#$%-is-that' combine on a single plate, to the immense amusement of the nakai-san (waitress). She nonetheless conveys via our interpreter her surprise and pleasure that the Westerners in the group at least attempt to eat everything placed in front of them. She also gigglishly asserts we look like movie stars. It's clear she doesn't host Westerners very often.

Setting course for Kyoto the following day after a brave late-evening visit to the clothing-optional Onsen followed by a surprisingly restful sleep on the two-inch-thick futon, there's more of everything. More expressway driving, more rain, and more culture via a stop at the imposing castle/citadel of Hikone. The day concludes somewhat bizarrely in Kyoto with a visit to a festival to celebrate the role of the goldfish in contemporary Japanese society, before moving on to a traditional teppanyaki dinner (and, thankfully, no goldfish on the menu).

In between times, our hosts have responded to our pleas and located a tourist drive behind Kyoto for us to find out more about the cars than how they handle an expressway. It's turns out to be no ordinary road; by my decree, it should join the ranks of the world's best. Only 10km in length, it's as smooth and sinuous as a Hermann Tilke-designed F1 track. As evening closes in and with all the tourists having departed for the day, it is tailor-made to test the best attributes of our two star cars.

Let's do the twists

The lime-green Aventador – which has garnered roughly 99.75 per cent of public attention as we commute through the Kyoto suburbs – goes first, and immediately feels every bit as wide, heavy and powerful as it actually is.

Equipped with a V12 engine making a brutal 510kW of power and 690Nm of torque, the 'Lambor-greenie' on this road feels like bringing a pile-driver to a game of whack-a-mole. It snorts like the fighting bull it's named after, strains to break traction and seems to be searching for the nearest Cherry Blossom to wrap itself around.

In spite of the familial resemblance, the Huracan represents a generational shift. Only three years the bigger car's junior and a couple of cylinders shy, it actually feels like it shrinks around you and proceeds to make infinitely more sense than its counterpart.

The Aventador is also encumbered with a rather clumsy single-clutch seven-speed gearbox. Slow to shift and occasionally indecisive, it pales next to the Huracan's sublime seven-speed dual-clutch auto that matches perfectly to the car's character.

Helping the Huracan's cause is that it is narrower, shorter and lighter than its travelling companion, yet still copiously endowed with shove and has a handy serve of performance-enhancing goodies including magnetically adjustable suspension.

Huracan alert

In fact, on almost every measurable metric the Huracan feels the better, more thoroughly contemporary car – more fun to drive at the limit, easier to own and use every day, better to look at (in my humble opinion) and cheaper. How much? The $333,000 you save on buying a Huracan instead of an Aventador means you could buy a Porsche 911 Carrera as well, with change left over.

The ultimate compliment I can pay to the Huracan is that it made me look and feel like a good driver; it was well and truly more than a match for my driving skills across hours of driving, through rain and snow, cities and highways, tunnels and twisties.

The sound emitted by the 449kW/560Nm V10 engine is the most characterful I've ever encountered. The full-throttle blare - interspersed with extroverted downshift over-revs and an exhaust crackle that sounds like small arms fire - that drifts back to us from a mountain range several kilometres distant ought to be bottled, it's that good.

Bravo, littlest Lambo. Magnifico.

Steve Colquhoun travelled to Japan as a guest of Lamborghini.

Lamborghini Aventador

Price: $761,000 excluding on road costs

Engine: 6.5-litre V12

Power/torque: 510kW/690Nm

Fuel economy: 17.2 L/100 km (combined cycle)

C02: 398 grams per kilometre

Lamborghini Huracan

Price: $428,000 excluding on road costs

Engine: 5.2-litre V10

Power/torque: 449kW/560Nm

Fuel economy: 12.5 L/100 km (combined cycle)

C02: 290 grams per kilometre

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