Plans to put the showstopping Lamborghini Asterion concept car into production have been shelved in favour of bringing the Urus SUV to market for 2018.
Speaking to Autocar, Lamborghini boss Stephan Winkelmann said a production version of the Asterion is now unlikely: “It was built to show what we would do if the regulations forced us to have 30 miles of electric range as well as high-speed performance,” he said. “Because of the weight of the batteries, we also took the opportunity to make the car bigger and roomier. We wanted to see customer reactions.
“They told us that they were open to innovation, including hybrid technology, but only if it came with the benefit of added performance. A Lamborghini super-sports car is driven maybe 3000 miles a year, not every day, so the electrification has to offer an added intensity to justify its inclusion.”
Unveiled at the Paris motor show last year, the Asterion was conceived to be more of a luxury daily cruiser than for “ultimate track performance.” At the time, Lamborghini officials said a production variant of the Asterion would look to significantly undercut super-sports cars like the McLaren P1 and Porsche 918 on price – a cost of around £350,000 was mooted.
If made, the Asterion would have been a neat move for Lamborghini in the supercar wars. It would have broadened Lamborghini’s portfolio and opened the company up to customers who find today’s models too hardcore.
The firm did an unusually good job of keeping the Asterion concept under wraps prior to its reveal. Until it rolled on to the stage at a Volkswagen Group event on the night before the Paris show, the only news had been that Lamborghini would be showing a hybrid car. The assumption was that the car would be a variation of the new Aventador.
When the new car finally appeared in the spotlight, it took a few seconds for those in the audience to realise that this GT car was the new Lamborghini. And although it doesn’t look it, the Asterion actually has quite a degree in common with the Aventador and Huracán.
Described by Lamborghini as a “technology demonstrator”, the Asterion combines the Huracán’s 5.2-litre V10 with a new seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, a lithium ion battery pack (in the space normally occupied by the Huracán’s forward-driving propshaft) and two electric motors on the front axle.
The main Aventador connection is the lower part of the carbonfibre monocoque, which the Asterion shares with the range-topping model. The front and rear subframes are most likely based on those of the Huracán.
Work on the concept “started a couple of years ago”, according to Maurizio Reggiani, Lamborghini’s head of research and development. “We began with an installation [of the prototype] hybrid drivetrain in a standard Aventador, so we wouldn’t gain any attention,” he says. “The idea was that we could have [internal] discussions on what type of hybrid would be suitable for Lamborghini. We needed to conduct an investigation of the behaviour of a plug-in system and the mix of the battery electric engine and [internal combustion] engine. We needed to test and exercise it. You can’t judge such a thing in a better way.”
Having settled on the exact recipe for the plug-in transmission, Reggiani says the idea for the actual concept car could be “refined”. He says: “We wanted under 100g/km and an autonomy [battery-only] range of 50km. In the future, we are sure in many cities when you drive downtown, you will need to travel fully electrically.”
Reggiani describes the somewhat unexpected Asterion package – which is mid-engined but looks rather like a classic, long-nosed, front-engined GT car – as a “plug-in with good handling. It offers more comfort in the interior and the exterior is less edgy”.
Although the lower part of the Asterion’s carbonfibre monocoque is shared with the Aventador, the upper part is new, allowing the car to have more upright windscreen pillars. This and the modified rocker moulding are intended to make it easier to get in and out of the cabin compared with Lamborghini’s more hardcore models.
Even so, the final transmission recipe is in the very hottest road category. Running solo, the V10 engine produces 602bhp and 413lb ft of torque.
The dual-clutch automatic gearbox also has an electric motor integrated into it. This can drive the rear wheels but seems to have a more important role in energy recuperation, helping to recharge the lithium ion battery pack when the car is in motion. The extra hybrid technology adds 250kg to the transmission’s overall weight.
Along with the twin motors on the front axle, the total output from electrical sources is a significant 296bhp. That makes a theoretical 898bhp combined.
Lamborghini has never confirmed what the total output might be, although it would probably have to be limited to a degree to prevent the tyres’ grip from being overwhelmed. Indeed, at full tilt, the Asterion is claimed to be capable of hitting 62mph in just three seconds before running on to 199mph.
Reggiani says using electric motors on the front axle allows a maximum speed of 78mph. If the primary motor was in the transmission, it would have a much tougher job driving the gearbox, which, in turn, would have to drive the rear wheels.
But there’s another, much more compelling reason for twin motors on the front axle. Reggiani says although it was decided that “this was the best layout”, the motors can also be used to significantly influence the car’s handling.
“The motors work with the plug-in to assist the engine, but also support the dynamics with torque vectoring on the front wheels,” says Reggiani. “The motors can run at different speeds and with different torque levels, improving the agility of the car through the speed at which you can enter and exit a corner.”
When asked if the adoption of plug-in hybrid transmissions is a precursor to engine downsizing across Lamborghini’s range, Reggiani is clearly not convinced. “The rules from governments will become more and more severe for CO2,” he says. “We face new challenges. I think to maintain the DNA of a sports car will need naturally aspirated engines with a high number of cylinders. Maybe one day we will have to downsize and use turbochargers. But I think plug-in is the right solution.”
We won’t see a pure electric Aventador, either. “[Today’s] batteries are too big and too heavy for a super-sports cars,” says Reggiani. “Maybe over the next few years suppliers will drive down the cost and weight, but today super-sports cars cannot accept the weight and price of batteries. I think the Asterion really works.” And there won’t be a plug-in Aventador “within the next five years”.