Lamborghini Essenza SCV12 First Drive Review: Welcome to Violence

Sant’Agata’s track-only hypercar is not only a brutal showcase of power, poise, and motorsport engineering, it’s also a harbinger of things to come.

byBradley Iger|
Lamborghini Essenza SCV12 First Drive Review: Welcome to Violence

Before Lamborghini set me loose on Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s infield road course for a pair of lapping sessions behind the wheel of the Lamborghini Essenza SCV12, it asked me to ride shotgun with Corey Lewis for a stint to get the lay of the land. Currently competing in SRO’s Intercontinental GT Challenge, as well as Lamborghini’s Super Trofeo series, Lewis is no stranger to the idiosyncrasies of race cars. So although I could only make out about half of what he was saying over the radio due to the manic roar of the straight-piped V12 situated just behind us, the tone his voice took on as we headed into the pits a few laps earlier than scheduled seemed like legitimate cause for concern.

After Lewis shut the engine down, I asked him what was up. “Brakes,” he said. “The ABS system is throwing a fault and it feels like the right front wants to lock up.” Seconds later, a team of Lamborghini engineers swooped in and quickly hooked a laptop up to the Essenza’s diagnostic interface. The issue, Lewis explained, wasn’t so much about the brake system as it was about the down time and its effect on the race slicks, which need heat in them in order to generate grip. Late in the day with track temperatures rapidly dropping, time was not on our side.

“OK,” said an engineer a moment later. “You’re good to go.” Now, strapped into the driver’s racing bucket and riding solo, I looked over at Lewis standing in the pits. He nodded reassuringly, so I turned my attention to the bank of buttons on the center console. It takes three of them pressed in a specific sequence to start the engine. After the V12 is fired up, another button on the steering wheel functions as the sequential transmission’s clutch, and then a pull of the paddle on the right puts the car into gear.

Seconds later, a message outlined in red popped up on the steering wheel’s display that said something about ABS sensors, but it was too late back out at that point—I was already bucking my way down pit lane, adrenaline pumping even at 35 mph. The Essenza SCV12 might not have a racing series to compete in, but it still manages to capture plenty of the drama of motorsport. 

Lamborghini Essenza SCV12 Specs

  • Price: €2,200,000 ($2,484,328)
  • Powertrain: 6.5-liter naturally aspirated V12 | 6-speed sequential manual transmission | rear-wheel drive
  • Horsepower: 820 @ 8,500 rpm
  • Torque: 560 @ 7,000 rpm
  • Top speed: > 210 mph
  • Dry weight: 2,976 pounds
  • Quick take: A feast for the senses and a dynamic tour de force, the Essenza SCV12 demonstrates what Lamborghini is capable of when untethered by road car compromises and motorsport rule books.

Limited to just 40 examples worldwide, the Essenza SCV12 is basically Lamborghini’s answer to track-only hypercars like the McLaren Senna GTR and the Ferrari FXX K Evo. Although it is the first GT car in history to meet the FIA’s existing safety standards for LMP1 cars and offers performance that will put a Huracán GT3 in the rearview mirror, the Essenza has not been homologated for any series or class, effectively making this a track day toy for the one percent of the one percent.   

“Above all, the car is an exercise for Lamborghini and Squadra Corse—it allowed us to develop important new technical features,” says Lamborghini motorsport head Giorgio Sanna. “In that way, I believe it has provided a path forward for the next generation of our race cars. And without class restrictions that limit what we can do, it has allowed us—as engineers and enthusiasts—to develop the race car that we’ve been dreaming of.”

It also serves as Lamborghini’s first foray into arrive-and-drive customer experiences, as each Essenza SCV12 comes with two years of direct support from Lamborghini. That includes not only maintenance, storage, and transport of the car to the race tracks of the customer’s choosing, but also coaching from Super Trofeo racers who are trained to help would-be Essenza owners get the most out of this formidable machine. Sanna says that about 40 percent of these buyers are folks who already have racing experience in Super Trofeo or GT3-class racing, but the rest are simply very well-heeled enthusiasts who’re looking for thrills above and beyond what Lamborghini’s road-going production models offer. And the Essenza SCV12 can certainly deliver them.

Motivation comes from the Aventador SVJ’s 6.5-liter V12, but thanks to ram-air induction and a bespoke exhaust system, it now produces 820 horsepower and 560 pound-feet of torque, making this the most powerful naturally aspirated V12 that the company has ever produced. The engine is installed in the opposite direction of how you’d find it in an Aventador due to the fact that the Essenza SCV12 uses an Xtrac six-speed sequential gearbox rather than the Aventador’s single-clutch automated manual. With the transmission situated behind the engine rather than in front of it, the Xtrac’s bellhousing functions as a load-bearing structural element of the chassis and provides a mounting point for the push-rod rear suspension, a design strategy that bestows the rear-wheel-drive Essenza SCV12 with 20 percent more torsional stiffness than a Huracán GT3.

Aero is a big part of the strategy here as well. Lamborghini wanted the Essenza SCV12 to be as aerodynamically efficient as a GT3 racer while also creating more downforce, so purposeful bits and pieces adorn the car from stem to stern. The hood, for instance, has a double air intake with a central rib to keep the hot air flow coming from the radiator separate from the cold air that’s routed into the intake on the roof, while vertical fins situated on the side sills optimize cooling for the engine and gearbox, and the massive, adjustable rear wing helps to develop as much as 2,645 pounds of downforce at 155 mph.

Just prior to my seat time in the Essenza SCV12, Lamborghini had sent me out on course in a Huracán Evo RWD to familiarize myself with the track layout. It was like driving a commuter car by comparison. The Essenza might not have a class to compete in, but it is a racing machine in every other sense of the term. The sheer volume of the exhaust and the whine of the gearbox easily overpowered the radio communications installed in my helmet, and while logic dictated that I should be patient as tires came up to temperature, every other element of the Essenza SCV12 seemed to smooth out and become more stabilized as I increased the pace. The car was egging me on, begging me to get braver with the throttle.

Along with the aforementioned “clutch” button, a pit speed limiter, and a few other features, the Essenza SCV12’s steering wheel also has toggles for traction control and ABS intervention adjustments, as well as a dial that offers five different levels of power output. The car is savagely quick and delivers punchy, naturally aspirated response to the tiniest of throttle inputs even at its lowest output setting, but it didn’t take too long to get comfortable enough to dial the power all the way up.

The LVMS infield road course is a tight, technical track, and in a car that pulls as urgently as the Essenza SCV12, the main straight is one of the few places where you can go flat out for any significant amount of time. Even at hot lap pace, it felt like I was shooting myself out of a cannon each time I rounded the final corner and dropped the hammer to let the naturally aspirated V12 stretch its legs, a sensation that seemed to begin anew each time the steering wheel shift lights flashed blue and I called for another gear. 

The other sections allowed me to marvel at the astounding amounts of grip provided by the Pirelli race slicks. Unsurprisingly, they’re tires that were designed specifically for this car and they help to deliver lateral forces and stopping power that road cars simply cannot match. But like any race slick, they’re also not as forgiving as street tires at the limit and will let go with significantly less warning, so they also demand your full attention at all times. Everything about the Essenza SCV12 does, really.

Whether you’re going 50 miles per hour or 150, this is a car that never allows its driver to get complacent; a point that was driven home as I began to get comfortable enough with it to require some serious stopping power. After blasting down the main straight in earnest for the first time, I pressed the brake pedal with about as much force as I would apply in a street car out of a combination of concern that the lockup issue that Lewis detected might return and that these motorsport-spec carbon-ceramic stoppers might be a bit touchy regardless. To my surprise, the response proved to be the opposite—even with significant pedal travel, it felt like the brakes were struggling to slow the car down. It not only made the car feel heavier than it actually is, it also required some trail braking into the corner in that particular instance, kicking the rear end out just enough to make my heart skip a beat or two. But thanks to the Essenza's obscenely quick steering rack, just a mere flick of the wrist was all it took to collect everything back up. By then I was starting to feel a bit braver in general, so the next time around I decided to really stand on it at the end of the straight. Turns out, I simply hadn’t pressed down hard enough on the previous lap: Lamborghini has actually dialed in a surprising amount of nuance into this brake system near the bottom of the pedal’s travel, but the force required to find it is well beyond anything you’d find in a typical production car. 

That ABS gremlin never came back, by the way—not at the pace that I was maintaining, at least. I can’t help but wonder how many Essenza SCV12 buyers would actually be capable of wringing out all of the performance capability that’s on tap here, but at the end of the day, it probably doesn’t matter all that much because Lamborghini has already sold all 40 of these things.

Perhaps the car’s place in history matters more anyway. With the automaker’s upcoming shift toward electrification, the Essenza SCV12 serves as something of a swansong for Lamborghini’s “traditional” race car design, and this could very well be the final form of the 6.5-liter naturally aspirated V12—a masterpiece of engineering that has become a calling card for the brand over the past decade. Future race cars and their road-going counterparts will undoubtedly make more power, but it’s hard to imagine that they’ll deliver a more visceral, full-sensory experience than this.

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