Welcome to CAR's review of the Pagani Huayra supercar. Don't forget to check out Ben Barry's video review lower down the page, to see and hear that amazing bi-turbo V12 in action...
You’ll know that the supercar world has changed beyond recognition since the days of the Ferrari 288 GTO and Lamborghini Countach. Most of the minnows have been swallowed by multi-national whales and, while progress has undoubtedly been made, supercars are generally more benign, less taxing, less extreme machines than they once were, no matter that they’re faster than ever before.
I’m not saying that the Huayra feels like a 1980s supercar or anything, but it certainly channels that spirit in a way I haven’t experienced since the recently departed Lamborghini Murcielago SV. It’s styled so outlandishly that it leaves even Veyrons and Aventadors appearing ever so slightly ordinary, and there’s an otherworldly theatre to lifting that gullwing door and slipping down into an entirely bespoke cabin of exquisitely finished carbon, hunks of aluminium and plump leather, before reaching far above your head and pulling the leather strap down hard, slamming the door shut. Turn the key and squish the accelerator into the floor and the Huayra positively smacks you round the head with its performance, a mafioso induction to a new, more brutal way of doing this supercar thing.
It certainly looks like a true supercar should...
Cues from the Zonda – Pagani’s only other model, and the car that the Huayra replaces – abound: that incredibly low scuttle, the foot pedals that resemble power-shower accessories, the air vents that float like inquisitive alien tentacles. The seats – beautiful, comfortable, hip-hugging seats – still only go back just and so far enough for legs to stretch out if you’re much taller than six feet, but there’s more space between your head and the outer edges of the roof than there once was and, unfortunately, far less rearward visibility, making that reversing camera more necessity than luxury, and those excellent masquerade-mask wing mirrors indispensable. However, if there’s a better production car cockpit in the world, my backside is yet to have the honour. As a piece of automotive art, only a Spyker feels similarly lavish.
Go on then, what's the cost?
This, of course, comes at a price: the Huayra costs €849,000, plus local taxes, but I’m going to attempt to tell you that that’s good value: there are 4700 components in total, all of which are unique, says Pagani; each and every one of the Huayra’s 1200 bolts is made from titanium and stamped with the Pagani logo – the bolts cost a staggering €90,000 for the prototype, though economies of scale have obviously dropped that figure for the production parts. The aluminium components – parts such as the nameplate on the car’s rump and the instrument binnacle that tilts with the adjustable steering column – are milled from solid billets, while the clocks are crafted by Rolex; they look fantastic, even if you can’t really read them when your eyeballs are being rotated in their sockets.
For that sort of money, I'd expect perfection!
You can find fault with the gearbox, the fact that the cyborg limb of a gearshifter doesn’t feel as tactile as its delicate looks suggest it should, that there’s a detached, frustrating pause between selecting Comfort or Sport or Auto and the corresponding info flashing up on the dash. These are the kinds of flaws that have been expunged from the Bugatti Veyron, making it technically the better car. But I know which car I’d sooner drive, and I’ve got a Huayra-shaped key in my hand right now.
When you go for your Huayra test drive, be sure to leave the windows open the first time you accelerate. The air inlets for the Mercedes AMG twin-turbo V12 are just behind your ear, and the noise that emanates from them is startling, a tightly wound hurricane of distortion that swirls into your lugs and threatens to suck you clean out of your underpants, straight into the induction plenums. It’s a scary sound, one that quite rightly makes you apprehensive of the Armageddon that’s about to unfurl when the twin turbos properly get out of bed and pummel 720bhp and 738lb ft through those rear 335/30 ZR20 steamroller Pirellis. Back off or change gear and there’s a vicious barrage of dumpvalve whoosh and tish, as if you’re being repeatedly slapped about the chops by a feisty wet haddock. This is not the organic sound we know from the Zonda’s naturally aspirated V12, it’s industrial techno dominated – albeit very colourfully – by forced induction, and you’ll have to wait until quite late in the powerband’s 6000rpm span to get a more traditional sense of pistons hammering up and down. Then you brake hard to avoid death and there’s a deep droning that sounds, I can only imagine, like someone trying to wind down a nuclear reactor in a bit of a hurry. The V8 turbo Noble M600 is my closest reference point.
The car’s lightweight carbon tub is mated to subframes front and rear, and clothed in carbonfibre bodywork. The result is a dry weight of 1350kg, which translates to around 1500kg full of fluids and ready to go. That’s a 480bhp power-to-weight ratio, similar to a Veyron’s and comfortably clear of the Lamborghini Aventador’s 418bhp-per-tonne. And you know that the Huayra is rear-wheel drive, not four-wheel drive like those big VWs, right?
So, it's fast then?
The sheer ferocity of the Huayra’s performance is part of the point here, but it does tip it into something of a downward spiral, simply because its performance is so all-consuming. A dual-clutch gearbox capable of disciplining 738lb ft, for instance, would weigh 200kg, and Pagani didn’t want all that weight dangling out beyond the rear axle, correctly recognising that many of its customers wouldn’t be expert drivers, and probably wouldn’t appreciate a hefty gearbox giving them a helping hand into the scenery when the turbos spat them sideways and they backed off in a shrieky panic.
Instead we get an Xtrac automated manual. It weighs 96kg, and is cleverly packaged transversely off the back of the engine, meaning a huge weight saving in a package that puts less metal aft of the rear axle in the first place. But it also requires a monster AP Racing clutch, so the shifts can be pretty brutal, and moving the Huayra about at low speeds can be a very deliberate, almost racecar-like experience. Pagani claims 60ms for the gearshifts, coincidentally the exact same time as the automated-manual Ferrari 430 Scuderia, but it feels slower and less refined than that – far less torquey – car’s whip-crack shifts.
Does the gearbox spoil the Huayra?
Nope. The Huayra is still mesmerisingly good to drive. That AMG V12 pulls cleanly from next-to-no revs, and the throttle response is very precise for a blown mill, the bonsai turbos located on truncated manifolds for improved response. The delivery is, however, necessarily different to a naturally aspirated lump, so you get that initial swell of power and then, at a little beyond 2000rpm, it’s like a rocket ignites, so that the sense of gradually metering in the revs disappears, replaced by a more visceral wave of boost that sneaks up from behind you, hooks its fingertips into your nostrils and pulls your head back hard. It means you have to be very disciplined with the throttle to keep things smooth on a twisty road, and very quick with steering corrections when things get out of shape.
Thankfully, the Huayra is a very well-balanced car: in slower corners you’ll feel a smudge of safety understeer if you push hard, which is easily dialled out with a little patience followed by a dose of acceleration, or you can turn in hard to faster corners and lean on the relentless poise of the front end as it swipes at the apex, sense that the tyres will still take a bunch more abuse, and that the chassis isn’t about to roll anytime soon. This, in part, is due to very well sorted passive and active aerodynamics, the two flaps at the nose and the tail of the Huayra popping up in tandem on straights or individually through corners. Why individually? Because this squashes the inside, unloaded wheel back into the surface during cornering. Either way, the flaps help to increase the drag factor from .31Cd to .36Cd, seamlessly upping downforce at critical moments and negating the need for a rear spoiler. I followed Pagani test driver Davide Testi round a large roundabout, me in a Zonda, Testi in the Huayra, and the Zonda started to slip sideways at a constant throttle where the Huayra was still accelerating away.
Perhaps the thing that impresses most about the Huayra is its suspension, with double wishbones and Ohlins dampers. The dampers are adjustable – by fiddling around with them under the clamshell bodywork, not by pressing a button in the cockpit – but the softer setting selected for our car works to perfection: there’s virtually no roll, but an amazing amount of compliance.
The hydraulically assisted steering is suitably meaty, and certainly far heavier in feel than a contemporary Ferrari, but while it seems almost too heavy at first, it doesn’t take long to acclimatise.
The carbon-ceramic brakes, like the steering, can be tweaked for each customer’s personal preferences, and I’d definitely have a tinker about with them: it wasn’t so much that there was any kind of dead spot as you can sometimes feel on Lamborghinis, or that there was anything wrong with their robust performance, it was more that the pedal feel lacked crisp definition right through the length of its travel. Testi suggested the more aggressive brake pads could be a solution, as our car had a comfort-oriented set-up, a ‘Mr Pagani set-up’ as he put it.
The thing is, an extreme car like the Huayra is always going to have its flaws. But as a supercar, as a thing that brightens other people’s day just by being parked at the side of the road, and as a machine that gives its driver a life-affirming buzz every time he presses the accelerator, the Huayra takes some beating.
The fact that such a small company has turned out such an extraordinary supercar, one that takes the fight to the best in the world, only adds to the feeling that this is something truly special.