Payne: Living the Lamborghini Huracan dream

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

The Detroit News’ regular “Michigan Dream Home” feature showcases sprawling, multi-million-dollar estates with pools, walk-in closets, fountains and epic kitchens. We ogle from a distance, but without the means to live the dream.

Kind of like Lamborghinis.

The achingly beautiful Italian supercars have been our dream cars since we dreamed about cars. My teen dorm wall had a poster of the unattainable Lamborghini Countach, right alongside the unattainable Charlie’s Angels pin-up. Today’s generation of Lambo Aventadors and Huracans are regulars on my kids’ computer screensavers.

What’s it like to have one? I got a taste recently when I spent some quality time with a 2020 Huracan EVO at Willow Springs Raceway outside Los Angeles. Like a gorgeous, 20,000-square-foot home, it’s complicated.

Approaching a Lamborghini — those sultry headlamps, jet-engine air intakes, perfect shape — is no less intimidating than asking an Angel out for a date. But familiarity helps the conversation.

As the Italian brand’s entry-level sports coupe, the $261,274 Huracan is not alone in the market. Indeed, despite its nose-bleed price, it occupies a fiercely competitive segment along with the ageless Porsche 911 Turbo, Ferrari 488 and McLaren 570. I’ve driven all these cars (except the Ferrari, though I’ve driven its predecessor) at the limit, so the Huracan’s learning curve wasn’t steep.

The interior of the 2020 Lamborghini Huracan EVO is less cluttered as the supercar adopts and Audi-like, console touchsreen. The fighter-jet ignition button is covered by a red shroud.

But the Lambo is a puzzle of contradictions. It’s externally gorgeous yet internally uncomfortable. It’s V-10 engine soars like Lebron James, but its paddle shifters are as clumsy as Gerald Ford. Its all-wheel drive system is high-tech, but its handling sloppy.

Lamborghini North America CEO Alessandro Farmechi — an accomplished Italian cook in his spare time — likes to compare cars to food. Scaloppine di Huracan is certainly a unique Italian recipe.

Which is interesting because, at its core, the Huracan is German.

Owned by Audi, Lamborghini builds the Huracan on the same mid-engine architecture as the Audi R8, which benefits the smaller Italian brand in this age of high regulatory and R&D costs. But in truth, Audi bought Lamborghini in the late ‘90s because it wanted to learn the dark magic of mid-engine all-wheel drive cars and apply them to their halo R8.

Driving the Huracan is different than the more affordable Audi — and very different than its direct Porsche competitor. With 580 horsepower and all-wheel drive, the rear-engine 911 Turbo seems similar on paper. But not in character.

Did I mention the Huracan is gorgeous? You’d walk by the Porsche without giving it a second glance, its conservative lines familiar after 60 years of evolving the same soap-bar shape. In contrast, the Huracan stops traffic wherever it goes.

On track the Porsche has no peer. It’s a German symphony with every part moving in perfect coordination with the other to produce an exquisite, controlled experience. The Lambo is nervous from the get-go. As I got up to speed around Willow Springs' undulating, high-speed circuit, the cutting-edge, four-wheel steering that makes the all-wheel drive sports car so easy to maneuver (a turning radius as tight as a scooter!) in urban areas became a liability.

The steering read every bump and turn as an opportunity to correct the car’s trajectory, resulting in a car that searched all over the place as I pointed it at a corner apex. Where the Porsche sticks like glue, the Lambo waggles. Complicated.

But like Chuck Yeager busting through the sound barrier, the Huracan gets more stable the faster you go. The rear-wheel steer evens out, the substantial aero tricks on the EVO performance model (front splitter, rear spoiler, outer front air ducts creating an air curtain through the front wheels) suck the car to the ground, and the Huracan tidies up.

Which allows me to enjoy the music behind my right ear.

The 630-horse V-10 is one of the world’s last normally aspirated engines as manufacturers employ turbos to balance efficiency with more power. At full wail — each upshift of the silky, dual-clutch transmission sending goosebumps up my spine — the Huracan is a rocket to complement the jet fighters with which it shares design cues (right down to the red, flip-up latch over the cockpit starter button).

Pity the shifter paddles are fixed to the steering column.

Seems to be an Italian thing — Alfa also does it, while Porsche and McLaren fix their paddles to the wheel so that they turn in synch. My long fingers grasped for the next gear as I stormed out of turns, banging the 8,000-rpm redline — GUH-GUH-GUH — and distracting me from the road (and glorious V-10 aria).

It makes for an unnecessarily busy cockpit already compromised by the Lambo’s famously difficult sightlines. To achieve that breathtaking exterior with raked windshield and squashed greenhouse, the interior is a pillbox of visibility.

At 6-foot 5 I need a shoehorn to get in and out of the car — and that was before I put a helmet on. Happily, Huracan has made big strides in modernizing its cabin technology. A sea of buttons has been replaced by a big, responsive touchscreen right out of Audi’s shop (see the new, haptic A-series touchscreens). It pairs nicely with Lambo’s signature digital instrument display which gives the car a video-game feel as you toggle through its mode settings — Normal, Sport, Corsa (track) and Mama Mia (kidding about that last one).

Trouble is, the McLaren 570/720 twins (depending in whether you want 570 or 620 ponies) do this better.

With show-stopping designs of their own, the McLarens sport a rear-wheel drive carbon-fiber chassis that is stiffer and lighter than the Huracan. With modern drivetrain electronics, the $288,000 McLaren 720 doesn’t miss the heavy, all-wheel drive system and rockets to 60 mph side-by-side with the Huracan.

And with more in reserve. With twin-turbos strapped to its 4.0-liter V-8, the McLaren’s linear acceleration is epic. With its unique, jaw-dropping face and innovative bod, the 720 takes on the Lambo at its own game. Let traditionalists buy Ferrari and Porsche heritage — McLaren and Lamborghini are cyborgs from the future.

At 8000 RPM, the 2020 Lamborghini Huracan EVO's twin pipes let out a glorious wail.

McLaren does the fundamentals better — handling, turbo, acceleration — even sporting scissor doors like Huracan’s big-brother $400,000 Aventador. It’s the superior beast. But Lamborghini knows the game has changed. Not content to sit on its throne, it has descended to the track — winning back-to-back Daytona 24-Hour races — to hone its craft.

Take your pick — McLaren or Lambo? Either will look good in your dream home’s six-car garage.

2020 Lamborghini Huracan EVO

Vehicle type: Mid-engine, all-wheel drive, 2-passenger supercar

Price: $270,969, including $9,695 destination fee 

Powerplant: 640 horsepower at 8,000 rpms, 442 pound-feet of torque, 5.2-liter V-10

Transmission: Dual-clutch, 8-speed automatic 

Performance: 2.9 second zero-60 (mfr.); 202 mph top speed

Weight: 3,424 pounds (est.)

Fuel economy: NA 

Highs: Movie-star looks; V-10 soundtrack

Lows: Cramped interior, sight-lines; column-based paddle shifters

Overall: 4 stars

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-2 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.