Pagani Huayra Track Drive
Is it Still Amazing When Pushed to the Limit?
Pagani exists in rarified air, and not just because its vehicles are incredibly expensive. The brand promises enormous performance both in a straight line and around corners and uses a great deal of race-derived technology to do it. Despite that, no one races Paganis. There isn't even a one-make series for gentleman drivers and brand loyalists. Do Paganis really perform, then, or is it all for show?
Show is something the Huayra has in no short supply. The car is stunning to look at, even if it isn't exactly beautiful. The shape is one shared only by the most exotic cars in the world, and the details, inside and out, are on another level. That's before you open the gullwing doors or reversed-hinged hood and decklid, each held down by superfluous leather straps. This car will never, ever fail to draw a crowd.
Go isn't in short supply, either. With a specially built, twin-turbo, Mercedes-Benz AMG V-12 holding court behind your head and feeding a Ricardo sequential automated manual gearbox, the Huayra makes short work of long stretches of road. The unrelenting surge of acceleration this car delivers is almost incomparable. The only real points of reference are other equally elite hyper cars such as the Ferrari F12, Lamborghini Aventador, and Porsche 918 Spyder. It is one of the rare cars that pulls as incredibly forcefully at 150 mph as it does at 50 mph.
That's all well and good if you just want to scare your passenger on an on-ramp. What's more impressive is how well the Huayra puts so much power to the ground through only the rear wheels. Granted, each wheel is wider than your average Smart car, but the laws of physics have their limits. Pagani has done an admirable job of programming the launch control (activated by a switch in the map light console, mimicking controls in a jet) to minimize wheelspin and get as much power as absolutely possible to the ground. Even with stability control deactivated, any experienced driver can easily get a good run out of it.
The Huayra is an impressive speed machine, then, but what's absolutely mind-boggling is how well it translates that speed to a racetrack. One would expect that a rear-wheel drive car with this kind of horsepower would be, at best, a handful on the track. Big oversteers and maybe a full 180-degree spin or two would be the order of the day. Not so.
Even on standard Pirelli P Zeros and not the optional Corsa rubber, the Huayra displays tremendous mechanical grip. Rolling into the power at corner exit, the rear tires bite down and turn thrust into forward momentum. With stability control activated and set to Sport mode (because I don't make enough to risk totaling a car like this), the Huayra puts down power with ease and slingshots you out of a corner and down the straight long before you realize what's happened. Not once did the rear end attempt to swap places with the front, off-camber corners and aggressive throttle inputs be damned. This car's performance is not only exhilarating, but it's accessible.
Some of that handling prowess can be attributed to the active aero elements. Two flaps each on the front and rear of the car self-adjust at speed to create additional downforce and increase grip. How much those little carbon-fiber wings are really doing I can't say, as I'm not an engineer. A rudimentary understanding of physics and fluid dynamics would suggest that at least some of what those flaps are creating is just drag that's slowing the car down, but at least some of that resistance is being translated into a force pressing down on the car. Is it a substantial force? I have no idea, and I doubt we'll ever know for certain. It certainly looks cool, though.
With great speed comes the need for great braking power, and the Huayra's got that, too. The massive carbon-ceramic brakes take no issue with hauling the Huayra down from high triple-digit speeds over and over. Unfortunately, the car I drove suffered from an incredibly wooden brake pedal feel. While there was great braking power to be had, the pedal felt disconnected and nonlinear, making it very difficult to judge how much pedal force was being translated to braking force. This initially eroded confidence in the car, but I learned to deal with it. Those in the office who've driven the Huayra in the past recall no such feeling, so it's possible this car was a fluke.
Also receiving a mixed review is the transmission, which is clunky at low speeds if not placed in Comfort mode, and very slow to shift into reverse. Neither of these is an issue on the track, where it delivers really fast gear changes very smoothly so as not to upset the chassis. When asked to perform, this gearbox stands up and delivers.
The culmination of these attributes is a car that can only be described as eye-widening. From the moment you see it to the moment you step on the gas, all it does is generate incredulity. The soundtrack is not roaring exhaust but a combination of mechanical noises and turbocharger whine, the cumulative effect of which is to convince you the car is actually powered by a jet engine. Supporting this conclusion is the manner in which power is delivered. Imagine the last time you flew on a jet. At takeoff, the pilot gunned the engines and a strong force pushed you back in your seat as the world began to rush by outside the window. Take that and multiply it by 10 and you'll have an idea what the Huayra is like. Standing on the brakes is like being on one of those roller coasters that stops abruptly and throws you forward against the restraints, arms and legs flying out in front of you.
The Pagani Huayra is no trailer queen, then, no show pony. This car absolutely delivers when asked to dispatch a racetrack. Those who have the means to own the car can rest assured they've not bought a collection of racing parts in an exotic wrapper, but a fully sorted performance machine ready for whatever road they deign to throw at it.