The Huayra: A Worthy Successor?

By James Wong

So the new Pagani is finally out. Years back when we were reading about the then ‘C9’ designated car, we wondered what car could ever succeed the stunning Zonda, almost literally a car built by a group of craftsmen in a small industrial estate in Italy. What made the Zonda more unique than any other supercar, for me at least, is its combination of exotic build, materials and looks and daily driver usability, durability and reliability. Pagani made the right move to source its engine from AMG, the makers of Mercedes AMG cars which generally tend to be more reliable than if Pagani were to build its own engine in-house. And anyway, Pagani’s efforts would have been distracted from the rest of the car if it also had to build its own engine. So, the AMG engine gave the car a lease of reliability when its Italian roots might suggest otherwise. But more than that, Pagani has also managed to make a gruff AMG engine sound completely different from its usual vocals. The Zonda has one of the most pure, unadulterated V12 wails of any engine, period.

It also has a manual gearbox which, in the all-too-common situation of complicated dual-clutch gearboxes failing, is both a welcome reassurance and an exhilarating companion to the naturally-aspirated V12. Given these factors, it is not uncommon to see Zondas that have been used regularly, without ridiculous service intervals expected of other supercars. Yet, according to those who drive it at least, it gave such an unmatched sensation behind the wheel. What a combination.

Now that the Huayra is out and I have had some time to read about it, the doubts pilled upon one another. The first uncomfortable fact revealed that the car had roof-hinged doors. If Pagani had a good reason to do it I would be alright with it, but I just have a disturbing feeling that it might be taking some inspiration from the SLS AMG, or that maybe it just wants to differentiate itself in some way. Alright, the doors are unique, but is it really necessary to change the conventional design? The normal way a door opens is a lot more natural and easier to operate.

The automated manual gearbox is another fright. Having had some experience with such single-clutch automated gearboxes, they are to sum it up: brutal and archaic. Of course, the Huayra has a 7-speed box from Xtrac, as yet pretty much untested in the market – and claims are that it would be an extremely smooth gearbox, the smoothest of its kind. Pagani chose it because of the weight advantage as well as the power it can manage before blowing into pieces – I just hope that it would be a worthy compromise. My preference would have been for Pagani to stick with its manual gearbox.

Next is the engine. Yes, the donor is still AMG. The engine even has its own designation – M158 – and it is capable of just below 310g/km of CO2. But the price of so much power (700bhp) and low emissions is the inclusions of two turbochargers. Now, I have nothing against forced induction engines if they do not corrupt the throttle response of the engine. But it is usually the case that they would invariably affect the linear response of a naturally aspirated engine – the time it takes the turbochargers to spool up and the heightened mid-range torque that comes after is definitely a rush to be experienced, but as a tool on the track it might not be so welcome. The engine will most likely also run into problems of overheating once the car does a few laps around a particularly challenging track – turbocharged engines tend to run much hotter. Perhaps the biggest gripe of mine is that the engine might also potentially see more problems in the long run due to the complexity of cooling systems required in a turbocharged engine. Higher maintenance costs are inevitable. Would this compromise the practicality of the Zonda that it is so well-known for? Well, only time will tell. Pagani says that the engine doesn’t feel turbocharged at all, which is a welcome piece of news. But I hope the lower redline at 6,000rpm and the loss of the greatest V12 sounds of all time is justified.

There are other ergonomic annoyances. For some reason, Pagani has adopted the Ferrari approach in putting all possible buttons on the steering wheel, disrupting the grip and making steering a car that much more complicated. It has been widely criticised in the 458, and I can understand why. To make things worse, the paddle shifters for the Huayra are now steering wheel-mounted instead of on the steering column, which means the paddles will now move together with the steering wheel. I can foresee problems with shifting midway through a full-lock situation.  Pagani has also decided to use a LCD entertainment screen – not a good idea if you do not have the full resources to develop a proper system. Giants like Audi, BMW and Mercedes have the economies of scale to pour money in research and development to create fancy graphics and futuristic functionalities in their MMI, iDrive and COMAND systems. But very much like how Lotus can only fit an aftermarket screen into its Evora, the Huayra is now using its less-than-spectacular multimedia interface. I’ll much rather do without it, thanks.

Don’t get me wrong though. I love Pagani and what it stands for – the true, bespoke Italian engineering that is rarely found nowadays. Even a modern Ferrari feels mass-produced next to the Huayra. The Pagani has really obsessive levels of detail, from its Swiss watchmaker-sourced polished metal instrumentation dials to the titanium exhaust system (only weighing less than 10kg) to its carbon-fibre weaves (all of the weaves face the same direction and match part-for-part in alignment). But in its quest for engineering perfection, has it forgotten the fundamentals of what makes a true drivers’ car?

Author: James Wong

The only writer to be based in Asia, James provides a refreshingly different perspective to the automotive industry with his unique experience of living in the Far East. He is a prolific journalist who has written for several leading automotive publications in Singapore, including Torque Singapore and REV Magazine Singapore. He believes in the thrill of driving and champions for an appreciation of driving pleasure above the horsepower race. In September 2010, James relocated to the United Kingdom, London, bringing him to a whole new environment from which to start a new chapter in automotive journalism.

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