Pagani Huayra C9

Debut: 2012
Maker: Pagani
Predecessor: Zonda (1999)

 Published on 9 Nov 2012 All rights reserved. 

In the past decade the supercar world has experienced a radical shift of power. Pagani has emerged to the top tier (together with Koenigsegg and the reborn Bugatti) as it offers the exclusivity, craftsmanship and engineering excellence not even its Modena neighbors could match. Through endless evolution, its C12 Zonda has become the most sought after supercar in the world. However, originally designed in the early 1990s, the Zonda has well past its planned lifespan, whereas the supply of AMG M120 V12 is also coming to the end as AMG committed to build only 250 units. Both reasons motivated Horacio Pagani to develop his second generation supercar, C9 Huayra.

The Huayra is named after the God of Wind in South American legends. More so than Zonda, it is shaped to enhance aerodynamics and cooling – the former is required by its higher, 224 mph top speed, while the latter is necessary for its now turbocharged V12 engine. The Huayra might look a bit fatter and bulkier than the Zonda in pictures, but in the real world you will find it more beautiful. Its curvier surfaces appear more modern, its details more elegant and the build quality is better than ever. As Horacio Pagani said, it combines Art and Science like the masterpieces of Leonardo da Vinci. Some rivals, say, Ferrari F12, might be more aerodynamic efficient, but their aero aids usually spoil aesthetic. Unlike them, the Huayra captures your imagination with its fighter jet-inspired shape. Its centrally mounted quad-exhaust is definitely the highlight. Ditto the 4 movable aero flaps that adjust downforce and maintain dynamic balance of the car. Depending on their angles the coefficient of drag varies between 0.31 and 0.36. Viewing from the cockpit, the regularly rising and falling flaps bring an extra sense of occasion. In short, this car combines forms and functions better than any other supercars.

Like the last Zonda Cinque and Zonda R, the Huayra employs a stronger yet lighter kind of carbon-fiber materials than those of its rivals – carbon-titanium. It is made of titanium threads woven with carbon-fiber sheets. The central tub, integrated roof frames and the whole bodywork are all made of this exotic material. This helps the Huayra to achieve a dry weight of 1350 kg, some 225 kg and 490 kg less than Lamborghini Aventador and Bugatti Veyron SS respectively. It is not as remarkable as the 1210 kg Zonda Cinque though, mainly because of its heavier turbocharged engine, enhanced comfort and compliance for the US market.

Bolted fore and aft of the load-bearing survival cell are subframes made of chrome-moly steel. They provide mounting for the powertrain and the all-double-wishbone suspensions. The latter is made of avional, an aluminum-based alloy that is lighter than aluminum by 30 percent. Predictably, racing-style in-board horizontal spring and damper units are used. The front suspension has a hydropneumatic jack to avoid damaging the nose on rough roads. Otherwise, the suspensions are purely passive. The 19-inch front and 20-inch rear forged alloy wheels house Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes and are shod with specially developed Pirelli P-Zero tires.

Like us, Mr. Pagani preferred a naturally aspirated V12 for its sharper throttle response and better sound quality, but obviously his request was turned down by Mercedes on the ground of cost – although the official reason is to reduce emission. What AMG offers is a 5980 c.c. twin-turbo V12 with codename M158. It is derived from the one powering the now retired SL65 AMG Black, and its roots can be traced back to the S600 in 1998. No wonder it still employs cylinder heads with single overhead camshaft and 3 valves per cylinder. There is neither variable valve timing nor direct injection. What it does get are bespoke intake and exhaust system, new IHI turbochargers, new intercoolers, dry-sump lubrication, revised ECU and of course plenty of capacity and turbo boost. At merely 5800 rpm, it releases 730 horsepower, 52 more than the last iteration of road-going Zonda. Unsurprisingly, its torque delivery is even better. From 2250 to 4500 rpm it delivers the maximum 738 lbft or 1000 Nm of torque. This could have been higher still if not limited by the gearbox, but who cares?

One problem concerning the M158 twin-turbo V12 is its extra weight and tremendous torque. The latter necessitates a stronger and heavier gearbox which could hamper chassis balance further. That's why Pagani adopted a 7-speed sequential gearbox built by British company Xtrac. Compared with a modern twin-clutch transmission with comparable torque capacity, it is at least 70 kg lighter. Moreover, the Xtrac unit has a strong advantage in packaging because it is mounted transversely behind the engine. As it does not protrude beyond the rear axle, weight distribution is greatly improved. In addition to a lengthened wheelbase (from the Zonda's 2730 to 2795 mm), the Huayra manages to attain 44:56 weight distribution, better than most mid-engined rear-drive supercars and even the 4-wheel-drive Lamborghini Aventador.

On the downside, the lack of twin-clutch gearbox means it is impossible to launch the Pagani as quick as some rivals. Even with the presence of electronic launch control, Pagani claims 3.2 seconds to sprint from standstill to 60 mph. That might be a magic number in the days of McLaren F1, but today even a Nissan GT-R is good for 2.9 seconds. Is the Pagani too tamed?

No, of course not. The Huayra's power-to-weight ratio guarantees spectacular performance once it has overcome initial tire slip. Moreover, the attraction of Pagani has always been more than numbers...

Swing up the gullwing door, you will find the most beautiful cockpit in the sports car industry. Its extensive use of carbon-fiber and CNC-milled aluminum parts is astonishing, and their finishing is first rate. Equally amazing are the jewel-like instruments, bespoke switches, stylish air vents and exposed gearshift mechanism – if da Vinci designed a car today, it could have looked like this one! Style aside, the cockpit also functions very well. There is excellent visibility to the front as the windscreen is deep and expansive. Less so to the back but still better than most supercars. The glass roof leads to a light and airy ambience not found in its rivals. The space and seating comfort are excellent. Entry to the cabin is easy, thanks to the gullwing doors. A modern satellite navigation screen and a stylish driving information display guarantee convenience of use.

The Huayra does not start with push-button but the most elegant ignition key we have ever seen – it is a miniature Huayra milled from solid aluminum. Fire the engine, however, you might be slightly disappointed. The AMG twin-turbo V12 does not sing as beautifully as the outgoing 7.3-liter unit at any rev. Its bass soundtrack is occupied with busy whoosh and whistles from the turbo wastegates which sound more noises than music in the ears of purists. Unsurprisingly, throttle response is not as sharp, too, but this engine has precious little turbo lag – less than the one on SL65 Black because of the smaller turbines it used. It would pull smoothly from as little as 1000 rpm, but its true colors lie beyond 2500 rpm, when a rush of thrust surges the car forward, pressing your head hard on the headrest. Keep pressuring the throttle and you will exceed triple-digit speed in the blink of eye. Forget that 0-60 claim, this is really one of the fastest cars on the planet, one that needs your full commitment to the driving when its wild temper is released.

With 738 pound-foot of torque running through the rear wheels, the Huayra is not as easy to drive as Bugatti Veyron or Ferrari F12, of course. However, it is neither as difficult to tame as imagined. Thanks to incredible traction and grip generated by those Pirelli rubbers, it is not easy to spin or slide unless you deliberately do so, at least on dry surface. While the Xtrac gearbox is nowhere as smooth as DCTs, its gearshift is fast, and the shift quality is not as brutal as that of Lamborghini Aventador.

Like Zonda, the Huayra rides with suppleness rarely seen on supercars. It feels at home on mountain roads, in town as well as on highway. This versatile manner makes it a lot more usable than the single-minded Koenigsegg. You can drive it for a cross-country trip if you don't mind its lack of luggage space. Meanwhile, the car also corners beautifully. It shows excellent balance and body control. The active aero flaps keep it stable through corners. The hydraulic steering is quick and old-school communicative. The ceramic brakes are immensely powerful, accompanied with excellent pedal feel, too. At the limit, its handling is fairly progressive. As long as you control the throttle sensibly and act fast on the steering, you can induce oversteer in slow corners. On regular roads, the Huayra is more agile and adjustable than Bugatti and Koenigsegg.

Nevertheless, compare with the previous Zonda, some sense of agility and feel has been lost. In order to tame its beast side, Pagani has dialed some initial understeer into its suspension geometry and increased its steering effort. This makes it feel less sensitive and less transparent to the driver. Purists will also prefer Zonda for its keener throttle response, linear power delivery and better sound quality, whereas Huayra will attract those pursuing dramatic performance, sense of occasion and the best build quality. In other words, it is a better car to compete with Bugatti and Koenigsegg. Is it a better car than those? If you appreciate the art-and-science philosophy of Leonardo da Vinci, the answer will be definitely yes.

No wonder Pagani has already got 96 units or more than 2 years worth of orders, even though each costing 845,000 euros plus tax! If you place order now, you won't get delivery until 2015. No kidding!


Length / width / height
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Kerb weight
Top speed
0-60 mph (sec)
0-100 mph (sec)
Mid-engined, RWD
Carbon-fiber monocoque,
tubular steel subframes
4605 / 2036 / 1169 mm
2795 mm
V12, 60-degree
5980 cc
SOHC 36 valves
730 hp / 5800 rpm
738 lbft / 2250-4500 rpm
7-speed automated manual
All double-wishbones
F: 255/35ZR19
R: 335/30ZR20
1350 kg (dry)
224 mph (c)
3.2 (c)

Performance tested by: -

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    Copyright© 1997-2012 by Mark Wan @ AutoZine