2007 Lamborghini Murciélago LP640

With a more powerful V12, the latest Murciélago is more of a thrill than ever

The courtyard lies at the top of a gentle slope. As we approach, the evening sun sweeps across the Tuscan hillside and lights up its archway.

Inside sits a Lamborghini Murciélago LP640 looking menacing in military green. It is a new color, a sort of mossy, watery metallic. Up front, just inches from the stones, juts a more prominent splitter than before; at the rear there is an enormous funnel -- in fact it's a Veyron-style exhaust protruding below the new taillights. The sides are now asymmetrical; the right features a small vent slash, the left a gaping hole where the new oil cooler inhales.

Two thoughts spring to mind. One, theMurciélago is still a beautiful car. And two, this is one midlife makeover that has actually improved on the original. It is a spellbinding moment -- a glorious reaffirmation of the term "supercar".

While the old Murciélago was hardly a bad car to begin with, it was starting to feel the heat from the opposition. Suddenly, having "just" 580 hp looked rather inadequate. To combat its pesky rivals, the raging bull has been poked in the eye to make it a little bit angrier.

Just when you thought the venerable V12 had been stretched to the point of snapping its connecting rods, capacity rises from 6.2 to 6.5 liters. The cylinder head, crankshaft, camshafts, intake and

exhaust systems have all had attention paid; the oil-cooling system is much larger (hence the bodywork revisions on one side), and there is an electronic throttle. Controlling all this is an improved electronic brain that oversees the production of 631 hp at a screaming 8000 rpm and 487 lb-ft of torque at 6000 rpm.After such a visual barrage of supercar excess, opening up the scissors door and contorting down into the wide, low cockpit is reassuringly familiar, though it's as intimidating as ever.

The instrument panel is tidied up, and there is some new switchgear and a large (aftermarket) satellite navigation screen. The view out fore and aft is still scary, and the reclined driving position is as exotic as before, which is why a little respect is due when we bowl out onto the Mugello circuit in Italy to drive the LP640 for the first time.

After a steady warm-up lap, we jink through the chicane and accelerate strongly to the final corner. Despite the apocalyptic noise from behind, the LP640 accelerates the way its power and torque figures suggest: with purpose, but not quite savagery, from 3000 rpm.

Apexing late through the long final corner, we gently squeeze on the power in third and the acceleration starts to build. At 4500 rpm the exhaust opens up and the noise begins building to a crescendo. Suddenly we're catapulted forward in a concentrated burst of feral power.The revs continue to soar furiously as the big Lambo consumes vast chunks of Italian tarmac and humid air. Shifting into fourth only kicks off the whole process again, the revs falling right back into the sweet spot of the powerband. This really is major-league quick and a proper step up from the old car.

Thankfully all the launch cars have the optional ceramic brakes with their 15-inch discs and six-pot calipers, so you can brake late and with confidence. Revisions to the gearbox mean that, in e-gear paddle-shift form at least (a traditional manual is still available), changes now come swiftly and cleanly.

There are new springs and shocks, but the basic recipe is the same: a mechanical all-wheel-drive system with 28 percent of drive going to the front axle in normal conditions, but a split of up to 100 percent either way is possible.Grip is colossal, the steering a beautiful instrument of feel and precision, and the chassis as communicative as ever. That said, the weight of that V12 behind you still haunts your actions like a ghost sitting on your shoulder. This is a car that demands supreme respect from its driver at all times.

In the new supercar world order, the Murciélago may still not be the quickest way of getting from A to B, but the LP640 is arguably the most enthralling.

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.