The Lamborghini Gallardo surprised us in a number of ways, but mostly in terms of its refinement and quality. The Gallardo is a bit intimidating initially, due to its radical styling, its dimensions, the sound of its highly tuned Italian V10, and advanced features such as its available E-gear electronic gearbox. But the Gallardo quickly became our friend and bonded as a teammate, more so than, say, a Viper or even a Corvette. Granted, it has a couple of quirks related to some of its most exotic performance options, but we were impressed with its drivability in traffic and by the ergonomic excellence of its interior. The more time we spent with the Gallardo, the more we came to love and enjoy it.
Climbing into the car, we were immediately reminded that Lamborghini is owned by Volkswagen and supervised by Audi. The cabin doesn't exude Audi or German engineering, but the interior is high quality and ergonomically well designed. The materials are handsome and well matched, everything fits together well, nothing rattles, all the controls were in logical, expected locations. Everywhere we looked in the cabin, we saw quality and elegant design. Initially put off, we even grew to like the hard, shiny, carbon fiber door trim in the Gallardo Superleggera.
Operating the Gallardo is intuitive, with a traditional ignition key and a traditional hand brake. Some of the latest luxury sedans from Germany are much harder to operate than the Gallardo. At the same time, the Gallardo benefits from the same sophisticated navigation, audio and climate system found in the latest Audi models. The controls are sophisticated yet elegant (meaning simple) and easy to operate.
Getting in and out is fairly easy. The seats are roomy and comfortable. Outward visibility is much better than expected. The cabin is quite phenomenal, really, and it makes the Gallardo a joy to drive on a frequent basis.
On the outside, the Gallardo benefits from Italian design. It looks exotic and flamboyant. A closer look reveals high-quality construction with body panels awash in quality paint that fit smartly and evenly.
Gallardo comes in coupe and roadster versions, plus a lighter, more powerful Superleggera model. We've only driven the latter, but two of us have driven two different cars in two locations, and came up with the same conclusions.
As expected, the Superleggera is lightning quick and blindingly fast. It grips the road so well that you'll likely work the tires only on a racing circuit. And it has fantastic braking capability. The acceleration performance is truly exhilarating and at full song in the Sport mode the E-gear changes gears like a race driver in anger. Yet, around town, in the automatic or normal manual modes, it shifts smoothly and is quite tractable at low speeds. It's not as docile as a Porsche 911 Turbo but nor is it a Viper.
The biggest driving challenge comes when it's time to park: The corners of the car are not visible, so we were happiest when a spotter was directing us in tight confines. Also, jockeying into a parking spot in tight confines is challenging because the E-gear transmission is depressing and releasing the clutch as you give it little jabs of throttle and the carbon-fiber brakes are grabby when cold. Familiarity and some special driving techniques help, but you may not want to toss the keys to just anyone to park it. Then again, why give the keys to anyone? For that matter, why ever park it?
The 2008 Lamborghini Gallardo comes in Coupe ($186,250) and Spyder ($217,000) versions. The Superleggera ($222,800) comes only as a coupe.
Options for the Superleggera include a stationary rear wing instead of the standard articulated wing that rises and falls with the speed of the car. Also on the options list are eight-piston carbon disc brakes ($10,000), as well as a window net, fire extinguisher, and a bar for competition seat belts. The six-speed manual transmission is a no-cost option. Navigation and entertainment systems are available for the Gallardo, but not the Superleggera.
Safety features include seat-mounted side air bags, anti-lock brakes, traction control, electronic stability control, and all-wheel drive.
All Lamborghini Gallardo models are built on an aluminum space frame, with aluminum extruded parts welded to cast aluminum joint sections, and an aluminum body structure with thermoplastic hang-on parts such as fenders and door skins.
From the outside, the Superleggera is nearly identical to the standard Gallardo coupe, with the exception of the Superleggera logo on the lower portion of the doors.
But the shape hides a whole menu of lightweight parts that come on the Superleggera, including a carbon fiber rear diffuser, carbon fiber outside mirror housings, a carbon fiber driveshaft, a polymer rear window and engine cover instead of glass, carbon fiber intake manifold, lightweight exhaust manifolds, forged aluminum wheels, and titanium wheel nuts, to make the car as light as possible.
Inside, the Superleggera has shiny gray carbon fiber door panels, a carbon fiber dashboard panel and carbon fiber console to save weight. The carbon fiber look is becoming a cliche, but the door panels are handsomely designed and fit well. Best of all, it's easy to clean: Simply wipe it off.
The seats in our Gallardo Superleggera were supportive and comfortable. Finished in alcantara with a small dash of body-colored trim, they are very attractive. The seats are equipped with seat-mounted side air bags and three-point seat belts.
The driver and passenger can reach all the audio, climate, window and other controls in the center of the dash quite easily and comfortably.
Audio and climate controls and the navigation system come from Audi. A seven-inch color screen in the center of the dash displays Audi's Multi-Media Interface, or MMI. A dial surrounded by four buttons are used to control most functions. This system gives the driver control over many functions without filling the dash with buttons. Audi's MMI features a shallower menu structure than BMW's iDrive, so you don't have to burrow as deeply through a maze of menus to get to the adjustment you want.
The climate controls are separate, however, and this is a good thing. Heating and air conditioning have more traditional controls mounted below the MMI controller. So you don't have to call up a menu to change the fan speed or cabin temperature. You simply press a button and twist a dial.
Between these two interfaces is a set of power window switches. This is the least ergonomic aspect of the cabin controls; you have to actually look at them to raise or lower the windows, less convenient than having the switches on the doors.
The sharply angled windshield and the deep dashboard give the feeling that you're sitting far back in the car, and you are, just ahead of the rear window and firewall that separate you physically but not aurally from that fire-breathing, V10 engine. We quickly adjusted to this.
Visibility is quite good all around, not as clear as the view from a Porsche 911 Turbo, but far better than that of traditional exotics. For example, we were alert when driving around LAX, one of the world's busiest airports, with shuttle vans, cabs and distracted motorists jostling into neighboring lanes in their efforts to pick people up, but we weren't terrified and would do it again. Big side mirrors offer a good rearward view. The rearview mirror offers a good view; the rear wing on the Superleggera blocks the view a little, and at night it can look like someone behind you is flashing their headlights as the wing obscures and reveals them when the cars bounce around.
The biggest issue with visibility comes with parking in tight quarters. The body work falls out of sight up front so it's difficult to judge where the corners of the car are located when pulling into a one-car garage. Fortunately, you are farther from the object than it appears. The Gallardo is wide, so you don't have a lot of space to work with. Exacerbating this are the touchy carbon-fiber brakes and an electronic gearbox depressing and releasing the clutch for a highly tuned V10. We found it very useful to have a spotter, though we were able to do it on our own. Sometimes it helped to push on both pedals at the same time, other times a light touch combined with experience with the E-gear was best. Familiarization with the throttle, E-gear and brakes quickly improved the situation. But it's not a car you want to drive in and out of tight places in a hurry or haphazardly nor is it one you allow someone inexperienced with it to park it.
Storage in the Gallardo is almost non-existent. There's no cubby storage to speak of. We discovered, however, that the trunk, in the very front of the car, holds a small, carry-on trolley bag, the size designed to fit in an overhead storage bin. So picking someone up at the airport is only viable if he or she was traveling light for an overnight trip.
To drive the Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera is to drive one of the most exciting, powerful and capable sports cars in the world today. Lamborghini quotes a 0-62 mph time of 3.8 seconds, and a top speed just under 200 miles per hour.
The six-speed manual transmission is a very good transmission hobbled by a Sixties-style shifting gate built into the floor console, an anachronism that makes it difficult to shift cleanly and smoothly. Although we spent some time with the clunky-shifting 6-speed manual version, we spent most of our test drive time on the roads around Scottsdale, Arizona, and at Phoenix International Raceway with the much more attractive E-gear version.
The E-gear transmission is a combination of manual and automatic that is shifted up and down by paddles on the steering column (not to the steering wheel itself, so they don't move with the wheel). With the paddles and buttons used to control the transmission scattered about the cabin, it might not at first appear intuitive, but we quickly adjusted to it and found it easier to work than the electronic shifter on the BMW 7 Series sedans. To get Neutral, you pull back on both paddles at once. To drive in automatic mode, push the console-mounted button with a large A on it. To engage Reverse, touch the R button on the dashboard. Although the E-gear transmission can be clunky, too, especially as it downshifts into first before coming to a stop, it is a joy to use in performance driving situations, shifting in lightning-fast fashion under full throttle and blipping the throttle on downshifts to match engine rpm to road speed. This transmission, coupled to a 522-hp engine that doesn't run out of revs until 8000 rpm, makes for an exciting driving experience. We found the different modes useful, depending on whether we were cruising around town talking (Auto), cruising (Normal, shifting manually), or driving fast (Sport, shifting manually). The big blips when downshifting are addictive, and we found ourselves downshifting just to hear it. You need do nothing with your feet.
The thoroughly sorted-out racing-style suspension system on the five-year-old Gallardo works in concert with a front/rear weight distribution of 42/58 percent, the huge, sticky Pirelli P Zero Corse tires, the car's low center of gravity, and its viscous-coupling all-wheel-drive system to deliver acceleration, cornering and braking that few other cars on this planet can match. The viscous coupling can send up to 100 percent of the engine's torque to either the front or rear tires, but normally operates at 42 percent front-drive and 58 percent rear-drive for maximum performance on dry pavement.
At the same time, the steering is ultra-direct and quick, and the ride is reasonably plush and quiet, though it does crash pretty hard on rough pavement and potholes. In daily driving, it's actually quite pleasant, though we wouldn't drive a Gallardo with a cappuccino in one hand.
The stationary wing optional for the Superleggera is said to add more than 370 pounds of aerodynamic downforce to the rear of the car at high speeds. At night, however, it sometimes looked like cars behind were flashing their headlights at us as the wing obscured and revealed the headlight beams.
Braking performance, even without the $10,000 optional carbon ceramic brakes, is exceptional, with a 60-0 braking distance of only about 109 feet, and a powerful feel that will pull you right up against your seatbelts in a panic stop situation. The carbon brakes seem grabby and hard to modulate smoothly at low speeds, especially when cold, but when driven hard they were smooth, easy to modulate, and quite effective. The pedal softened a bit as they got hot on a winding hillclimb.
The Gallardo Superleggera quickly instills a huge degree of confidence in a good, experienced driver.
At the same time, the Gallardo Superleggera was comfortable in heavy traffic and when motoring around town at low speeds. It was very tractable and never balked at going slow in first gear.
We think the Lamborghini Gallardo was a very special sports car as it was, easy to drive, dramatic to look at, an all-around sexy beast. But with the advent of the Superleggera version, the Gallardo becomes even more exciting and more special. Only about 350 of these cars will be available worldwide, making them instant collector's items.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw drove the Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera in Arizona; nctd.com editor Mitch McCullough drove the Superleggera pictured in Los Angeles.
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