Some might call it the “poster effect”—when you finally see a Lamborghini in person after years of only seeing them on posters, the effect is childlike giddiness. The jump from wall art to reality is mesmerizing, and the crazy origami spaceship with Lamborghini badges sitting in our parking lot doesn’t disappoint. Paint one metallic white—sorry, make that Bianco Monocerus, which literally means “white single-horned beast”—and it amplifies the folded-paper look of the latest Gallardo LP560-4.
The blitz on the senses and sensibility continues inside the white beast, where soft black leather stretches over everything but the floor. The cabin has a few reminders that Audi owns and runs Lamborghini, and these are the only concessions to the ordinary—the climate-control system has been lifted from the A8, and the stereo and navigation system are from a last-gen A4. Don’t fret. If the Italians were left to engineer such banalities, the interior would probably have wires hanging out of it and smell like an electric train set—let’s be honest, it wouldn’t work as reliably as the Audi-supplied hardware.
Turn the Audi-like switchblade key in the ignition, and the starter whirs, rousing the heavily revised V-10; it barks and coughs, then settles down to a warm rumble. Some minor styling changes have been made to the Gallardo for 2009, but the big news is the engine. Direct fuel injection, a higher compression ratio of 12.5:1, and a bump in displacement from 5.0 liters to 5.2 liters now provide 552 horsepower, 40 more than last year’s standard Gallardo and 29 more than the special-edition Gallardo Superleggera.
A new exhaust keeps the engine sounds subdued while cruising, but stomp on the throttle, and the engine’s throat opens to unleash the V-10’s race-car voice. A wailing Lamborghini underfoot should qualify as therapy: For a moment, we forget that we work under fluorescent lights in cubicles the color of gloom. There are times when we actually wish the Lambo was just a bit slower so we could revel in the music for longer than bursts lasting only a few seconds.
How quick is the new Lambo? First, we have to tell you about its transmission.
E-gear, the single-clutch automated manual that costs an extra $10,000, now shifts faster than before and works remarkably well around town, better in fact than BMW’s SMG. We’d probably save the $10,000 and shift gears ourselves were it not for the aptly named launch control that comes with E-gear. From a stop, launch control revs the engine to 5200 rpm and engages the clutch violently. Wondering what that feels like? It’s the automotive equivalent of the eruption of Krakatoa. All-wheel drive and sticky Pirelli rubber lose out to 552 horsepower—all four wheels immediately go up in smoke, four distinct skid marks are tattooed on the asphalt, and the Gallardo rockets to 60 mph in 3.2 seconds. A quarter-mile is gone in 11.2 seconds at 130 mph—you can count on one hand the street cars we’ve tested that are quicker than the LP560-4.
Despite the extra power, the smallest Lamborghini remains eminently civilized when the dial is set to delicate. The chassis is firm without being abusive, the driving position is comfortable, visibility is good in all directions, and freeway traffic parts ahead of you like some sort of vehicular Red Sea.
The only chink in the armor is the car bon-ceramic brake system that commands $15,600 over the standard brakes. As far as we can tell, the first few inches of brake-pedal travel has little effect on the brakes; meanwhile, the Lambo continues to hurtle toward Internet immortality on www.wrecked exotics.com. Keep pushing, and without warning, the brakes clamp down hard, and you’ve stopped well short of the stoplight. Passengers will wonder why you seem incapable of driving your Italian toy smoothly, you’ll regret spending Honda Civic money on a set of unsatisfying brakes, and you might just get rear-ended by a Toyota Corolla whose driver was trying to snap a picture of your car. The Gallardo Superleggera we tested in November 2007 had even worse brake feel. Feel aside, the brakes achieve an excellent 158-foot stop from 70 mph, but the all-or-nothing touchiness is inexcusable.
Prospective buyers can easily avoid the prickly brakes (and save $15,600) by not ordering them; we’ve previously tested Gallardos with the standard setup and found brake feel to be progressive and satisfying. With the exception of the optional brakes, this Lambo is so good that the Ferrari F430 may have just been toppled.
BY TONY QUIROGA, PHOTOGRAPHY BY TOM DREW AND THE MANUFACTURER