Supercar Seat Time Lamborghini Gallardo

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Supercar Seat Time Lamborghini Gallardo

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The Gallardo is assembled in 22 stations. The Murcielago and Murcielago Roadster are built in just 10. At the early stages of assembly, the differences between the two models are d

Supercar Seat Time in the Land Where Lambos Are Born

In 1985, the Lamborghini Countach was the object of my preadolescent obsession. More than just the ultimate sports car, its ridiculous alien styling, tempestuous V12, and unfriendly ergonomics made it the quintessential exotic. To a car-crazed 13-year-old, what could be sexier than a car that unhinged heads, went like stink, and cost more than a house?

Today's 13-year-olds have it even better. Now there are two Lamborghinis to drool over. The top-of-the-line Lamborghini Murcielago is a couple of generations down the line from the Countach, but every bit as worthy of worship. New to the Lambo lineup is the V10-powered, entry-level Gallardo: it's smaller than the Murcielago, sports a 500-horsepower V10, and runs a cool $175,000.

I spent an afternoon at Lamborghini's Sant'Agata headquarters taking in a factory tour, which was followed by a test-drive of the entry-level (but still out of reach) Gallardo. In contrast to the newly constructed company headquarters (replete with Lambos of yore, including several versions of the aforementioned Countach), the assembly line in Sant'Agata is surprisingly old school. Sophisticated hoists cradle bundles of aluminum and carbon fiber, and everything is assembled by hand. If there is an automotive equivalent of haute couture, this is it.

The Gallardo is assembled in 22 stations. The Murcielago and Murcielago Roadster are built in just 10. At the early stages of assembly, the differences between the two models are dramatic; the Murcielago starts life as an alloy shell interconnected with black carbon-fiber beams. The Gallardo's skeleton, by contrast, is a 600-pound aluminum space frame manufactured in Germany, and arrives in Sant'Agata preassembled and painted.

As the cars pass each assembly step, differentials, electrical systems and various mechanical entrails are pulled from bins and hand-assembled onto the structural frames. Simultaneously, interior and leatherwork pieces are hand-built for the Murcielago and eventually merged with the body, while Gallardo interiors are sourced externally. Though both engines are hand-assembled at the Sant'Agata plant, the Gallardo's V10 block is manufactured off-site and shipped to Hungary for finishing before it reaches Italy.

As Gallardos and Murcielagos form, glass and body panels are affixed and tolerances checked before final inspection underneath the ruthless glare of a lighting tunnel, a quality control technique borrowed from Audi. At their current rate of production, the factory builds one to two Murcielagos per day, and six to seven Gallardos.

Much to the curiosity and occasional terror of local residents, the plant's lack of private proving grounds means each newly minted Lamborghini is tested on local roads, where I am let loose with a six-speed-manual-equipped Gallardo. Although populated with trucks, scooters and erratic Italian drivers, my playground also includes tight hillside roads, scenic highways and stretches of autostrade perfect for triple-digit bursts of speed.

Entering the angular Gallardo is easy. It has traditional doors unlike the Murcielago's "scissor door" design. It may be pedestrian for a Lamborghini, but conventional doors are a small concession when purchasing an entry-level car that's $100,000 cheaper than the next model up.

The Gallardo's cockpit is a surprisingly comfortable and discreet space, despite a cramped footwell. Familiar Audi switchgear triggers my A4 sense memory, but the Gallardo's luxuriously spare interior is even more refined. Interior panels fit together tightly, and while rear visibility is somewhat limited, it is head-and-shoulders above that of the bulkier and more claustrophobic Murcielago. A buttery-soft Alcantara headliner adds a sense of opulence, though this cockpit's austere German influence seems to overshadow its flamboyant Italian genes.

Fire up the 500-hp V10, however, and its guttural notes suck you back into the land that spawned Puccini faster than you can say "aural aria." The engine block may be machined abroad, but its soul is pure Italian opera, authoritative and serious at low rpm, and satisfyingly untamed at high rpm.

Though the free-revving 5.0-liter V10 begs to be slammed off the line, dropping the clutch from a standstill is unwise; its viscous-coupled four-wheel-drive system absorbs the shock of 376 pound-feet of peak torque, while sticky Pirelli PZero rubber eliminates any remaining possibility of wheelspin, even with traction control disabled.

Off-the-line launches require strict hand/foot discipline, but any driveline drag from the all-wheel-drive system is countered by the V10's tremendous torque. Working the aluminum shifter through the metal gates offers a satisfying clunk of metal against metal, and the manual labor produces adrenaline rushes that are modulated with a progressive clutch pedal.

Though it offers decent pull below 4,000 rpm, the Gallardo's V10 truly screams at higher rpm thanks to continuously variable intake and exhaust valve timing. According to Lamborghini, the Gallardo's power plant pushes it to 60 mph in 4.1 seconds, and to a top speed of 192 mph, the latter of which I sadly did not experience due to omnipresent autostrade traffic.

Handling is impressively stable and crisp, combining aggressively tuned springs, stabilizer bars and Koni self-adjusting dampers with good old-fashioned four-wheel drive. The Gallardo also provides a safety net with stability management (ESP), traction control (ASR) and an automatic brake differential (ABD). Though the Gallardo further errs in the direction of safety by initially favoring understeer, reaching those handling limits on public roads would require reckless levels of bravado which few drivers will exhibit in the real world. In spite of assertive input, this baby Lambo insists on remaining firmly planted to the pavement. When adhesion limits are crossed, the Gallardo reacts by providing feedback, rather than snapping completely out of control.

Unnatural steering feedback has been eliminated by sending 70 percent of the engine's power to the rear wheels under normal conditions. The ride is firm and sometimes jarring, though never punishing in an excessively crude way. Backing up the superlative suspension are eight-piston Brembo front calipers and four-piston rears that produce up to 1.1 Gs of reverse thrust, according to Lamborghini.

Pitching the Gallardo around intimate, rolling hillsides, it wasn't the car's outrageous handling limits or even the all-wheel-drive traction that surprised me. It was the fact that this Lamborghini offered dual-zone climate control, a navigation system and excellent ergonomics a level of civility usually disdained by high-end exotics, particularly Italian ones.

To return the Gallardo, I park in front of the classic Lamborghini gallery where the notoriously temperamental Countach happens to be poised behind plate-glass windows. Does the 20-year-old wild child recapture my imagination? Sure it does. But suddenly, the evolved Gallardo with refinement, polish and build quality has become a more intriguing dream. I've probably matured since my days of my unbridled Countach lust, but then again, so has Lamborghini. It has built a covetable car that maintains its trademark spacecraft styling, without compromising speed or comfort.

Who said the term "everyday exotic" had to be an oxymoron?

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