Lifestyle

Learning to Respect a Lamborghini


For the uninitiated, the Lamborghini Gallardo isn't much fun to drive. Work at it a bit, though, and it becomes clear why the car is so amazing

When I first fired up the huge 10-cylinder engine in Lamborghini's Gallardo Superleggera and started tooling around, I wondered how anyone but a sports car nut would end up buying it. Sitting at a stoplight, I hit the accelerator and the car lurched with neck-breaking power. Sure, this is why one spends $245,000 on a 530-hp super sports car. But there is nothing smooth about it.

The yellow missile jerked forward. As I ramped up the rpms and the car's automatic transmission shifted into second gear, the car lurched hard again. In fact, the Gallardo Superleggera shifts so hard that I actually moved in the tight faux-suede seat. And not in a good way.

Hoping to smooth things out, I decided to try out the car's automatic manual transmission. It's basically a clutchless manual transmission that's tied to paddles on either side of the steering wheel. Tap on one side and it shifts up, tap the other to shift back down.

But there, too, the car lurched hard and uncomfortably from one gear to the next. It's about as smooth as the gear-shifting on a city bus. The one bonus of using the paddle shift was that at least I knew when to brace for the big lurch.

Bizarre Braking Behavior

In fairness to the sports car makers at Lamborghini, 530 hp is tough to manage. And the kind of enthusiast who buys this car wants to be shaken, moved, and perhaps tossed around a bit. But my discomfort with this mid-engine beast didn't end there. The braking is as temperamental as Lindsay Lohan. I tapped the brake pedal, and the car barely slowed down. I hit it again, and I was still closing in on the rear end of the Toyota (TM) Camry in front of me.

Then I gave the brake pedal a good push, and the car screeched to a stop. The seat belt grappled me like a blitzing linebacker. I figured I might have to check for a diagonal bruise across my chest later. The bizarre braking is really a disappointment. At first I thought it was my driving. It's not every day I climb into a super performance car. But Car and Driver Executive Editor Csaba Csere had the same problem.

Eventually, I got used to the unpredictable gear-shifting, the touchy gas pedal, and the seemingly all-or-nothing brakes. Once I did, the car was a blast to drive. You can take this thing to illegal speeds in a few seconds. It can take tight corners faster than my driving skills will allow me to find out. By my third day of feeling out the car's peccadilloes and nuances, I got the joke.

Tight Squeeze and Classy Looks

It's an amazing piece of engineering. The steering is point-and-shoot. And it's a mid-engine car, which makes for superb balance—its huge engine is set squarely in the car's middle.

The Superleggera is the lighter, faster version of an already incredible Gallardo. Lamborghini trimmed it down more than 100 pounds, which is quite a bit for a car this size. Inside, the two-seater is a tight squeeze for anyone. But again, this is for the sports car cognoscenti who are accustomed to a certain amount of discomfort in exchange for 530 horses worth of grin factor. My metallic yellow test car had a black faux suede interior with high-quality stitching at every seam and corner. It's a classy look.

I have to add one minor gripe. The audio and climate controls come right out of an Audi. That makes sense, since Volkswagen (VLKAY) owns both companies. But for almost a quarter of a million, I'd like something that's more uniquely Italian.

Bragging Rights

Still, the exterior is unique. I got more attention in this car than I did test driving a Rolls-Royce a year ago.

Overall, the Gallardo is an incredible sports car. But even if I were shopping in that market, I'd look for something a little less temperamental. A Corvette Z06 is just as fun, far lower maintenance, and less than one-third the price. Other cars such as an Audi R8 would fall into the same category.

But you won't have the same bragging rights.

Welch is BusinessWeek's Detroit bureau chief.

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