2012 Lamborghini Gallardo

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First Drive Review: 2009 Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4

This 2007 review is representative of model years 2004 to 2014.
By Steve Siler of Car and Driver

Hugging the outside wall of the banking at Las Vegas Motor Speedway at about 130 miles per hour, we had a thought: "This dash-top stitching looks perfect."

Yes, the fencing was whizzing by in a blur, along with banner ads for cigarettes and motor oil and car wax and other assorted stuff. We were coming up fast on the braking cones that would prepare us for our slow, second-gear, 170-degree left-hander leading into the infield road-course portion of our track drive of the 2009 Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4, and we're focusing on dash stitching?

Well, it is really nice. But we wouldn't have noticed it — at least not right then — if the new Gallardo weren't so calm, so collected, and so composed at that speed. Indeed, it was only at about 120 mph that we even started hearing any wind noise. This is a car that lives for triple-digit speeds.

A Really Good Car — No Bull
Lamborghinis have always been rare, fast, and exciting. But they haven't always been good cars. The new Gallardo LP560-4 — and, to a large extent, its acronym-free Gallardo predecessor — is a very good car, however, pretty much any way you slice it. Well built, well equipped, and generally reliable, the Gallardo is a car one can actually drive each and every day.

The Gallardo has been given a thorough refresh for 2009. And we should make one thing clear right now: This is more than a nose job. It has more power, a better interior, and a more cohesive design. It also has a new suffix — LP560-4 — to reflect its engine layout (longitudinale posteriore, meaning the longitudinally mounted engine sits behind the driver), power output (560 PS, which equals 552 horsepower), and the number of drive wheels (four).

This Car Is Gonna Be on Tons of Bedroom Walls
The new car's styling is at once more aggressive and more elegant than before. The front end has been given a bit more of a chin in the form of revised, enlarged cooling intakes. The headlamps have been trimmed and no longer take up a majority of the front fenders. Parent company Audi's signature can be found in the fitment of LED daytime running lights, which are Y-shaped, perhaps to tie into the taillamps, which now recall those of the Murciélago with their asterisk-like directional light pattern.

The body sides and the rear decklid have also been smoothed and filled, with single slits replacing the dozens of gills on the original Gallardo. The skinnier taillights no longer wrap up onto the decklid, and they now sit atop a wide band of grillwork that visually widens the rear end for that extra-exotic look. Taking a page from Ferrari's time-hewn handbook, Lambo fitted the decklid with a new plexiglass "window" to show drooling bystanders what's underneath.

More Power, More Torque, More Fun
What's under the window sure isn't the same thing as before. The Gallardo's naturally aspirated V-10 has been bored to 5.2 liters (up from 5.0) and fitted with a direct-injection system, enabling a high, nosebleed-inducing compression ratio of 12.5:1, resulting in a significant spike in output to 552 horsepower at 8000 rpm (from 512) and 398 pound-feet of torque (from 376). Lamborghini stresses that this is not the same V-10 found in certain Audi models (such as the RS6 wagon), stating that it has a unique block and heads, as well as its own direct-injection system co-developed with Bosch.

The first twist of the key (Lamborghini hasn't yet embraced the starter-button thing) floods the cabin with an engine note that is sharp and clear. And unlike the Audi R8, with which the LP560-4 shares a few structural bits but no powertrain components, the Lambo is loud. Deliciously loud. As loud as legally possible. And thus, perfect.

Pull back on the e-gear's right shift "paddle" (it actually looks more like a hook fixed to the steering column), and after a split second of clutch uptake, the LP560-4 starts forward. The Gallardo has never been unruly, and it's still not. But there is some serious — serious — power behind that right pedal, and the farther one dips into it, the more it returns controlled and thrilling acceleration. Within only a few feet, we know one thing for sure: This is a fast car.

Prepare for Takeoff
For 2009, Lamborghini continues to offer a launch mode (Lambo calls it "thrust" mode) that optimally matches throttle and clutch characteristics for max acceleration. Here, it's easy: (1) Engage first gear, (2) select the Corsa mode for the transmission, (3) disengage the traction control with a dash toggle, (4) mash the throttle and brakes until the tach reads about five grand, and (5) release the brake pedal.

Nothing happens for a nanosecond as the gear engages, but then the coupe rockets forward as if a truckload of TNT had exploded 10 feet from the rear bumper. Fun? Well, sort of. In spite of what is undoubtedly our best acceleration stunt, it sounds like it hurts the car. So we only do it once — okay, twice — fearing that we might spend the balance of our time with the Lambo in limp-home mode. Street starts, however, are a different story. After slowly rolling into an intersection in Vegas, we just hammer it; we break all four wheels loose for a second in a straight line — and then simply catapult forward, squealing and grinning like schoolboys who have just stolen the keys to Dad's, well, Lamborghini. This doesn't seem to hurt the car. But we know we are going straight to hell anyway.

For what it's worth, Lamborghini claims the LP560-4 is capable of charging from 0 to 62 mph in 3.7 seconds, which is quick. But we've driven many 3.7-second cars, and the LP560-4 feels a lot quicker. The last Gallardo Superleggera we tested weighed less than the LP560-4 and could hit 60 in 3.5 seconds. And that was with 40 fewer horsepower and 22 fewer pound-feet of torque. We can't wait to strap our test equipment to the LP560-4 and see just how far off Lambo's claims are. Ditto the quoted 202-mph top speed, which is up from 196.

Supremely Fast on the Road; Better on the Track
In the past, we've praised the Gallardo for its straight-line speed and splendid sounds but criticized it for being a bit too sterile and heavy-feeling, and thus not much fun on the track. Lambo seems to have gotten the memo, making improvements to the chassis that go some way to improving at-the-limit behavior. Numerous suspension pieces have been redesigned and lightened, and the e-gear transmission now offers five modes to choose from, the most aggressive being Corsa, said to cut shift times by 40 percent.

After our track experience, during which we lapped the speedway's infield and about half of the banking at least two dozen times, we can tell you that Corsa mode does indeed work, but the shifts are quite brutal. Thus, we'd say the mode is appropriate only in 10/10th driving. Anything less, and the Sport mode is a far better compromise — still quick but not neck breaking. Both modes automatically raise the stability-control threshold commensurately, and the automatic mode is pleasantly comfortable and thus suitable when carrying a weak-stomached passenger.

Naturally, we spent most of our track time in Corsa mode, which allowed the 30/70 front-to-rear torque split of the VT (viscous traction) all-wheel-drive system to do its thing, and the LP560-4 to slide around a good bit with some easy-to-catch tail-out fun before reining it in. Steering is quick, light, and precise, with good feedback through the Alcantara-covered wheel. The feeling of porkiness of the Gallardo has been mitigated somewhat, and body roll, if there is any, is absolutely undetectable.

All the LP560-4s present at the launch had the optional carbon-ceramic brakes, which never exhibited a trace of fade even after the cars had been track-driven for three hours without a break. They feel better calibrated than before, seeming less grabby. However, they are still far from supersmooth, especially with the transmission in Sport or Corsa mode, both of which downshift automatically (and occasionally harshly) during deceleration, making for herky-jerky stops in city driving. Oh, and the brakes still add $15,600 to the price, which is now $203,000, including the gas-guzzler penalty and freight charges.

All Grown Up and Better for It
Gallardos have always been fun and indulgent propositions, at least when considered by themselves and apart from their well-rounded yet hugely capable competitors. But the 2009 LP560-4, which will start appearing here this summer, makes a strong case for itself even among the formidable competition. Its freshened interior is a decent step up in terms of refinement, with classier secondary switchgear and Audi-level fit and finish. The Lambo still suffers from horrendous rearward vision, windshield glare, and a paucity of interior storage space, although there is a nice shelf behind the seats that can fit a purse or gym bag. But it now even comes with a cup holder.

Summarily, the Gallardo is all grown up, feeling every bit as solid and sophisticated as the Audi R8, only louder and faster. And although it isn't quite as raw as, say, the Porsche GT2 or Mercedes-Benz CLK63 AMG Black Series, neither does it have a big vacant space in the rear where seats were yanked out in the interest of turning things more hard-core. This Gallardo is hard-core enough.

Is it as good as its main rival, the Ferrari F430? Well, if it's not, it's closer than ever to matching the legendary cavallino's refinement and appeal. Looks like we'll have to put them side by side at 130 ticks to find out which has the better dash stitching.

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BB01 - 7/28/2014 11:29:10 AM