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.