Driving Impressions

By October 30, 2007

To drive the Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera is to drive one of the most exciting, powerful and capable sports cars in the world today. Lamborghini quotes a 0-62 mph time of 3.8 seconds, and a top speed just under 200 miles per hour.

The six-speed manual transmission is a very good transmission hobbled by a Sixties-style shifting gate built into the floor console, an anachronism that makes it difficult to shift cleanly and smoothly. Although we spent some time with the clunky-shifting 6-speed manual version, we spent most of our test drive time on the roads around Scottsdale, Arizona, and at Phoenix International Raceway with the much more attractive E-gear version.

The E-gear transmission is a combination of manual and automatic that is shifted up and down by paddles on the steering column (not to the steering wheel itself, so they don't move with the wheel). With the paddles and buttons used to control the transmission scattered about the cabin, it might not at first appear intuitive, but we quickly adjusted to it and found it easier to work than the electronic shifter on the BMW 7 Series sedans. To get Neutral, you pull back on both paddles at once. To drive in automatic mode, push the console-mounted button with a large A on it. To engage Reverse, touch the R button on the dashboard. Although the E-gear transmission can be clunky, too, especially as it downshifts into first before coming to a stop, it is a joy to use in performance driving situations, shifting in lightning-fast fashion under full throttle and blipping the throttle on downshifts to match engine rpm to road speed. This transmission, coupled to a 522-hp engine that doesn't run out of revs until 8000 rpm, makes for an exciting driving experience. We found the different modes useful, depending on whether we were cruising around town talking (Auto), cruising (Normal, shifting manually), or driving fast (Sport, shifting manually). The big blips when downshifting are addictive, and we found ourselves downshifting just to hear it. You need do nothing with your feet.

The thoroughly sorted-out racing-style suspension system on the five-year-old Gallardo works in concert with a front/rear weight distribution of 42/58 percent, the huge, sticky Pirelli P Zero Corse tires, the car's low center of gravity, and its viscous-coupling all-wheel-drive system to deliver acceleration, cornering and braking that few other cars on this planet can match. The viscous coupling can send up to 100 percent of the engine's torque to either the front or rear tires, but normally operates at 42 percent front-drive and 58 percent rear-drive for maximum performance on dry pavement.

At the same time, the steering is ultra-direct and quick, and the ride is reasonably plush and quiet, though it does crash pretty hard on rough pavement and potholes. In daily driving, it's actually quite pleasant, though we wouldn't drive a Gallardo with a cappuccino in one hand.

The stationary wing optional for the Superleggera is said to add more than 370 pounds of aerodynamic downforce to the rear of the car at high speeds. At night, however, it sometimes looked like cars behind were flashing their headlights at us as the wing obscured and revealed the headlight beams.

Braking performance, even without the $10,000 optional carbon ceramic brakes, is exceptional, with a 60-0 braking distance of only about 109 feet, and a powerful feel that will pull you right up against your seatbelts in a panic stop situation. The carbon brakes seem grabby and hard to modulate smoothly at low speeds, especially when cold, but when driven hard they were smooth, easy to modulate, and quite effective. The pedal softened a bit as they got hot on a winding hillclimb.

The Gallardo Superleggera quickly instills a huge degree of confidence in a good, experienced driver.

At the same time, the Gallardo Superleggera was comfortable in heavy traffic and when motoring around town at low speed