The Good: Steering sharp enough to shave the electrons off an atom, an engine that’ll push you through the sound barrier, looks like a sports car should.
The Bad: Brakes that make you look like you never learned how to use a clutch.
The Verdict: The perfect second car.
For some reason, people seem to always divide themselves into groups of two. White people and black people. Gay people and straight people. Dog people and cat people. And in the car world, Ferrari people and Lamborghini people.
But we all know that when you look a little closer at someone, you realize people are too complex to be divided up so simply. Barack Obama is both black and white. David Bowie is neither gay nor straight. And I, for one, love dogs and cats equally.
So why is it that we have to split ourselves up between Ferraris and Lamborghinis? Why can’t we just come together and embrace both of these historic brands as producing some of the greatest cars in the world?
It’s in that spirit – as neither Ferrari nor Lamborgini devotee, but a simple lover of cars great and even more great – that I stepped into the Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera, a 523-horsepower Italian leccornia painted like a Tuscan orange.
Well, maybe stepping into isn’t really the right word. It’s more like loading yourself into a massive handgun. Place yourself into the tight seat like a bullet into the chamber. The door shuts like a magazine slamming into place, leaving you in the dark. The only light comes from the narrow gunslit of a windshield. Turn the car on and engage first gear by cocking the right-hand paddle behind the wheel. You’re locked and loaded.
One you see a nice, straight patch of road ahead of you, you can finally give into your itchy toes and floor the sucker. The Lambo breaks into a run like a stallion racing for freedom, each mile per hour building on the next. All the while, the engine…oh, God, the engine. The sound it makes…it’s the shriek of pure, unadulterated joy you’d make if you woke up hovering a mile above the earth – and you didn’t fall. It’s the sound you’d make the moment you realized you could fly.
But it’s when you hit the first bend in the road that you realize the Gallardo wasn’t built to drag race, but to wind along the backroads of the world far, far faster than the road’s planners ever intended. It hugs the curves like your hands gliding across your lover’s body, urging you to take each turn faster and faster. Mere mortals are unlikely to discover the limits of this car’s handling on public roads.
Of course, scalpel-sharp handling doesn’t mean dick unless you’ve got a responsive wheel and pedals to play with; luckily, the Lambo again makes clear that it was built for drivers with controls sensitive as those of an F-22 Raptor. (Or so I imagine; I haven’t been that lucky.) The thick steering wheel, wrapped in black suede, fits as snugly in your hands as your ass fits into the black suede seats. Actually, the whole damn interior is covered in black suede; it’s like the interior of the Batmobile back when Bruce Wayne was going through his “Disco Batman” phase in the ’70s.
Apart from the whole swinger/vigilante vibe, the interior of the Superleggera isn’t a bad place to be, at least for a couple hours. The carbon-fiber seats are supportive, but pretty short on padding; not surprising, given the diet Lamborghini put the Gallardo on so they could bestow the “superleggera” (superlight) term on it. (Lamborghini claims to have shaved 140 pounds or so off the conventional Gallardo, mostly through replacing metal with carbon fiber everywhere they could. It also gets a dandy rear wing!) And while the steeply angled windshield and narrow windows certainly look cool from outside, you quickly come to curse them when sidling up to stoplights or trying to figure out if that Crown Vic behind you is a State Trooper or a retiree.
Sadly, not all the beefs (ha ha, get it? Beef? Because Lamborghini’s logo is…a bull…and they name all their cars after…bulls…eh, screw it) are quite as minor, which brings me to the biggest thorn in this steer’s hooves: the brakes. To put it delicately – they suck. That’s not to say they do a bad job of slowing this beast – these carbon-ceramic discs stop this car faster than a naked Alan Greenspan will shrivel your wood – but regulating them is near impossible. A surgeon’s touch is necessary to keep the brakes from clenching up charlie-horse style, which of course causes your head to yo-yo back and forth as if you were on some perverted carnival ride. Making our way through a five-car wait at the stoplight was all it took for my co-driver to fill the Superleggera with the smell of roasting brake pad. (Your humble author managed to figure it out much more quickly, but hey, maybe I was just meant to drive Lamborghinis.)
Unfortunately, the Superleggera doesn’t come with a manual transmission – which would let you use the clutch to modulate speed in town – but comes standard with the six-speed “e.gear” paddle-shifting semiautomatic transmission, which creeps along all by itself when in gear just like your granddad’s Buick. Now, while I’ll admit the paddle shifters are easier (and safer) while driving along at high speed, until Lamborghini (and other manufacturers) can make them more liveable in town, a stick shift or slushbox is still your best bet for everyday driving.
Which brings me back to the point of this car: it isn’t meant to be a daily driver. This is not a car to zip down to the mall in, it’s not a car to run to Blockbuster in, and it’s sure as hell the wrong car for a Costco run. That’s not the point. This Lamborghini, more than almost any car on the road today, is just for kicks. It’s cocaine on wheels. In this era of 600-horsepower Mercedes-Benz limousines and turbocharged Porsche SUVs, the idea of a car made just for weekend use seems more and more distant. But this Lamborghini is a blast from the past, heir primeval to the Miura and Countach of days of yore – wild, crazy cars you’d never think of taking out of the garage unless you were gonna drive the hell out of them.
Sadly, though, this throwback has already become part of history; Lamborghini is no longer making the Gallardo Superleggera. Both it and the regular Gallardo were replaced this year with the revised Gallardo LP 560-4, which features a boost in horsepower and even cooler looks, as well as increased drivability. But don’t worry – sooner or later, Lamborghini will bring out another car made just for weekends.