Duck your head, limbo in, probe the footwell for legroom, lower yourself carefully into the Sparco tub, stretch out, breathe out, and relax if you can. No, the Gallardo cockpit is not made for tall fatsos whose Gold’s Gym membership expired in 1972. Which is a shame, because the Superleggera epitomizes luxury in a modern, laidback fashion – super, yes; leggera, less so. Almost the entire passenger cell is lined with black Alcantara, which looks and feels like suede. To reduce weight, the door panels, the transmission tunnel cover, and the seat buckets are made of shiny carbon fiber. Other nice touches include bespoke instrument faces, body-color accents like contrasting stitching and piping, aluminum pedals, and a meaty steering wheel with an ever-so-slightly squared-off bottom.
Painted orange metallic, our fully loaded test car was charmingly over the top, what with orange weaving in the seat faces and orange brake calipers. To shed the 154 pounds required to bring the power-to-weight ratio down to 5.2 lb/hp, the engineers switched the rear side windows and backlight to distortion-prone polycarbonate. The high-gloss engine compartment cover, rear diffuser, front splitter, full-length undertray, and the extra-wide rocker panels are baked from carbon fiber. Not exactly essential – but nonetheless available at extra cost – are such attention grabbers as the LED engine bay, cabin and puddle lighting packs, and the stacked, nonadjustable, Countach-style tail spoiler. All in all, the more radical material mix helps to push down the curb weight to 2955 pounds, which isn’t bad at all for a fully loaded, V-10-engined, four-wheel-drive supercoupe.
The tight-fitting Superleggera makes for an extremely intense driving experience. The one-size-fits-few seats are suction-cup fixtures that a dominatrix would be proud of. The instant throttle response launches you forward like an ejector. The ultra-quick steering feels like a high-voltage handshake. The merciless brakes threaten to inflict reverse whiplash injury. The suspension holds the road like an unsprung magnetic field. Dressed to impress with go-faster stripework and plenty of drag-cutting add-ons, the Superleggera marks the transition from boulevard racer to hardcore supercar that can’t wait to be unleashed. This Lamborghini redefines the demarcation line between pain and pleasure, punishment and reward. Its helm dismisses you with chimney-sweeper palms, its exhaust system temporarily impairs your hearing, its chassis is liable to blur your field of vision, and its transmission combs your hair backwards as it changes gear at 8500 rpm sharp. The term cruise missile comes to mind as phenomenal grip and insane traction make the mighty orange wedge stick to its flight path as if inertia, mass, and g-force were totally negligible dynamic commodities.
A bit of chip tuning was all it took to squeeze an additional 10 hp out of the 5.2-liter V-10 Gallardo engine, which now delivers 570 hp at 8000 rpm and an unchanged 398 lb-ft at 6500 rpm. By reprogramming the thrust mode of the e-gear transmission for 5000 take-off revs and an absolute minimum of wheelspin, Lamborghini claims it has shaven a notable 0.3 second off the 0-to-62-mph acceleration time, which is rated at 3.4 seconds. The top speed remains the same at 203 mph. Although Lamborghini still offers the classic manual transmission complete with chrome gate, polished golfball shift knob, and wonderfully positive action, the take rate has dropped to under two percent. How come? Because there are no tangible performance or efficiency benefits (the stick shift car is actually seven percent thirstier), and because the paddle-shift operation makes it a lot easier to cut that torque pie expertly into six even slices.
The Superleggera is, in fact, quite civilized and can be had with navigation, a high-end stereo, iPhone connectivity, a front-axle lift system, rear-view camera, and an automatic mode for the paddle-shift transmission. The Lambo will happily entertain the street café crowd at a mix of 6500 rpm and 15 mph in first all the way down the main drag. It doesn’t balk at extensive stop-and-go frustrations, and it will, at the push of a button, perform one head-turning race start after the other. As soon as the road is clear, it begs for the Corsa program, which lowers the ESP threshold and raises the rev limit. This is arms-forward, head-down, hips-back stuff: every full-throttle upshift sends a brief judder through the aluminum monocoque, kicks butt with a vengeance, makes the nineteen-inch Pirellis leave their initials on the tarmac in first, second, and occasionally even in third gear.
The Lamborghini makes you work hard, sweat early, and fear regularly. For a truly uncompromising driving machine, look no further than at our arancia borrealis tarmac peeler. This car is stiff, edgy, impatient, and aggressive, a corner-greedy pothole-hater that’s ready to pick a fight and is always on the prowl. The Superleggera needs to be pushed to shed idiosyncrasies like the lumpy low-speed ride, the grotesque tramlining, and the initially passive handling. But as soon as the wide track, the long wheelbase, and the low center of gravity push open that critical velocity window in a concerted action, Dr. Jekyll becomes Mr. Hyde – and minor inputs yield major effects. This is a beautifully modular car gifted with sensuous steering, sensational speed-induced stability, an almost feline feeling for the complexities of the pavement, and a magic maneuverability that pivots around an interplay of invisible axes as though inspired by an M. C. Escher drawing. True, the Superleggera scribes an embarrassingly extrovert turning circle, and its brittle front axle lacks the compliance Porsche has thankfully rediscovered for the GT3 RS, an obvious competitor to the Superleggera. But the Lambo’s brakes are more progressive, torque feed is much more seamless, and being really quick doesn’t automatically require grand gestures and superhuman saves.
In terms of overall competence, the newest Lamborghini scores a solid ten. In terms of value for money, however, you may be better off with a no-frills Gallardo LP560-4 coupe. Quite a bit better, in fact, since the Superleggera will command a $32,600 premium over the $205,000 LP560-4 when it goes on sale here in June.