Ezra dyer got to go to Rome to drive Lamborghini’s latest flagship, the Aventador, which replaces the Murcielago. A week before he flew to Italy, I am at the Monticello Motor Club 100 miles northwest of Manhattan to drive the two latest versions of the Aventador’s smaller sibling, the Gallardo. Rome is nice, but the swanky, members-only, Monticello track is no slum, and I don’t have to worry about jet lag, just clipping apexes correctly. Also, the Gallardo might not be the latest and greatest Lamborghini, but the LP550-2 Bicolore and the LP570-4 Spyder Performante are the latest and greatest Gallardos. The Gallardo, for its part, is the best-selling Lamborghini of all time. More than 10,000 of them have been sold worldwide since the car debuted at the 2003 Geneva Motor Show, its sales buttressed by a carefully orchestrated rollout of new models designed to tempt rich guys who cannot resist the latest Italian baubles. There is a group of such rich guys, specially invited by Lamborghini, waiting in the Monticello canteen for the peasant scribes to finish our morning drive so they can take the wheels of the LP550-2 Bicolore and LP570-4 Spyder Performante test cars, assuming we don’t destroy them first. One of these guys tells me he already owns a Gallardo coupe; another tells me he owns a Ferrari F430 Spider. If they are surprised that they have to wait for the likes of us to finish driving before they are allowed out on the track, they are polite enough not to show it.
The LP550-2 Bicolore coupe, the first rear-wheel-drive Gallardo since the limited-edition Balboni, is solely for America: other markets get the all-wheel-drive LP560-4 Bicolore. Only 250 Balboni models were built, and they cost $224,895. By comparison, the Bicolore’s base price is $196,995. Unlike the Balboni, though, it’s offered only with the E-gear sequential manual transmission, rather than with a choice between E-gear and a conventional six-speed manual. If you want to shift for yourself, the $27,900 you’ve saved by not succumbing to the Balboni back in 2009 could buy you a stick-shift Volkswagen GTI, with money left over.
During the presentation, Lamborghini officials try to explain the differences between a Balboni and a Bicolore and between a Gallardo LP560-4 Spyder and a Gallardo LP570-4 Spyder Performante, but even they seem confused by the proliferation of models they have wrought. I add to the confusion by asking, “So, you’re saying that the Performante is a Spyder that’s been Superleggera-ized? Or are you saying that the Performante is a Superleggera that’s been Spyder-ized?”
I know I’m confused during my first forays onto the south course at Monticello, an amusing amalgam of turns and elevations with some spring rainwater lurking in the low corners. I’m riding shotgun as another journalist tries valiantly to keep up with our instructor, the ridiculously handsome Indy Lights driver Richard Antinucci, who’s driving a Superleggera coupe with what he says are nearly bald tires. This doesn’t stop him from keeping the V-10 on full boil and from braking late, exiting corners early, and generally thrashing his Gallardo mercilessly.
What does the Superleggera coupe have to do with today’s exercise? Not much, except that the LP570-4 Spyder Performante (seen here in white with a black fabric roof) represents the first time that the carbon-fiber-intensive, weight-saving program of the Superleggera (superlightweight) coupe has been applied to the ragtop Gallardo, resulting in a car that weighs some 143 pounds less than the stock Spyder. Wouldn’t, couldn’t, shouldn’t such a car simply be called the Lamborghini Gallardo LP570-4 Spyder Superleggera? Perhaps, but don’t you think a car that costs $248,000 plus $2995 in delivery plus $2100 in gas-guzzler taxes deserves an exciting new name like Performante? And, hey, it’s got a new front bumper for better aerodynamics, stiffer bushings and dampers, and it squeezes 562 hp out of the 5.2-liter V-10. Lambo says it will reach 62 mph in 3.9 seconds, one-tenth of a second quicker than the stock Spyder.
Back to the Bicolore. You distinguish it from other current Gallardos by its all-black top half (A-pillars, roof, engine cover, and rear spoiler) and one of five colors for its bottom half: white, yellow, blue, gray, or orange. The black-over-orange combo seen here is cool, but if you prefer a more stealthy look, a black-over-gray Bicolore is as sleek and elegant as a Prada boot and far more desirable. I swap back and forth between the rear-wheel-drive, 542-hp, two-tone, black-roofed Gallardo LP550-2 Bicolore coupe and the all-wheel-drive, 562-hp, winged Gallardo LP570-4 Spyder Performante, all the while trying to keep pace with Antinucci.
The Performante, like all four-wheel-drive Gallardos before it, suffers from some understeer and some dullness in the steering itself, but it’s still an electrifying car, and it feels incredibly stable and predictable and responsive and powerful as it catapults you around Monticello. The brakes are amazing and the E-gear quick-shifting. The rear-wheel-drive Bicolore, for its part, has stupendous grip, precise steering, and a natural and fluid character. It certainly fulfills the desires of Lamborghini enthusiasts who have long pined for the purity of rear-wheel drive. On the debit side, with that purity comes squirrelly behavior in the front end of the car under severe braking, and this requires a firm hand at the steering wheel to stay pointed straight ahead.
Even as the Aventador begins its reign as Lamborghini’s flagship, this is the beginning of the end for the Gallardo, which likely will be replaced in a couple years. The Bicolore and the Performante probably aren’t the last special editions that the product planners will concoct, though. What comes next? It’s hard to say, but whatever it is, it will have some crazy name, it will be offered in a profusion of bright paint colors, and Ezra Dyer and I will fight over who gets to drive it first.
ON SALE: Now
ENGINE: 5.2L V-10, 542 hp, 398 lb-ft
LP570-4 Spyder Performante
ON SALE: Now
ENGINE: 5.2 L V-10, 562 hp, 398 lb-ft