It's Friday night, and we're inching down Collins Avenue, a multicylinder, multiwatt, multidollar, bumper-to-bumper convoy. In this star-spangled parade of flash, the new Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder triggers more flashed headlamps and thumbs-up signals than the inevitable flock of Maybachs, Maseratis, Ferraris, and Bentleys. This car seems to collect dates faster than George Clooney at large, which is a bit surprising when you consider that the Gallardo coupe was first released back in 2003. But in Miami's extroverted environment, being able to lower the Gallardo's canvas roof--a fully automatic, twenty-second procedure--makes all the difference.
It is difficult not to be fascinated by the sheer presence and the daring proportions of this radically angular sports car, but it is downright impossible not to be thrilled by the Gallardo's aural charm. The thunder-and-lightning show begins with a twist of the ignition key--mercifully, the Italians have spared us the mushrooming nuisance of including both a key and a starter button. Even at idle, the 7-8-5-2-1-10-9-4-6-3 firing order stimulates your eardrums. The 5.0-liter V-10 needs a chainsaw-like 8000 rpm to develop 512 hp (19 hp more than last year). The maximum torque of 376 lb-ft at 4500 rpm gives the two differentials hell; fortunately, both are limited-slip designs. Most of the twist action is diverted to the rear wheels in normal circumstances, but whenever wheel spin occurs, the central viscous coupling instantly redistributes the torque as necessary.
Tipping the scales at 3462 pounds, the Gallardo Spyder can accelerate from 0 to 62 mph in a claimed 4.3 seconds, leaving two fat black stripes on the tarmac and a red exclamation point in your mind. The forward thrust continues until the Spyder eventually reaches a maximum speed of 195 mph with the top closed. When the roof is down, it's briefly possible to experience 191 mph--your eyes running with tears, your face strangely distorted, and your hair shedding a lock every 500 yards or so.
In day-to-day use, the softtop Gallardo is surprisingly easy to live with. For instance, there is no danger of stalling the engine, since the optional e-gear transmission doesn't have a clutch pedal. And thanks to the ECU that governs the paddle-shift transmission, you can't engage a wrong gear or overrev the engine. Directional stability isn't an issue, either--the four-wheel-drive and stability control systems see to that. The new rear-view camera helps make up for the lack of rear visibility, and the clever lifting system, which hydraulically raises and lowers the nose, gives the term curb-crawler a whole new meaning.
By our third day in Miami, the Gallardo needed some fresh air. It no longer pulled away cleanly from standstill, and it had also developed an occasional midrange cough. Trying to avoid the throngs, we ended up on Flamingo Road, which winds its way through the Everglades. Here particularly, it was obvious that Lamborghini has recalibrated the gearing of all 2006 Gallardos. First gear is now 27 percent shorter than before, second is 13 percent quicker, and third, fourth, and fifth each have been sped up by six percent. As a result, the car offers even more midrange urge. That's the good news. The bad news is that the optional paddle-shift transmission still needs some fine tuning. In sport mode, it whips through the ratios like an electromechanical torturer. In auto mode, it is a tad too slow and two tads too jerky. In first gear, the Spyder doesn't take off with the same vigor as it does with the manual transmission. Until these flaws are fixed, we would go with the conventional six-speed gearbox. Its only drawback is its stiff linkage, which makes downshifts from third to second harder than necessary.
Despite having all-wheel drive, the Gallardo Spyder will readily power oversteer. It lets its tail go much later than a Ferrari F430 or a Porsche 911 Turbo--and its slide angles are typically less dramatic--but nonetheless the ultimate arbiter of its fine handling balance is the throttle. When it does assume an attitude, however, you had better time and meter your inputs properly. But thanks to the extremely stiff aluminum body and the rigid unequal-length control arm suspension, the responses are very sharp.
The rack-and-pinion steering is now twenty percent quicker than before, which is especially obvious around the straight-ahead position, where the Gallardo Spyder is now about as forgiving as a live wire. Turn-in is positively electrifying, and yet there is a surprising lightness to the helm that refuses to disappear as you wind on lock. Like the proverbial go-kart, this car responds with rare accuracy. The only flaw is the ridiculous turning circle of 42.7 feet. Koni dampers take the vehicle speed, the driving style, the cornering force, and the surface quality into consideration. When in sport mode, however, the computer mixes too much cement into the hydraulic oil, so the Lambo will occasionally bottom out, and there is also some unwanted front-end pitch. The brakes, on the other hand, are strong and full of stamina.
The Gallardo's build quality is now truly impressive. The fabric roof of our test car never spoke a word, the leatherwork was assembled to the highest standard, fit and finish were spot-on, and the surfaces were every bit as classy as those of an Audi A8. There are less expensive sports cars on the market, and even more complete ones. But as far as blending ability and curb appeal is concerned, the Gallardo Spyder is very special.