Two versions of the six-speed transmission are offered. The gated manual version uses cables to change gears. The rev-matching, all-singing, all-dancing E-gear alternative has three operational modes: normal (with fast, paddle-controlled shifts), sport (with superfast paddle-cued shifts), and automatic (what are you, a wuss?).
In both cases, a viscous coupling attached to the rear of the transaxle sends a portion of the available power to the front axle. The normal distribution is approximately 30 percent of the output forward, 70 percent rearward. In the event of slippage, the coupling automatically allots more torque to the axle that has more grip. Rear traction is enhanced by a friction-type limited-slip differential, and a front tire verging on slip is automatically snubbed by a momentary brake application.
An aluminum spaceframe, made up of an extruded-beam skeleton, sheetmetal floor, and cast joints, carries the running gear, which is heavier than the frame itself. The car's structure and body together weigh just 550 pounds, hardly enough to get a Norwegian strongman out of bed in the morning. Additionally, the frame is incredibly rigid, with a torsional stiffness fifteen percent higher than the Murcilago's, providing the suspension with a firm base of operation.
Also made mostly of aluminum, the Gallardo's double-control-arm suspension eschews the electronically adaptive dampers of the Modena for new Koni FSD (frequency selective damping) dampers. These are purely mechanical adaptive units, stiffening up at low frequency and relaxing at high frequency via a system of internal valves. Brakes, from Brembo, are eight-piston front calipers on 14.4-inch discs and four-piston rear calipers on 13.2-inchers, and they provide well more than one g of deceleration from 60 mph.
If the Gallardo's mechanicals remind you of the Modena, so will its shape. Its twin air intakes up front, long flying buttresses, and peaked front overhang are all 360 hallmarks. There are some beautiful and unique details, such as the forward-jutting side mirrors and the transaxle casing hanging down like some primal baboon display. But in general, its proportions are so similar to those of the Ferrari that the Gallardo looks a bit like a 360 in origami. To hear the car's lead designer, Luc Donckerwolke, tell it, the shape is Bolognese, not Modenese. "It is a one-volume body, like the Countach, with the very distinctive 'Egyptian Eye' side glass from the Diablo. It also has telephone-dial wheels resembling those on the Urraco, the Jalpa, and the Countach, but they are really the only round parts of the car. Many of the angles, such as in the hood, are references to the great Gandini-designed Lamborghinis everybody loves. . . . As [test driver, chief mechanic, and walking soul of Lamborghini] Valentino Balboni put it, the most important part of a Lamborghini is the engine. The rest is just engine cover."
Well, there is maybe a bit more to it than that. As its interior reveals, modern car-building techniques have buffed the rough, rude edges of the Lamborghini personality. True, there are many misplaced Audi bits inside, such as the coat hooks and the audio/navigation system, but these reflect a level of creature comfort heretofore unknown in cars from Sant'Agata. There is headroom enough for a mid-six-footer. It's easier to get into and out of than a Viper or even a Corvette. The pedals are placed perfectly for heel-and-toe downshifting, not crammed into the pedal box with as much offset from the steering wheel as possible. Previous Lamborghinis contorted their drivers into a bent and laidback driving position: This one will let you use a tollbooth without getting out of the car. A couple of trim pieces seem too cheap, especially since Lambo's Audi parent makes the best interiors in the car business. The plastic door handles, the easily scratched center console, and the flimsy eyeball vents are out of place in a car like this. The leather, also, is too puffy and old-school-Fiat in some places-an issue Lamborghini is working to fix-but there is still enough hide inside to set off some sort of alarm at PETA headquarters.