With fuel prices what they are, let me get straight to the most important fact about the 2009 Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4: it gets eighteen percent better fuel economy. Eighteen percent better than what, you ask? Well, eighteen percent better than last year's Gallardo, which didn't have the benefit of direct fuel injection. According to my calculations, the new Gallardo's petrochemical parsimony will save commuters as much as $350 per year over 10,000 miles, and that's real money back in your pocket - money that can be put toward important family-budget items such as Grey Goose bottle service, fractional helicopter ownership, and Tod's loafers. Saving money while saving the environment? Thanks, Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4!
The more craven industrialists and seal-beaters among you may be interested to learn that the LP560-4 also makes more power than last year's car - 552 hp, up from 512 hp - and it also weighs 44 pounds less, thanks mainly to a new transmission that's 66 pounds lighter than the unit in the '08 Gallardo. These changes give the LP560?-4 the power-to-weight ratio of the defunct Gallardo Superleggera, so it's not surprising that the revised Gallardo, according to Lamborghini, matches that car's 0-to-62-mph sprint of 3.7 seconds.
The improved power-to-weight ratio is the most noticeable difference in the new car, but Lamborghini went to work on plenty of secondary details as well. The E-gear sequential manual transmission shifts 40 percent faster, and there's now a launch-control program called "thrust mode" (snicker snicker). The car's electronic brain offers a new Corsa setting that raises the threshold of stability control intervention and sharpens shifts. There are three new matte colors, among them "Nero Nemesis," which sounds like it could refer to either a matte-black Lamborghini or to a character who really hates Batman. And the suspension has been redesigned, although even Lamborghini itself doesn't seem to understand exactly how. The press materials mention "newly designed kinematics," "authentic high-tech parts," and "rubber-metal bearings," all of which sound like things you'd want in your suspension, I would think. It's all rubber-metal bearings these days.
To demonstrate all these revisions, Lamborghini turned a group of auto journalists loose on the track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Well, "loose" isn't really the right word. We were sent out in groups to follow a Murciélago pace car, and my group always seemed to include one car driven by an old lady with an oxygen tank who was trying to find her way back to the slots at the Golden Nugget. But occasionally, I'd hang back and really attack a corner, which reliably proved that the Gallardo is one of the least all-wheel-drive-acting all-wheel-drive cars in the world.
While the "-4" in the name refers to the four driven wheels, very little torque goes to the front - 30 percent, most of the time. That means that the front wheels aren't going to pull you out of trouble. The Gallardo likes to oversteer, as I found occasionally on the track and more spectacularly while turning right from Sahara Boulevard onto the Strip. I honestly didn't mean to do this, but as I rolled onto the throttle in first gear, I hit a greasy patch of pavement and the rear end stepped out in a sudden fit of power oversteer. And that's how I found myself sliding sideways onto the Las Vegas Strip in a white Lamborghini. Perhaps, instead of LP560-4, it should be called LP560-two-and-a-half.
In between the track time and the Strip shenanigans, I eschewed Lamborghini's suggested scenic drive route and instead headed far out into the desert, to a stretch of road that looks like something out of a Wile E. Coyote cartoon, gray road bisecting bleak, rocky scrub all the way to the horizon. A lone car passed in the opposite direction, and, with nary the glint of a windshield in sight, I buried the throttle and gave the newest Lambo the ol' see-what-she'll-do. I didn't quite reach the claimed 202-mph top speed, but I came close, and it was scary. The steering got spooky, and I felt kind of like a fly on a rock skipped across a pond by the L.A. Angels' Vladimir Guerrero. As it turns out, while Lamborghini claims that the revised bodywork on the LP560-4 makes 31 percent more downforce than before, that doesn't mean that it actually makes a lot of downforce. At top speed, Lamborghini says, there's 53 pounds of lift at the front axle and 115 pounds of lift at the rear, which I wish I'd known ahead of time.
You can say this is academic, because nobody's really going to drive 200 mph in a Gallardo, and you'd have a point. But Ferrari claims that its F430 makes 616 pounds of downforce at 186 mph (10 mph shy of its admittedly less-impressive 196-mph top speed), and these are the kind of details that define the characters of the two rival cars. Ferrari goes for the unsexy lower top speed accompanied by reassuring downforce, while Lambo says, "Screw it - we're painting this thing lime green, and it's gonna look hot and go 200 miles per hour, and girls are gonna give you their phone numbers. Downforce schmownforce."
Both approaches have their virtues and their devotees, and if you're one of the 550 people who's preordered the $201,000 LP560-4, then I say more power to you. Literally.