Some things you don't expect to happen on a press event, even if it is the worldwide debut of an Italian supercar in the city where the Bette Midler and Cher and Frank Sinatra all inhabit the same drag-personating body.
In Las Vegas, in the span of a few hours, our group of car writers witnessed a runway fashion show parade down a dinner table--on the table, not near it; a helicopter flight to Las Vegas Motor Speedway, with a bird's-eye view of the rather unfinished roof of the otherwise fantabulous Wynn casino; and one extremely drunk guest of the Mandalay Bay restaurant scene trying to turn a dinner table into an impromptu trampoline.
All of that distraction, and still, I was expected to figure out that the Lamborghini Gallardo has become one civilized, if frighteningly fast, machine, with a few furious laps around the big NASCAR track and its infield. I did it--to Lamborghini's credit, they actually allow journalists to drive their cars at speed, unlike some boutique sportscars that have viewings and happenings but not necessarily "drivings."
Yes, Lamborghini is still in the business of speed--despite the financial downturn, despite global warming, and despite the global feel-good vibe for tiny cars like the Fiat 500 and Chevy Volt. In fact, times have never been better for Lamborghini: worldwide sales were up 15 percent in 2007, to 2,406 units, and this year should check in even higher, says CEO Stephan Winklemann, who shows up to events like this in totally appropriate racing gear that makes male supermodels look like Target trash.
Lamborghini's successes are even strong in the United States. Real estate bubble or no, Lamborghini sells almost half of all its vehicles here, and that growing segment has compelled the VW Group brand to open its first sales office outside Italy--in Los Angeles, of course. The brand is reaching out to new buyers under Winkelmann's hand--and eventually, he guesses, Lamborghini could sell as many as 3,000 vehicles a year worldwide without tainting its mega-exclusivity.
The quest for 3,000 vehicles starts in the 2009 model year with the $201,000 Gallardo LP560-4. The name may be a mouthful, as much as it's a handful on the track. The LP560-4 (it's still a Gallardo, but it has 560 European horsepower and four-wheel drive) sports direct injection, a net of about 552 horsepower in U.S. trim, and a 0-60 mph time of 3.7 seconds. It jets to a top speed of about 200 mph, or about 130 mph in my limited drive. And it scrabbles around the infield of the Vegas speedway via a four-wheel-drive system that's smarter than most of the folks you run into shooting craps at 3 a.m. at the Hard Rock tables.
Oh, and in case you're still worried about the environment, the LP560-4 emits about 18 percent less carbon dioxide this year, thanks to better drivetrain efficiencies. Fittingly, one of the cars they provided for my track day was green--electric, vivid green.
There's far more to tell you about the newest Lambo, but there has to be a reason to tease you into more clicks--so check back next week for our full review of the 2009 Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4. What else are you going to do, read about the latest solar-powered backscratcher over at C|Net?