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Envy, greed, avarice, lust. There’s something sinful about Lamborghini’s latest, the Gallardo Spider. Actually a lot of things, and we could probably add a few new ones to the classic list of the seven deadly sins. But as you pull the top down on this impossibly angular little roadster, you know you’re going to enjoy experiencing them all.
delivery of a bright orange Spider on what proved, mercifully, to be the first
warm day of
“Rev it up, rev it up,” several of the onlookers asked, but we were more interested in seeing how Lamborghini engineers solved the problem of folding away the roadster’s canvas top. With the push of a second button, an electro-hydraulic system surged into action. A panel in the Spider’s long rear deck lifted up, while the top itself twisted and folded like soft pasta. Twenty seconds later, we were ready to run, and now it was time to give the crowd what they wanted.
Slipping the transmission into first, we tipped in the throttle. The crowd’s reaction was involuntary, everyone flinching and stepping back as the engine roared like a Formula One racer. Releasing the clutch, the Spider shot forward, nearing 60 before we reached the end of the parking lot.
As we learned over the next few days, the Gallardo Spider makes high-speed driving seem simple. Driving slow was the challenge. Slip into second, even with your foot off the throttle, and the two-seater will cruise along at close to 40. Better keep the number of a good traffic attorney close at hand. You’re likely to need it — often.
But we’re getting a bit ahead of the story.
In the first 40 years of its existence, Lamborghini produced barely 2000 automobiles. Operations at the automaker’s assembly plant, in the Modenese suburb of Sant’Agata Bolognese, went along at a glacial pace — not surprising, when your only product is something along the lines of the $250,000 Murciélago.
But things began to change when Audi acquired the Italian automaker in 1998. The German carmaker, itself a subsidiary of Volkswagen AG, had some big ideas for the little sports-car manufacturer. And they came to life in the form of a product originally codenamed the LB-140. “We’re putting all our bets on this car,” explained former chief executive, Dr. Giuseppe Greco, when he gave TheCarConnection.com its first look at the Gallardo.
At $175,000, the coupe still qualifies as “exotic,” but since its introduction, barely two years ago, the Gallardo has more than doubled the number of cars the automaker has sold since its founding by Ferruccio Lamborghini. The $200,000 roadster is likely to only enhance that appeal.
It isn’t easy to design a Lamborghini. Since its earliest days, the Italian automaker has earned a reputation for over-the-top styling with products like the Countach, Diablo, and Murciélago. Though the Gallardo gives up the trademark gullwing doors found on those flagship models, its lineage is unmistakable. In the form of a top-down Spider, it’s low and squat, looking more like a GT-P race car than something you’d expect to find on the street. It’s all angles, edges, and louvers, with the cockpit pulled so far forward you almost expect your feet to stick out into traffic. But you need that big rear deck to cover the heart-and-soul of the roadster.
For the Spider, Lamborghini
engineers beefed up the already brawny 5.0-liter engine, which originally
produced “only” 493 horsepower. It now pumps out a blistering 520 hp, and 510
pound-feet of torque. In classic, Lamborghini form, that power is directed to
all four wheels so, with those four huge hunks of rubber, it’s almost impossible
to spin a burnout.
Like a racehorse eager to run, our cabriolet seemed almost belligerent as we wove through afternoon traffic, heading for some open pavement. Finally, with rush-hour gridlock well behind us, and now police in sight, it was time to open things up.
Our test car boasted a six-speed, short-throw manual gearbox. The transmission took some getting used to, for with its tight gates, it was initially easy to miss a gear. For those who prefer to avoid the learning curve, there’s a six-speed automatic available with optional paddle shifters.
The big engine is actually a little less impressive than you might expect when you first slam down the throttle. It delivers solid, but not overwhelming 0-60 times of 4.3 seconds.
The roadster really comes to life as you start approaching 3000 rpm. Once that happens, you’ll be working the gearbox in a hurry. We found ourselves blasting through 100 before we knew it, and decided not to see how much past 140 we could take the car on a public highway. The Spider can reportedly nip 190 mph — with the top down. Up, you’ll touch 195.
A tight grip
Bringing speeds down a bit, we felt a surge of adrenaline as another car suddenly appeared in our mirror. Busted? No, it was a Corvette Z06 looking for a little action. We slowed down just enough to let it gain on the Spider, but each time the ’Vette started to pull alongside, we dropped down a gear, hit the throttle and left it slipping back in the rearview. After three or four tries, the visibly frustrated Corvette driver dove off for an exit. Lust or hate? Probably a bit of both.
Even at balls-out speeds, the Gallardo feels completely in balance, in large part thanks to its all-wheel-drive system. The Spider’s steering is tight, precise, but if you’re used to muscling around something a little less exotic, it might seem a bit twitchy.
The huge brakes are another plus. They’ll scrub off speed as fast as you’ve built it up.
Lamborghini did more than just cut the top off the Gallardo coupe. It made significant structural changes to enhance the Spider’s rigidity. The space frame was reinforced around the sills, for one thing, as well as the A-pillars. To enhance safety, Lambo also developed a pop-up roll bar system linked to the airbags.
Another nice touch is the motorized rear glass. Even with the top up, you can lower the window for a little fresh air, and it’s a great way to hear yourself running through the gears.
While Lamborghini’s distinctive design has traditionally extended into the interior, older models have tended to cut some corners. The cockpit of the Gallardo — coupe and roadster — is a much more refined affair. Fits are tight, and materials are elegantly in keeping with the car’s big-buck ticket price. But don’t be surprised if you have a flash of déjà vu.
Italian product planners had to create a good business case before German management would approve the Gallardo program. So while the primary gauges and toggle switches are distinctly Lamborghini, the center stack — the climate and audio controls, as well as the large navigation screen — were unabashedly borrowed from the Audi catalogue.
It’s not a bad model to clone, considering virtually everyone views Audi as the benchmark of automotive interiors. But a little more differentiation wouldn’t be bad.
That said, it’s hard to find much to fault with the Gallardo Spider. It’s not only fast and furious, but an absolute blast to look at. It’s got a level of refinement and quality that we’d have never expected from Lamborghini in its quirky past.
The cabriolet isn’t for everyone, even those who might have the bank book to afford one. This isn’t a car likely to blend into traffic. And you’re likely to have the cops following close behind, waiting to write an easy ticket. But for those who like to live on the edge, and who don’t mind sinning a bit, you might want to go looking for the nearest Lamborghini dealer.
2006 Lamborghini Gallardo
Base price: $200,000 (includes $195,000 base, $1300 delivery and $1700 in mandatory minimum accessories)
Engine: 5.0-liter V-10, 520 hp/510 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed manual (optional
Length x width x height: 169.3 x 74.8 x 46.6 in
Wheelbase: 100.8 in
Curb weight: 3461 lb
Fuel economy (EPA city/hwy): 11/16 mpg (est.)
Major standard features: Power windows (including rear backlight), doors and mirrors, leather power seats, auto climate control, remote keyless entry, AM/FM/six-disc, in-dash CD, navigation system.
Safety features: Driver and front passenger airbags, side airbags, force-limiting seatbelts, anti-lock brakes, traction control, stability control, pop-up rollover system.
Warranty: Two years/24,000 miles