First Drive: 2009 Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4

Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4 – Click above for high-res image gallery

A 5.2-liter V10 with 560 horsepower, 0-60 mph in 3.7 seconds, a top speed of over 200 mph and one of the most beautiful modern designs to ever come out of Italy. It's the new Gallardo LP560-4, and Lamborghini wants us to drive it. There are certainly more lucrative ways to make a living than being an automotive journalist, but it's moments like this that we know we made the right career choice. The best news is that we got to drive the new LP560-4 with about two dozen Lamborghini owners. Lamborghini of Orange County recently opened up a new dealership in Newport Beach, and they invited all of their customers down to see the new showroom and go for a Sunday drive. We tackled some of California's best back roads in the LP560-4 with other Gallardos, Murcielagos, and even a few Diablos. Follow the jump to read on.

All photos Copyright ©2008 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.

We arrived at the dealership early in the morning with many of the Lamborghini owners having proven their superior punctuality. The parking lot quickly filled up even more with brightly colored Italian machinery, and we had to pull ourselves away from looking at each one to go track down the keys to the LP560-4 that we'd be driving. Compared to the lime green, orange, and yellow Lambos surrounding it, our car actually looked somewhat subtle, but beautiful nonetheless.

The other cars actually provided a good chance to compare the differences between the original Gallardo and the latest design. Starting with the exterior, the LP560-4 has a more aggressive yet cleaner design. Larger cooling intakes up front allow better air circulation and combine with a newly designed rear diffuser and smooth underbody to improve aerodynamic efficiency by 31%. The new Bi-Xenon headlights are slightly wider than before and feature LED lights in a Y structure, which is also found in the redesigned taillights. Those taillights are part of a cleaner rear end design that features a seamless engine vent and new quad exhaust tips. The changes might seem small, but Lamborghini did an excellent job in updating a design that didn't need much fixing in the first place.

Having given the exterior a once over, it was time to take a look at the interior. Not much has been changed from the original Gallardo, but it's still easy to appreciate Audi's influence in the design and quality of materials. The leather seats are extremely comfortable and the alcantara-covered steering wheel is perfectly positioned and easy to grip. The monotone colors might seem lacking in the usual flair of an Italian supercar, but Lamborghini's "Ad Personam" program ensure that customers can create any combination of color and trim. If a customer wants yellow seats and lime green trim they can get it. We'll stick with gray.

We barely had time to get adjusted in the seats when the other Lamborghinis started lining up to head out of the parking lot. We didn't want to get left behind, and so brought the V10 to life and engaged Reverse by simply pressing the "R" button to the left of the dash. And then we remembered how much of a pain it is to back up a Lamborghini. The Gallardo actually has one of the better views out its rearview mirror, but it's still pretty limited. Fortunately, Lamborghini has integrated a small camera into the rear spoiler that is displayed on the multimedia system, which makes backing up a much less stressful event.

With a clear path in front of us, we pulled the right paddle and first gear engaged. Pulling away, we could instantly sense that this wasn't just an automatic transmission with paddles. The feeling of the clutch engaging is actually transmitted through the pedal, an unusual sensation when your left foot is sitting idly by. The e-gear transmission has actually been completely redesigned for the LP560-4, reducing shift times by 40% in Corsa mode and weighing significantly less than the previous version. It can be a little rough during the shift from first to second, but it smoothes out in the higher gears and works best with a slight lift of the throttle. The paddles are slightly higher and farther away from the wheel than we would like, and many times we needed to partially remove our hands from the wheel to shift. While we found the e-gear to be a relatively satisfactory method of changing gears, it still baffles us that so many owners choose the option over the standard 6-speed. Yes, the e-gear is able to shift much faster than we ever could on our own, and it does offer the option of a full automatic, but come on, do you buy a car like this to putter around town? For us, there's nothing more enjoyable than maneuvering through a well-sorted gated shifter, but we can't blame Lamborghini for making what its customers want.

While the transmission executed its duties fairly smoothly, the same couldn't be said for the brakes. Our LP560-4 was fitted with the $10,000 carbon ceramic rotor option that made it very hard to modulate the brakes, particularly at slow speeds. Even moderate pressure resulted in no response from the brakes, but slightly more pressure would cause the calipers to bring the car to a jarring halt. We would probably opt for the standard 14-inch Brembo iron rotors that are more than up to the task of carrying out braking duties for driving on the street and the occasional trip to the track.

It might sound like we weren't enjoying our drive in the LP560-4 so far, but we had mostly driven at slow speeds in town and hadn't been able to let the bull stretch its legs. That soon changed, however, as the train of Lamborghinis took to the freeway and we were able to finally experience the brutal acceleration of the LP560-4. Our lack of excitement with the e-gear and (mild) frustration with the brakes melted away and a broad smile emerged with the sound of the Lamborghini V10 behind our heads. Like the transmission, the motor has been significantly updated and now displaces 5.2 liters (compared to 5.0) and utilizes a new direct injection system and upgraded variable valve timing to produce 552 bhp and 398 lb-ft torque. That's good for a 0 to 60 mph run in 3.7 seconds and a top speed north of 200 mph. Despite knowing the motor would willingly pull to 8,000 rpm, our instincts were to shift around 6,000-7,000. It didn't seem possible that the power would just keep coming, but it did!

The drive only got better from there, as we headed toward some twisty back roads that gave us the opportunity to experience the potential of the LP560-4's chassis and suspension. Lamborghini hasn't left this untouched either, and added an additional tie rod to the rear suspension as well as upgraded to slightly firmer bushings. Not having driven the original Gallardo, we can't provide a comparison, but what we do know is that the LP560-4 is one of the most planted and capable cars we have ever driven.

After a short stint through an especially enjoyable section of road we were amazed at the immense capability of the LP560-4. The car seemed to be telling us, "Seriously? That's all you've got?" The stiffness of the chassis can be felt going through turns with elevation changes, making the car extremely predictable. The specially developed Pirelli P-Zero tires, combined with Lamborghini's AWD system, provide levels of grip higher than would ever be needed on public streets. The twisty roads also allowed for the transmission and brakes to come into their own. Once warmed up the carbon ceramic brakes allowed for better modulation, and the e-gear provided audible bliss with every rev-matched downshift.

The drive ended all too soon and we began heading back to the dealership. Fortunately, the fun hadn't ended and we were able to get a taste of what it's like to be a Lamborghini owner. As the train of Lamborghinis passed by shops and businesses, people literally were coming out of buildings and watching the cars go by like it was a parade. People waved, cheered, took pictures and gave us thumbs up. We had attained instant celebrity status. Of course, achieving that status will cost you north of $200,000, and even then you'll have to deal with a nine-month waiting list, but it's worth every penny. Or, in our case, it's worth forgoing a higher paying job to be able to drive it for free.

All photos Copyright ©2008 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.

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