Review: Lamborghini Murcielago LP640

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As we all know, there are supercars, and then... there's the Lamborghini Murcielago LP640. It has been called old and overweight, it has been called impractical and overpriced, it has been called out for its propensity to make 10-year-old boys lick its windows. When we got word that the LP640 would be stopping by the Autoblog Garage for a weekend, it was our chance to see if the childhood dream was still potent enough to answer adult desires. We've driven the Bugatti Veyron, Bentley Continental GT Speed, Porsche GT2, Corvette ZR1, Dodge Viper ACR and even Lambo's own Gallardo LP560, and they were showstoppers. But when we finally met this Lambo, we had only one thing to say: Great googlymoogly!

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

We should admit right now that we bring a bit of baggage along with this review, having fallen for this particular filament in the automotive tacklebox back when Jimmy Carter ruled the free world. If you don't get Lamborghini and the LP640, we understand, and we're sure there is some other variety of automotive sculpture out there that can center your Ch'i.

However, if you do get the Lamborghini, if its geometries, its girth, its pursuit of speed and the next gas station resonates with you -- as it has with us way back to the Countach -- then there is nothing further to say. The car is a statement and a tome unto itself.

The theme song for the LP640 should be that old Morris Albert chestnut, "Feelings, nothing more than feelings," because that's all this car is about. When you're standing in front of it -- towering over it, rather -- it's got you by the transverse colon, or not at all. The engine noise has been designed to commandeer your auditory canal. Every impression, dent, dip, or divot in the road is registered in your viscera. Drive over so much as a piece of lint and you can guess the material and thread count.

The LP640 isn't what we would call comfortable. We spent hours at a time in the car and it didn't bother us, but that's because we don't mind driving a race car on the street when that race car is an LP640. But there is no mommy-make-it-stop comfort button. In fact, there's a Sport button, which we never pressed because we don't go by the name "Gimp".

The LP640 isn't exactly luxurious by the standards of comparable supercars. The doors don't have much hydraulic assist, so you'll need to help them get all the way up every single time. The leather and alcantara lined carbon buckets are light on the lining, heavy on the carbon. Whereas the Gallardo's center console is filled with all sorts of toggles and buttons, the LP640 is frippery-free. The LP640 doesn't even have the Gallardo's backup camera, and if there were ever a candidate for a reversing aid, it's the Murcielago.

Five buttons to the left of the steering wheel are for the lights and to engage Reverse. The climate control -- no dual-zone nonsense here -- is just a few more buttons. And the lower console has a few controls for utilitarian things like pulling the mirrors in, turning off the traction control, and opening the gas cap. That's it.

The trunk up front is good for a small, soft-sided bag and a few gnats. The interior of the car has room for an iPhone, a Blackberry, and maybe an envelope. The passenger seat is the largest holdall in the car, known to be good for more than one supermodel at a time... if your name is Bruce Wayne.

The LP640 isn't exactly pleasant to drive slowly. From one mile per hour up to about 15, the minimally-servoed steering and massive front wheels make it practically like piloting a small U-Haul. The eGear, save for the beautiful and perfectly placed paddles, is regrettable. If you have to make a couple of pull-slowly-into-traffic moves, the clutch responds with "I'll do it, but I won't like it." Heaven forbid you get an extended taste of LA's rush hour creeping. The eGear shifts in milliseconds, but under duress the time it takes for the clutch to re-engage and get power going again feels like a pause long enough to birth a star.

One thing this car did share with the Gallardo was an optional set of carbon brakes (that'll be $16,250, thank you!) that took a very steady foot to modulate. Especially when slowing for a light, if a downshift happened to occur while you were trying to find the braking sweet spot, you got to do a dance called The Lurch.

Contrary to appearances, though, those are not complaints. (Except for the eGear, which we'd skip for the proper manual.) If we had the required liquidity, we'd be on the phone to Sant' Agata right now instead of writing this review. We're just telling you what to expect when you drive it. To deride it for being loud, firm and a handful at slow speeds is telling your girlfriend, "Hey honey, you know those high-heeled, thigh-high boots? You should stop wearing them because they just don't make any sense..."

And we would never do that.

And this is why we have no complaints: because when the LP640 is at a standstill or on the trot, it is perfect. We'll say it again: park the car or get it above 20 mph and you inhabit a land flowing with milk and honey, raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens. And lots of people pointing at you.

When the car is parked, start it up and just listen. Dissect the sound, and way down at the bottom is a muted cacaphony of clacks and whirs and spinning metal. Above that is an insistent drone, not high-pitched, but full-bodied mid-range. And above that and all around is a relentless sucking of air, like a monstrous, depressurized cavity has been opened. The engine sounds like it's the singularity at the end of a black hole. Or else the car is powered by a nebula.

Even at residential speeds, the Murcielago is marvelous. As long as the roads aren't war torn, after ten minutes at the con you're so relaxed you've got one hand on the wheel and the other serving up the right CD track. A compliment we can give the eGear is that it will downshift for you (but won't upshift), and the throttle blips that accompany the descent make slowing down sheer musicality. Another compliment: the paddles are bigger on the Murcielago than the Gallardo, and even though they're on the column, they are never far away.

That is partly to do with the small steering wheel and partly to do with the relaxed rack ratio, which gives you a turning circle akin to Stonehenge. You can do a 180-degree turn at a stop light, but you should plan on using all available space.

However, you probably aren't reading this to find out how the LP640 does town duty.

One final compliment we can give the eGear: when it's time to go, the system doesn't ask any questions. From standstill, when you let off the brake and smash the gas, the car shoots off so quickly that even though you're in the car you still ask yourself, "Did you see that?" The 640-hp 6.5L V12 goes from mid-range wail up to about 4,500 RPM, then transmogrifies into a Homerian Siren roaring loud enough to get the attention of passing UFOs.

If you're on a highway with a 60 mph speed limit, you're already a shoestring away from breaking the law.

Flip the paddle for second.

eGear unhooks, shifts, bites in again --

The car bucks, your head slams into the headrest, the engine gets so malicious that extraterrestrials in the Sombrero Galaxy are asking each other "Do you hear that noise?", and you're accelerating even faster --

Flip the paddle for third.

The power doesn't stop. The speedo needle is trying to swing around back on itself, but it's taunting you, because it knows it has more room on the dial than you have road. Unless you have a couple of runways or an Autobahn, you'll never see sixth gear in anger. You're already going faster than the passing piston-engined planes above you. Much faster.

And this is what the car was made for. The steering is perfect. Never light, it is always even, and that shallow steering ratio means there are no quick movements needed. Guide it with a confident hand, and it will obey every order.

Uneven road surfaces, changes in camber, none of these fluctuations seem to affect it. The car is so stiff and sits so low to the ground -- at such speeds it only wants to stay there -- it simply isn't high enough for there to be sufficient play to dip into anything, to become unsettled. Sweepers are a course in divinity. Yet come to a hard turn, hit the carbon ceramic stoppers and know the feeling of your spine pressing on the seatbelt, crank the wheel around, flip the downshift paddle a few times while you zero in on the apex, back on the gas, and let her scream out of the corner and teleport you to the next horizon.

When cruising in fifth and hit by the urge to drop down to second and take a ride on the Space Shuttle Murcielago, we never once worried that the car would let us down. As long as you're not on some spit of asphalt custom made for a Lotus Elise, the LP640 is limited only by your knowledge of the road and your knowledge of how to drive it. The car isn't glued to the road -- it is the road, a single amplitude of tarmac flowing between the shoulders. Go with it, and you will go far, my son...

This is why the Lamborghini Murcielago LP640 would be our daily driver. That's right, every day, even if we had to commute. It's because this is not just a supercar, it is an argument. And it makes a winning case not just for dreams, not just for exotics, not just for naturally-aspirated engines, and not just for begging for a gig at Autoblog so that Lamborghini will give you an LP640 for the weekend -- it is an argument for life.

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

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