Driving a late-model Lamborghini on public roads is akin to watching an epic film in mono – the senses are teased but left unchallenged.
Driving a Lamborghini on a track, however, is a mind-blowing charge of adrenalin. No speed limits, g-forces only capped by available grip, engine wailing, tires screaming, brakes cooking – it's pure sensory overload.
With an invite in hand, I left New York City for an afternoon and headed north 90 miles to the Monticello Motor Club. Lamborghini chose the private venue to host a hands-on introduction to the LP 570-4 Spyder Performante and LP 550-2 Bicolore, two of its newest Gallardo models. The freshly arrived convertible and coupe join the ranks of more than a dozen Gallardo variants that have been released over the years.
While tooling around the countryside on public roads in a new Lamborghini is utterly enjoyable, the only place to truly experience an Italian exotic, or any sports car for that matter, is on a closed racing circuit, and that's exactly what I'm here to do. Continue reading...
Launched at the 2003 Geneva Motor Show and rolled into production the following year, the Lamborghini Gallardo has established itself as the most successful sports car in the automaker's history. As of today, there are more than 10,000 examples on the road. Offered in both Coupé and Spyder derivates, the two-seater successfully masquerades as an exotic street car, an accomplished track car and a daily driver for those fortunate enough to belt-in behind its steering wheel. To say Lamborghini hit a home run with the Gallardo is an understatement.
With a growing (and confusing) number of Gallardo offshoots on the road, Lamborghini has been forced to invent its own nomenclature. The model names are long, but they do make sense with some insight. First, the "LP" stands for "Longitudinale Posteriore" (longitudinally mid-mounted engine orientation); this is the same on all Gallardo models. Second, the next three-digit number generally refers to a rounded horsepower figure. Lastly, after the dash is a single digit indicating the number of driven wheels. The verbiage that follows describes body style (Coupé or Spyder) and other pertinent model information.
Using that guide, the LP 570-4 Spyder Performante is a 570-horsepower, all-wheel-drive convertible designed for ultimate performance. In similar fashion, the LP 550-2 Bicolore is a 550-horsepower, rear-wheel-drive closed coupe with a two-tone color scheme.
If brain cells are still swirling, simply think of the LP 570-4 Spyder Performante as a convertible LP 570-4 Superleggera and the LP 550-2 Bicolore as an open-edition LP 550-2 Valentino Balboni with its own unique cosmetic touches. That's the Cliffs Notes version.
All of which brings us back to this windy, and rather chilly, spring day at Monticello to take a more detailed look at each, along with some hot laps to see what Lambo's latest are all about.
The Lamborghini Gallardo LP 570-4 Spyder Performante shares most of its performance parts with its lightweight sibling, the Gallardo LP 570-4 Superleggera. As is the case with the Superleggera, motivation comes in the form of Lamborghini's familiar direct-injected 5.2-liter V10 rated at 570 horsepower and 399 pound-feet of torque. The drivetrain is also identical to the Superleggera, right down to the standard all-wheel-drive system with 30:70 (front-to-rear) torque split.
Two transmissions are offered. The first is a traditional gated six-speed manual, while the other is a single-clutch electro-hydraulic e-gear automatic transmission with paddle shifters mounted on the steering column. The standard wheels are 19-inch alloys – identical to those on the Superleggera – wrapped in sticky Pirelli P Zero Corsa series tires (235/35ZR19 in the front and 295/30ZR19 at the rear).
Again matching the LP 570-4 Superleggera, the LP 570-4 Spyder Performante has been reconfigured with a slew of lightweight carbon-composite parts both inside and out. The interior features carbon fiber panels covering the center tunnel cover, door panels, seat chassis and e-gate transmission surround. Lightweight Alcantara is used to upholster the seats, with the black material accented with contrasting stitching in green, yellow, orange or two shades of gray. There are five exterior paint choices: Giallo Midas, Arancio Borealis, Grigio Telesto, Nero Noctis and Bianco Monocerus. The cherry on top is a sinister carbon-fiber rear wing.
While the Gallardo LP 570-4 Superleggera tips the scales at a mere 2,954 pounds (making it the lightest road-going model in the automaker's range), the Gallardo LP 570-4 Spyder Performante with its associated power-operated convertible rigging and equipment weighs in at 3,274 pounds, which is still 143 pounds lighter than a standard Gallardo LP 560-4 Spyder. The extra weight costs the Spyder Performante about a half-second in the sprint to 62 mph compared to the Superleggera (Lamborghini claims 3.9 seconds for the Performante), but only a whisker in top speed (maximum velocity drops a bump to a claimed 201 mph). Meanwhile, the base price of the Gallardo LP 570-4 Spyder Performante is $248,000 (plus destination and gas guzzler tax).
The other new Gallardo is a bit more intriguing. While the rest of the world is offered a Gallardo LP 560-4 Bicolore with all-wheel drive, those of us in the States must make do with the new Gallardo LP 550-2 Bicolore. Suffer we won't, as the rear-wheel-drive LP 550-2 Bicolore is nearly mechanically identical to the highly desirable (and out of production) LP 550-2 Valentino Balboni - the limited edition model honoring Lamborghini's famed test driver. Most enthusiasts will argue that the Americans are getting the sweeter deal.
Like the LP 550-2 Valentino Balboni, the LP 550-2 Bicolore is fitted with a 550-horsepower variant of the automaker's 90-degree V10. In sharp contrast to the Valentino Balboni, and regretfully, the Bicolore will not be available with a manual gearbox. Instead, the standard transmission is Lamborghini's e-gear single-clutch automatic transmission. Completing the package is a standard limited-slip rear-axle differential and a stability control (ESP) system uniquely calibrated for the driveline configuration.
From the exterior, the Gallardo LP 550-2 Bicolore is differentiated by its exclusive two-tone paint scheme with matching interior. The roof, pillars, engine hood and rear spoiler are painted Noctis Black, while the rest of the body is painted in one of five choice shades: Giallo Midas, Arancio Borealis (above), Grigio Telesto, Bianco Monocerus and Blu Caelum. Lastly, there are forged 15-spoke Skorpius 19-inch aluminum-alloy rims on each corner, each finished in titanium gray enamel and wrapped in Pirelli rubber (235/35ZR19 in the front and 295/30ZR19 at the rear). The interior features a custom instrument panel, bucket seats, door panels and other components all upholstered in "Nero Persus" leather, with contrasting stitching color-matched to the chosen exterior color. As a final touch, the bezel around the e-gear lever is painted black.
While the LP 550-2 Bicolore is missing Balboni's signature on the left side window, a unique limited edition serial number and the tell-tale white/gold stripe down the body, the performance is virtually identical. Thanks to a low curb weight (about 3,045 pounds), the fixed-roof coupe will hit 62 mph in 3.9 seconds as it blasts towards a top speed of 199 mph. And if you want this guy, the base price of the Lamborghini Gallardo LP 550-2 Bicolore is $191,900 (plus destination and gas guzzler tax).
Both Lamborghinis are in the hot pits, so I mosey over to the Gallardo LP 570-4 Spyder Performante first. The automaker has already told us it is the quicker of the two around the circuit, thanks to its all-wheel-drive grip, but that's not my reasoning. Instead, I choose to refresh my memory behind the wheel of something familiar (an all-wheel-drive Gallardo) before I jump into the uber-cool rear-wheel-drive coupe.
If there were a Gallardo in my garage today, it wouldn't ever be used on the track. Not that the Italian isn't capable, but simply because I don't fit. When capped with a racing helmet, my six-foot, two-inch frame presses firmly against the soft convertible roof like a baby in the womb during its third trimester. It's not just uncomfortable, it precludes me from adjusting my seat into the ideal driving position. Height can be your enemy.
Headroom aside, the cockpit of the LP 570-4 Spyder Performante is beautifully outfitted with carbon fiber and soft Alcantara. A thick flat-bottom steering wheel feels as good in the hands as it looks in the pictures. The deeply bucketed seats don't adjust for rake, but they are very comfortable nevertheless. The two armrests, using that term loosely, fall under the elbows as hard carbon-fiber components. Think of it as an incentive to keep both hands on the steering wheel.
Before being set free, I receive some deflating news. As there are Lamborghini customers at this event, many with novice track talent, our "hot" sessions on the circuit are to be closely guided. I am alone in the car, but told to follow a pacing yellow Superleggera the entire time. Thankfully, the professional Italian driver behind its wheel is good. He covers tarmac briskly.
On the track, the LP 570-4 Spyder Performante makes easy work of the road course. I'm a newbie to the Monticello circuit and there are patches of water on the pavement. Both complicate the session. Undeterred, I manually control the e-gear downshifts with the paddle to keep the V10 spinning and use the all-wheel drive to aggressively pull the Spyder out of the corners. Its obedience is impressive, and it responds immediately to all steering inputs. Body roll is non-existent, the brakes are strong and the exhaust sounds spectacular even through my helmet.
Next up is the LP 550-2 Bicolore. In sharp contrast to the Spyder Performante, nearly every square inch within the Bicolore cabin is swathed in soft leather; the carbon fiber and Alcantara are notably absent. While the texture of the natural hide is smooth, the overall appearance and feeling is much warmer without the hard acrylic carbon fiber surfaces. My helmeted head, lacking a soft convertible roof overhead, now presses firmly against the fixed headliner. To fit with the door closed, I have to tilt my head awkwardly to the right.
My squashed spine is instantly forgotten on the track, as the LP 550-2 Bicolore is pure bliss. The steering feel, sans the all-wheel-drive umbilical latched to the front wheels, is notably lighter and offers more communication though the thick leather steering wheel. The nose of the Gallardo feels planted, but livelier, as if the tires are able to respond quicker to inputs, almost making the other dozen all-wheel-drive Gallardo models feel slightly sluggish in comparison.
While the rear-wheel-drive Bicolore is more entertaining in the corners, it does get a bit skittish under hard braking at the end of the short straight. Is this due to its unique balance, the track surface or just an overly abused brake system? None of us ever figured it out.
I'm likely not the only one to raise my eyebrows when word arrives of yet another Gallardo variant, but I'm at peace with the LP 570-4 Spyder Performante and LP 550-2 Bicolore. Each of these new models fills a void in the lineup, whether delivering a drop-top to the Superleggera faithful, or a second chance to those who missed out on the short-run Valentino Balboni. Lamborghini loyalist will surely welcome them as well.
If lottery winnings allow me to choose between these two new Gallardos, I'll put the rear-wheel-drive LP 550-2 Bicolore in my garage without hesitation. However, my first step would be an appointment with my orthopedic surgeon to have a few vertebrae removed, as tracking a Lamborghini Gallardo should be an ownership requirement.
Photos copyright ©2011 Michael Harley / AOL, Jason Thorgalsen