The bull on the Automobili Lamborghini insignia matches perfectly the company’s reputation of building exotic sports cars. From the Miura, the Countach, to the Diablo, every automobile that has rolled out of the Sant’Agata Bolognese factory was designed with the same forceful personality as the fighting bull shown on the emblem: Its head hunched over, nostrils flared, horns lowered and pointed forward there is absolutely no uncertainty about its aim to intimidate.
After a flurry of ownership changes in the past decade, Lamborghini had lost a bit of the fighting bull’s hard-charging attitude and badly trailed its cross-town prancing horse rival. But out of chaos came renewed focus and determination. Now under Audi’s ownership, Lamborghini is poised to get back on track. Following the successful launch of the Murcielago just a few years ago, the Italian sports-car maker is adding another member to its family: the Gallardo (pronounced ga-yardo). It’s sexy, it’s fast and it’s agile. And of course, intimidating.
This story originally appeared in the March 2004 issue of Road & Track.
In photographs where the larger Murcielago and the new Gallardo are staged together, the relative size difference seems minimal to the eye. However, in person, the new Lamborghini’s smaller footprint is apparent. While the Murcielago sports an overall length o f 180.3 in. and width o f 80.5 in., the Gallardo is considerably shorter and narrower— 169.3 in. long and 74.8 in. wide.
There is a lot of family resemblance between the overall design themes of the Murcielago and the Gallardo. The lower front bumper on both cars is capped at the edge with blacked-out mesh screens that lead into air intakes for the two split radiators. Also, both have the expansive front hood with two outlines that run all the way to the large and almost flat windscreen. But that’s where the similarities end. While the Murcielago takes a flowing and smooth approach to its exterior lines, the Gallardo wears a more straight-cut and boy-racer-type skin.
Up front, leading the way, is a pair of stacked circular headlights in narrow rectangular housings aligned with the outer edges of the nose. This gives the Gallardo a menacing squint. Walk around to the side, and the first thing you’ll notice about the car’s profile is how steeply the nose dives toward the pavement, and how little overhang there is at the front and the rear. The flowing roofline is complemented by a series of crisp shoulder lines that clearly define the chiseled rear fenders. Just forward of the rear wheels, tall and thin air in takes molded into the bodywork serve to cool the engine oil on the left and the transmission oil on the right. Openings atop the rear fenders are where the mid mounted engine breathes in fresh air.
Around the back, simple vertical and horizontal lines define the taillights, blacked-out cooling mesh and the lower bumper. On top of the rear deck, there is a small wing that raises automatically when the car is traveling more than 90 mph. The straight-edge look continues on the engine cover and forward of the taillights where louvers provide additional cooling for the engine compartment.
Open the door, and the Gallardo welcomes you with its handsome interior furnished in rich leather. As with any low-slung sports car, first plant your bottom onto the driver’s seat, then swing your legs inside to complete a graceful entrance. Once in, you can feel how the aggressive seat bolsters hold you in place. The steering wheel telescopes and tilts, and there is plenty of head room and seat adjustments so that even a 6-foot- tall person will feel comfortable.
The instrument panel is low and gracefully slopes away from the base of the wind shield. In front of the driver is the instrument cluster. The 10,000-rpm tachometer and the 210-mph speedometer are prominent, flanked by coolant temperature and fuel-level gauges. On the center dash, the oil-pressure, oil-temperature and voltage gauges are placed at the top, followed by three large circular air vents. A row of toggle switches between the radio and climate controls is a nice detail. But with everything else about the car designed with such an Italian flair, some of our staff complained about the Audi-sourced (yet quite functional) climate controls.
Just as a fighting bull’s tremendous power is its foremost character trait, a Lamborghini’s extreme horsepower output has always helped it pull away from its competitors. This new Gallardo is no exception. Even though the baby Lambo is smaller, Sant’Agata engineers still are able to fit the biggest engine possible into a tight package. The result is an all-aluminum V-10 dohc 5.0-liter powerplant that produces 500 bhp (DIN) at 7800 rpm and serves up 376 lb.-ft. of torque at 4500 rpm. With variable intake- and exhaust-valve timing working together with variable-length runners for channeling fresh air into the combustion chambers, the Gallardo’s torque output is optimized over a broad rpm range. In fact, 80 percent of maximum torque is delivered at a very low 1500 rpm.
Instead of adopting the more conventional 72-degree angle between the cylinders for a V-10, the Lamborghini engineers decided to go with the 90-degree split to lower the engine height. Even-firing intervals for smoothness are achieved with 18-degree offset crankpins. A dry-sump lubrication system and a small-diameter twin-plate clutch are additional features that help to lower the car’s center of gravity.
Power from the V-10 is transmitted to the wheels via Lamborghini’s permanent all-wheel-drive system. Torque is distributed to the front and the rear axles through a center differential positioned between the engine and the rear-overhanging gearbox. A viscous coupling up front controls how much power passes through to the front wheels. On dry pavement, torque is split 30/70 in favor of the rear. But if traction is limited, power can be reapportioned toward the front. For better off-the-corner acceleration, computer-controlled brakes (Automatic Brake Differential, ABD) are used to regulate front-end slip while the rear retains a 45-percent limited-slip differential. Standard on the Gallardo are ABS, yaw and traction control (ESP), which work with throttle-by-wire and awd to ensure maximum safety and traction under adverse weather conditions.
Our test car came equipped with Lamborghini’s “e-gear.” It is the optional electro-hydraulically actuated 6-speed manual gearbox. In the cockpit, the upshift paddle is on the right of the steering wheel, its downshift counterpart on the left. According to factory technical services, this much-improved Fl- style transmission is the latest generation of the Magneti-Marelli Selespeed, the same type of paddle-shift system used by Ferrari, Alfa Romeo and Aston Martin.
On the drag strip, launching the Gallardo from a standing start is easy. Put the e-gear into Sport mode. This changes the time required to swap gears from 0.22 seconds to 0.17. Turn off the traction/yaw control and take your foot off the brake pedal. With the car standing still, simply romp on the throttle until it hits the floor. Just before the car takes off, the engine rpm jump to near 3500 and the clutch engages immediately. The rear wheels spin and momentarily break traction. But soon after that, the all-wheel drive kicks in and shifts power to the front wheels.
Once all four tires grab the asphalt, the Gallardo explodes forward with a ferocious growl. The deep-throated rumble through the exhaust is accompanied by hisses from the thirsty V-10 gulping as much fresh air as possible through the air intakes just over your shoulders. Your eyes focus on the tach needle racing toward the 8100-rpm redline. Once there, a simple pull of the upshift paddle, and the galloping bull catches a second breath and continues to thrust forward with all its might. Zero to 60 mph takes only 4.0 sec. The quarter mile is reached in 12.3 sec. with the speedometer registering 117.4 mph. These numbers are quick enough to jump ahead of the Ferrari 360 Modena and leave its cross-town adversary in the rearview mirror.
When the time comes to stop, the Brembo 8-piston front and 4-piston rear calipers take hold of the brake discs with confidence and authority. The front 14.4-in. and rear 13.2-in. vented discs slow the Gallardo from 60 mph in 110 ft., and from 80 mph in a very respectable 194 ft.
With high horsepower comes high demand for a proper chassis and a suspension setup to match. To save weight, Lamborghini engineers borrowed aluminum space-frame technology from Audi to design and build the Gallardo’s chassis. The space frame is constructed of aluminum extrusions and joined together at various casts. The exterior aluminum body panels are mounted to the frame using rivets, screws or welds. And holding up the Gallardo’s chassis at all four comers is the double wishbone suspension setup with springs and Koni dampers all around, with anti-roll bars front and rear. The Pirelli P Zero Rosso tires are size 235/35ZR-19 in front and 295/30ZR-19 at the rear.
Around town, the Gallardo’s manners are docile. The car never feels on edge despite all that power on tap. The view forward is excellent, thanks in part to the split window toward the base of the A-pillar allowing for an unobstructed view when rounding corners. Surprisingly, the vision to the rear through the outside mirrors and the rear window is fairly good. This helps define the car’s corners for the driver and allows for ease of maneuvering in parking lots or through heavy traffic. On the road, the ride over the highway concrete slabs is acceptable. However, any long-distance road trip of three hours or so can be taxing on the lower back since the seats are firm and the suspension is tuned for sporty handling.
And sporty handling is where the Gallardo excels. Find a winding country road and the baby Lambo rewards with its buttery-smooth sense of balance as it dances through the comers. The car feels light but hunkered down, thanks to its all-wheel- drive grip. The nicely weighted steering directs it precisely through an apex with just a slight hint of understeer for safety. And as the turn straightens out, the V-10 is eager to serve up gobs of power. The Gallardo explodes off the corner with an immense acceleration force. With ESP turned on, there is no way the rear will step out even with an overly aggressive hit on the gas pedal. With the computer aids off, you can kick its tail out with such a progressive motion that there is plenty of time to countersteer, adjust throttle input and hold the slide.
At the test track, the Gallardo circled our 200-ft.-diameter skidpad averaging an excellent 0.95g and showing moderate understeer. And on our slalom course, the car’s ability to thread through the cones with ease was impressive. None of the bulkiness and sluggishness in sudden directional changes normally associated with all-wheel-drive vehicles is there. The smaller and more agile Lamborghini responds to every steering input quickly and progressively so there are no surprises. The Gallardo’s 68.6-mph average through the slalom places it ahead of the Murcielago and the Ferrari 360 Modena. It even outpaces most production Porsches, with the 911 GT2 ahead by only 0.1 mph.
Fighting bulls are usually associated with muscular builds, brute force and speed. They usually are not known for agility. And previous Lamborghini sports cars have stayed true to the marque’s emblem and focused on exotic good looks and awe-inspiring power. To run with the best of the exotic sports-car players, the new Gallardo has been bred to inherit all of the brand’s strongest DNA along with newfound agility. Surely, that will make some pause and think: Yes, the Lamborghini is fast in a straight line, but can its adversaries still run and hide from its horns in the corners? I don’t think so.