This stripped-down, lightweight Gallardo delivers heavyweight performance
While the world wrings its hands over CO2 emissions, fuel economy and the downward spiral of the American auto industry, it's good to be able to toss all that over your shoulder and slide into the cocoonlike cockpit of the Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera.
A beautifully absurd piece of machinery, the Superleggera reminds you that it will be a chilly day in Hell before the Italians (and the Germans egging them on) let global warming take the heat off their amazingly nimble, rocketlike Gallardo.
The Superleggera, the lightweight version of the Gallardo, redefines the word swagger. It's as visceral a car as you're likely to experience, from its thundering V-10, to its laser-sharp handling all the way through to an exhaust rumble that snorts and rips through its six gears with rodeo reality.
It's all raging bull-and no bullshit.
What makes a leggera so super?
Scottsdale's balmy 97-degree spring days and plastic streets are no place to test out the Superleggera's enormous dynamic envelope. In fact the only thing being tested is our nerves-gawkers realized early in the day that a pack of Gallardos were wandering the streets, and the single-file parade across town to Phoenix International Raceway must have, from the plan view, resemble a rolling Matchbox convention.
Even so, the differences that pare weight from the stock Gallardo are noticeable, right from the Alcantara-covered steering wheel. After its weight-loss program, the Superleggera tips the scales, Lamborghini says, at 2998 pounds-about 154 pounds less than the un-optioned U.S.-market car. The rest of the world gets a Superleggera that weighs 66 pounds less, mostly because the American-spec machine keeps its leather seats with side airbags, while the Saudis and Germans and Chinese get Sparco carbon-fiber chairs that weigh less.
From the outside the weight-saving measures are more obvious. The Gallardo's engine cover switches from glass to carbon-fiber and polycarbonate, and its rear diffuser, mirror housings and underbody covering are made from carbon fiber. And that flourishing "Superleggera" script running down its flanks can't weigh more than an ounce or two, can it?
While the Superleggera's weight distribution is the same as the Gallardo's at 42/58, the spectacular 5.0-liter V-10 picks up 10 more horsepower for a total of 530 hp, while retaining its 510 pound-feet of torque. With either the manual six-speed transmission or the no-charge, "e-gear" electronically shifted manual gearbox, the Superleggera will teleport you to 60 mph in about 3.8 seconds. Top speed is 196 mph-and it's just a myth for us as we squeeze through traffic, down the empty road connecting I-10 with the racetrack, and dive down the infield tunnel to the track.
Wing and a prayer
Against the Arizona sky, the Borealis Orange Superleggeras look most appropriate, lined up in the pit lanes, although Midas Yellow cars contrast just as crisply. With your lightweight Lambo you can order either color, or choose Noctis Black or Telesto Grey for incognito operation.
To the stock Gallardo's aluminum space frame, double-wishbone suspension and lawn-dart aesthetic, all Superleggeras add on a fixed carbon-fiber rear wing, Skorpius forged wheels and Pirelli PZero Corsa 35-series tires. The menacing look is entirely intentional, though inside the Superleggera's still as plush as any Lambo ever. Even in the quest to drop weight, it still sports automatic climate control, power windows and leather trim. An Alcantara-and-carbon-fiber interior trim can be ordered, along with a CD changer and ceramic brakes and a rearview camera mounted in the rear wing.
After a quick briefing, we jackknife into the driver's seat, lower the windows and key the V-10 to life in an orange Superleggera. The pavement's been coned off and lead cars are warming up to keep our speeds in the double-digits-but with lots of tight esses and a couple of long straights, the impromptu road course is the best shot at sampling the lower-carb version of the Gallardo without drawing out the speed cameras and those Crown Vics with the funny lights that seemed to follow us to the raceway.
Right on track
It may look part lawn dart, but on the closed road ahead, the Superleggera is pure Stinger missile. From the moment we dip into its 530 horsepower, it splits into all sorts of personalities-forgiving as a nun, permissive as a party mom, sinister as a skip mark on an EKG.
It's easy to grow comfortable with its four-wheel-drive system and 19-inch tires handling the dirty work. Squeeze on more throttle than you should-it's still less than the Superleggera can handle. Click down on the e-gear shifter paddles, near-identical to those on the corporate cousin Bentley Continental GT, and it whips out a raucous exhaust note. Slingshotting around, from ess to straight to ess, you'll lose some of the gauges behind the wheel and those paddles will still be hooked at the 9-and-3 position, but you'll be giddy enough over the neural steering to overlook them.
Of the handful of cars we drove, the brakes were the sole weak spot. Some cars faded quickly, with rubbery pedal feel, while others had very stiff pedals actuating the Superleggera's eight-piston front and four-piston rear calipers. And that, more than the slightly odd sensation of four-wheel-drive redistributing power in mid-corner, kept speeds closer to the real road rules.
Comparing supercars to anything else on the streets is futile. They're pure machismo, sheetmetal cartoons of hypermasculinity. Lamborghinis are their own niche in that ecosystem, all sharp edges and pulsing V-10 engines, neatly askew to the Ferrari norm. There's nothing like a Lamborghini, especially a super-light-weight one.
In the end, you clamber out of the Superleggera nto quite sure what to make of its prowess-but confident that no matter what happens in the world around it, that Lamborghini's promise of "no turbo, no diesel, no hybrid" is exactly the right way to go.
2007 Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera
Base price: $240,000 (est.)
Engine: 5.0-liter V-10, 530 hp/510 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed manual or six-speed e-gear, four-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 169.3 x 74.8 x 46.6 in
Wheelbase: 100.8 in
Curb weight: 2998 lb
Fuel economy (EPA city/hwy): 10/17 mpg (manual); 11/17 mpg (e-gear)
Standard safety features: Anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control; dual front and side airbags
Major standard features: Power windows/locks/mirrors; leather power front seats; cruise control; automatic climate control; AM/FM/CD changer
Warranty: Two years/24,000 miles