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Lamborghini's Murcielago needs running room

The Lamborghini Murcielago is exclusive not only by dint of its $280,000 price tag but also by its heart-pounding speed and performance. Its sole mission is to be the fastest, baddest sports car on the road. As I'm sitting just inches off the ground in the driver's seat, I hear the growl of the 6.2-liter, 12-cylinder, 580-horsepower engine rumbling behind me. This is no car for ordinary drivers, no matter how wealthy they are.

I test-drive dozens of autos every year, but I must admit I was intimidated. Corvettes and Porsches are powerful, too, but nothing like this. It hits 60 mph in 3.8 seconds. I was worried about popping the clutch too soon and either stalling it out or laying down prodigious amounts of rubber. So I figured I would practice handling the raw energy of the Murcielago in the parking lot. After all, it's named after a bull that was, as the legend goes, spared by a matador for showing phenomenal spirit in the arena. This car is plenty bullish.

PRECISION HANDLING. To my surprise, it was actually easy to handle. The Murcielago isn't just about power; it's also engineered for precision. I found a big sweet spot where the clutch lets the gears engage after raising the pedal a few inches. I gave it some gas and raced it easily to 50 mph before shifting it to second gear. When I pushed the gas pedal hard, the sheer force sucked me back into the narrow seats. Still, the handling is sensitive. I could easily dart from one lane to another and take tight corners.

The only real problem with the car is: Where do you drive it? On I-96 outside Detroit, the rough roads jostled me around harshly. In second gear, engine and road noise drowned out the stereo. It's all too easy to hit triple digits on the speedometer. You really can't appreciate this car's potential on public roads. It's best run on a track, and that can cost $350 a day. But if you can afford the Murcielago car, you can afford that.

When it comes to craftsmanship and design, the Italians know what they're doing. With the pull of the handle, the doors swing up to open at a 90-degree angle. The stick shift stands in a stainless steel plate with a separate slot for each gear. The dashboard and seats are wrapped in fine leather. And you can raise and lower the nose. You might do that because the car is set so low to the ground that the nose will scrape most driveways. And you want it lowered when motoring on the highway for maximum aerodynamics.

As super-sports cars go, the Murcielago is tastefully styled. Many look like a cheese wedge, or they're pocked with holes for air flow. Still, the looks are tame, especially compared with Lamborghini's garish past creations. In every other way, the car is a raging bull.

By David Welch

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