Author: Jethro Bovingdon
Images: Charlie Magee
Engine: V10, 5204cc, 40v
Power: 552bhp @ 8000rpm
Torque: 398lb ft @ 6500rpm
Top speed: 202mph
On sale: Now
PLUS: The traditional Gallardo strengths remain - superb traction, fantastic engine and compact dimensions. The LP560-4 feels noticeably faster and the redesign looks fresh and edgy. The new direct injection engine is fantastic
MINUS: The traditional Gallardo weaknesses remain - poor gearshift quality with e-gear, snatchy brakes if you opt for the ceramics. On the track the non 'Sport' chassis car understeers quite markedly and there's very little throttle adjustability.
The new Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4 is fighting a battle on two fronts: Just across town is ever-present sparring partner Ferrari. They've had the dynamic high ground since the F430 launched in late '04, and although the Superlegerra closed the gap for the boys from Sant 'Agata, Maranello's response - the phenomenal Scuderia - put clear blue water between baby Ferrari and baby Lamborghini again. The LP560-4 must redress the balance. Perhaps more significant is the threat posed by the fabulous Audi R8. Ok, so it's cheaper, less powerful and hasn't got that evocative Raging Bull badge, but unquestionably quattro GmbH took Lamborghini's basic chassis and four-wheel drive system and improved the end product. That must have been hard to bear - and there's more potential embarrassment to come when the 5.2-litre V10 R8 with around 500bhp is launched later this year.
So the LP560-4 needs to be decisively faster than the R8, and decisively more aggressive. But it needs more than that. It needs a dynamic polish that has been missing in the Gallardo - that last 5-percent that makes all the difference when you're wringing every last drop from the package. I can't imagine anyone complaining about the Gallardo's point-to-point effectiveness - the Superleggera is quite frighteningly quick across the ground - but little details like grabby brakes and the traditionally clunky e-gear paddle shift gearbox need to be eradicated. To challenge the Scuderia it needs to go even further. It needs to change direction with more enthusiasm, communicate more clearly through the wheel and have that scalpel-sharp precision that makes the Ferrari such a mesmerising device. Put simply the LP560-4 has its work cut out.
The changes to the Gallardo's suspension, engine, gearbox and aerodynamics suggest that Lamborghini know as much. The new direct injection 5.2-litre V10 thumps out 552bhp at 8000rpm and 398lb ft at 6500rpm, gains of 39bhp and 22lb ft over the old 5-litre unit and more than enough to cover the Scuderia's 503bhp. Lamborghini's 'entry level' car now does 202mph and 0-62mph in 3.7-seconds. The e-gear transmission has been thoroughly overhauled and now has four modes - Normal, Auto, Sport and Corsa - the latter of which cuts shift times by 40-percent compared to the old car in Sport. There's also a 'Thrust' mode, which is essentially launch control. Flicking between the two more aggressive shift settings also increases the tolerance of the ESP, although there's still the option to disable it altogether.
Lamborghini has worked hard on the suspension and four-wheel drive system, too. The viscous coupling can transfer torque more quickly between front and rear (the steady state balance is still 30:70 front-rear) as grip ebbs and flows between the axles, and new springs, dampers, bushes and anti-roll bars all round are said to improve body control and ride comfort simultaneously - there's also an additional tie-rod at the rear to ensure the camber remains consistent even under extreme load. Combined with 30-percent more downforce thanks to a revised underfloor and venturi at the rear and a 20kg weight saving, the LP560-4 is clearly more than just a facelift. This is Lamborghini making a point. However, these modifications don't come cheap. The LP560-4 costs £147,330 in basic form - a full £20,000 more than the previous car, if slightly cheaper than the limited run Superleggera, which cost £151,515.
The launch venue for the LP560-4 is the Las Vegas Motor Speedway and the surrounding roads in deference to the US being their biggest market (41 percent), and in the quest for unbroken sunshine. The track element utilises some of the high speed banking of the oval circuit and a tighter, mainly 3rd gear infield section. All the cars are equipped with e-gear, a £6250 option. However, somewhat inexplicably none of them have the optional 'Sport' chassis set-up, which is stiffer and according to chief test driver Giorgio Sanna makes the Gallardo much more resistant to understeer and replicates the Superleggera's awesome composure under extreme duress.
No matter. An empty racetrack and a Lamborghini LP560-4 are a pretty enticing combination. The styling revisions look fantastic in the metal, and the car looks fresh and modern again. The 5.2-litre V10 sounds different, too. It's still an angry noise but there's a melodic edge to the old blare now due to a different firing order, and at higher revs it sounds more distinctly V10 - the fierce bark underscored by a softer warble. It's a mighty unit, throwing the Gallardo around the banking with a gleeful relentlessness, its thick seam of torque growing and then morphing into a frenetic final climb to the 8500rpm limiter.
The gearbox - in 'Corsa' mode - still isn't a match for Ferrari's F1 Superfast and is positively archaic compared to the GTR's twin-clutch transmission. Try keeping your foot pinned as you flick the upshift paddle and the car is unsettled by the violence of the shift. A little lift of the throttle helps to smooth things out, but it feels neither whip-crack fast like the Scuderia or super-smooth like a GTR or M3 with the new DCT gearbox. 'Sport' mode is more refined but the shifts feel a bit lazy for such a full-on supercar. Having said that the e-gear is definitely improved - but it's still not the best of these systems. Lamborghini claim the total torque interruption is 120-milliseconds (Ferrari claim 60ms for the Scuderia but there is some debate as to what they're actually measuring) but on this evidence we'd stick with a good old-fashioned 6-speed manual.
The medium speed turns of the Speedway are quite a tough challenge. The LP560-4 feels great through the first left of the infield, turning in on the brakes and while downshifting (one big advantage with e-gear) the front P Zero Corsas bite and the rear feels perfectly in tune with the steering's rate of response. The next long 3rd gear right is trickier to nail, the car pushing wide very early in the corner and the understeer building rapidly if you keep the throttle in. Lift your right foot and the nose recovers its grip, but as you reapply the power the front tyres start to scrub wide again. This pattern is repeated through the next little complex, the LP560-4 eating up short, sharp direction changes but succumbing to the clutches of understeer through the longer turns.
And no matter what I try, the understeer is impossible to defeat. I'm sure a full-on Scandinavian-flick would do the trick but that seems an extreme way to get a 552bhp mid-engined supercar to steer on the throttle. Unfortunately for Lamborghini I think an R8 would have been more fun, more adjustable on this circuit. However, the surface temperature was over 40-degrees C and playing havoc with the P Zero Corsa tyres, so until we try a car in fairer conditions and with the 'Sport' chassis I think it's too early to say whether the LP560-4 has lost the Gallardo's inherently fine balance. I will condemn the ceramic brakes, though. The middle pedal still has an inch or so of dead travel followed by a sudden and impossible to modulate wall of stopping power. I recently tried a Superleggera with a steel set-up and that worked much more progressively so don't pay extra for a more compromised system.
On the road you rarely find the limits of the front tyres, and the LP560-4 feels more impressive. It's an awesomely fast road car - stable at speed and with superb traction, controlled and yet surprisingly supple and the way it lunges into three figures is pure heavyweight supercar. Then there's the noise, the sense of occasion and the knowledge that you're travelling in one of the coolest cars on the planet (especially the matt black car I found myself driving back into Las Vegas). I love the Gallardo and I'm sure the LP560-4 will work brilliantly back in the UK. But I suspect it will need that Sport chassis and a manual gearbox and steel brakes to live up to its full potential. As soon as we get to drive an optimum spec car on more representative roads we'll know more about how it stacks up against the Scuderia and if it's good enough to make the R8 an irrelevance. http://www.drivers-republic.com/news/news_article_14_05_08_b.cfm
Thanks to Drivers Republic