German engineering pushes the Italian thoroughbred to new heights
The first Lamborghini totally conceived under VW Group ownership, the Gallardo signalled the rebirth of the brand. And you have to hand it to VW, because – just as it did with Bentley – it has managed to merge German engineering excellence with the traditional skills and values of a revered car maker.
Placed under Audi’s guidance, Lamborghini has gone from strength to strength, helped in part by the Ingolstadt firm’s technical knowledge. The Gallardo features an aluminium bodyshell and spaceframe chassis, but you only have to look at it to know it stays true to the Italian company’s history of producing jaw-dropping machinery.
With its blade-like front lights and angular lines, it looks squat, aggressive and every inch the supercar. Yet it hasn’t remained totally unaltered – an array of small modifications seen in the limited-edition SE version were incorporated into the standard model last year.
The cabin was largely unaltered, although just sitting in the Gallardo remains an experience to behold. You are low-down, with the windscreen stretching away from you and the dash wrapped around. Audi has waved its magic wand over the interior, so Lamborghini’s reputation for shoddy fit and finish is long forgotten.
The footwell is narrow, but there are only two pedals, so it’s not a tight squeeze, and the paddles for the E-gear sequential gearbox are well placed behind the wheel. There’s a wide range of steering adjustment, and the driving position is comfortable. You do find yourself adopting a more laid-back angle than normal, but the cabin is every bit as user-friendly as the 911’s – although with only a small boot in the nose, the Gallardo isn’t practical.
Turn the key, and such a trivial issue is soon forgotten. Simply firing-up the engine is something to savour – the starter spins frantically for a second before the 5.0-litre V10 comes to life. And once on the move, the Lamborghini feels urgent and eager. A sharp throttle response and quick paddleshifts mean acceleration feels akin to the 911’s, while the engine’s soundtrack is more enjoyable.
As our figures show, the Turbo has a narrow edge over the Gallardo in every one of our speed tests. But with a 30-70mph time of 3.4 seconds and the ability to hit 100mph from a standstill in nine seconds flat, the Lamborghini still offers serious performance. The handling is equally praiseworthy, and whether over bumpy roads or a smooth race track, it always seems impressively composed.
Tipping the scales at only 1,570kg – 15kg less than the Turbo – the Lamborghini feels lighter and more agile, thanks to its mid-engined layout. And while the steering isn’t as nicely weighted as the Porsche’s, it has a positive turn-in, and the car remains flat and stable in corners.
On the test track, the Gallardo changes direction better than the Turbo at high speed, while traction is impressive, too. With the stability control turned off, the Lamborghini will oversteer when provoked, and as with the 911 it takes quick reactions to control, but its behaviour on the limit is far removed from the fearsome dynamics you might expect from an Italian supercar. In fact, in many circumstances it’s friendlier to drive than the Porsche – which is a real surprise.
And that’s the beauty of the Gallardo. It retains the unique look and special feel of a Lamborghini, but comes across as a car that could be used every day, thanks to its capable road manners, compact dimensions and immaculate build quality.
Price: £125,000Model tested: Lamborghini GallardoChart position: 1WHY: Lamborghini’s entry-level model, the updated Gallardoalso comes equipped with 4WD
While the Gallardo has a big 90-litre tank, in normal driving it won’t travel any further than the Porsche on a tankful. Both have a 295-mile range, the Lambo returning 14.9mpg.
The Gallardo’s second service is more expensive than the Porsche’s first three put together. It has to be seen every 7,500 miles – and there are only five UK service centres.
Even though the Lambo emits more CO2 than the 911, as both are in the top tax bracket, it’s the Gallardo’s higher price that brings the eye-watering £17,500 tax bill.
Exclusivity and high repair costs count against the Lambo here. The £3,823 quote is £1,494 more than the 911’s, but it’s unlikely to trouble those who can afford the car.