Lamborghini Murcielago

You wouldn't expect a company as flamboyant as Lamborghini to do things by halves, so it's hardly surprising that the new open-top Murcielago is billed as the fastest roadster in the world.

Lamborghini may be expanding its range with the 'baby' Gallardo, but the Murci�lago Roadster proves it hasn't forgotten how to build the extreme machines with which it gained its famous image. The car retains awesome speed and poise, so its price and impracticality aren't going to deter those who like to make an entrance.

You wouldn't expect a company as flamboyant as Lamborghini to do things by halves, so it's hardly surprising that the new open-top Murcielago is billed as the fastest roadster in the world.

It certainly looks the part. As with the coupe, the car boasts huge presence, yet courtesy of its steeply raked windscreen and inward-curving side windows, the Roadster has a style all of its own. Lambo design chief Luc Donckerwolke cites classic Sixties Targa Florio sports cars as his inspiration, and the wraparound glass is reminiscent of this era.

The clean, uncluttered appearance extends to the pop-up roll bars, allowing the headrests to flow uninterrupted into the thick triangular buttresses with no fixed safety hoops to ruin the design.

And you can rest assured the car will attract lots of attention. The unique scissor doors remain and, as with the legendary Miura, the engine cover opens at the front and lifts back to reveal the hand-built 6.2-litre V12. It's a visual treat - but is it as rewarding on the road?

Driving the Murcielago, the engine serenades you with a fantastic exhaust note, while performance is breathtaking - only 0.2 seconds down on the standard car from 0-60mph. And despite losing the roof, Lamborghini has done a good job of maintaining rigidity - with a lattice structure of bars around the top of the engine, the source of the strengthening is obvious to see. Impressively, there's little windscreen movement or noticeable chassis twist at low speeds.

When cornering, the Roadster feels as a supercar should. Turn-in is sharp, and despite its size the Murcielago feels more nimble than you would expect. On the downside, there is some kickback in the steering and an aggressive throttle response, combined with the optional clutchless manual transmission, makes for jerky low-speed manoeuvres.

Still, getting into tight spots has never been a consideration for this car - rear visibility is non-existent. The Roadster was designed for posing, not parking!

The roof, though, is an afterthought. It's fiddly, and the clip fasteners are a pain to fix. Lamborghini says the cover is for temporary use only and, with it in place, the shallow windscreen makes headroom tight, while topping 100mph at the test track is not recommended.

But a lack of everyday practicality will mean little to those lucky enough to be able to afford this car. And there is sure to be a wait; production is limited to 70 models in 2004, so only Lamborghini's biggest market - the US - will see cars instantly. With European sales to start in 2005, the Murci�lago Roadster will be a rare but stunning sight on our roads.

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