LAMBORGHINI Gallardo LP550-2 Spyder Review

OUR TEST CAR: LAMBORGHINI Gallardo LP550-2 Spyder 2012

LAMBORGHINI Gallardo LP550-2 Spyder  - Page - 1
"Amor non conosce travaglio": This is an Italian saying which reads "Love never tires" and it couldn't be more true. The Lamborghini Gallardo came to the world back in 2003 and since then, with the help of one ultra-complex facelift (2009) and a sea of special editions, it's been showing a relentless power of seduction that has made about 13,000 people fall to this day, with the number still increasing.

You simply have to hear one on the street and you'll instantly fall in love with it - this has also happened to us a long time ago and we've been trying to be rational ever since, but we recently succumbed to its charms. Now we feel guilty, we're journalists and we should not let such emotions take over, so maybe if we share our Gallardo adventure with you we'll feel better.

Since we took a walk on the wild side, we thought we could at least choose a rebel version of the supercar. Thus, we worked our way to the keys of an LP550-2 Spyder. This is not just an open-top Gallardo, simply choosing that could have had us accused of a middle age crisis, it's also one of the very few rear-wheel drive vehicles Sant'Agata Bolognese released since it was taken over by Ingolstadt. When we realized that the choice actually shattered any remaining doubts about us going through a middle life crisis, it was too late, we were already enjoying the sun in our RWD Lambo, so we threw the prejudice away, kept the pride and floored it.

As the V10's voice climbed higher and higher, a lot of thoughts were going though our heads. Lamborghini was all about rear-wheel drive supercars until 1993 when they built the Diablo VT, their first all-wheel drive speed machine, and when Audi grabbed the wheel in 1998, subsequently releasing the Gallardo as the first project of the new Lamborghini, the Germans made one thing clear: AWD only.

The Raging Bull was cunning and showed a false obedience, but in 2010, after 10,000 4WD units of the Gallardo has been sold, it pulled out a special weapon, Valentino Balboni.

He is the one that manhandled every Lamborghini prototype since 1973 and the Italians opened the Audi head office door, pushed Balboni inside and explained "C'mon, let's built a limited edition of just 250 RWD Gallardos, what harm can that do? We'll call it the LP550-2 Valentino Balboni edition!"

The German executives gave it a thought and finally said "yes", but they didn't know what they were signing up for. The car was a big hit, so Lambo pushed on and released more examples without the famous test driver's name after the limited edition was sold out. Heck, the man even retired meanwhile, but the gates had already been burst and the Bull was Raging now. The next episode in this rear axle story? Our LP550-2 Spyder, of course.

We're not sure that this is how things actually happened, but we can confirm that we are now driving the first rear-wheel drive convertible Lambo since the 1998 Diablo SV roadster and that's all we care about.

You can't even call the LP550-2 absurd, after all it is a Gallardo and Lamborghini hadn't built a car with anything smaller than a V12 for a few decades, so we could actually say that this is a reasonable proposition. Or... could we? Allow us to gently bash your head against the seat by using the Corsa mode of the E-gear transmission to move on in order to find the answer.

Mystery... learning to control it is a perfect way to generate attraction and this is exactly what the designers did when Lamborghini gave the Gallardo an important facelift in 2009. Place the 2003 Gallardo and the revamped one next to each other and anybody will be able to tell you which one is the newest, but most people will need some time to point out the exact details that set them apart.

So, we see what you did here Lamborghini: the front fascia doesn't come with more aggressive edges. No, it just has "enlarged and clearly accentuated air intakes that increase the air flow critical to such a high-performance automobile". And at the back you didn't use smaller headlights which look so sexy nobody cares that the old ones did their safety job better. No way, you simply "precisely arranged them to add tremendous visual breadth".

Yes, this is what Lamborghini does, it uses magic words to describe even more magical styling cues that spell "form, what function?" Of course, in between the time when the official description of the car was written and the moment the vehicle was actually launched, the German engineers hid some technology under the "Y" Lambo signature forms inside the headlights and taillights, so when night falls, the Xenons up front turn it into day.

The supercar has kept its ultra-compact dimensions, so it's still about as long as an Audi A3, sits between an A6 and an A8 in terms of width and it's height still doesn't manage to match that of the legs of Lamborghini girls who showcase it at various events.

But while you really couldn't ask for less flaws when talking about the physique of the aforementioned girls, the Gallardo Spyder has one: the engine cover. This also acts as a cover for the soft top and has nice air vents, but since transparent carbon fiber hasn't been invented yet, it doesn't allow you to see the V10 unit at all.

You have to sit outside the car while folding/unfolding the roof and even then you won't get a complete view of the thing's that's responsible for all the sweet noise. We're so upset about this that we can't even tell you the roof comes with a special "service function" that places it in a position which allows technicians to access the engine. So we won't mention this.

Let’s hide the fabric and see what we end up with. The sleek proportions of the Gallardo make it a perfect base for an open-top vehicle, but, to our eyes, it looks better with its clothes on. When you analyze its profile with the roof down, the lack of any other post-windshield elements beside the glass ones, gives you the impression of a slightly unfinished job, but this is like saying that a supermodel looks better with high heels on - you’ll want her in sneakers too.

Before we end this chapter here's a piece of car buying advice for teenagers who have a hard time convincing their parents that the rear-wheel drive LP550-2 Spyder is safe enough to be their first car. Have the badges on the side skirts removed and nobody will ever know your ride doesn't have four-wheel drive. Just show them the rear-view camera hidden in the wing at the back of the car and talk about active safety until they become bored and sign the check.

This is not a Rolls Royce, the two are not even owned by the same company, but the Gallardo LP550-2 Spyder makes a surprisingly deep, reassuring sound when you close the door.

The first thing you notice, even after you've gotten used to the car is the strange positioning of the dashboard. If Lambo ever builds MPVs, the apocalypse will probably follow soon, but this is the closest example we can give you: there's quite a lot of dashboard sitting between you and the lower edge of the windscreen.

You quickly realize that the instruments themselves, together with all the rest of the usual dashboard gadgets can't occupy all that space and you're right. This layout is a result of the Gallardo's ultra-compact dimensions, so you're actually sharing the cabin with more of the front axle than you'd imagine and with a bit of the battery (you can access it via the 3.88 cu.ft./110 L trunk up front). We also have to explain that the front wheel housings are placed so deep withing the cabin, that when you use the footrest, you lower leg will actually be angled towards the center of the car.

Remove the inclined cover above the floor mat, the one your passenger presses his or (hopefully) her feet against when you put the pedal to the metal and you'll find a generously-sized fuse panel, so you'd better be careful where you put the take-away coffee bag.

We're kidding, the fuse panel is well protected, but we're serious about the coffee: there are virtually no storage spaces in the Spyder, at least not some that can be easily accessed while driving. Sure, you can put your mobile phone in the door or inside the microscopic storage-dedicate area that marks the end of the center console and the beginning of the rear firewall, but that's about it. The glove box? It's literally just a glove box.

Why are we being so critical? The valet did something wrong and we've been stuck in the hotel's underground parking for 10 minutes now, but there goes the barrier so we can finally set off.

Whoa! What's that we see the door mirrors? This supercar doesn't just come with the usual hips, these are decorated with air intakes which look stunning without even trying to be special.

Now that we're on the move, the dashboard doesn't seem so beefy all of a sudden and it looks like it's grown three instruments at its center: "press.olio", "temp.olio" and "batteria". Not quite sure what all of these mean, but they offer a pleasant perspective and since none of them is on the red zone, everything should be fine.

Don't worry if you put your wipers on when you try to hit the upshift paddle, which, just like its non-identical twin sister, is too small for twisty-road driving and too... made of plastic. All those who own an E-gear (automated manual) Gallardo have done so, since the arrangement on the steering wheel column leaves certain things to be desired.

Aside from that, the ergonomics are top-notch, so thank God this car doesn't come with a self-destruct button - this would've been placed so well that you could've reached it with a simple half-a-second movement. You'll be finding yourself playing with the hazard lights, for example, just because that red control surrounded by chromed ones on the center console is way too inviting for the child inside of you.

But enough with the buttons and instruments, just keep your place in the non-perforated leather seat, a fine example of a sporty and comfortable driving compromise, and your eyes on the road. Yes, we know, you want to fold the top. No problem, you just have to stop the car, witness the roof mechanism's aural manifesto and in 20 seconds you can start the tanning process.

Now that you've got more freedom, you can also lower the rear and side windows and show a big L (thumb + index finger) to all those who criticized the Gallardo for using Audi-sourced infotainment and climate control systems. These work brilliantly, so if those people want more "personality" they should try and old Lamborghini air conditioning before they speak. An engine start button would've been nice though.

If you skipped the previous chapter, you'll have to go back and read it, otherwise you won't find out how exactly the Gallardo's 4,345 mm (171.06 in) length is translated in car interior language. But for this chapter, we can tell you that the aforementioned value makes the vehicle an absolute joy around town.

The 5.2-liter V10 at the center might be a bit overdressed for the urban occasion, but thanks to its naturally-aspirated nature and to its variable valve timing, it is as flexible as Vanessa Ferrari - what? she may share her name with the Prancing Horse, but she's the first Italian woman to have won the all-round gold for gymnastics, so she's perfect for proving our point.

Back to Lamborghini now... you don't need us to tell you that the E-gear robotized manual transmission doesn't bring any serious problems inside the city, we've noticed that, but we do have one small complain. During slow-speed driving, you won't like the fact that, in the fully automatic mode, you're stuck in the obviously sensitive 1st gear until you go past 3,000 revs, so certain movements are a bit too strong.

Since we've started suggesting improvements, an adaptive suspension would also be nice, as the passive one can get a bit bouncy on city roads, especially if you have the nose lift system on. Oh and we really can't understand why Lamborghini doesn't help the rear-view camera with some parking sensors, which you can't even find on the list of optional extras.

And then there's the brake pedal feel: we didn't use the optional ceramic stoppers and while it doesn't take you long to get used to the short and effort-requiring travel of the brake pedal, this still remains a bit annoying, especially around town.

Living with the aforementioned downsides is not a matter of "can", but rather of "want" and if you do decide to accept them, the Gallardo LP550-2 Spyder offers you a swift and surprisingly relaxed experience in terms of city driving.

If we'd be a Lamborghini sales person and we'd have an LP550-2 inside the showroom, we'd invite customers to take the car out for a test drive and we wouldn't even go along for the ride. We'd just need to set a few things straight: everything has to take please inside the city, with the top down, at night. In this setup, the car offers a whole new perspective. It's like you get behind the wheel and all of a sudden your gain ten to fifteen years of maturity - you can enjoy the Bull without having to use its Raging side.

And this side of the car's character can, of course, also be used during the day and we felt this during our morning drives in the LP550-2 Spyder. If only we could do something about the rear visibility with the top on...

We'll use a small piece of Barack Obama's 2012 election victory acceptance speech to describe just how impressive the sound of the LP550-2's exhaust is. "It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight," the one thing you'll do first once you take this car out on the open road, will be to mash the throttle so you can enter that state of hypnosis once again.

The fun starts just below 3,000 rpm when the valves start relaxing, and never stops until you hit the 8,200 rpm limiter, a point where the adrenaline flows as if the car is controlling you, not the other way around. You'll notice a few tonality changes along the way, with the variable timing also playing a role here.

Forget the "sport" button on the center console that makes the exhaust somewhat louder, press the "Corsa" button if you want the full Lambo soundtrack playlist.

The latter also partially tranquilizes the ESC (Electronic Stability Control) and activates the manual-only, fastest shifting mode of the E-gear robotized manual gearbox. But let's not rush things, or, better said, let's do it, but in an organized manner.

First up, you push the "Corsa" button and engage first gear, then you send the ESP to sleep altogether via a dedicated button and this scares you a bit. The anticipation grows too strong, the emotions make you forget some of the basic driving rules and you put your left foot on the brake. You keep it there, take a few seconds to think about what you're going to do next and you finally touch the throttle with your big toe as if you were testing the sea water temperature during the cold season. Come on, push it a little further... that's right, all the way to the floor.

Ups, the revs climb to about 5,000, so you're even more scared and release the brake. Even though you've only got the rear axle sending the power to the road, you surge forward like there's no tomorrow - the acceleration and the sound are unbelievable. Congratulations, you've just used the "Thrust mode" of the car, the one that allows it to play the 0 to 62 mph game in 4.2 seconds.

Lamborghini tells us that the 2009 facelift brought 40 percent faster shifting in the Corsa mode of the E-gear automated manual and while we forgot our instruments at the office, our built-in biological system could confirm that the upshifts are considerably faster than before.

A full-throttle Corsa upshift will send a shock wave through the entire car. The shifts are so violent that you head goes all full-contact with the firm headrest. Just like when you shift at full violence in a manual... manual, the process is fun and effective, but sometimes you can swear that you feel the clutch taking a bit too much torque for its own good. However, also like in the case of a three-pedal manual, you can be fully involved in the shifting process.

As your "birdie" finger hits the paddle on the right in order to perform an upshift, you can take your foot partially off the gas for a split second in order to make the transition smoother. It's up to you to give it the right lift dose - too much and you'll change gear as slow as an 80s' automatic, too little and the aforementioned shock wave will still be present.

You can achieve more relaxed shifts by simply not using the Corsa mode, but why on Earth would you not want to push that button? Hmm... Maybe because you're in a rear-wheel drive Lamborghini and you're approaching a corner?

There are other problems in the world about which you'd have to be more concerned about, like, for example, the way in which Google maps pictures endangered plant species. As for the Gallardo LP550-2 Spyder's oversteer in the Corsa mode, you'll have plenty of full-throttle pedal buffer to play within until anything dangerous happens.

Thus, you enter a corner carrying a decent amount of speed to generate an argument with your girlfriend, floor it and the nose will run a bit wide, if you keep up acceleration, you'll have to ignore the serious tire squeal coming from the front axle before you run out of grip at the back, so the car won't surprise you.

As a general conclusion, the RWD Gallardo seems to understeer a bit more than the AWD one. But do not panic, a subtle lift will get those sexy air intakes up front on a tighter line.

When your ESC is fully on, inexperienced drivers, who will never admit this due to pride-related reasons, can forget at times that they're using a rear-wheel drive car.

Speed in a straight line, speed through the corners, but what about the braking? The car's brake pedal modulation problem becomes irrelevant outside the city and, at driving speeds that don't get your license jailed, you don't need the ceramics. You'll want them for the better-looking rotors anyway, so, even if you're more of the cruiser type it's best to tick this option. After all, who knows when they can make the difference between the original and a replacement front fascia?

We seem to be writing in a circle, as we're back to the point where we started the chapter from: the exhaust. Its splendido suono, together with the accurate and perfectly-weighted steering, as well as the well-tuned, reasonably comfortable passive suspension, make the car feel alive at any speed or throttle application, so you'll get the full experience you paid for even when you're simply cruising on the highway in an elegant manner. Speaking of speed and cruising, the LP550-2 Spyder's V10 needed 15 liters of petrol for every 100 km of our test drive (15.7 mpg).

Many of the aforementioned statements would've been clear signs of mental illness had they been referring to elderly Lambo models, but the Gallardo is extremely refined and easy to drive, from a narrow mountain road with the stopwatch in your peripheral vision, to a multi-lane highway with the wind in your hair.
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autoevolution Nov 2012
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