If you want to be a gentleman, buy an Aston Martin. If you want to show off, buy a Ferrari. If you love tech, buy a McLaren. If you want to tell the world you need a straight jacket, go buy a Lamborghini. And if you buy a Lamborghini, get the best one you can. That's this, the Gallardo LP550-2.
(Full Disclosure: Lamborghini wanted me to drive the Gallardo LP550-2 Spyder so bad that they, and this is not a joke, called me after I begged them and offered me the chance to spend a weekend with a Gallardo. I said very yes. Very very yes. The most yes. If this is a dream I don't ever want to wake up.)
The Gallardo has been around since 2003 with one refresh in the middle of its run. For most of its decade in existence, the Gallardo has been all-wheel drive, which is something Lamborghini started doing with the Diablo because they were tired of people crashing and burning in their really wild exotica.
But there was one man within Lambo who still wanted rear-wheel drive, and that was legendary test driver Valentino Balboni. When it was time for him to retire, Lambo asked what he'd like in a car. What he wanted was a Gallardo. A rear-wheel drive Gallardo with a manual gearbox and one of the most fantastic stripes ever applied to a car.
The Balboni Edition was born.
But it proved so popular that once the run was over, Lamborghini kept the car in production as the LP550-2, with both a manual and the paddle-shift e-gear transmission (The car in this review had the e-gear). It became the least expensive car in the Lambo lineup as well as the purest. Now, as the Gallardo begins its march off into the sunset, the LP550-2 represents the end of an era for Lamborghini. The Gallardo is their best ever selling car. Whatever replaces it has gigantic shoes to fill.
There are very few cars that I look at and think are works of automotive perfection. The Gallardo is one of them. The wedge shape, the use of LEDs, the angular lines. It's one of the most sinister and menacing cars on the road, and you cannot mistake it for anything else.
The Gallardo is the exact interpretation of what I think Lamborghini should be. Ridiculousness and fighter jet inspiration is all well and good, and works on one-offs like the Veneno and Egoista, but the Gallardo is not a car for that. It's aggressive and restrained at once. Lambo has built a car that actually gives me goosebumps and makes me do a double, triple, or sextuple take every single time I see it. Some here on staff say that the removal of the roof doesn't work on this car.
My answer is simple: Don't put the top up. It looks amazing.
There is nothing about the car that I don't like. I don't think it can be improved.
(NOTE: I originally gave this, one of the absolute best looking cars ever on the road, a 10 for exterior. Our first 10 ever for design. Matt told me it had to be a 9. We had an argument, where I told him why he was wrong. But since I value a paycheck, this car is now getting a 9. Please direct all hatred his way. I tried.)
The interior of the Gallardo is not the perfection of the exterior. It looks like an Italian was told to design the interior, and then some Audi engineers came and said that it "needs more pieces of the Audi A4."
Beautiful stitching contrasts with an Audi MMI that looks to be lifted straight out of the A4. The dials look like they're from an Audi A8 and the text was just switched to italic. The seats are actually comfortable and I didn't feel fatigued after hours in the car.
The steering wheel was also a revelation. It's chunky, feels excellent, and totally devoid of buttons. It is just a wheel. It's basically perfect.
Ergonomics were a mixed bag. It has Bluetooth, but I couldn't get it to recognize my phone. The window switches go the opposite direction that you think they would. Everything also fell pretty close at hand, although it was a bit of a reach to change the song on my iPod. Not that I needed to hear music with that V10 behind my head.
Some cars are really fast. The Gallardo is one of them. But unlike a lot of cars, it's fast on paper and it gives an even more visceral feeling of speed. The Porsche 911 is fast, but it doesn't have any theater or pantomime when it gets up to speed. It just does it.
Acceleration in the Gallardo is an involved experience, especially in this rear-wheel drive version. No matter what setting you have the traction control in, the engine will overpower the tires. It will get squirrelly. It will require you to have very large attachments to keep that foot down.
I tend to judge acceleration in two ways. First there are the numbers. The LP550-2 gets to 60 in 3.9 seconds. That's fast, but not the fastest ever. Then there are the emotions, the raw feelings, the connection with the driver. In that way, the Gallardo is on a totally different level. It doesn't feel robotic. You need to be involved. You are an integral part in making it accelerate without crashing.
As an acceleration experience, the Gallardo is one of the most breathtaking cars to put your foot to the floor.
This is my second time in a Gallardo (#humblebrag), and once again I was a little shocked by the braking. The pedal is a bit numb at first and grabs further down in the travel. But it grabs hard. It's unlike the brakes on any of the other cars that I've recently driven, so it takes some getting used to.
Once you get used to it, you realize that Lamborghini has eschewed a grabby, delicate pedal for one that is very progressive. The logic behind it seems to be that you'll be at high speed a lot of the time in this car. A grabby pedal would be less predictable, making a stab of the brakes a precarious proposition. That's almost what you'd expect out of a Lamborghini: An exercise in dangerous braking.
Instead, coming down from high speeds is an exercise in control with stable, fast stops.
You'd expect it to be rock hard, and you're right, it is a hard ride. But I like a hard riding car like a lot of people like a hard bed. And this one isn't especially uncomfortable.
The ride is firm, but the chassis is well damped. It doesn't ride with the gentle confidence of a 911, but it is very nicely tuned.
I picked the Lambo up right as a huge rain storm hit New York. Pro tip: If you have a rear-wheel drive Lambo in the rain, do not press the gas. In the rain, the lil' Lambo is as terrifying as you think it is. The back steps out at even the thought of wet roads.
In the dry, it's sublime. Steering is direct and nicely weighted, with great road feel. It's another car that is steered more from the back than the front, so you really feel what's going on at the bottom of your seat as well as in your hands.
I don't drive these cars like they're on a race track, so I'm not going to say it oversteers or any of that baloney. But, like when you're accelerating, it feels alive. There aren't so many computers that you don't feel like you matter. You are part of this equation. That's important.
Ah, e-gear, the weirdest sequential transmission in the business. I've never driven a car where the gearbox feels like it's actively trying to destroy the car, especially in the race ready Corsa mode. And I actually think that works for the character of the Lamborghini. Not only does the car want to kill you, some components want to kill the other components.
A pull of the paddle switches the gear and cuts the throttle. But it doesn't cut the throttle for a long enough amount of time. It makes upshifts and downshifts jerky and uncomfortable, like a teenager who just learned to drive stick is shifting your $250,000 Lamborghini.
But here's the trick: Let off the gas when you pull the paddle. When it clunks into the next gear, get back on the gas. For downshifts, right after pulling the paddle, give it a light blip on the throttle. Shifts will be much smoother. It's not perfect, but it is much smoother. I do dig the raw feeling, but I'm not a fan of the car actively working to ruin itself.
It has a good stereo. Like a really good stereo. But who gives a crap?
Here's how you get the best audio performance out of your Gallardo Spyder: Step 1: Turn off radio. Step 2: Put top down. Step 3: Press 'Corsa' button. Step 4: Step on the gas. Step 5: Have massive orgasm.
The sound out of the V10 is raspy and lyrical, with an orchestral progression to its upper register that is tough to match. There aren't many other cars that tickle my senses like this one.
So it has nav, bluetooth, a backup camera, some cool lap timers, a lifting nose, and some other cool trinkets.
The car I was in had nav that wouldn't work, Bluetooth that couldn't find my phone, a button on the wiper stalk that I pressed by accident which changed all the menus, windows that squeaked, and a roof that lightly leaked. And I wouldn't change any of it.
This is tough. How do you define value when you get into this echelon of motoring? At this point, the cars become an object of desire. Do you want this, a Ferrari 458 Spider, a McLaren 12C Spider, an Aston Martin V12 Vantage Roadster, or something else? If you have the money for the Gallardo, you have the money for the rest of these.
What you do get for $250,000 is what I believe is the best Lamborghini on sale today. It's raw and visceral, an experience that you don't really get from its competitors from Maranello or Woking. The newest breed have all sorts of tech and disconnect the driver from the experience. The Gallardo, which is cheaper than its competitors, forces you to be involved, or it will kill you.
That's how a car like this should be.
Engine: 5.2L V10
Power: 550 HP at 8,000 RPM/397 LB-FT at 6,500 RPM
Transmission: Six-Speed Paddle Shift
0-60 Time: 3.9 seconds
Top Speed: 199 mph
Drivetrain: Rear-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight: 3,274 Pounds
Seating: 2 people
MPG: 13 City/20 Highway/16 Combined (I was much closer to 9 MPG in my drive)
MSRP: $209,500 ($246,305 As Tested)