James Edwards, Contributor
The 5.2-liter V10 spits, takes a big gulp of air through its two monster throttle bodies and cracks open with all four exhausts rattling the sky, then settles into a loud, slightly offbeat idle.
The menace is never far away with this engine. At idle, there's a stiff initial resistance before the throttle pedal gives you what feels like an infinite ability to choose exactly the right rpm at exactly the right time. It also gives you an infinite ability to send a spine-tickling ripple up your spine, not to mention twist the neck of any bystander within 100 yards.
Even by the standards of a company where subtlety is as foreign as a four-cylinder engine, the 2011 Lamborghini Gallardo LP570-4 Superleggera is shockingly ostentatious. But this is as it should be, as this is the fastest Gallardo ever built.
Menace on Four Wheels
Just look at the car. There is an enormous carbon-fiber rear wing, with the option of an even larger one. There are 19-inch Otto Fuchs forged-aluminum wheels that each reduce unsprung weight by about 7 pounds over the standard wheels, and they carry Pirelli P Zero Corsa tires with mere slivers of sidewalls, 235/35ZR19s in front and 295/30ZR19s in the rear. There is a visually loud streak up both flanks, while the nose has been cranked with Reventon-esque air intakes that double as front wings.
And if you miss the Superleggera's identity from the front, you won't mistake it from the back. Not when there's a carbon-fiber aero diffuser that is about the same size as a bathtub and creates more downforce than the wing. For added dignity, the 2011 Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera also has four, fat, unchromed exhausts that stick out like the barrels of a battleship's gun battery.
But if the LP570-4 Superleggera is ostentatious from the outside, it's a different story when you open the featherweight door that will fling wide at a finger's touch. The soft, multi-adjustable seats of the standard Gallardo are gone, replaced by carbon-shelled units trimmed in artificial suede, and the fit is so tight that the car might well come with an optional shoehorn to get you into them. A racing-style, four-point seatbelt harness (complete with raging bull motif) is in place for each of the seats.
And as you'd expect in a lightweight racer, all extraneous accessories have been cast aside, so the center console is gone. So, too, the navigation unit and the audio system and just about anything else that doesn't help the Lamborghini go faster.
Lean and Mean Lamborghini
Not that the Lamborghini Gallardo with its aluminum spaceframe is a chubby little unit in standard form. It might weigh less than most midsize sedans, even though there's a great lump of V10 sitting in the middle of it, yet Lamborghini's tech boffins have torn the car to shreds in order to remove 154 pounds of excess weight.
Big slices came from replacing the side glass, rear backlight and transparent engine cover with polycarbonate, while the outside mirror housings, curb-scraping rocker sills, engine cover and all the underbody panels have been made from carbon-fiber.
Now that the Gallardo has been brought down to a fighting weight of 3,015 pounds, there's no mistaking the intent here. The 2011 Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera is meant to be the quickest, fastest Gallardo ever. Of course, just trimming the fat isn't enough, so Lamborghini has found another 10 horsepower within the 5.2-liter V10, increasing the total to 562 hp at 8,000 rpm. It's also ramped up the aggression in the shift action of the six-speed, single-clutch automated manual transmission just for an extra margin of performance.
It also means that trickling out of Lamborghini's front gate is a doodle. Pluck the right paddle for 1st gear, wriggle around a bit to get some blood circulation back into your thighs (the seat is very tight) and squeeze the throttle. The engine goes momentarily a bit less loud as the computer figures out how much clutch to drag before it opens the throttle bodies again and the lightweight Lambo cruises into traffic.
This has always been an engine that has masked its brutality behind a veneer of gruff smoothness, but in Superleggera trim, that veneer is thinner than ever and makes almost no effort to hide the threat of power that underlies everything it does. This V10 might be an undersquare engine in the typical Audi style, but that doesn't mean it doesn't rev properly. It just means the torque curve is far fatter below the 6,500-rpm peak than you'd expect, so the good part of the total 398 pound-feet of torque comes on lower in the rev range.
But if the engine does things smoothly, the suspension doesn't. (That's assuming the Superleggera actually has a suspension, which is by no means certain). It's set up for track work and ultrasmooth mountain passes, but at low speed, it's difficult to imagine any current production car that gives a more painfully honest interpretation of a road's shape.
It's a setup that makes smooth roads brutal and brutal roads unbearable. It feels like it is only ever willing to absorb the first 10 percent of any impact before diverting the rest of it into your spine. It finds bumps you can't even see, while you cannot only feel the painted lines underneath you but also hear them.
The suspension action does get better the faster you go, but not much better, and it's the biggest bugbear in the car by far, especially as even the Ferrari 430 Scuderia has already proven that lightweight, track-dedicated supercars don't have to feel like this to be fast.
At cruising speed, the Superleggera's wide tires, steering geometry and suspension setup allow the front end to be forever pulled and prodded by whatever's happening beneath the wheels, so the whole car feels like it's always about ready to yaw alarmingly if you stop paying attention for an instant.
But you should already have known this, because the body and the paint and the cabin screamed that the Superleggera wasn't here to make friends. And there's a flip side to all of this.
Now We Get It
The first time you aim it up at a flowing sequence of bends, the 2011 Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera is just so fast and so incredibly nimble that you instantly forgive it any hurt it gave you at low speed. It has so much lateral grip that you end up feeling like the baseball in a sock being whirled around a child's head, as the tread of the low-profile Pirellis leave their tattoos in the asphalt.
The harder you drive the Superleggera, the more it makes sense, which is just as well, because it makes no sense whatsoever at low speed.
When the chassis works hard, it feels like the engine lifts its game, too, suddenly changing rpm up or down with the alacrity of a gymnast while the induction roar and exhaust blast compete for attention like a battle between the late Pavarotti and one of his operatic pals.
Couple this with the sound of the throttle bodies chirping open and squeezing closed behind you as you adjust the gas pedal between the corners and you have a recipe for mind-altering music at speed.
In a straight line, this beast will blast to 100 km/h (62 mph) in 3.5 seconds, thanks in part to a brutal calibration for the launch control mode that cranks up the engine to 5,000 rpm and lets the car skitter away from the line with all four tires spinning. The 200 km/h mark (125 mph) comes up in 10.2 seconds and the car's claimed top speed of 202 mph feels easily attainable.
The thing is just so fast — especially between 40 and 130 mph — that you have to readjust everything you do. You can even make it get there quicker by cranking up the gearbox and skid-control systems to Sport mode and, if you really want to have your eyeballs peeled back, you can select the track-only (yee haw) Corsa mode for the quickest shifts and you're-on-your-own-now-buddy skid control. Then the shifts, never the smoothest in the supercar world, turn even more brutal, banging up each gear with a noticeable shudder and whipping down with fast-as-lightning throttle blips on each downshift.
Actually the engine's noise is so charming (and the torque reasonably strong) that you often find yourself short-shifting instead of extending the tachometer needle to 8,500 rpm, just so you can let the V10's music run through its entire vocal range in one gear rather than limiting yourself to just the top couple thousand revs.
The Full Driving Dynamic
Luckily, the 2011 Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera slows down even quicker than it accelerates thanks to monster carbon-ceramic brake discs and six-piston front calipers. At the start of our day the brake pedal sat high and bit hard and early, with wonderful progression all the way to the floor even when the rarely bothered ABS had to wake up. And at the end of our day, after being thumped repeatedly for hours on end, nothing had changed.
This car would stop even better with a softer suspension, though, and on most corners, it would have more grip, too. At the very least, it would make you less worried, because the bumps would throw you around a lot less midcorner.
Nevertheless, the front aero splitter all but eradicates the high-speed understeer of the more softly sprung Gallardo LP560-4's high-speed understeer, while the wing and diffuser mean the back end's not going anywhere except where you ask it to go in high-speed corners. In 2nd and 3rd gear, it can break traction to slide snappily in the back end. Overall the cornering grip is just astonishing, especially as you pick up the throttle coming out of a corner. Where the standard Gallardo will push a bit wide, the Superleggera with its locking diffs, wide tires and low ride height just hunkers down and squirts through corners, becoming a streak of light, color and noise.
Then there's the raucous agility of the engine, the twin throttle bodies opening at the same instant the corner does and the savagery of 8,450 rpm in 2nd gear, and then the car trying desperately to snap off its titanium wheel nuts as the wheels spin over bumps.
The most obvious shortcoming, then, is a suspension that leaves you cursing when the winding stuff inevitably finishes and then you're back on normal roads with normal traffic. Then it's hard to imagine why you'd ever want to live with the 2011 Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera.
But when you get the whole dynamic right, with the direct-injection V10 bellowing at 8,500 rpm and the 19-inch Pirellis leaving four black marks on the road even out of 4th-gear corners, you'll feel the seatbelt harness pulling you deep into the carbon-fiber seats and close to this car's wild inner spirit and you'll find it impossible to believe you could ever live without this car.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored press event to facilitate this report.
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