Walk the show floor of any major European auto show and stimulating news from Automobili Lamborghini is sure to be the topic of conversation from the auto journaling press. In Paris last fall it was the 2,202 pound Sesto Elemento all carbon-fiber concept and in Geneva this past March the Aventador LP 700-4 and its permanent 4-wheel drive chassis and 700 horsepower 6.5-liter V12 Italian Bull (0 to 62 mph in 2.9 seconds) took most of the limelight.
However, following the New York Auto Show, we travelled to Monticello Raceway, where our experience with Lamborghini exceeded expectations as we were allotted time behind the wheel of their latest Gallardo for the U.S. — the LP 550-2 Bicolore — while comparing it to the LP 570-4 Spyder Performante (Lightweight Spyder) during hot laps in both vehicles around Monticello’s amazing course.
The Gallardo, valiantly named after a breed of Spanish fighting bulls, is the company’s core base model and has seen sales of 10,000 plus units since its introduction in 2003. Consequently, Lamborghini is — and always has been — a bit more extreme and challenging since its first 350GT in 1963. So why not continue to experiment with such a successful platform? Bicolore, quite naturally, is a reference play on the two-tone hue scheme of the dynamic Italian performance coupe. The special edition $191,900 LP 550-2 Bicolore can be had in Giallo Midas, Arancio Borealis, Grigio Telesto, Bianco Monocerus and Blu Caelum and always features a Noctis Black roof, pillars, engine cover and rear spoiler. Its power comes from the familiar 5.2-liter direct injection V10 engine with 550 horsepower, travels 0 to 62 mph in 3.9 seconds and has a top speed of 201 mph.
The LP 570-4 Spyder Performante’s 5.2-liter V10 develops 570 horsepower at 8000 rpm and 398 pound-feet of torque at 6500 rpm; has a top speed of 202 mph and runs 0-62 mph in 3.9 seconds. The Spyder’s 3,273 pound body is 143 pounds lighter than the standard LP 560-4 Spyder through use of lighter materials such as carbon-fiber extensively on the exterior and interior and clever adjustments such as replacing leather with Alcantara. Lamborghini says reducing weight opposed to adding horsepower is the optimal way to go. The Sesto Elemento for example has shown Lamborghini how important lightweight engineering can really be. “Systematic lightweight engineering is crucial for future super sports cars. We will apply this technological advantage right across our model range,” said Stephan Winkelmann, President and CEO of Automobili Lamborghini.
During four laps around the track in each vehicle I was able to feel and experience Winkelmann’s philosophy. Yes, the Gallardo feels extremely light and is why you must be exceedingly smooth with throttle inputs and proper braking techniques. Shifting is exercised from the 6-speed “E-Gear” automatic transmission, which uses large butterfly paddles. The gearbox has three distinctive modes actuated by the driver. It starts in normal mode and can be shifted automatically or manually. In AUTOMATIC mode the Gallardo does the work for you with very comfortable shifts when a certain RPM is reached. If you engage SPORT mode, shift points are quicker and the Electronic Stability Program (ESP) allows for wider drift angles. CORSA mode is primarily used for racing and aggressive driving whereas extreme shifting is needed. It gives total control of the vehicle to the driver. For example, when ESP is disengaged in CORSA mode it will never re-engage as it does in SPORT and AUTOMATIC mode after the brake is pressured. CORSA also allows ESP to control the torque in high-performance launches — Lamborghini’s version of launch control. The 19” Pirelli P ZERO CORSA’s won’t meet any wheel spin as they do in SPORT mode. I manually controlled the shifts and kept the vehicle primarily in 2nd and 3rd gear. I especially love the “tiger growl” (downshift rev matching) when you downshift before a turn and you can really feel its power when accelerating out of turns. AUTOMATIC mode has no place on the track; save it for slow motion driving in town.
The $248,000 LP 570-4 Spyder Performante’s AWD begins with a 70% rear bias but will shift up to 50% traction to the front axle when required. There is no torque-vectoring however. The car felt planted around some of the sharp turns and perfectly stable through the Monticello’s chicane. Like all Gallardos, the cockpit is snug and puts your mind in the center of a race. The soft-top stayed up but offered a quiet environment. Yet, I preferred the sporty handling of the RWD LP 550-2 Bicolore. You have more control of the Bull and can point the noise in the intended direction by regulating the rear end while extending your slides when fun is demanded. In either, the orchestra from that amazing V-10 is enough to send you to The Cloud and regain the veneration for Italian sports cars.