Friday, 17 December 2010

Tested: Lamborghini Gallardo LP550-2

Some cars have tendencies to look fast even when standing still. They can also set your pulse racing just by staring at them through your slightly dilated pupils. A result of simply being awed, just like a primary school kid lost in a mega toy store. A Lamborghini is one of those sportscar - especially in the louder shades of orange, yellow or green. Think of the Miura, Countach and Diablo from the yesteryears. Imagine the latest Murcielago and you will get an inkling of the fascinating sportscars heritage of Lamborghini.

Back in 1963, Ferrucio Lamborghini actually established his very own breakaway brand after leaving the folds of Ferrari. Since then, Automobili Lamborghini has taken a more passionate and ever sporting stance, as we were told at the Shanghai International Circuit recently. One of the offspring of the luxury automotive ‘cult’ from Sant’Agata Bolognese, Italy that professes fascinating design, technological capability and supreme driving dynamics is the Lamborghini Gallardo.

On that exciting morning, a combination of cold, misty and rainy weather resulted in a wet track. Along with the high-powered V10 driving just the rear axle, we had fun in the Lamborghini Gallardos the way the friendly guys from Automobili Lamborghini intended it to be. The track day event saw some 50 members of the media from nine countries including Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Japan, South Korea and Australia get behind the wheel and experience the raging bull that is the LP550-2.

In Lamborghini speak, LP is ‘sexy’ Italian lingo for Longitudinale Posteriore, i.e. mid-mounted engine sitting longitudinally just in front of the rear axle. While the numerical ‘550’ refers to the power output in hp and the suffix ‘2’ means two-wheel drive, in this case both the rear wheels. A look at the cars we have lined up for us to sample beggars the belief that the Gallardo model has been around since 2003, yet still looking sharp, very sporty and refreshingly sleek after some mild bodywork restyling (Reventon-style front air-intakes) in 2008.

Lead by Lamborghini drive instructors, we were allowed three laps to test the car hard and fast around the rather slippery circuit. Prior to this, we were given a demo lap around the track. Although the solo sessions were seemingly brief with the LP550-2, it cannot be denied that this Lamborghini is a very involving super sportscar. On the Shanghai International Circuit, the glorious and sonorous howl of its 5.2-litre V10 rumbled menacingly down the main straight. So much so it sounded intimidating to us as spectators who were waiting for our turn to drive at the paddock section. Getting into the driver’s seat of the LP550-2 offered a different perspective altogether.

After flooring the throttle on the straight, a quick succession of hard braking and downshifts is executed to negotiate the right-handed turn 1. Repeated rituals were obligatory for turn 2 and so forth on the circuit. Getting impatient with the throttle while going out of a bend with an off-cambered gradient, we easily got the rear stepping out.

We learnt that it pays to be especially smooth and easy on the throttle as well as the steering of the LP550-2 in order to gain pace as we made progress around the track.

The e-gear of the Gallardo handled downshifts brilliantly despite being a manu-matic single-clutch set up. We were doing upshifts as well – manually via the steering paddle shifters - without ever lifting off the throttle just like our professional instructor did. In no manner did the transmission protested. Brilliant. The interior looked and felt decidedly upmarket, yet snug and conducive for hard driving. Alas, if only we have more than the 3 laps accorded to be able to connect deeper to this purer rear-wheel drive version of the Gallardo range. It is also heartening to note that the LP550-2 has as standard equipment, a rear axle differential - with a locking effect of up to 45 percent limited slip - that ensures better transition of torque between both rear wheels.

The purity conveyed by its steering – unclouded by engine power driving the front axle - serves to synergise with the chassis balance that is just simply brilliant. Body control was taut mostly with nary a hint of pitching or body roll despite the constant load changes as we gunned the LP550-2 around the circuit. However, it certainly requires a higher level of skill, as well as more commitment to return the driving satisfaction that you may be looking for. But yet there is no tantrums, it is much forgiving with traction control (which can be switched off in CORSA mode), limited slip differential and vehicle stability systems (ESP et al) lurking in the background. In essence, the sports coupe exudes a competence that inspires you to try driving harder – with more speed and finesse. To sum it up, this more ‘basic’ Gallardo presented us with an eye-opening track experience. It demonstrated that less could indeed be more in those looking for undiluted dynamics of having 550 naturally-aspirated horses – and 540 Nm - all to the rear wheels of an undyingly passionate Italian masterpiece.

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