Forgive the self-indulgence but I’ve just notched up 20 years of driving and writing about cars, and nothing I’ve driven of late has made me feel every minute of it more than this renewed Lamborghini Gallardo. This is now the entry-level model to the Lamborghini range: the one you buy to get your foot on the first rung of the admittedly rather short ladder of Lamborghini ownership. Twenty years ago, Lamborghini only had one model, the quick but largely dreadful and quite spectacularly overrated Countach, so there is no direct comparison to make. But down the road at Maranello, the 328GTB was trying to do much the same job for Ferrari then as is this Gallardo for Lamborghini today.
The sheer numbers beggar belief. With 270bhp from its 3.2-litre V8, the Ferrari had less than half of the 560 horsepower of the Longitudinale Posteriore V10 under the Lambo’s engine cover. Get the launch right and negotiate the tricky cross-gate shift into second and it was possible (just) to get a 328 to 60mph in less than six seconds, though you risked your syncromesh doing it. If your Gallardo has a two pedal E-gear transmission (as did the one I drove), it’ll get there in 3.5sec with no more effort than a tug on a paddle. A McLaren F1 is only 0.3sec faster than that, for goodness sake. And while a good 328 would get near 160mph, the Gallardo is still adding speed as you venture into the strange world that exists beyond 200mph.
So this should be the paragraph where I turn the arguments on their head and explain that power isn’t everything, quantity is a poor substitute for quality, that Audi has ruined Lamborghini and things ain’t what they used to be.
Except it doesn’t happen like that.
I drove the Gallardo both on road and track and in conditions that ranged from damp to monsoon and was left staggered not so much by its speed, but how accessible it was. I’d not long got out of one of its few rivals, Porsche’s 911 GT2, and the simple truth is the quicker, more powerful Lamborghini scared me less in the wet than the Porsche had in the dry. And the Gallardo rides beautifully while delivering its power with ever-increasing urge to its 8500rpm line, instead of the single, colossal wallop offered by the brutal Porsche.
It’s also the best-handling Lamborghini ever to set foot on the public road. Indeed such is the confidence it inspires that I was curious to discover how much provocation it would tolerate before biting back. In a quiet corner of a soaking Bedford Autodrome I learned it would drift like a front-engined, rear-drive car, not the mid-engined, all-wheel drive machine it actually is.
There are problems: there’s not enough head or legroom, the Audi navigation system looks painfully out of place and the optional ceramic brakes are the worst I’ve ever tried. They’ll stop you alright, but not before putting your heart in your mouth and your foot through the floor.
Nevertheless I applaud Lamborghini’s effort with this car. In 2003 the first Gallardos were tepid machines, but instead of diluting the brand further as many had feared, Audi has sharpened and strengthened the Gallardo to the point where I would park this LP560-4 alongside the SV variants of the Miura and Diablo in my all-time three-car fantasy Lamborghini garage.
I’ve heard they are working on a Superleggera version. If it happens, that really should be something.