Brutal Beauty

This Lamborghini may be an “entry-level” bull, but it won’t be bullied.

Named for the legendary breed of fighting bull, the Gallardo (ga:yàrdo) may not quite rumble out the straight-end and high-end of its distinguished brother, the indomitable Murciélago, but don’t swing your cape too cavalierly its way. Although the name also means “gallant” in Spanish, you may get gored.

It’s been featured on film and television, including “Mission Impossible III” and “CSI-Miami”; even “The Simpsons” irreverently dubbed it the “Lamborgotti Fasterossa.” The Italian State Police have a few of them for emergencies such as transporting organs for transplants. Various illuminati own the vehicles, including skateboarder Bam Margera, whose purple one must get eyes rolling.

This is a perfect car for fast-moving millennials such as Margera — or anyone who likes to run ahead of the herd. The first car to feature the new Lamborghini V10 engine — only the third engine designed by the firm — this 500-horsepower bull runs with a mid-rear mounted engine, its gearbox snugged behind that. Originally designed to compete with historical rival, Ferrari’s 360 Modena (now the F430), the Gallardo is available in two configurations —Coupe or a convertible Spyder, unveiled at the Los Angeles Auto Show in January 2006 with its lower-ratio six-speed and fully retractable top. Like the bull it is named for, the Gallardo is available only in flat black or metallic black.

Entry level, perhaps, but not a poor man’s Lamborghini, the Gallardo carries an MSRP of $178,550. For 2007, the marque is also available in a limited “Nera” edition. Debuted at this year’s Paris Motor Show, the “Nera” Gallardo includes leather upholstery and stitching and paint combinations as well as other options available through the “ad personam,” service, which brands a Lamborghini to its owner. A navigation system is standard, as well as a rearview camera, an on-board computer, an alarm system, a lifting system and a custom vehicle cover.

Optional equipment for the model includes an automatic transmission, an engine hood with transparent glass panels, and carbon-ceramic brakes. “It’s a mean-looking Gallardo,” says Ros De Giaxa, general manager of Motorsports of Scottsdale/Lamborghini of Scottsdale. Only 185 will be produced — just 60 for the United States.

In whatever configuration you choose, the Gallardo is a special performer, flexing its stats with macho and a nasally smirk of disdain:

• Top Speed: 191–196 mph (ranges depending on model)

• 0–60 mph: 4.0–4.2

• 0–100 mph: 9.2 seconds

• 0–/4 Mile: 12.2sec–12.4 sec @ 118 mph

The car is fast and a fast seller: Since offering it first in 2004, Lamborghini produced 3,000 Gallardos in just two years, making it the company’s most-produced model. Running in second place, the Diablo took a decade to sell almost as many. Many attribute this to practicality: With good rearward visibility and all-wheel drive (based on Lamborghini’s viscous traction system), the Gallardo is more city-friendly and weather-flexible than the Murciélago — nimbler, with its near-perfect weight distribution of 42 percent front and 58 percent rear.

“The Gallardo is the perfect synthesis of racing car and everyday car,” De Giaxa says. “It will perform like a champion bull on the open road yet idle comfortably in traffic, steady and ready for battle.” Lamborghini has integrated all the components — engine, transmission, frame and body, suspensions, brakes and electronics — to maximize performance as well as tractability and control: “It is functional and strong and at the same time graceful and sleek — true to its great heritage,” he adds.

Born under Taurus, Ferruccio Lamborghini anointed his company with the symbol of the fighting bull and named most of its cars accordingly: For instance, the Miura, the company’s third car, was named after a trainer, Don Eduardo Miura. A tractor magnate whose tussle with the equally headstrong Enzo Ferrari inspired the company, Lamborghini died in Perugia in 1993; his company is now part of the Volkswagen Group, which also includes Audi and Bentley.

Well known since the eighteenth century, although their origin predates that, the Gallardo bulls were famous for their brutal beauty, their heart, strength and aggressiveness — able to fight until the last tercio, or battle. The new aluminum V10 DOHC 4-valve 5-liter engine reaffirms this prowess and pedigree, with 510 foot pounds of torque and up to 520 horsepower depending on model.

This engine has a history, however, as it is based on Audi’s old straight-five design. The new plant for the Volkswagen Jetta is also related. Less two cylinders, it’s essentially the 5.0-liter engine of the Audi 4.2-liter V8, which appears in a variety of the carmaker’s performance models.

The engine has been configured at an angle of 90 degrees to limit the height of the engine, thereby lowering the center of gravity for better handling. A crankpin offset ensures smooth operating as well. Maximum torque on the 11:1 compression ratio engine comes on at 4,500 rpm, but 80 percent of this is attainable at 1,500 rpm. High speeds up to 7,800 rpm are achieved by way of dual throttle bodies. The innovative ignition system features individual coils mounted on each spark plug.

Two transmissions are available: a conventional six-speed and a six-speed auto-clutch manual, or, as Lamborghini calls it, “E-gear.” With the latter, the driver shifts much faster than an automatic would, with thecontrol that a manual offers. Via paddles behind the steering wheel, the driver shifts without having to actuate the clutch. Additionally, the driver can select a variety of operating modes: normal, sport, auto, and low adherence.

“The E-gear provides fast smooth shifting,” De Giaxa says. “Lamborghini says it’s equal to or better than what a very good driver with a standard gearbox could achieve.”

A structural aluminum space frame ensures a light weight as well as strength and superior torsional stiffness. As a result, the Gallardo has demonstrated excellent energy-absorption capabilities during the crash tests.

In keeping with the aerodynamic body style and to achieve the tightest road performance, Lamborghini engineers have reduced drag both front and rear. In addition, a rear spoiler is electronically controlled in proportion to vehicle speed. Additional suspension superlatives include double wishbone front and rear suspension system.

Slight under steering at the beginning of the curve is followed by neutral characteristics for the remainder. What’s more, “antidive” and “antisquat” characteristics make acceleration and braking effortless and smooth.

The Pirelli PZero tires spin on 19-inch wheels, allowing for large-diameter brake disks with Brembo eight-piston calipers in the front and four-piston calipers in the rear. Finally, a full-stability control system (ESP) assists the driver without detracting from the sports car experience.

“Brute power under total driver control: Gallardo delivers the passion, pedigree and panache of Lamborghini,” De Giaxa says. “It’s a bull in the china shop without a single cup disturbed.”