Speed of Light

The long, arrow-like straights of Arizona’s desert roads are seemingly made for super cars to stretch their legs. And faced with the endless straight line disappearing into the sunset at the wheel of the all new Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera there was only one real option – floor it and see just how far we could get.

The final figure would have Arizona State Troopers reaching for the extradition papers, as figures of, theoretically speaking of course, 172mph, is akin to setting off a dirty bomb in a schoolyard round these parts. Of course it might just be bluff and bravado, depending on whether your belt carries a holster and cuffs.

Launched at the Geneva Motor Show just weeks ago this beast looked little more than an updated Gallardo – something to launch with a few ponies more and a few kilos less. The pre-emptive strike against the impending F430 Challenge Stradale is more than that, though. By honing the most desirable sportscar in the world today to a fine razor’s edge the Italian firm has distilled the very essence of desire.

And they were so confident in the product that they invited the world’s press to the Phoenix International Raceway in Arizona and unleashed them on the cars.

After the briefest safety lecture in broken English from the impossibly cool Lamborghini test drivers, we were out on the 40 degree tarmac to find out just how much difference shaving 100kg from the kerbweight makes to a machine that has already exhausted the media’s supply of superlative terms.

The Superleggera, a revival of a name not seen since the 1960s and literally translated as Super Light, is Winkelmann’s first “baby” and weighs just 1330kg without fluids. They could have gone further by throwing the creature comforts in the bin. But instead of ditching the air-con, electric windows and carpets, Lamborghini set about reclaiming the weight by re-engineering every nut, bolt and panel on the car to create a comfortable road rocket rather than full-bore track weapon.

They came up with new prop shafts, front drive shafts, lightweight Skorpius wheels and the rethink goes right down to the Titanium wheel nuts that shave just a few grammes off the overall package, but are considered vital to the increased performance. Of course throwing the four-wheel drive system in the bin could have saved 50kg in one fell swoop and turned the car into a violent psychopath, rather than a surgical instrument. It would have been a laugh riot, too, but four-wheel drive is now an integral part of the Lamborghini DNA.

Swathes of carbon-fibre drape the cockpit, where 47 per cent of the overall savings have been made. Previously luxurious door inserts are gone, replaced with a simple panel of race light material pulled shut with a strap that looks like it was made at home and seats that were as cosseting as those on the family saloon have been ousted in favour of wafer thin racing numbers.

The sense of pure purpose is carried over to the outside, where polycarbonate has replaced glass at every available opportunity and visible carbon-fibre air intakes, side sills, door mirrors and other accoutrements join forces with an optional fixed rear wing to add even more menace to the edgy design that blows the more organic F430 off the road. The carbon is left unpainted and although you’re unlikely to feel the few grammes difference out on the road, you can never be too sure…

The angular Gallardo was a revelation when it was launched: tighter, more compact and conservative than the overtly muscular and range-topping Murcielago yet all the better for it. Now, with a flash of tooth, it looks truly ripped without losing the subtle appeal that has made it a sales sensation largely responsible for the renaissance of the brand. Tightly packaged, muscular and with a sense of style, the Gallardo might just be the best looking sports car in the world right now and the mere accents of the Superleggera have only served to highlight its beauty, especially when it’s flashing past and burying its nose into the apex.

Throw the Gallardo into a bend late and hard and it still sticks like week-old pasta to the apex of the bend. Steering that simply felt telepathic has now hit a higher plane of consciousness and leaves race cars feeling woolly. Stiffer suspension and the harder sidewalls of the Corsas, compared to the standard P Zero tyres fitted to the Gallardo, means the early and gradual breakaway of the original car is now a thing of the past and the Superleggera feels an edgier beast at its outer limits.

ESP will mop up more or less any spill you care to make, with a mild rein allowed on the slides before the back is faithfully caught. The car still caught the slide even on blistered and worn tyres that were an inevitable result of hard charging on a rough and cut-up infield circuit together with a high speed section of the banked oval used by the good ol’ NASCAR boys.

Turning it off would provide for an altogether more entertaining experience, if you’re good enough, but the Superleggera takes a more skilled pair of hands and feet on opposite lock. Then again, if you’ve ordered the hardcore version that’s exactly what you should want as a shaved chimp could powerslide the base car through bends.

And the limits are now so much higher that the Gallardo has to be forced out of line in the first place and only the most determined driver would have to correct that sudden spurt of oversteer with a stab of throttle and hefty turn of opposite lock. On the road the new baby Lambo never comes close to losing its footing, even at speeds that would make the local news.

Thanks to a 530bhp engine it will blast to 60mph in 3.8s, 0.2s faster than the Gallardo, and that is a lot. And although the top end speed of 195mph remains unchanged its safe to say the new car will get there much faster.

And the raucous beat of an uptempo V10 is all the encouragement I needed to push the realms of sanity and my own personal freedom on the roads of Arizona. It’s a deeply satisfying roar, much louder than the original thanks to a lightweight exhaust that milks every last metallic rev.

The Lamborghini might not be as cultured as Ferrari’s offerings on the audio stakes, but the thuggish mechanised thrash of the Superleggera’s lightweight pipes would convert the deaf.

All the driver can do is drink in the noise and grab the rather cheap looking paddle-shift e-Gear system that is still a little jerky for some tastes yet walks an admirable line between usability and outright speed. In town the drivetrain shunts through the automatic downchanges in an aggressive, wincing fashion with irritated clunks and thumps coming from deep within the car. But the automatic option is by far the simplest choice for everyday use and much, much faster than real inputs on the track.

The only real chink in this car’s armour were the brakes carbon-ceramic brakes. More than once I nudged gently on the left-hand pedal on the approach to traffic lights before a nervous shove stood the car on its nose. The steel brakes would inevitably offer more feel and Lamborghini claim that the only advantage of the more expensive ceramics is they won’t fade under sustained track usage. As the Superleggera falls short of an out-and-out track car, it would be wise to leave the box unticked.

Let’s face it, with a 20 per cent price premium over the standard Gallardo the Superleggera is more than expensive enough as it is in any case. But more than 350 cars, the first year’s allocation, are already gone and there are those that clearly don’t care how much it costs. Those are the lucky few that make motoring decisions purely from the heart, just like driving at a jail bait speed along the Arizona roads – sometimes desire is all the justification you need.

Gallery: WCF Test Drive: Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera

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