Is the rear-wheel-drive Lamborghini Gallardo LP550-2 as fun to drive as its all-wheel-drive sibling? Ouseph Chacko finds out
Did someone say you can't drive a Lamborghini in India? Of course you can. All you need to do is find a stretch of tarmac that's 4.1sec long — that's all the time it takes for this LP 550-2 to bully its way to 100kph. 200kph? It's a mere 8.4sec more. Sure, hitting its 320kph top speed might be a bit more of a challenge, but then again, it's not top speed that's important here. What's important is that there is 542bhp in a car that weighs the same as a Renault Fluence. The day has just begun and I am eager to find out.
There are no fancy buttons to wake the V10, just an ex-Audi key to twist, and with that action comes a brief burst of high-frequency starter wail, the engine catches with a naughty thrrrrump of revs then settles to an even idle.
Pull the right paddle and give it some throttle — the Gallardo seems inappropriately meek at first. With the six-speed, single-clutch e-gear transmission in Auto, it feels no more an animal.The engine is quiet, the gears shift smoothly and the V10 is buttery smooth.
At 4000rpm, the until-now-subdued exhaust note hardens and gives you your morning hit of adrenaline as the 5.2-litre direct-injection V10 tears to its 8200rpm rev limiter in first. It gets there so quick, you need to be on high alert not to run it against that limiter. Tug the right paddle for second. There's a deliberate pause and that robotised clutch thumps back in with all the gentleness of The Hulk patting you on the back.
The thing is this hill road doesn't have straights long enough to allow you more than a bit of third gear. But even this is enough to get a feel of the ferocity of the V10. For starters, you don't want to get too brave. So downshift, turn in, feed the brute with a bit more throttle than the last corner, feel around, push a bit harder through each turn and see what happens as you approach the limits of its Pirelli P-Zeros.
This Gallardo is the first series-production rear-wheel-drive Lamborghini since the Diablo SV, so maybe there is a bit of that old devil in here. We have to find out.
Now, removing the front driveshafts means the 550-2 weighs 30kg less than the 560-4 and has 10bhp less as well. It means weight distribution is now a rear-biased 43-57. So the LP550-2 feels lighter and more agile, especially the steering which, without the mechanicals and weight of the front drive, is lighter and more textured.
But the steering feels curiously inert around the straight-ahead position, and it only wakes up when you really push it hard. It is nowhere as sharp or as quick as say, a Ferrari 458, and that's a disappointment. Still, there's plenty of grip from the fat 295/30 R19 rear tyres and when you enter a corner too hot, understeer sets in. Gently lifting off the throttle will tuck it back in line.
Push harder and it becomes obvious that the LP 550-2 is not as foolproof as the regular all-wheel-drive LP560-4, but neither is it a complete handful. There's good front-end bite and clear communication through the steering. And when you deliberately give it a bootful (with the ESP off) the rear breaks away progressively and with nice balance. There are two issues that need mentioning — the first is with the brakes. They feel spongy — there's no bite initially as the pedal travels through some free play. And then they bite, suddenly, making them hard to modulate. Once past this initial nothingness though, stopping power is tremendous and you do get used to it after some time. The other issue is with the stiff spring rates. When you're really going for it, the car gets kicked around quite a bit so you can never relax.
The other side to the Gallardo is that it feels compact and surprisingly easy to manage among jostling taxis — the wide rear view mirrors and the rear window give you a reasonably clear view of who's chasing you with a camera phone. It doesn't feel intimidating and is rather easy to drive in tight traffic too. Which brings us to its ground clearance — it isn't as bad as it looks. The front suspension has a raise function that lifts the car's nose to clear speedbreakers and bad roads, and the short wheelbase helps too.
What's also surprising is how well-built and solid this Gallardo feels, right from the thunk you get when you shut the conventional doors. The interiors are really high quality. The cabin is easy to use, allowing you to get on with driving, rather than worrying about where a switch is and if it will work.
The estimated post-budget price of the Gallardo LP 550-2 is Rs. 2.4 Crore (ex-showroom, Delhi), which is Rs. 15 lakh cheaper than the LP 560-4. Should you pick one over its four-wheel drive sibling? Well, the 560-4 feels more planted and offers extraordinary all-weather traction, and you can see the sense in that, given the state of our roads.
What this rear-wheel-drive car offers is a combination of more feel-some controls, better balance and greater exhilaration and that makes it extra special. Also, it may not be as precise or refined a weapon as its direct rival from Ferrari, but what the LP 550-2 lacks in ultimate accuracy, it makes up for by serving-up spades of old-school thrill.