x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

A gallant effort

Kevin Hacket wonders how Lamborghini will top their new and astounding Gallardo Superleggera.

Ferruccio Lamborghini was obsessed with bullfighting; Gallardo is the name of a breed of fighting bull and is Spanish for 'gallant'.
Ferruccio Lamborghini was obsessed with bullfighting; Gallardo is the name of a breed of fighting bull and is Spanish for 'gallant'.

As a motoring journalist, there's an inevitable stage where you become less excited than you once were about the job. It sounds a bit feeble, I know, but no matter what you do for a living, a sense of sameness can't help but creep in. However, every once in a while, a car comes along that awakens the big kid within me - a car that quickens my pulse when the launch invitation lands in my inbox. And the prospect of driving a new Lamborghini - well any Lamborghini, actually - makes me a bit giddy. This is what reminds me why I do what I do.

Not that I have my blinkers on, you understand. I mean, if any car has its faults, I won't think twice about laying them bare - that's the responsibility of any unbiased journalist. But there's not much to dislike about the supercars that rumble out of Sant'Agata these days - they're well built, reliable, stupendously fast and still manage to stun onlookers with their shock-and-awe styling. And for hard-core driving enthusiasts, this new Gallardo is the one to get excited about: the - deep breath - Gallardo LP 570-4 Superleggera.

The ordinary (could any Lambo be "ordinary"?) Gallardo is pretty much the perfect supercar. It's dynamic and exciting to drive but it's also extremely easy to extract its considerable talents, even if you're a fairly inexperienced driver. It's razor-sharp, cleaner and lighter than ever before and I ache to own one with every fibre of my being. So as a starting point, it must have been extremely difficult for Lamborghini to make it more focused and, ultimately, more thrilling to drive.

Superleggera (say "sooperledgerra") means lightweight. The LP in its nomenclature tells the informed that the engine is mounted sideways (Longitudinale) and behind the driver (Posteriore). The 570 is its power output in metric horsepower, the 4 indicates that it's four-wheel drive - simple, eh? As a standard car, the Gallardo is not exactly flabby, but this new Superleggera tips the scales at just 1,340kg. And if you think that still sounds like a lot, just consider that the diminutive Porsche Boxster weighs 16kg more.

Lamborghini has invited a fortunate few journalists to Seville in southern Spain for a first drive and, as the home of Spanish bullfighting, it's a fitting venue. The company's founder, Ferruccio Lamborghini, was obsessed with the sport, featuring a stampeding bull on his company logo and Lamborghini has named practically every car, from the Miura on, after breeds of bulls or things to do with the sport. Gallardo is the name of a breed of fighting bull and is Spanish for "gallant".

I don't feel particularly gallant, standing in the harsh morning sunshine at the brilliant racetrack where I'm about to do battle with this lime-green monster. But taking a few minutes to pore over its every surface, it's easy to see where Lamborghini has been busy shaving off the kilos here. There's carbon fibre addenda aplenty - it's used to make the flat undertray, the side sills, the rear diffuser and wing, the air intakes, the door mirror housings and engine cover. The side windows and the clear panel through which the mighty V10 is visible are fashioned from polycarbonate, while the wheels are forged aluminium with titanium wheelnuts.

Inside the Superleggera, it's a similar story: carbon fibre overload. The doors are skinned with the stuff, the seats are made of it, as are the transmission tunnel, the hand brake lever, the steering wheel and the instrument binnacle. It can get a bit much, the pattern of its weave sending your eyes into spasms if you stare at it long enough. Mind you, I doubt I'll be spending much time checking out my surroundings once I get onto that track. The seriousness of intent is highlighted by the absence of a stereo or satnav and the Alcantara-covered, non-adjustable seats come with four-point racing harnesses. Serious stuff.

I take an imaginary gallantry pill, strap myself in, fire up the V10 that's behind my head and edge nervously onto the track. I've driven here a number of times but never in anything like this, so a few familiarising laps are called for I think, before I unleash hell. First impressions? The automated manual transmission that Lamborghini calls "e.gear" has improved to no end over the previous Superleggera I drove this time three years ago. In normal mode it's smooth in operation with none of the agricultural clunkiness that marred what was otherwise a truly brilliant car. The steering, too, seems invisibly connected to your cerebral cortex, conveying every nuance, every surface undulation.

With the layout of the circuit familiar once more and the car seeming to beg to be driven much harder, it's time to open the taps and get the tyres smoking. At the end of a long, arrow-straight section, there's a 90-degree, right-hand turn. I approach it so fast I daren't check the speedo, because I'm hard on the carbon ceramic brakes, selecting second gear and yanking the wheel on a right lock. With the corner dispatched, it's back on the gas, and the car explodes forwards in a furious rage, the front tyres scrabbling for traction and overcoming the tail's natural tendency to swing outward. Thanks to four-wheel drive, I'm still pointing in the right direction.

The V10 is making sounds like Pavarotti in full swing, encouraging more bravery. So I power onwards, foot flat on the throttle through a couple of gentle sweepers to the next sharp corner. Back into second gear, hard on the brakes before another priceless moment of catapult acceleration. The four-point harness, which I initially dismissed as unnecessary, is doing a fine job of keeping me pinned into my seat. Which means I'm not distracted for a split-second from the job in hand.

Before I know it, my time is up and I have to return so another journalist can go scare himself silly. But I know that in half an hour, once the adrenalin has subsided, I'll be back out for another six laps or so. A few of us gather together to compare notes and we all agree that this is a car that keeps its driver informed like no other. The levels of communication it provides through the palms of your hands and the seat of your pants is, frankly, staggering.

It's my turn again and I decide to fiddle around with the transmission modes. First up is Sport, and this makes the Superleggera even more brutal. No more refined gear changes here, replaced by a vicious jolt every time I change up or down. It's pure race car, this, and the shift times are even faster. In Corsa mode, the engine delivers as much acceleration as you can cope with and allows more slip from the rear tyres, but the intuitive four-wheel-drive transmission thankfully never allows things to get totally out of hand.

Once again, I find myself revelling in the heavenly racket, made all the more apparent by the stripped-out, carbon interior. Now and again the sound of screeching from the tortured Pirellis makes itself known and I realise, if I hadn't already, that this truly is an all-time great. I take every opportunity to get back out there, with each lap becoming more enjoyable, more hair-raising than the last.

At the end of the day, my legs are shaking, heart thumping and I feel drained but exhilarated and desperately sad to hand back the keys. As a road car, the standard Gallardo obviously makes (a little) more sense, but this is possibly the very best of both worlds. It's a hard-core nutcase that's for sure, but for heart-stopping thrills in the relative safety of all-wheel-drive traction, it doesn't get much better than this at any price. This Gallardo is one bull that will take years to tame. How on earth will they manage to top this? motoring@thenational.ae