x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Less roof, more speed

The convertible Lamborghini lost weight, added horsepower and became even faster.

The 0-to-100kph sub- four second Lamborghini Gallardo LP570-4 Performante is faster in a straight line than the Superleggera, and will turn into corners much harder.
The 0-to-100kph sub- four second Lamborghini Gallardo LP570-4 Performante is faster in a straight line than the Superleggera, and will turn into corners much harder.

Somehow, over a cafe macchiato, some of Lamborghini's ideas men decided that what the world really needed right now was a roofless version of Sant'Agata's stripped-out, light Gallardo Superleggera. And that's about all you need to know to understand what Lamborghini has built with the Gallardo LP570-4 Performante.

Although that's oversimplifying a stupendously fast, 324kph convertible, it's not oversimplifying it by much. Lamborghini has shred a full 65kg from the Gallardo Spyder's frame and added 10 horsepower.

The Superleggera themes keep coming, because it saved 13kg just by fitting the Superleggera's alloy wheels, saved some more by using its titanium wheel nuts and wheel bearings, then slapped carbon- fibre on the inner door skins and the transmission tunnel.

It doesn't matter, though, that the formula is simple because the result is pure, unadulterated, visceral speed and sound and fury.

And, for people prepared to live with a few compromises, it's a demonstrably better, faster and more agile car than the standard version.

It's not just faster in a straight line, though that's impressive enough because it's a sub-four second car to 100kph, provided you can eke a cracking launch out of the all-wheel-drive system. What's really impressive is how much harder it will turn in to corners on the Superleggera's super-sticky Pirelli PZero Corsa tyres and how much less the handling is effected by the high-mounted weight of its folding roof system.

The Performante feels like it can be thrown into corners far harder, far more aggressively and at far higher speeds than the standard Gallardo Spyder. Although the higher centre of gravity is never a great thing, the Performante cures any misgivings you might have about its ability to bite hard on turn-in to any corner or, especially, the trustworthiness of its handling on fast direction changes.

Now with carbon-ceramic brakes standard, the Performante will haul down from high speed as though it's trying to crush the stones beneath its 19-inch, 235/35 front tyres. And then, the instant you release the brake pedal, it will yaw as hard as your bravery will allow - and, critically, without any hints of having a lump of roofing matter sitting high and proud above the engine.

And then, once you've edged the nose into the apex, the carbon-silled body will sit there, level, while the superb damping rates sort out the mid-corner bumps and the weight shifts to the outside rear as you pick up the throttle again.

It's a brilliant piece of chassis engineering that belies the unhelpful combination of lessened rigidity and compromised roll centre that inevitably comes with convertibles.

It helps that, at 1,485kg, the Performante weighs about the same as a c-segment sedan, but with 570hp on tap at 8,000rpm.

It's still a difficult car to launch, even though the Performante only comes with Lamborghini's e-gear paddle-shift system. The trouble comes only because the viscous-coupled, all-wheel drive has so much traction that the only slip in the system usually comes from the clutch. The way around that is obviously launch control, but that feels so brutal and obviously unsympathetic that you couldn't bring yourself to do it every day.

There's more than enough torque and clutch slip in normal driving or even normal fast driving, but you'll need to switch into Corsa mode for the fastest starts, especially if you don't want to be left behind as the engine wallows down beneath its 6,500rpm torque peak. The direct-fuel injection means there's plenty of torque beneath that, and it's a superbly flexible machine and one that lends itself to the short-shifting that lets drivers eke mountains of speed from the chassis without alerting or frightening the passengers.

But swing into full attack mode and the Performante rallies to the cause in a way the Spyder simply cannot match. The full sound and fury of the shorter exhausts and the deep, warbling V10 with its dual-plane crank is even-more intense in the Performante than it is in the Superleggera and, with the roof down, there's just nowhere to escape its calculated violence.

It's a simpler place inside, too, with the door skins and the transmission-tunnel housing replaced by sheets of moulded carbon-fibre, while the deeply-bucketed seats are also light, stiff, carbon-fibre units, clad in Alcantara.

It retains some of the luxuries, too, including a proper stereo and satellite navigation, but the seats lack the lumbar support for long driving. Besides, the car's fuel consumption limits its range anyway.

There are some cringe-worthy bits here, though, including the red, white and green decals on the engine cover and the black racing stripes on the bonnet. Lamborghini will shed them, of course, but it will cost you.

The curious thing isn't how the Performante performs, because it does everything you expect it to do and it is everything you expect it to be. The really interesting thing will be how it sells.

Usually, convertible buyers, even convertible Lamborghini buyers, like a bit more comfort than coupe buyers are prepared to accept. That's largely because convertibles are necessarily a bit softer anyway, so they don't attract an ownership that's as hard-driving as you find at the tyre-shredding end of the coupe market.

Lamborghini is trying hard to tip that on its head. The vehicle might nearly be ready for the job, but are the customers?