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Car of the Year 2004: Lamborghini Gallardo

Robert Ross

The Lamborghini Gallardo is my hands-down “Car of the Year” winner, simply because it does its job as a sports car so well—and its beauty seals the deal. The styling is fresh and new, not a hackneyed retro-pastiche or a caricature such as Ferrari’s Game Boy Enzo. Those Audi-phobic detractors claiming that Italian heritage is forsaken should take note that the Gallardo was initially designed by Giugiaro.

 

The design is coherent, with details such as bumpers, wheel arches, lights, and glass that are seamlessly integrated into the whole. Other manufacturers should take a lesson here. The Gallardo’s interior is comfortable and commodious; its expansive windshield and Dumbolike side mirrors offer superb vision; and ingress and egress are a breeze without the theatrics of scissor doors. Fit and finish finally approach the quality of its Teutonic parent Audi, which is good news for customers tired of enduring the characteristic eccentricities of Italian cars.

When parked next to Lamborghini’s Murciélago, the Gallardo’s dimensions are clearly smaller, more sensible, and more refined; big brother Murciélago, like its Diablo predecessor, is simply too wide and unwieldy for real-world use, as was Ferrari’s Testarossa. But the Gallardo is just right, and despite its radical shape and low height, the car feels good in traffic and on narrow roads. This is a car that can be used every day.

Of course, the pleasure of the Gallardo is in the driving, and one word sums up the experience: balance. The midship-mounted engine—normally aspirated and bereft of turbo-lag shenanigans—delivers ample horsepower and torque on call, punctuated by a unique and satisfying V-10 soundtrack. Abetted by all-wheel drive, the Gallardo is docile and in-town friendly, but make no mistake, the car morphs into a monster when provoked.

Our car featured Lamborghini’s e-Drive transmission, an electronic paddle-shift affair that worked better than most in manual mode, but still delivered jarring and inelegant upshifts and downshifts in automatic. Call me a Luddite, but the 6-speed manual gearbox is much better—not to mention more fun—so prospective buyers should not forsake the traditional gated shifter for the latest technology. I suspect—based on having driven a stick a few hundred miles—that the Gallardo would have been our winner had the 6-speed been available to the rest of our team.

Transmission preferences notwithstanding, the Gallardo is my favorite new car. Imagine a Porsche C4S with gobs of extra power, better front/rear weight distribution, and a makeover that transformed it from the car next door to a runway model. Not least of all, every automobile from Lamborghini must be considered in the context of Ferrari, its crosstown rival, whose cars have for so long defined what an exotic sports and GT car should be. The Gallardo is, in some ways, the most important Lamborghini since the first 350GT of the mid-1960s. With that car, Ferruccio Lamborghini and his brilliant team demonstrated their ability to design and manufacture a GT that was superior to any of Ferrari’s contemporary offerings. For the first time since then, it can be argued that a Lamborghini betters its Ferrari counterpart, in this case the 360 Modena, on almost every count. Ferraristi voodooists may wish to drive the baby bull before lancing my effigy. The Gallardo is a spectacular automobile.
 

“The steering, sound, and styling are great. You walk up to it, and it speaks to you. Inside, it feels like you’re in a jet. It’s a car with character. I want one.”  —Ron Jackson

“You could absolutely use the Gallardo as a daily driver. The seats are comfortable, the switches are intuitive, and who ever heard of functional dual-zone climate control in a Lamborghini?” —Fluto Shinzawa

Specifications
Engine 5.0-liter V-10
Power 493 hp at 7,800 rpm
Torque 376 ft lbs at 4,500 rpm
Zero-to-60 time 4.2 seconds
Top speed 192 mph
Transmission 6-speed manual or automatic,
 or with paddle shifters
Wheelbase 100.8 inches
Curb weight 3,152 pounds
Base price $165,900

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