Feature: Miami Vice
The return flight from Miami to Los Angeles, populated by a predictably stereotypical and colorful cross section of travelers, seemed interminable. Having spent the previous day hammering the Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder, I was exhausted and hardly in the mood for a 4:30 am ride to the airport. Takeoff was delayed, and once the plane was in the air, a polyglot cacophony raged, parrotlike, for the duration of the five-hour journey. Amid the clucking and screeching, I pressed my headphones flat to my head and reveled in the fantasy of deafening the featherless birdbrains with the wail of a Gallardo engine at sustained redline. Ordinarily I am not enamored of the V-10 sound. Trucklike and off-key, the squat lumps shoehorned into rocket ships such as the Viper, Carrera GT, and BMW M cars are formidable but somehow fail to satisfy one all-important component of the driving experience: the soundtrack.
The Lamborghini Gallardo has soundtrack galore, proving an exception to the V-10 rule, and if the Coupé is symphonic in a Beethovenian sense, the Spyder is Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand. Rich and sonorous, its timbre sharpens to a razor’s edge as the tach races toward 8,000 rpm, and because the sound is so seductive, you run the engine up to redline over and over again.
With the Gallardo Spyder, Lamborghini has indeed orchestrated a winner. It is no secret that the Gallardo Coupé is number one in my book as the most desirable two-seater for realistic use on real-world roads, and everything exceptional about the Coupé is carried over to the Spyder, with a few extras thrown in for good measure.
What’s exceptional, of course, is the 5-liter, 520 hp aluminum V-10, which develops nearly the same output as the V-12 powering Lamborghini’s flagship Murciélago. The four-cam, 40-valve, normally aspirated engine is tucked longitudinally and midships, right behind the driver’s spacious cockpit. Two transmissions are available: a 6-speed manual gearbox or a paddle-controlled sequential shift system called e.gear, which is on par with similar units that Ferrari and Maserati offer. Though it requires some practice to master, e.gear is relatively user-friendly, delivering ferociously fast gear changes in Sport mode, while the fully automatic mode offers a respite from paddle operation in stop-and-go traffic.
Both the Gallardo Coupé and Spyder are among the world’s most structurally advanced automobiles; parent Audi has leveraged its expertise in aluminum applications in fabricating the space frame chassis, double-wishbone front and rear suspension, and body panels. Torsional stiffness is apparent in a rattle- and flex-free ride; the Spyder has additional reinforcement in the sills and A-pillars and is a model of structural integrity in the convertible world. And aluminum construction pays dividends with a fairly respectable dry weight of less than 3,500 pounds.
Electronics oversee the Spyder’s superb handling and braking dynamics, presenting an alphabet soup of systems at one’s service. Anti-dive and anti-squat brains maintain linearity and stability; the electronic stabilization program (ESP), traction control (TC), ABS with electronic brake force distribution, and automatic brake differential (ABD) all conspire to keep less-expert drivers from sending the Gallardo Spyder to the aluminum can recycling center. Massive brakes—Brembo, naturally—with 8-piston calipers in front and 4-piston units at the rear provide additional insurance. Wheels, an attractive five-spoke affair, are 19-inch front and rear, shod with Pirelli PZero rubber. Despite its high-tech accoutrements, this Lamborghini is unencumbered by all its Orwellian overseers. The power-assisted steering provides precision feedback, handling is neutral overall—with slight understeer going into turns—and while racecar responsive (experienced firsthand on the track), the ride is so comfortable that it could almost be termed luxurious.
Driving time was divided between long stretches of highway in the vicinity of Key Largo and Homestead-Miami Speedway, a favorite track of NASCAR fans, a raucous few of whom evidently were on the plane ride home. Regular contributor Winston Goodfellow and I teamed up in a frosty white 6-speed with tan top, though my designer antennae quickly zeroed in on two special colors new for the Spyder, a baby blue called Celeste Phoebe and a creamy pistachio green called Verde Picus. Nobody does color like Lamborghini, and the company earns praise for breaking out of the silver, gray, black, and—if you’re lucky—red mold of other manufacturers. But color is immaterial from behind the wheel and on the track, and that is precisely where the Gallardo Spyder proved to be far more than a pretty poseur. Advantages of the Spyder’s permanent four-wheel drive—normally distributed 30 percent in the front and 70 percent in the rear—became abundantly clear at speed and through turns. The grip and composure that the all-wheel drive and ESP afford were reassuring when entering and exiting corners at high speed. As a Porsche purist who has waffled in the Carrera 2 versus Carrera 4 debate (ultimately settling in the Carrera 4 camp), I found that the Gallardo Spyder feels rather like a Porsche with a bigger engine, which is a good thing. Lapping behind an instructor’s lead Gallardo, I could keep up in the manually equipped Spyder; a change to an e.gear car slowed lap times because of my unfamiliarity with the system. A ride with the same instructor affirmed the efficacy of the paddle-shift system, and I have no doubt that after a few days of practice, I would consider it my preferred transmission.
On the track’s banks and straights, and on the long, flat stretches of Florida’s highways, the car is wickedly quick (zero to 60 mph in about four seconds), its speed embellished by the wail of the Gallardo’s unique V-10. Runs through the gears were tempered only by the thought of Florida jails and the state’s predilection for a good execution.
Supercar prowess aside, the defining characteristic of this Lamborghini is its canvas top. It is a one-button affair (available in black, blue, gray, and beige) that raises or lowers in about 20 seconds, stowing away invisibly beneath a carbon-fiber hood that, regrettably, hides the beautiful engine from view. The trade-off is the convertible experience and clean lines, and a cockpit free of buffeting, thanks to a vertical rear window that can be raised to double as an effective wind deflector. The car is rakish and handsome with the top lowered, cutting a profile that appears resolved and uncompromised, unlike so many convertibles that look like blowtorched hardtops butchered for the sake of a little sun. When the roof is raised, the soft-top’s flying buttresses are old-fashioned and fussy, a trait shared with Ferrari’s F430 Spider and BMW 6 Series convertibles. Here, one imagines a more elegant solution.
A comparison between the Gallardo Spyder and the Ferrari F430 is obvious and will elicit strong opinions from marque acolytes. More-objective drivers justly will heap accolades on both. The Ferrari possesses provenance, singularity of purpose, and a race-derived power train, but its rear-wheel drive will bite inexperienced handlers, while the Gallardo’s four-wheel drive ensures tenacious but forgiving roadholding. Looks are subjective: The F-car is soft, flowing, and slightly amorphous; the Lamborghini’s far-forward cockpit and hard-edged, aggressive shape is, to some, the more successful styling exercise. Both are well made, with a nod in the Lamborghini’s direction for fit and finish. Bells and whistles include high-end entertainment, a video rear-view camera, and an optional navigation/computer system.
Lamborghini is to be commended for incorporating a lift system that amply raises the front end of the automobile to negotiate driveways and other preidentified obstacles in the road. Why other marques fail to offer this feature even as an option is mystifying, and it is a deal-breaker for those who cringe when car and pavement meet.
One can customize the Spyder through the Privilegio program, which offers some Miami Vice–like paint, interior leather and stitching options, lots of carbon fiber, wheel and brake caliper colors, and other details. Exclusivity is ensured, as Lamborghini will allocate only 550 Gallardo Spyders, priced from $201,400, worldwide in 2006 (along with 600 Coupés, priced from $181,400). Of the Spyders, 350 have been earmarked for the United States, and predictably, all have been sold. As per the F-car world, order now and embrace the virtue of patience.
Meanwhile, the flamboyant Lamborghini got me thinking that if those 1980s candy-colored cops who chased Miami’s cocaine cowboys needed a ride today, they could not do better than a pastel Spyder with tropical-colored interior and contrasting stitching. I, for one, am addicted.