Lamborghini Gallardo

For exotic car lovers, Lamborghini has always explored the outer limits of the high-end, performance automotive universe. Think of the Diablo or the Countach with its big tail wing and gull-wing doors or the more recent Lambo entry, the Murcielago. Lamborghini assures of two things: speed and the exaggerated styling that suggests it -- even at curbside. Most would describe it as "over the top." Yet the few who are lucky enough to drive one have no chance in the world of going unnoticed. They are big, brassy, in-your-face driving experiences that aren't for everybody. And all who ever drove a Lamborghini report that the stares of everyone -- especially women -- are inevitably drawn to the car as it sweeps by.

Be ready to shift your opinion of Lamborghini, even if it's just by a little bit, as it unveils an "entry level" car. The new Gallardo, set to hit American shores this winter, is smaller than a Murcielago and less flamboyant than its predecessors, but it gives up nothing to any exotic car on the road today. The specifications tell you all you need to know: a V-10, 40-valve engine that churns out an impressive 496 horsepower and turns in a 4.2-second 0-to-60 time. Its top speed, limited by the manufacturer, is listed at 192 miles an hour. Some new wrinkles are traceable to the company's acquisition by Audi a few years back. A new all-wheel-drive system can be equipped with a six-speed clutchless manual transmission that is paddle-shifted from the steering wheel. The Gallardo also comes with what's become a standard in the world of today's exotic cars: Brembo brakes and specially designed 19-inch Pirelli tires. What you will miss from the Murcielago is the gull-wing doors, long a feature of Lamborghinis.

The price tag, however, is pure Lamborghini at around $175,000. But that's nearly $50,000 less than the Ferrari Maranello 550 and about $100,000 less than the Murcielago. Both directly compete for the exotic car buyer. The ironic moniker, "entry-level" Lamborghini, with which the automotive press has tagged the Gallardo goes beyond describing the price tag as the car receives high marks for being much easier to drive than most Lamborghinis.

In short, this may be the breakthrough car for the venerated Italian automaker. It is a kind of everyman's Lamborghini, and is driver friendly enough to be taken out on the road every day, not just for weekend jaunts. Yes, it's a two-seater, and it is a true two-seater. No provisions are made in any form for a rear seat. But when you punch the accelerator or do a power downshift into a sharp hairpin, the roar of exhaust will tell you everything that you didn't already know about the power, and excitement, of the car.


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