Cigar Aficionado

Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder

A few pockets of snow survive in the shadows of spring, but the sun is shining and it's hard to resist rolling back the ragtopóespecially since it's on Lamborghini's new Gallardo Spyder. With the flip of a toggle switch, the canvas twists and folds like Italian origami. A crisp breeze flows through the cabin, and I tap a button marked start. The two-seater's big 5.0-liter V-10 screams to life with a roar loud enough to echo back from buildings a block away.

I reach for the shifter—a microsized "T" bar that looks as if it were lifted from the car in Barbie's garage—and a surge of torque snaps through the driveline. As the Spyder slides into traffic, I start to feel a wave of paranoia creeping over me. That might be because everyone around me is staring at the impossibly low and angular little roadster. The kid in the Mustang to my right nearly rear-ends another car at a stoplight.

The Gallardo is the little brother to Lamborghini's bigger and better-known sports car, the Murcielago. The new member of the family is a bit smaller. At "just 512" horsepower, it offers a little less performance. It also forgoes the signature Lamborghini gull-wing doors. That said, the Gallardo is blisteringly fast and boasts incredible visual stopping power.

Wending my way out towards the edge of town, I slip onto a quiet strip of tarmac and stomp on the accelerator pedal. The Gallardo could use a little more low-end torque, but as the tachometer swings up through 3,000 rpms, the engine is wailing like a race-car wannabe. Frenetically working the wheel-mounted paddle shifters, I sneak a peak down at the speedometer and realize I've nudged 140 without coming close to redline. With the engine pumping power to all four wheels, the roadster feels incredibly stable, almost glued to the road.

With the top down, the rush of wind and the blast of the engine are deafening. I bring my speed down to something less likely to cost me my license. Scanning the cockpit, I experience a brief sense of déjà vu. Though the gauges and toggle switches are distinctly Italian, the center stack—the climate and audio controls, as well as the large navigation screen—has been plucked off the shelf at Audi. The German automaker, itself a subsidiary of Volkswagen AG, acquired long-struggling Lamborghini in 1998. The Gallardo coupe and now the Spyder convertible version are curious amalgams of over-the-top Italian styling and German engineering.

That might trouble Lamborghini purists, but it does have some advantages. The Modenese manufacturer likely never would have gotten the Gallardo project in gear without the aid of its beneficent new parent. And there's now a measure of robustness and a sense of reliability that Lamborghinis were never known for.

The Gallardo Spyder is the automotive equivalent of an exhibitionist. This is the car for those who feel the need to stand out—and to look at the rest of the world through the rearview mirror.