THE problem with the new Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder - a 512-hp, 190-mph exercise in visual villainy, a brutal cubist collage of wings and scoops and louvers to which environmentally sensitive people react like roaches sprayed with Raid - is, of course, it's too subtle.
Why else would Lambo paint such a car the color of our tester? Officially the hue is known as Verde Picus, which sounds positively pastoral whatever it is, but in real life the color is like irradiated tennis balls or tree frogs left overnight in a blender. Perhaps it's a form of subliminal suggestion. This is the only sense in which the 14-mile-per-gallon Lambo could be considered green.
Verde Picus is one of two special colors offered to celebrate the 2007 Spyder, the new open-cockpit version of the Gallardo coupe. The other is called Celeste Phoebe, which happens to be the most outrageously poncy shade of baby blue this side of Gainsborough. Is Lambo trying to get its buyers beat up at recess?
FOR THE RECORD: Lamborghini review: A review of the 2007 Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder in last week's Highway 1 section incorrectly referred to the upright areas behind the doors as the A-pillars. Those are the B-pillars. -
With all respect to the automaker's color stylists, the car is plenty noticeable enough. Impossibly low, implausibly wide and comprising more angles than Euclid's "Elements," the Gallardo Spyder hovers just above the road like some unholy aluminum planchette. What awaits my driver's license, oh asphalt Ouija Board? R-E-V-O-C-A-T-I-O-N.
I suppose if I tied a naked Giselle Bündchen to the hood I could attract more attention, and of course I'm willing to try. But this car screams to be noticed. I drove past a public tennis court and all four balls-in-play bounced to the fences while the stunned players gawked in amazement. Teenagers quivered at the sight of the car as if they were going to lose control of something important. I spent all week caught up in conversations with well-meaning strangers who wanted to know how much (as tested, $224,167), how fast (194 mph with the top up, and 190 mph with the top down) and how many (600 Spyders annually worldwide). And now we know the answer to the burning question: What would Dale Carnegie drive?
Quite a few of these conversations took place at gas stations, where the car required constant libation. I'm not sure but the Spyder may have the least range of any car I've ever tested, burning through its 21 gallons of onboard primo at a rate as low as 6 to 8 mpg. Yes, Lamborghini is Italian - so was Nero's fiddle.
All this attention is something of a mixed blessing, since chances are, drivers are not going to be looking their best. Go ahead, use the best military-grade mousse you can find. After a day of high-energy physics in the Spyder, your coiffure is going to be swirled like soft-serve ice cream.
That's because, of course, the top goes down, though not as neatly nor as compactly as that of the Spyder's archrival, the Ferrari F430 Spider (there is a long and not-very-interesting explanation of the spyder/spider thing). The Ferrari's top accordion-folds more or less vertically behind the seats, retaining the window in the bonnet for that engine-under-glass look.
The Lambo Spyder sacrifices the (optional) transparent engine cover to the ragtop's design. At the touch of a button, the rear glass and windows retract, the roof buttresses fold up, the headliner detaches, and the carbon-fiber engine cover slides back and pivots up. Once the engine hatch is fully open, the folded canvas roof stows itself in a shallow compartment over the engine.
The process takes about 20 seconds coming and going, though with the noisy machinations of the top's hydraulic cylinders, actuators and augering electric motor, it's like 20 seconds in a Rube Goldberg cartoon. As the engine cover seats itself again, the rear glass rises to serve as a wind break. Like the Ferrari, the Gallardo Spyder is reinforced around the windshield pillars, doors and B-pillars (the upright area behind the doors). Unlike the Ferrari, the Lambo has pop-up roll bars that launch themselves into place if the car senses an incipient rollover.
For all this droptop-specific hardware, the Gallardo pays a heavy toll in weight, gaining 308 pounds (10%) over the coupe version. The Ferrari Spider gains half that - 155 pounds.
To compensate, Lambo has upped the amperage of the car's 5.0-liter, 10-cylinder stroker engine, now putting out 512 hp at 8,000 rpm (up 19 hp from last year, and 22 more than the F430), and 376 pound-feet of torque at 4,250 rpm. Additionally, Lambo has dropped the gear ratios in the six-speed transmission, which can be had with a conventional gated shifter or - like our test car - with a paddle-shifted "e-gear" with an electro-hydraulic clutch.
The shorter gear ratios (first gear is 27% lower than before) are supposed to give the car more off-the-line punch. And yet, like a lot of high-performance all-wheel-drive cars, the hole-shot performance is a little boggy.
It takes a particularly cruel streak to get a decent launch in the Gallardo. To wit: Switch on the Sport mode, which raisies the redline and stiffens the adjustable suspension. Switch off the Electronic Stability Program, a suite of functions including traction control and anti-lock brakes. Pump the rpm to about four grand and pull the paddle-shifter into first. Grit your teeth. With a frightful slurring moan the clutch engages and the car will kick you in the backside like a bad daddy in one of Pat Conroy's novels - Wham! - then proceed to twist the tach needle off its spindle, to over 8,000-plus rpm.
As the tach crosses about 4,500 rpm, the variable-geometry intake opens up and some crazy valve flips over in the exhaust. The formerly muted note of the smut-pipe instantly changes to a bellicose, heathen howl, an aural obscenity that sounds exactly like a '50s-era air raid siren. Duck and cover!
Ka-wang! Second gear sees you across the 60 mph threshold in 4.3 seconds, says the company (though I never managed to finesse such a start). Once full on the boil, the Spyder just flat out hauls keister. It's awesome, and I don't use the word casually. When people see the Lambo in their rearview mirror they freak out and swerve like it's the 512 Horsemen of the Apocalypse coming for them.
At speeds in excess of 80 mph the rear wing deploys - a helpful telltale that saves law-enforcement officials the bother of using a radar gun.
The one-word description of the Spyder at full honk: Windy. Man was not meant to travel so fast in the open air unless he is bailing out of a burning P-51 Mustang.
Is it as fast as the Ferrari? Not quite as quick, but certainly the cars' standing-mile times are within fractions of each other.
Does it handle as well as the Ferrari? No. The F430 is the best-handling street car in the world, a car with otherworldly reflexes, light and perfectly weighted steering accurate to the ninth decimal point, and - thanks to its "e-diff" that overdrives the outside rear wheel when you throttle through a corner - the most neutral and secure 1-g cornering known to man.
The Lambo is obviously an awesome cornering machine, but at the limit it can't seem to quite make up its mind if it wants to understeer or oversteer. With 58% of its weight on the rear axle, it wants to go tail-out, it really does. If you can manage to waggle the car into a tail-out (oversteer) posture around the corner, the second you put down the power the all-wheel-drive system (with limited slip differentials front and rear) pulls the rear end back into line.
Of course, out on the canyons where it's easy to run out of road, it's stupid to really hammer a car with so much grip, and I'm sure I left some cornering performance on the table.
Around town, the Spyder's super-stiff double-wishbone suspension and no-profile 19-inch Pirellis (235/35 front and 295/30 rear) are about as flexible as Rumsfeld's neck, and the car's jarring, head-tossing ride compliance is just one of those made-for-love sacrifices.
Other complaints: the Auto mode for the e-gear transmission is slow and herky-jerky. Our test car had a balky seat belt retractor. And when it rained, any time I opened the door water streamed onto my leg. I expected more of the Germans (Audi now owns Lamborghini). In the old days, Lambo's answer to the roof runoff problem would have been: Signore, donna drive ess in the rain!
The vorpal-bladed Lambo Spyder goes snicker-snack, that's for sure. But is it right for you? Are you loud and abrasive, a showoff, even a little obnoxious? (I'm sorry, Dr. Phil, I've already called on you.) Are you pathologically gregarious? Do you need attention like nobody's business?
If so, have I got a car, and a color, for you.
Automotive critic Dan Neil can be reached at email@example.com.