On track and off, the new Gallardo powers up, takes off and lifts driving to new heights. When my automotive friends, a.k.a. the troublemakers, heard that I was interviewing a big hooha from Lamborghini, as well spending some quality time with the new Gallardo both on the track and off, I actually got a bit of fashion advice.
''Of course you'll need to wear a pink shirt, unbuttoned halfway down your chest with lots of gold chains,'' one said, laughing hysterically. I wasn't sure if they were kidding or not. After all, that big hooha, actually Ehran Bragg, manager for Lamborghini North America, might have been talking to them. He described the typical Lamborghini customer this way: ''Lamborghini clientele is typically newer money. They are highly individualistic people.'' Suddenly, I felt very silly having a shred of attraction toward the new Gallardo, which has been on sale since May. But the Gallardo is not the ostentatious Countach, nor is is the svelte, but long-tailed Murcielago. No, this is a baby Lambo, named for one of the five breeds of fighting bulls. Aside from the smaller price ($282,000 for the V-12-powered Murcielago vs a mere $185,000 for the Gallardo), the baby Bull has all the lines that its bigger sibling has, but with more natural proportions. The Murcielago seems too big for a two-seater; the Gallardo seems just right. Built of an aluminum space frame, with front and rear double-wishbone suspension, the vehicle has all-wheel-drive and 5-liter, 40-valve, V-10 that produces 500 horsepower and 376 foot-pounds of torque. A six-speed manual or an optional six-speed sequential manual transmission are available. Oh, and curb weight? 3,560 pounds. Fast? Incredibly. It satisfies one's most carnal urges. Climb downward through the normal-opening doors. (The scissors-action doors are reserved for the pricier Murcielago.) The thin bucket seats have the expected aggressive side bolsters, and are as soft as a park bench, but accomplish their task. In this car, supporting the driver in aggressive maneuvers takes precedence over cushy comfort. The driving position is typically Italian. That means your knees point skyward and your arms are stretched out. Still, for the long-legged like yours truly, this is a very tight fit. But it's worth it. Twist the key and listen to the promise that only 10 cylinders planted ahead of the rear axle, but behind the seats, can offer. Lamborghini designed unique engine management systems to deliver 80 percent of the engine's power at just 1,500 rpm. How does that translate? Actually, you can feel your eyes plaster themselves into the rear of your skull as you launch. The sublime engine noise is just behind your head, making for a wonderful symphony. The g-forces are strong, pinning your shoulders back forcefully. (Thankfully, the g-forces do not prevent a grin from taking over your face.) Kick off the shifts and hold on tight. This is one ride that's more fun than anything at Disney World. The power comes on quick and hard. There's nothing remotely subtle here. The bull loves to charge quickly, with hard, fast shifts. Push hard, and up to 70 percent of the power heads rearward. Lose traction and up to half of the power flows to the front. With all-wheel-drive and a host of electronic nannies, losing grip isn't an option, unless you push this bull to the max. In corners, the Gallardo just hangs on tight, even as it reaches its amazingly high, super-car limits. Steering is gratifyingly quick. Large roof pillars obstruct the view, but give this car an unbelievably solid feel. But, while any automaker can tune a car to do well at the track, driving around town is another matter. Considering its stellar track performance, t's surprising how nicely this car drives around town. Putter at 90 mph down your favorite pock-marked back road, and the suspension is incredibly forgiving for a car that handles so well on a track. Its ride is firm, but it won't displace vertebrae, your kidneys will remain intact and you'll have a newfound appreciation for the Gallardo's tremendous grip. While you can see out of the front, seeing out the rear is another matter, but the side mirrors help somewhat. The steering wheel is slightly flat at the bottom, like an F1 wheel, while the view through the wheel to the center dash is clearly of VW/Audi heritage, with a screen nestled between the speedometer and tach. The screen gives a readout for transmission and other such things. The dashboard is a big improvement over any Lambo in recent memory. The leather and leatherette are luscious, inviting you to stroke it -- it's as sexy as its exterior. A row of chrome-accented toggle switches handle all the typical chores, like windows, electronic stability control and the like. They're nestled just below the VW-spec audio system. (You'll never listen to it, anyway.) Any down side to the Gallardo? With its sinfully powerful engine, sensuously special looks and wickedly fast sports car manners, there's only one real problem with it. The Gallardo is another car few can afford or experience. But look on the bright side, most of us can afford a few gold chains and a pink shirt.