Friday, September 7, 2012

Diavolo del Sole

Diavolo del Sole:

Photo by Anthony Barbato for Wired

The temperature gauge flashed “103″ as I rolled to a stop behind a solid wall of traffic on the Major Deegan Expressway. We sat unmoving, the sun cooking my fair-skinned fiancĂ©e and I like hogs at a luau. The soft, beautifully quilted and quite obviously non-ventilated leather hides beneath our thighs began to feel like melted pudding.
Even so, I refused to close the lid on the Italian sun devil we had on loan for the weekend. Around us and beneath us, simultaneously making us smile and sweat, was the body of Lamborghini’s latest and greatest Gallardo Spyder, the LP550-2 — and there was no way I going to let a little heat spoil our weekend together. Putting up the top and flipping on the A/C would be akin to taking the sails down on an America’s Cup racer during a really breezy day.

What’s in a Name?

  • Gallardo: A famous breed of fighting bull
  • LP: Longitudinale/Posteriore, for the mid-engine built longitudinally in front of the rear axle
  • 550: Power output in hp
  • 2: Rear-wheel drive
  • Spyder: Italian pillowtalk for convertible
What’s most interesting about Lambo’s latest bull is that it’s technically less advanced than its AWD counterpart. It’s mechanically simpler, slightly less powerful, a bit lighter and generally more involving — and all of this amounts to good news for drivers.
New for 2012, the rear-wheel-drive Gallardo LP550-2 Spyder represents a departure from the standard AWD-system Gallardo and Gallardo Spyder have employed since they were introduced in 2003, save for a few RWD specials along the way. In fact, it’s been more than 10 years since Lamborghini offered rear-wheel drive in one of its sports cars — the last time we’ve seen one was on the pre-VW-acquisition Diablo. The LP550-2 pays homage to the limited production (and also RWD) Balboni Gallardo that had 2009 Geneva Auto Show-goers lusting for a dusty stretch of back road somewhere. That car’s name was chosen to honor Lamborghini test driver Valentino Balboni, a man who’s been fine-tuning these raging bulls for more than 40 years. Lambo’s original Balboni offering was limited to 250 production units, but the company has since expanded availability by offering both RWD and AWD variants in base trim. So go ahead, Gallardo shoppers — take your pick. Lamborghini isn’t explicitly limiting production of this model, but the company expects it to be “very exclusive.”
More good news: The cost of entry to the Lamborghini owners club gets lowered a smidge with the LP550-2. This RWD version starts at $209,500, about $16,000 less than its AWD counterpart — which is perfect, because you’ll spend nearly half that much on the gas-guzzler tax ($2,100) and super unleaded fuel during the first two years of ownership. Then again, anyone complaining about luxury taxes and fuel costs probably aren’t in the market for a $200,000-plus sports car.
Save for a few special editions, it’s been more than 10 years since Lamborghini offered rear-wheel drive in one of its sports cars.
Going from AWD to RWD in the Gallardo required more than simply removing the front differential and calling it a day. (And actually, Lamborghini removed both the front and center differentials.) The heroic 5.2L V10 needed some retuning and “optimization” in order to provide the purist rear-wheel character we all long for in a driver’s car: sky-high revs, hard pulls in any gear, intoxicating sounds.
This requires a bespoke electronic engine management system, new springs, dampers and control arms in the suspension, and a revised transmission setup optimized for rear-wheel drive with a mechanical limited slip differential and a locking ratio of 25 to 45 percent. As the alphanumeric model designation denotes, the LP550-2 has 10 fewer ponies than its all-wheel counterpart. But the engine control software covers up the loss, and the car actually feels faster, thanks to less power shuffling between differentials.

Photo by Anthony Barbato for Wired
The aerodynamics have also been altered to account for the change in the distribution of force, but when comparing it to the previous Spyder, it’s impossible to spot any differences with the naked eye. Maybe the vents are more ventilated?
Take away the little silver plaque residing just ahead of the rear wheel wells, and 99 percent of the population couldn’t tell the all-wheel and rear-wheel-drive variants of the Gallardo apart. Nor could the hoi polloi tell you this was a brand-new car — this second-generation Gallardo looks just like the 2008 LP560-4 Coupe I drove when it hit the market five years ago.
Aging platform aside, the exotic shell and bespoke interior still play the part quite well. My tester — a gunmetal grey metallic (Lambo calls the color “Grigio Lynx”) specimen optioned up to $239,045 — drew plenty of interest from onlookers around town and on the highway. I got several requests to “Rev ‘er up” throughout my time behind the wheel.
One minor gripe: Inside of the beautifully hand crafted “Marrone Jenus” (Italian for “brown”) interior, there appears to be some inappropriate parts bin sharing. I applaud Volkwagen’s efforts to bring Lamborghini into the 21st century and everything, but I simply can’t get over the fact that this $240k sports car has a navigation unit — and a noticeable amount of overlapping switchgear — lifted directly from my dad’s 2009 Audi A3.

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