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Edmunds: 2006 Lamborghini Gallardo SE Review

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By Karl Brauer

Date posted: 03-06-2006

The Countach may have established Lamborghini as a world-class exotic carmaker in 1971, but it's Audi's ownership, which began in 1998, that has defined the modern Sant'Agata automaker in the 21st century. Under Audi, the Italian firm debuted the midengine, V12 Murciélago in 2002 and the V10 Gallardo in 2004. Both cars continue to function as the picturesque, visual feast we've come to expect from vehicles wearing Ferruccio Lamborghini's name. But with the cold, calculating discipline of Germany's largest automaker ultimately pulling the strings, can the spirit and passion that inspired the original Countach survive in a division of Volkswagen AG?

It's got Italian supercar numbers

That's the question we found ourselves asking during a road test of the 2006 Lamborghini Gallardo SE. As with the new Gallardo Spyder, our SE test car (one of 250 produced) was equipped with the updated 520-horsepower version of Lamborghini's 5.0-liter V10. Those extra horsepower, along with shorter gearing in the first five speeds of the "e.gear" six-speed transmission (a traditional manual is also available), imbue the car with enough forward thrust to reach 60 mph in 4.1 seconds. That's just a tick behind the 2006 Ford GT's time from our American Exotics Comparo, and it's a time that handily beats the Chevrolet Corvette Z06 and Dodge Viper GTS Coupe from that same test. Suffice it to say, this Lamborghini is one of the quickest street-legal cars you can buy.

Getting that 0-60 time required a combination of technical aptitude and fancy footwork. The technical side comes via turning off the electronic stability program (ESP) and putting the car's transmission into its "Sport" setting. At this point the Gallardo is in "Thrust Mode" (Lambo's official term), meaning all that's left is to floor it and go. Doing so causes the V10 to shriek toward its 8,000-rpm redline before the e.gear system drops the clutch and unleashes 376 lb-ft through the Gallardo's all-wheel-drive system.

While the engineer in us cringed at the concept of sending that kind of power through the Gallardo's drivetrain, the reality is the car seems quite capable of withstanding this type of abuse. For one thing, turning off ESP allows the V10 to direct the majority of its power to the rear wheels. This results in more wheelspin than we would have expected from an AWD vehicle, but it also means all that power has an outlet — one that doesn't involve shredding driveshafts or shearing clutch plates. This is where the fancy-footwork element comes into play, as it required a prudent balancing act between wheelspin and forward motion to get that 4.1-second 0-to-60 time. And somewhere in the midst of all this you have to blip the right steering-wheel paddle before the tachometer hits 8,000 rpm. Keep the throttle pinned through 3rd gear and you'll clear the quarter-mile in 12.1 seconds at 117 mph.

Steers better with the throttle than the steering wheel

Beyond preserving drivetrain bits during acceleration testing, this rear-drive bias allows the Gallardo to be driven like a traditional two-wheel-drive sports car. That means throttle-induced oversteer and four-wheel drifts are always just a pedal-stab away — something we didn't expect from an Audi-influenced exotic. That's the good news. The bad news is that even with this ability to rotate the car through corners it still requires too much work to fling the Gallardo down a compelling set of twists and turns. Much of this centers on the Lambo's steering, which remains both heavier and slower than comparable models like the Ferrari F430 or Ford GT, despite supposedly being tweaked for "improved response" for 2006. It's not a deal breaker if you otherwise love the car, but it does hamper the enjoyment level if you prefer steering that is light, quick and communicative.

If the hefty steering doesn't bother you, the car's ultrastiff suspension tuning — even by exotic-car standards — might. There's no way to alter the suspension settings, as the "Sport" button on the console only pertains to drivetrain behavior. Along with steering response the ride quality isn't atrocious, but it is stiffer than many of the Gallardo's competitors. There is an upside, however, as the Baby Lambo snaked through our 600-foot slalom at an average speed of 71.1 mph. To put that in perspective, the Ford GT did it at 69.5 mph and the Corvette Z06 could only manage 68.3. Even the F430 Spider we tested last fall was held to just 68.9 mph in the slalom.

Stops as good as it goes

OK, so we've confirmed the Gallardo is quick in a straight line and fast when dodging cones. But what about bringing those 3,200 pounds of bright orange origami to a halt? The Gallardo scores again with a 108-foot stopping distance from 60 mph. That beats the F430 and Ford GT, with only the Corvette Z06 besting that number in our history of testing (it stopped in an eye-bulging 106 feet). However, as with steering feel and ride quality, we felt the Lamborghini's stopping ability was compromised by unnecessarily heavy and uneven brake pedal response. There was an initial "squishiness" to the pedal that had to be pushed through before getting to the pedal's "real" braking zone, which didn't add to the experience when hustling the car between apexes. Again, not a deal breaker, but something we could do without in our $200,000 sports car.

Finally, a fun and functional automatic

One area of performance where the Gallardo bests its classmates is located between the seats. The e.gear system, which is essentially the same Magneti Marelli/Ferrari-developed unit used by the Prancing Horse for its "F1" transmissions, is perhaps the most effective use of this technology we've yet experienced — short of Audi's own DSG. We're still anxiously awaiting the arrival of dual-clutch technology in the exotic car segment, but until it happens, we'll take Lamborghini's e.gear system over the competition every time. Like most of these systems, e.gear works fabulously in manual mode by matching revs on downshifts and rapidly swapping gears — almost before the steering paddles have reached the end of their travel. We were glad of the responsive e.gear transmission when hustling the car, because the V10's relatively narrow torque band required frequent gear swaps to keep the engine in its happy zone.

However, unlike most of these transmissions, e.gear also works remarkably well when put into full "Auto" mode and left to figure things out on its own. In standard driving mode, it gets the job done about as well as the Ferrari or BMW versions, meaning mediocre responsiveness and plenty of head toss between gears. But hit the "Sport" button on the center console and the transmission will aggressively hold gears, readily and rapidly downshift when prompted by throttle inputs, and generally do a passable job of making the most of those 520 horses. Normally we only leave these transmissions in auto mode long enough to confirm they're garbage, but this one was left in auto for much of our loan period in traffic-snarled L.A. Bottom line, Lamborghini's e.gear is capable of doing what these transmission have long promised — provide the best of automatic and manual transmission characteristics in one package.

It's a work of art inside, too

Looking beyond the car's performance figures reveals a number of areas where the Gallardo SE clearly trumps the competition. Its host of safety features, including the aforementioned electronic stability control, plus standard side airbags, Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, BrakeAssist, and automatic slip reduction could have been pulled from Audi's top-of-the-line luxury sedans…probably because they were.

Same goes for the interior, which sports supple leather and suede on every surface that isn't brushed aluminum or chrome. Audi's soothing white gauge-cluster lighting also makes its appearance, as does the Driver's Information System between the tach and speedo, and the Multi-Media Interface (MMI) for controlling the audio, climate and navigation systems. Heck, it's even got a reverse camera in an effort to offset the usual parking nightmares associated with midengine cars, and a nose-lift system to avoid scraping Aurora Borealis paint on every driveway and speed bump you encounter. We'd happily call it the "Cadillac of exotics" — except Audi would probably want us to reference a different premium brand.

Very, very good — but not great

However, despite the Gallardo's impressive pedigree of technology, luxury, styling and performance, when it came time to give the car back, many of us still hadn't come to a conclusion regarding this Italian-German hybrid. There's no denying its exterior design, interior quality or sheer capability. But there's similarly no escaping the German influences we feel in its driving dynamics, not to mention the litany of mechanical pops and buzzes it emitted throughout our loan period. Many of these were related to the various high-tech systems found on the Gallardo, but none of them added to the driving experience, nor did they seem appropriate in a $200,000 car.

Perhaps this inability to come to a final verdict regarding the 2006 Lamborghini Gallardo SE is the final verdict. Unlike the Ferrari F430, which was universally loved by every staffer fortunate enough to get seat time, the Gallardo is an acquired taste that some editors simply never acquired. Those addicted to unwinding ribbons of asphalt couldn't get past the heavy steering and inconsistent brake-pedal response. But those looking to revel in a palatial cabin, while simultaneously enjoying the gawks and double takes from every passerby in the surrounding ZIP code, thought it was easily the best expression yet of the $200,000 Italian exotic.

Now all you have to do is figure out which side of that fence you land on.

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Link: http://www.edmunds.com/insideline/do/Drive...rticleId=109530

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reach 60 mph in 4.1 seconds. That's just a tick behind the 2006 Ford GT's time from our American Exotics Comparo, and it's a time that handily beats the Chevrolet Corvette Z06

thats ridiculously wrong... a z06 hits 60 in 3.7...

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