Divine Wind: Lords of Envy epilogue: The roadsters. BY TONY SWAN PHOTOGRAPHY BY DAVID DEWHURST June 2006 In March we brought you a first-drive report on the new topless Gallardo, which was headlined thus: “Lamborghini tries to one-up the neighbors in Maranello. And succeeds.” That’s a pretty bold assertion, particularly in light of the Gallardo coupe’s second place in our “Lords of Envy” supercar showdown last August — second, we should add, behind the Ferrari F430 coupe. There was foundation for our one-up speculation. When the Lamborghini engineers subtracted the Gallardo’s solid top, they added more muscle, bumping the output of the 5.0-liter V-10 from 493 horsepower at 7800 rpm to 512 at 8000. That’s 29 more horses than the V-8 in the Ferrari F430 makes. Its top speed outdid the Ferrari by 9 mph (to 195). Beyond that — and probably more significant — the topless Gallardo generates even higher visual wattage than its coupe counterpart. But even so, this is clearly a situation that calls for more than mere speculation. This calls for instrumented test data. Hands on at high speeds. Tops down. Tops up. Mountain roads. Fast sweepers. Decreasing radii. Switchbacks. Urban stop-and-go. Freeway traffic dissection. We do this in the spirit of pure research on your behalf, of course. Barely a scintilla of self-indulgence. Since the U.S. market accounts for more than 40 percent of all its sales, and a hefty chunk of that percentage goes to California, Lamborghini chose the Los Angeles auto show for the official unveiling last January of its new convertible, where it played to rave reviews. The design, conceived by Lamborghini Centro Stile, entailed at least as much engineering work as it did styling, and the operation of the electrohydraulic (there are six hydraulic rams) power top is an event worth watching. The carbon-fiber lid covering the engine bay rises off its moorings, retreats rearward, the top folds itself up like something from a Harry Potter movie, stuffs itself out of sight, whereupon the cover settles back into place. The whole operation takes about 20 seconds. Creating a convertible inevitably adds up at the scales, and that’s certainly true for the Lambo. In addition to the top mechanism, the spyder has added structural stiffening along the sills, and the A-pillars include automatic pop-up rollover reinforcement integrated with the airbag system. Bottom line: Our “Lords of Envy” Gallardo coupe weighed 3520 pounds. This spyder scaled in at 3820. Ferrari’s droptop is also new, at least to U.S. streets — our test car, in fact, was fresh off an air freighter. But its weight gain is much more modest, only 80 pounds heavier than the coupe we tested last August. So the Lambo may have one-upped its Modenese rival in terms of horsepower, but it lost ground in the power-to-weight index — not a very good start for this return match. In case you’re wondering about the other Envy Lords — there were six cars in the August comparo — we typically omit the low-placed finishers from rematches. We would have been pleased to make this a three- or four-way fight if we’d been able to field an Aston V-8 convertible or Porsche 911 Turbo cabrio, but neither was available at post time. And anyway, who has a better grip on the passionate roadster business than these two Italians? You might object that one of them speaks with a German accent, but let’s not quibble. Audi’s stewardship has clearly rescued Lambo from oblivion, and if Ferruccio Lamborghini were still with us, we think he’d cheerfully acknowledge this car as one of his own. Our test took us from the Los Angeles area to the mountain roads around Borrego Springs in the desert east of San Diego, and ultimately back again. As always, the journey ended too soon. But a solid preference emerged, as well as a thought for the day: In the great scheme of things, it’s fair — though sad—to say that very few of us will ever possess cars such as these. There are all sorts of rationales to make us feel better about this — they’re not even remotely practical; they consume vast quantities of irreplaceable energy; they incite behavior that can be viewed (at least by some) as antisocial; they’re ridiculously expensive; they have very limited value as transportation compared to, say, minivans. On the other hand, these are cars that broadcast an aura of magic that’s absent in lesser rides. The world would be diminished if they were to disappear. Second Place: Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder At a glance, the Gallardo Spyder could be mistaken for something left over from a sci-fi flick. But “at a glance” just doesn’t apply to this new wind-in-hair confection from the revitalized workshops of Automobili Lamborghini. One glance begets a double-take, which in turn leads to stares and, when the car isn’t moving, questions. What is that thang? What’s it cost? How fast’ll it go? (Cops, in particular, are interested in this last question.) The F430 is no wallflower, but it fades into the background just a bit when it’s parked next to the Gallardo’s aggressive angles and wedge shape. The F430 also loses in the department of audible accompaniment. The Ferrari’s V-8 emits a very compelling bass snarl as the tach rotates toward redline, but the Lambo’s V-10 generates a range of sounds that’s nothing short of addictive. Think of it as a pipe organ for the cathedral of speed. But beyond these two big trumps, the Gallardo holds generally lower cards. Not by much. But enough to give the edge to the boys from Maranello. Consider the interior. Forget the elements borrowed from the Audi parts bin — audio, climate control, switches. Aside from major instruments that don’t scan well in daylight, Audi furnishings aren’t exactly low rent. But it’s hard to love the Lambo’s leather-clad seats for more than an hour at a sitting. They offered more adjustability than our Ferrari’s seats, and power adjustability at that, but they were only slightly softer than linoleum. Also, although forward sightlines are good, there are few clues to the exact whereabouts of the nose, and it’s all too easy to scrape the chin on gentle inclines (though this is also true of the Ferrari). Like our F430, this Gallardo was equipped with an automated manual transmission, a $10,000 option that was missing from our “Lords of Envy” test car. There’s good news and bad news in this connection. The good news is that the automated transaxle won’t let you fry the clutch, which is what happened in our previous encounter. The bad news is the Lambo’s e-gear transmission makes launches extremely tricky. This is an all-wheel-drive car, remember, and getting the management computer to agree that everything is okay for a hole-shot launch isn’t easy. We were able to achieve exactly one semi-decent getaway, for a 0-to-60-mph run of 4.6 seconds. Aside from that, the Gallardo’s powertrain was generally cooperative, and more than willing. The gearbox was a little jerky downshifting into first gear, and sixth gear is only useful on freeways, but downshifts accompanied by a little throttle blip were otherwise clean, and upshifts prompt. Still, the Ferrari’s F1 gearbox performs these functions a bit better, and offers more flexibility. At speed on mountain roads the distinction between Lambo and Ferrari was subtle. The Gallardo held the edge in absolute grip, its hunky, low-profile Pirelli P Zero Corsas pulling 0.97 g on the skidpad versus 0.92 for the Ferrari, and its braking performance — 153 feet from 70 mph — was beyond reproach. Still, there was a clearly definable distinction between these two land sharks, supported by consistent logbook entries. Although the Lambo held its own through all the episodes of derring-do, it never inspired quite the same level of confidence or sense of partnership between car and driver inspired by the Ferrari, a shortfall aggravated by its hard ride and occasional quivers from the cowl and steering column. The logbook summed it up: “A somewhat emotionally distant machine with the stolid personality of a German car. It never lightens up.” We should add that this is only in contrast to the F430. In any other company, the Lambo would be the star. Highs: Gigawatt styling, bravura exhaust note, massive grip, big braking power. Lows: Church-pew seat padding, heavy steering, hints of cowl shake. The Verdict: Fast, competent, and unbeatable as an attention-getter. First Place: Ferrari F430 Spider F1 It’s fair to say that until recently Ferraris haven’t been celebrated for their excellence in the area of fit and finish, or their electronic sophistication. But it’s also fair to say the F430 Spider will make anyone familiar with the breed forget all past sins of omission. Equipped with the latest F1 transmission and the most ingenious electric softtop mechanism we’ve seen, this successor to the 360 Spider makes its predecessor seem almost crude by comparison. Push a clearly marked center-console button, and the rear cowling lifts, the top wads itself, and then it disappears into an impossibly small slot beneath the twin teardrop fairings behind the seats. Like the action of the Lambo’s top mechanism, this engages a squad of hydraulic actuators — seven of them — and takes about 20 seconds. Other examples of attention to detail: There’s a small crescent-shaped indentation near the trailing edge of the fuel door that helps quell wind noise, an index of extensive wind tunnel development. And a pair of thumb-shaped depressions at about ten and two o’clock on the steering wheel rim are home for the horn buttons — right where you want ’em. The multiposition preset dial for the transmission, suspension, and stability-control system is handily located on a steering-wheel spoke, at about 5 o’clock, and there’s a large glass cover over the engine bay, so all can admire the red crackle finish on the intake system of the F430’s 4.3-liter V-8. Speaking of that, you’ve probably noticed the Ferrari posted distinctly quicker acceleration times than the Gallardo, even though the Ferrari gives away 29 horsepower and 33 pound-feet of torque to the Lambo’s V-10. Part of this is due to its power-to-weight advantage, part to difficulty in getting the Gallardo going from a dead stop, and part of it due to the Ferrari’s launch control system. Launch control gives the driver the equivalent of running the engine up to about five grand, and then dumping the clutch. We call this to your attention, because you can’t buy an F430 with launch control in the U.S. — our test car was a Euro-spec model. Ferrari’s legal department decided that the liability potential in the litigious U.S. market outweighed any benefit, and we find it hard to disagree. So with launch control engaged, we generated 0-to-60 times of 3.9 seconds and a quarter-mile in 12.1 seconds at 122 mph. That’s a bit slower than the times we recorded in our first encounter with an F430 at Ferrari’s Fiorano test track in January 2005, but quicker than the F430 coupe that prevailed in “Lords of Envy” (4.1 seconds to 60, 12.5 at 116 in the quarter). Should we feel deprived? Some may, but it would be hard to sympathize. With or without traction control, the F430 gets going in a pretty formidable hurry, and its true milieu is a back road with limited traffic and an abundance of serpentine curves, the faster the better. Shall we cut to the chase? As noted, our F430 was equipped with the F1 automated manual transmission, and we found this a superb ally in an environment requiring frequent up- and downshifts. Response time is incrementally quicker as the driver clicks the manettino rotary switch through its various modes — we decided the Sport mode suited us best for all-around driving — and even in Race mode engagements lack the wham!-wham! quality we recall from the 360 Modena. The Ferrari exhibited a bit of body roll in hard cornering, at least compared with the Gallardo, but it was quicker in our lane-change exercise, with turn-in and transient response traits worthy of a mongoose working his way through a nest of cobras. The steering is light, communicative, and laser accurate, grip is abundant, and the variable damping of the suspension is transparent, going from docile to intense according to what the driver is doing. Our F430’s braking performance was even better than the Lambo’s — 151 feet from 70 mph, 11 feet better than the result posted by the “Lords of Envy” coupe. This is as it should be, considering the optional $15,364 carbon-ceramic brake package. Beyond its sports-car credentials — one logbook writer said, “I’ve never encountered a car that gave me more confidence at high speeds” — the Ferrari also measured up as a comfortable place to be while the scenery was whistling past at sub-light speeds. Our test car was fitted with optional racing seats — $5004, please — that turned out to be surprisingly comfortable, despite their limited adjustability. We were also agreeably surprised by the good-sized luggage well up front: nine cubic feet. It’s a lot bigger than the two briefcase slots under the Lambo’s droopy snoot, and the Ferrari also has several nooks for small objects versus almost none in the Gallardo. Just about our only functional reservation with this car concerns its nav system, which is voice only — no map — making it almost useless. We weren’t particularly impressed with the complexity of the audio system, either. But a bigger issue with the F430 Spider is price and availability. The base price of the F1 version is $209,222. Ferrari sources say the average F430 goes out the door with about $20,000 worth of optional equipment, which made our car’s as-tested price — $229,590 — typical. Moreover, Ferrari also admits you’re looking at about a two-year wait if you order today. The 1000 or so F430 Spiders that will be distributed through Ferrari’s 36 North American dealers this year are already spoken for. So, a quarter-mil, and a little waiting. If you have the money, it’s worth it. Highs: Unerring responses, superb transmission, electronic sophistication, rigid structure. Lows: Pricey options, limited availability. The Verdict: A sunshine supercar that's worth the price of admission.