As far as sights go, this was brilliant. Minutes after taking off from one of the seven islands that form the Canaries, you get to see Mt Teide. At roughly 3,000 ft, this is the tallest mountain in Spain (though it is closer to Africa than to mainland Europe). It rises above majestically over a large cloud cover that permanently floats over Tenerife, almost like a shark’s fin over troubled waters.
Tenerife is where the rich and famous come seeking sun. And of course, plane-loads of Germans and their children too, as I discovered in my overcrowded tourist charter B737-800. But as the pacifier warriors and their moms bent on disciplining them got on to their buses, I was escorted to an Audi A6 driven by a pretty chauffeur. A pointer that the good life had already begun.
It has got to be a good life when you stay at a spanking new hotel that goes by the name Gran Meila Palaciao De Isora Resort. Ever wondered where all those Miss Universe contenders go after they lose to yet another Indian or Venezuelan? Well, I think they are hired en masse by this resort and they startle you with their greetings as you come around corners.
This is the kind of place you get hopelessly lost in while merely trying to find your room. And when you do find it, you are in three minds whether to take a bath, a shower or sink into the jacuzzi facing the ocean. Then you decide against all three ideas so that you don’t spoil the setting. In short, this is exactly the kind of place I DON’T LIKE and I DON’T WANT when I am on a test drive. For God’s sake, there is a nasty recession out there and you don’t want Lamborghini to stop inviting journalists for test drives because some number cruncher in Audi does not like the idea of the Italians contributing to the economy of Tenerife, right?
I spent a restless night in my room deciding which pillow to use and got out as the first rays of the sun played truant with many a bleary eye. Presto, there she was – the Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4 Spyder in Bianco Monocerus (plain white never sounded that exotic, right?). And what followed can be rated XXX. I know, this is the Summer of Speed issue and I don’t want to dwell deep into how the engineers at the Ufficio Tecnico Lamborghini improved traction, handling and stability at high speeds. Instead I will concentrate on how I survived a day of temptation.
So you get in, lower the roof using a toggle switch and turn the key. The 560 bhp V10 explodes to life and settles into a rather bass-full rhythm with your heartbeat – which incidentally is not in any mood to settle down. Then you engage the e-gear and start rolling ever so carefully so as not to make the mistake of blipping the throttle. But those who lined up outside the Grand Pimped Up Resort or whatever it is called were expecting a little bit more celebration. The street was paved with cobble stones and the tyres were cold… but that didn’t prevent me from launching a load of smiles and the respective cheers by flooring the throttle. Cars make noise. Supercars make even more of the stuff. And Lamborghinis corrupt little boys who are still clinging to their mothers’ skirts. As palm trees gave way to buildings and later to clear blue water on one side of the road, the Spyder started to stretch its legs – all eight of them. We were on an expressway and the fast lane was being occupied by Gallardos of all hues. The new car has 40 horsepower more than its predecessor and it weighs 20 kg less and it improves the power-to-weight ratio to 2.77 kg per horsepower. Actually that sentence above was copied from the leaflet, so that you think I did lots of research to do this story. However I did have enough time to experience what that brutal power-to-weight ratio can do. This car is capable of doing 324 kph and no one would have stopped me if I was doing 324 kph on the fast lane at Tenerife that day. But since there were other road users including a few journalists who were treating the new Lambo like a new Nissan delivery truck and since I didn’t want to become one with any one of them, I controlled my urge to go over 250 kph. Alright, I did see 260 once or twice when the road was straighter than most fashion designers, still.
This car can reach 200 kph in just 13.1 seconds and that makes it more destructive than even a wagging tongue. In case you are wondering, 100 kph is dismissed in 4 seconds flat and that is way beyond what most eyeballs can cope with. The sheer force with which the powertrain goes about its business is just unbelievable and makes you think that this thing will put a few satellites in orbit if you strap a few auxiliary rockets and launch it from Cape Canaveral. Most importantly, you feel absolutely in control doing these obscene acceleration runs thanks to all-wheel drive. The wild run on the expressway was aided by me losing my way (that happens when you lose your head) and I traced the coastline to get back to the scheduled mountain road. The road was narrow but beautifully paved and there were enough corners to ensure that I didn’t cut any in my attempt to come to terms with the dynamics of the new Spyder. There are certain factors that aid the roadholding of this supercar – good weight distribution (43 front:57 rear for the Spyder), superior traction (all-wheel drive ensures that adequate power is transferred to each wheel at any given point of time) and a low centre of gravity (few road cars are any lower).
As the Spyder started attacking the road to Mt Teide, things started to turn from unreal to surreal. The vegetation changed, weather changed and the V10 exhaust started to drum against sheer drops. Soon it was time to pass the cloud cover that I explained earlier and the scene around the Spyder and me transformed dramatically. Mt Teide last spewed its anger a hundred years back and the solidified lava shows you the innards of earth frozen in time. The sharp lines of my Spyder contrasted brilliantly against the stark lava formations. And I was getting comfortable with the idea of powering into corners with the new Lambo – though never, NEVER, did I cross the performance envelope to get the ESP (Electronic Stability Programme) to cut in. Since it was not meaningful to try out the corsa or sport settings of the gearbox and try to enjoy the tight, winding roads in its standard setting.
The combination of all-wheel drive and the leech-like bite of the Pirelli PZeros are more than enough to reward you with an aggressive if not life-threatening drive through the twisties. And yes, the braking feel is now more progressive than that of the LP560-4 Coupe which I sampled at Las Vegas last year (so much for comparing supercar notes!). The optional eight-cylinder Brembo callipers bite a disc that can give the biggest from Domino’s an inferiority complex. Also, now that I have experienced the PDK box of Porsche, I get this feeling that the life of the e-gear is going to be short – though I like the minor lag before all hell breaks loose, it is not something that is appreciated by the track day crowd.
Razor sharp turn-ins, locomotive-like torque and a throttle that is more sensitive than the Gaza Strip means an unforgettable, fast driving experience that will be etched in my mind for a very long time. A quick lunch at the designated spot inside the Parque Nacional del Teide and a cable car ride to the top of the volcano later, it was time to head back to the Gran Spooky Clean Palais. The smart chaps who planned the test route included some very narrow yet very challenging roads for the return journey. There was hardly any traffic to contend with, but then you don’t want to ‘contend’ with the lone Canarian farmer and his pick-up truck as you bolt out of one corner to another, right?
I promptly lost my way again and oh boy, was I loving the idea. As the sun was setting, I got back to an expressway and did yet another 250 kph plus run before turning off towards the Grand Moist Canyon Resort and Palace. The magnificent engine was ticking away brilliantly and the new ‘apollo’ wheels with double-spoke design were laden with brake dust.
Trust me, if there was a long bridge across to some point in Africa from Tenerife, I would have turned around and pointed the sculpted nose of the Spyder at it and driven it all the way home! World’s finest convertible? You bet it is. At least in my book.
The road straightened out on the idyllic national park on Tenerife and I pulled out to pass the bus. Just at that second, the sun shone through the clouds, the engine hit the magic 4000 rpm watershed where everything goes nuts and the car launched at the horizon like a wailing banshee. It was a perfect moment, the emotional experience that will define each and every day for the lucky owners of the Lamborghini LP560-4 Spyder.
Just one moment made the $202,714 asking price seem like a snip, well that and the attention lavished on my matte black car every time we came close to stopping. This LP560-4 may be a subtle revision of the Gallardo that was launched all the way back in 2004, but it still has the visual impact to stop traffic. And this new car is more than just a soft-top version of the LP560-4. Lamborghini took the quiet chance to fix some of the issues and give the Spyder the bite it needs to fell a Prancing Horse.
After blasting round the roads of Tenerife and past a few of our slower companions, it was a time for a chat with R&D director Maurizio Reggiani, a man so impossibly cool and suave you think, just for a minute, that Lamborghini employs actors rather than engineers on these events.
On the launch of the LP560-4 coupe we loved everything, except for the brakes and chronic understeer in certain corners. The ceramics pulled speed off more effectively than a wall, but they were unnerving to use. Pushing the brakes approaching a red light used to result in nothing, nothing at all, before a firmer shove virtually stood the car on its nose. They were either on or off, there wasn’t much in between and I would never have ticked the optional extra – the steels were much better.
Not any more. This car comes with a soft, progressive nature and none of the jerky, embarrassing emergency stops. They work like a dream, with a squeeze, rather than a full on stamp, bringing the Spyder to a perfectly controlled stop in front of an adoring Tenerife crowd. Now they are not a $14,904 way to mess up your car, they’re worth every penny.
Then there was the handling. The Gallardo Superleggera was one of the finest handling cars I have ever driven, and the LP560-4 was a conundrum in comparison, slipping wide of the apex under heavy duress. There still isn’t a full explanation, Reggiani is far too slick for that, but I’d put it down to a difficult marriage of new tyres designed for reduced fuel consumption and a front suspension system designed around the original Pirelli PZero Corsas.
But this time, throwing the car into the bend revealed nothing beyond scary grip and a razor sharp nose that lives up to the near F1-look. The back end was always rock solid, now the front cuts into the bend with the same mountain goat alacrity and it’s hard to imagine unsticking the car on a public road. Cutting the roof off should technically make a car worse with the integral loss of structural rigidity, but Lambo has used the opportunity to make it better.
A Ferrari might offer a richer tapestry at the ragged edge, but then the Lambo is an easier car to drive ludicrously fast and as such is better suited to the public road. And now, with the only two spikes in the driving experience sitting smoother than the Lambo heads themselves, I’ll stick my neck on the line. For a day-to-day supercar this is as good as it gets, the best there is. Forget the LP640, forget the 430, forget all the other numbers on the list, if you really want a supercar and really want to drive it, this is as good as it gets.
– Nick Hall