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by Laurance Yap
Forgive me for a second, but it’s all a bit much right now. Like a lot of you, I grew up with a poster of a Lamborghini Countach on my wall, spent many hours fantasizing about what it would be like to swoop in underneath one of those distinctive scissor doors, fire up that thundering V12, and go tearing off into the distance.
Forgive me, because right now I’m about to get into a Murcielago and do just that.
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This car, like its smaller brother, the Gallardo, features Lamborghini’s new, and much more refined, design ethic (created under the supervision of Dutchman Luc Donckerwolke), though it’s still instantly recognizable as a Lamborghini. It’s got that distinctive wedgy nose, rising in one line up from the bumper right up onto the windshield and then to the roof, and the sides feature monster air intakes, triangulated side glass, huge wheels, and wing mirrors that really are on wings, they’re so far out to see clearly past the cars’ monstrous width. Out back? Huge tailpipes, centrally mounted (they’re on each side on the Gallardo).
The author and the Murcielago
Inside, the overall quality of the Murcielago’s construction seems much tighter and more solid than any other Lamborghini I’ve ever sat in – a product, no doubt, of Audi’s continuing involvement and investment in the manufacturing process. Outside, the paint finish is spectacular, the panel gaps are as tight as you will find on an A8, and strangely for an Italian stallion, the details have been sweated, too, from the tiny, jewel-like door handles to the intricately-designed headlamps.
Compared to the Gallardo, which has Audi switchgear and gauges, it’s fair to say that the Murcielago feels “more like a Lamborghini”. Its interior feels of equally high quality, and uses unique parts that give it a far more exotic air, as you would expect for a base price of almost $100,000 more (figure on a cool $400,000 or so for the Murcielago, before taxes). The scissor doors add significantly to the drama of getting in and out, but the wide sills and low-set seat – set in an already low-set car – mean that your dignity will inevitably suffer. No worries: you are, after all, getting in and out of a Lamborghini.
Not having ever driven a Countach or Diablo, it’s hard to judge how well the new car compares with previous Lambo models, but what impresses about it is that, despite the purposefully intimidating attitude and price, the Murcielago is easier to drive than it looks. The e-gear paddle-shift transmission (it became available on 2005 Murcielagos as well, and a six-speed manual remains standard) actually does a decent job when manoeuvring slowly around, while the pedal and shifter efforts are actually quite reasonable for a 580 horsepower car with its engine swinging around behind you. Thanks to those huge mirrors, visibility out of the rear of either is bad but not that bad, and the view out of the front is absolutely stunning in its widescreen, cinema-scope vastness.
It is, of course, incredibly fast. The Murcielago’s V12 and six-speed gearbox simply rocket it down the road as fast as you could ever want, no matter which gear you’re in and what speed you’re going, and the sound is absolutely awesome. No wonder that the firing order of the cylinders is embossed on the engine’s cam cover: you spend so much time wondering how they can make something mechanical sound so primal once you’ve strung it out towards redline.
Audi’s investment in Lamborghini has meant a significant infusion of new technology in addition to the company’s new quality-control measures. Both these new Lamborghinis feature an all-wheel-drive system that goes from predominantly rear-drive in normal driving, to a 40/60 front/rear torque split under certain conditions to stabilize the car. The Murcielago and the Gallardo also now feature ABS, brake assist, traction control, and electronic stability control, making them more plausible daily drivers, and cars that you won’t be quite so afraid to take out in inclement weather.
I’d be lying if I told you that I discovered the Lambos’ handling limits around our tight, twisty Italian racecourse, Adria International Raceway. I spent most of my time behind the wheel being awed by the mere fact that I was just driving at all. What I can say is this: in the limited time I spent, the Murcielago didn’t scare me despite its monumental power output and mid-engined weight distribution. It is a big, wide, fast car, to be sure, but it also seems friendly, seems like it will work with you to help you through a corner rather than look for an opportunity to show up your deficiencies at the first possible moment. This came as a surprise to me, after reading reports about previous Lamborghinis and how nasty they could be.
Don’t get me wrong: the Murcielago isn’t in any way a watered-down supercar. It still has the power, the handling, the speed, and perhaps most importantly, the looks, to go up against any car anywhere. But now, it’s a real car, a modern car with modern convenience and safety features to go with the brute force and big attitude that you’ve always wanted from a Lamborghini. The real question is whether it’s worth so much more than the new Gallardo, which is almost as dramatic to look at, almost as fast, and has even more technology.
Tough question, right? Not really. If I had enough bucks for the Gallardo, chances are I could afford the Muricelago, too, and would just have to forego a cottage, or something. The Murcielago’s extra-special factor – its trademark doors, its unique interior fittings, and most importantly, the sound of its 6.2-litre V12 – would be too much to resist.