Let's face it, most will end up trundling through Hollywood in second gear, but given its full head, the Lamborghini Murcielago Roadster, the flagship Raging Bull will trample the Prancing Horse's finest in all but the very best drivers' hands. Watching at the space-age chop-top Murcielago glide into view at the legendary Santa'Agata base near Bologna, it's hard to believe the company responsible for some of the world's most outlandish supercars started out making tractors. The fact that it was parked in full view of the relatively tiny Countach number one and Miura in the museum behind it made it all the more special, and Lamborghini's rather special PR representative Claudia Schneider hinted that next time we might be able to take them out to play.

It's been 54 years since Ferrucio Lamborghini set up his first workshop converting old military machines into agricultural workhorses, and Lamborghini boasts one of the most colorful histories of any manufacturer. In 1998 German giant Audi took control of the company that answers Ferrari's elegant stallion with a huffing, puffing bull on its badge. Make no mistake, the investment and expertise on offer at Ingolstadt have been a godsend.

Lamborghini has finally gained the reliability and build quality to match its flamboyant designs, tempered only slightly by the Teutonic influence. Now they're stronger, easier to drive and just as fast as anything on offer down the road at Modena, and for a price that almost fits into the reasonable category when you consider how much bang for your buck you're going to get. If you drive this car through Italy, even men will want to sleep with you.

Standing still, with the signature scissor doors raised, this angular wedge of car came close to causing a crash on a main road in the Bolognese region of Italy that's also famous for its spaghetti sauce.The Murcielago is a geometric work of art that proves efficiency can be sexy; it's a flowing equation of clean, straight lines that embody the marriage of Italian flair and German simplicity. Latin design touches abound, including the pronounced spiral inside those centrally mounted exhaust pipes, and air scoops that can raise up at low speeds to feed more air to an overheating 6.2-liter V12.

Yellow stitching in the black leather and that huge six-speed metal shift gate provide the interior's personality. The rest is relatively muted, and there are a few Audi vents on display, but it feels as strong as any German car. Ferraris have Fiat components anyway, so I know which parts bin pieces I'd prefer to raid.

A rear wing pops out of the bodywork at approximately 80 mph to help stick the rear end to the floor, but for lower speeds the designers just weren't prepared to accept extra appendages that would ruin the smooth lines. Apart from those steel jackknife doors, the rest of the car's body is constructed from lightweight carbon fiber to keep the weight down to a slimline 3,659 pounds.

Under the skin the Murcielago relies on a tubular steel chassis with carbon-fiber reinforcements, including a cage surrounding the engine that shows just how far Lamborghini has gone to stiffen the chassis and sharpen the handling. Its nearest rivals now offer carbon-fiber monocoques, but the Santa'Agata company opted for the simpler construction technique and a sticker price more than $100,000 less than the similarly powered Carrera GT and Enzo.

Truth is, most owners will never push hard enough to detect that slight difference a carbon car can make and this car is still mighty predictable on its limit. Cutting the roof off of the outstanding Murcielago coupe could have had disastrous consequences when it comes to taking bends, but Lamborghini has worked hard to minimize the damage done to the handling of a flagship famous for its agility. That's largely due to the permanent all-wheel-drive system. All the Murcielago's closest rivals rely on rear-wheel drive, which provides a purer driving experience but can be harder to handle.

In a straight line the rear retains 75% of the control, but when the Lamborghini slides sideways some of the power is distributed to the front wheels through a viscous coupling to help pull it straight. When a car costs this much and goes this fast, a safety net like this is a big bonus--and the end result is cornering so fast it can inflict whiplash.

The 6.2-liter powerplant, supplied by Audi, has an epic 571 bhp at its disposal and can propel the Murcielago to 62 mph (100 kph) in 3.6 seconds and a top speed close to 200 mph (320 kph). With the hammer firmly down this car can take your breath away with its blistering acceleration. On our brief run we managed 140 mph on a sliver of dust-covered Italian B-road in third gear, all four wheels scrabbling for grip the whole way.

You can almost smell the burning 335/30-18 Pirelli P-Zero Rossos on every sharp take off. A 42/58 weight distribution front/rear means the Murcielago is always happy to step out before the front wheels kick in and help drag it from its slide.

The gear throw is long, very long, and it needs to be rammed almost ham-fistedly home through the satisfying, clunking shift mechanism. This is a car that enjoys harsh treatment, a fact that would have filled me with fear for its reliability in the old days, but with Audi's engineering expertise and the steps Lamborghini has taken on its own, the Murcielago feels like it would take a beating forever.

Aside from this the controls are light and easy to use, and the clutch pedal feels less like the weightlifting machines that normally occupy supercars and more like that of an average saloon. Steering that is light enough at low velocities stiffens up at speed and as this car tends towards understeer, you have to wrestle it around corners on occasion. Ignite the rear wheels and it will powerslide out on a twist of opposite lock. If you're brave you can let go of the wheel and pull the car out on throttle, or you can steer in further and let the sophisticated Germanelectronics sort it out.

Kept on gentle throttle the Murcielago is a pussycat that can cruise down the boulevards, soaking up admiring gazes as the engine lazily burbles away like some kind of big-engined boat. You can electronically raise the front end on bad roads to prevent costly scrapes on the low-slung front splitter, the mere mention of which will make every Porsche and Ferrari owner wince.

Press the loud pedal, though, and the rear wheels spin momentarily before the car blasts down the road with all the aggression and purpose of a serial killer on the run. It's fitted with Antidive, Antisquat and just about every other piece of technology that has been perfected on big heavy saloons, too, so body roll just isn't an issue. This car is F1 stable.

The engine note hardens to an industrial growl, the speedo races around to illegal speeds and the scenery rushes past the window at a bullet-train rate. Push hard on the throttle and prepare to hang on as the tires spin and catapult this yellow missile down the road. It's an emotional experience driving a Lamborghini in full flight, one that almost seems worth the $320,000 price of admission from behind the wheel.Most Lambo owners will never get out of the fingerlight lower reaches of this car's two-stage capabilities, and it's a cunning strategy to keep things easy for the rich and talentless. Press the throttle pedal more than halfway, though, and you'll unleash the raging bull within. The true spirit of this car is pure Lamborghini, a sure-footed, powerful brute everyone should drive, if only just once.

The only real downside is the soft-top roof, which by Lamborghini's own admission is nothing more than an emergency cover. It comes with its own instruction booklet and takes old hands 10 minutes to assemble, and once it's up the car cannot be driven at more than 100 mph as the top is likely to blow away like a tumbleweed.

But if you have the money to buy a Lamborghini, you have the money to buy another car to use in adverse weather. This is a car that should not be tainted by rain. It's an adrenaline-loaded fair-weather fiend that will still look after you if things get twitchy.

Drivetrain
Longitudinal mid-engine, all-wheel drive

Engine
6.2-liter V12, dual overhead cams, four valves per cylinder

Transmission
Five-speed manual

Suspension
Independent adjustable front and rear double wishbones, Koni Frequency Selecting Dampers, anti-roll bars, Antidive (f), Antisquat (r)

Brakes
Four-wheel ventilated disc brakes

Performance
Peak Power:571 bhp @ 7500 rpm
Peak Torque: 480 lb-ft @ 5400 rpm
0-60: 3.6 sec
Top Speed: 198 mph

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