Weighing all things

One of the bragging points in this market segment is a car's power-to-weight ratio. Whereas there are several types of weight ratings condoned worldwide, in my mind the absolute only weight that matters is when a car sits at the curb with all of its fluids topped off. Ready to run, nobody in the car and no luggage. Dry weight is truly useless and only exploited these days to impress the lowbrows.

We found a government scale and took the manufacturers to task. Highest weight claimed by Ferrari itself for the F430 is 3,196 pounds for the European-spec car under DIN parameters. With our more straightforward criteria and the F1 gearbox, we got 3,351 pounds. Lamborghini fesses up to just 3,152 pounds dry weight and our check showed a real-world Gallardo SE with its E-gear transmission tipping the scales at 3,539 pounds. Aston Martin stands by a 3,461-pound DIN curb weight for the V8 Vantage, but, with the add-on of 19-inch wheels, it actually comes in about even with the Gallardo SE at 3,539 pounds. Finally, BMW were the only ones to hit the bull's eye: A ready-to-fly M6 bends the scale at 3,946 pounds curb weight. The power-to-weight range starts with the Ferrari at 6.83 pounds per horse and ends with the Aston at 9.45 pounds per.

V8? V10? Front? Back?

All four engines stir strong emotions. The V8 in the Ferrari-keeping in mind the image desired for cars like these-is at the high end of naturally aspirated V8 excitement. Meanwhile, the 4.3-liter V8 in the V8 Vantage is easier to live with in this base version. Push the Aston accelerator all the way to the floor in neutral, however, and the sound bouncing off of the 7500-rpm redline is right out of the Sebring pit lane. Shades of things to come.Both the Gallardo SE and M6 carry a 5.0-liter V10 and behave very differently from one another. Accelerating from idle, the M6 engine builds its revs more gradually than that in the Gallardo. But once you hit 6000 rpm in the M6, the revs grow as quickly as they do in the F430. After the aggressive throttle response in the F430, the Gallardo SE is only slightly less hyper due to the two added cylinders. Almost all of those gathered preferred the exhaust sound from the Lamborghini over that from the other three.

In fact, it's no secret that Ferrari is developing its own V10 engine right now to go into either the replacement for the F430 in 2010, or as early as late 2007 in the new "Dino." The reason for this is to have some of the marketing success that Lamborghini has had with this V10 in the Gallardo. On the other hand, Formula One is switching to small V8 engines next season and this could affect the overall image of both V10s and V8s.

Most actively balanced of these four cars is naturally the Gallardo SE with its Audi-style all-wheel drive. This traction setup makes the 42/58 weight distribution much more controllable for less experienced drivers. The placement of a large engine almost right in the center of a car behind the driver is traditionally also more stable than a full-on front or rear engine. But all cars in this segment-certainly all four of these cars-have so much new technology, and repositioning of other components like gearboxes and batteries, that any reasonable weight distribution can be played with to achieve exactly the drive characteristics the engineers desire. The exciting and much weightier M6-54/46 weight split-is a great example of a car that should understeer a lot but doesn't have to once you know how to better drive it at its limits.

If I had to choose the perfect configuration? How about the Gallardo SE with the entire Ferrari powertrain and ceramic rotors? Or the V8 Vantage with all 500 bhp from the M6?Or, much more pertinent, which one could get me the most Bond girls?

I'm copping out on this one, yep.

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