For a glimpse at how far Lamborghini’s most popular model (in history) has come in its nine years, consider the most extreme examples of the Gallardo spectrum: the entry-level LP550-2 and the range-topping LP570-4 Spyder Performante. These variants book-end the seven-model Gallardo lineup, revealing a surprising breadth of both performance and personality.
With its $194000 sticker price, the rear-drive LP550-2 is Lamborghini’s most affordable offering. Its milder manner came through during our track test and a brief jaunt through Malibu’s tortuous canyons: sure, the mid-mounted V10 wails with a delicious roar, but seat time suggests it has a tamer temperament – the steering is on the slower side, brakes are progressive and slightly soft, while its suspension, although tight, soaks up more irregularities than you might expect.
Driving the LP550-2 hard, the trademark Gallardo understeer reveals itself in slower turns. But things can get interesting in a medium- or high-speed sweeper. Thanks to 550 metric horsepower pummeling the rubber, and 80 lb less than its AWD equivalent, the LP550-2 changes direction incrementally more quickly, its aerodynamic enhancements counteracting the car’s revised dynamic traits.
Perhaps it’s not as responsive as its razor-sharp stablemates, but this cut-price coupe tosses its weight around nicely, with obedient corrections to steering input and massive mid-corner grip.
At the other extreme, the $250100 LP570-4 Spyder Performante reveals a meaner animal. The supple leather is replaced by large expanses of carbon fiber, with alcantara ornamenting the steering wheel and dash. All this lends the cabin a racecar-feel – perhaps not surprising given what Lamborghini learned from its Blancpain Super Trofeo spec series.
The seats are form fitting, carbon-backed buckets, while the ragtop lets in a snarlier exhaust note from the 570hp mill.
Essentially it’s a drop-top version of the LP570-4 Superleggera coupe, but the Performante feels taut and focused, even at low speeds. Its steering conveys more information from the pavement and throttle response reveals a more aggressive state of tune.
The suspension’s stiffer shocks, thicker sway bars and rigid bushings enable a stronger connection between that thick alcantara wheel and the fat Pirellis below.
Traces of the Gallardo’s trademark plowing still appear in slower turns, but the Spyder Performante comes alive when driven closer to its limits: high speed is rewarded with more transparent weight transfer and clearer communication. It’s AWD setup enables tail slides, ever so delectably, during mid-corner throttle lifts. You’ll never confuse the edgy Performante with its milder Audi R8 alter ego, though, which is a wonderful thing for the German-owned brand.
Is the LP550-2 a secret sleeper, or is the Spyder Performante the gotta-have-it flagship? After sampling both back-to-back, we’re reluctant to recommend the RWD coupe in light of the latter’s stimulant-laced responses. But considering the first generation Gallardo is in its twilight, the exotic car shopper might hold onto their quarter-million dollars and see what’s lurking around the next apex.