Take a ride in the sleek and speedy Italian sports car

The legend is that Furruccio Lamborghini, a highly successful Italian tractor manufacturer, was an owner of Ferraris in the 1960s. Upset with some minor complaint about his Ferrari sports car, he confronted founder Enzo Ferrari. When Mr. Lamborghini suggested to Mr. Ferrari how the next Ferrari should be made, purportedly Enzo quipped: “If you can build a better car, build it yourself.”

Not being faint at heart, Furruccio quickly did just that by manufacturing his concept of a fast and elegant sports car. The battle between these exotic carmakers continues to this day.

And the latest edition to the battle from the Lamborghini line has just arrived in Honolulu in the form of the Lamborghini Gallardo LP 560-4.

This Gallardo represents the smallest and lightest of the current Lamborghini repertoire. By reworking the V-10 powerplant with higher compression, revising the fuel injection system and increasing displacement, horsepower has jumped by 29 to 40 horses over the previous models for a total of 552.

Power is handled by an all-wheel drive system with a choice of two transmissions. Standard is a six-speed stick with an optional E-gear system available (more about this feature later).

Many luxury amenities are either standard or available. A 7-inch video screen in the middle of the dash provides all the information one needs, including a TV camera view of what is behind the car when backing up. Dual automatic A/C easily handles the interior climate.

Driving this newest Lamborghini is best described as a sensory overload. First, the super and very dramatic styling attracts instant attention from bystanders and friends. It is as if a spaceship had just landed from Mars. People wave, people give you the “burn’em” signal, and people come up and ask you what you do for a living. Everybody wants to hear it, feel it and sit in it.

And sitting in it is relatively easy by opening the wide doors. A beautifully done leather interior with hugging seats and generally well-laid out controls are presented to the driver and passenger.

Turn the key, and a deep throaty sound from the four exhaust pipes immediately tells you this is one powerful vehicle. With the E-gear system you have two choices – shift yourself or let the computer shift for you. Even though there are the traditional metal gears, there is no clutch pedal. In Formula One tradition, various motors perform the clutch and gear changing. Paddles behind the steering wheel are pulled to handle up or downshifts. Or push the “A” button on the dash and Mr. Computer does the shifting for you.

Power is, by the way, instant and rocket ship-like. Zero to 60 time is in the 3.5 second range, and top speed peaks at 205 mph. Steering is direct as it comes. Ride is taut, but not harsh.

Bottom line: This is a sports car in all phases from looks to performance without meaningful compromises.

In the end, thank goodness for the confrontation between the Italian giants – the sports car market was and is clearly the beneficiary of that little disagreement.