An adrenaline rush of a ride

The only time I’ve had as much fun in a car as I did during a test drive of a convertible Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder it was in a formula race car. That was also the last time I was in a car that made that kind of sound – a high-pitched wail overscoring an aggressive, throaty growl. It’s a sound that announces this isn’t just a high-end muscle car, it’s a race car – so move aside, children, move aside.

Speaking of announcements: I noticed people in other cars and on sidewalks turning to watch the bright yellow car with the modern, angular lines go past, looking fast even at a stop light. Just sitting there you’re making a statement.

The Gallardo Spyder – designed to give the Ferrari 430 Spider some competition – was introduced in early 2006. While you probably won’t take it up to sixth gear and 196 mph – especially on Oahu now that the island’s lone race track has been shuttered – it’s nice knowing that you could. Top end with the top down, by the way, is a mere 192 mph.

Even in town traffic, whether cruising Beretania Street or navigating the H-1 at midday, the Gallardo Spyder’s maneuverability and tractability make it an exciting drive. Never has simply changing lanes been so enjoyable or so quick. On the freeway, the Gallardo Spyder doesn’t so much accelerate as jump past other vehicles – the suddeness with which it passes and is upon traffic ahead literally had my heart racing.

Perhaps the best example of handling occurred as we were heading east on the H-1, and where it ends and Kalanianaole Highway begins we hit the light at Ainakoa just right with the green, downshifted and made a tight U-turn at about 35 mph. Thanks to a four-wheel independent double-wishbone suspension, this car carries high “platform rigidity” – meaning you can put it through sharp turns at speed with utter confidence.

While going from zero to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds is a ton of fast fun, going from 60 to zero is even more impressive – downshifting and braking to a stop in just 104 feet. Who’d have thought that slowing down could be such a rush?

More than this Lambo’s sound and handling reminded me of driving a formula race car. Computers sense when a shift needs to be made and automatically goose the gas just before you downshift, using paddle shifters located behind the steering wheel.

Unlike the 12-cylinder Lamborghini Marcialago, a strictly handmade car, the 10-cylinder Gallardo Spyder is a production vehicle – thanks to millions of dollars that Audi invested in R&D and modern production equipment after buying Lamboghini nearly a decade ago. The result, says Brad Nicolai of JN Automotive, is a car that is more durable, consistent and reliable. Another difference since Audi got involved is that test drives are no longer done strictly on the two-lane country roads around Santa’Agata, Italy (near Bologna), where 18-wheelers share the road.

“One of their test drivers took me out once and that was the craziest experience of my life,” says Nicolai. Now cars are also tested on tracks – in a variety of weather conditions – throughout Europe.

“Lamborghini has a great tradition, but now with Audi involved they’ve made some nice changes,” says Nicolai. One of those is increasing production from about 200 to 2,000 cars a year. “There’s a good balance of the number of cars on the market and the quality.”

For all its history, there are only “three or four” Lamborghini Gallardo Spyders on Oahu roadways.

One of the modern touches is a front end that can be raised for going over speed bumps and severe driveways. It automatically lowers when you hit 35 mph. And the way the back of the car rises to allow the black canvas convertible top to be lowered or raised is straight out of Transformers.

The seats and dash are of supple black leather with gold stitching, and there’s an appealing cluster of gauges on the dash, and a powerful stereo system.

But that’s eye and ear candy. With the Gallardo Spyder, it’s all about speed, handling, that bad boy growl and making a statement.

The Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder is available at JN Automotive for $250,000.