IT'S ALMOST A DECADE since the world first set eyes on the Lamborghini Gallardo, at its launch a machine so utterly dismissive of contemporary trends that its daring blend of straight lines, angles and flat surfaces (with the exception of the wheel arches, there's hardly a curve in sight) struck like a slap in the face. Since then we've had ample opportunity to become accustomed to the Italian car-maker's “entry-level” offering – indeed, given that passing time rarely favours the radically unusual, we might reasonably expect it to look dated or even, God forbid, downright ugly.
Yet 10 years on, and appearing as sharp and as right as it ever has, this archetypal supercar continues to turn heads, proving beyond doubt the flair and integrity of its original design – and in stark contrast to several erstwhile competitors that have since disappeared almost entirely from the radar screens of taste and desirability. As if to hammer the point home, the refreshed and final iteration of this modern classic (the Gallardo is due for replacement some time next year), currently rolling off the production line at the Sant'Agata Bolognese factory, approaches a kind of automotive apotheosis.
The folks at Lamborghini, of course, have long sustained demand for their two-car model range by launching regular facelifts, and a plethora of high-performance and special-edition variants. Upgrades such as these have helped boost the Gallardo's remarkable production run to more than 13,000 units, numbers that far exceed those for any other model produced by the company. It's the kind of magic they're hoping to work again with the car's final expression, the New Gallardo LP 560-4.
Although mechanically no different from its immediate predecessor, this latest incarnation of what is certainly the most tameable car ever to wear the fightingbull badge is easily the best looking, with a broad grille spanning the lower nose flanked by triangular intakes that feed gulps of cooling air to the front brakes. Triangles and trapezoids – shapes now integral to Lamborghini's design vocabulary – also feature on the reworked rear end, as well as on the handsome new five-spoke 19-inch wheels in matt black and polished silver alloy, while the spoiler that lies flush with the rear deck rises electronically at speed. In its simple white paint job, our test car looks frankly sensational.
Directly behind the driver and beneath the glass panel covering the engine bay lies what now seems a glorious anachronism: a naturally aspirated 5.2-litre motor whose V10 configuration recalls the nonturbocharged, multi-cylinder era of Formula 1 racing, which came to an end in 2005. This lusty great lump, which produces some 560bhp and almost the same figures in Newton metres of torque, is linked to the now-familiar six-speed, E-gear automated manual gearbox that drives all four wheels (unusually among contemporary supercars, a full manual transmission with stick shift and clutch pedal also continues to be available). As with quattro models produced by Lamborghini's German parent Audi, torque is fed to all four wheels via limitedslip differentials with viscous-coupling traction control, the system's front bias being one explanation for the Gallardo's eye-popping ability to hustle through highspeed corners.
Lambos have always been among the most mental of motorcars, so it goes without saying that there's an unashamed brutality to the way the LP 560-4 both sounds and goes. This can perhaps best be experienced by selecting fourth gear at a relatively low speed, giving the accelerator a serious boot, feeling the corresponding wallop in the back, and revelling in the insane cacophony of snarls and barks that emanates from just centimetres behind the ear as the V10 races through the rev range. Through the gears, on the other hand, the LP 560-4 leaps from a standstill to 100km/h in a claimed 3.7 seconds, reaches twice that velocity in less than 12 seconds and carries on to a maximum speed of 325km/h – in other words, a tad over the magical 200mph.
While absolutes such as these place this 10-year-old in broadly similar territory to much newer supercars – the Ferrari 458 Italia and McLaren MP4-12C being the most obvious examples – in areas such as finesse and refinement the Gallardo is beginning to show its age just a little. Even when the more relaxed “A” mode is engaged on the E-gear box, for example, up- or down-shifts provoke a pronounced drive-train clunk, while ride quality comes nowhere near the magic-carpet waft produced by the 12C's active hydraulic suspension.
But point the Gallardo at a long black ribbon of straights, curves and crests, the kind of road that petrol-heads only dream about – and, pulled and pushed through the bends by its awesome all-wheel-drive, beautifully sorted double-wishbone suspension and brilliant steering, it still has few peers among production cars. Stopping power is equally impressive – as it should be from a system that employs eight-pot alloy callipers to grip its 365mm steel discs at the front (four-cylinder callipers do the same on the 356mm rotors at the rear). Make no mistake: in terms of ability, driveability and the sheer grin-inducing pleasure it engenders, the Lambo remains a credible and charismatic contender – and all without either attitude or intimidation.
Wriggle into the cockpit – and even now you can't help noticing how the doors on this most approachable Lamborghini open normally, rather than flamboyantly scissoring upwards – and you encounter a broadly similar mix of ancient and modern. The antiquated toggle switches and airconditioning controls on the console fascia, the old-style handbrake, the puny letterbox sat-nav display and the diamond-pattern-stitched seats that you really wouldn't want to be wedged into for much more than a couple of hours – all clearly point to the Gallardo's advancing years. Seated in the driver's chair I find my legs skewed towards the transmission tunnel, so to stop myself from inadvertently pressing the brake pedal I keep my left shoe firmly planted on the footrest. It's not the most comfortable driving position.
Yet the buttons and paddles that operate the transmission are cutting-edge, as is the tiny, flat-bottomed Alcantara-clad steering wheel that just begs to be twirled – and imparts such delicious feedback when it is. Add to these the addictive adrenaline rush that accompanies the merest brush of the accelerator pedal, the thrilling Wagnerian wails from the engine compartment, the seemingly endless grip of the monstrous Pirelli P-Zero tyres as I fling the thing about, and the undiminished drama of the Gallardo's lines that makes me want to sneak sideways glances whenever I'm passing a reflective facade, and I'm perfectly happy to forgive every one of the car's shortcomings.
Because ultimately – and whether inbound or outgoing – this is a Lamborghini, the marque that invented the modern supercar. And with this fast, furious and final hurrah, they may just have come up with the most desirable Gallardo ever.