Not only is the Gallardo ridicuously fast, but it's also the first entry-level Lamborghini that won't break the moment one opens the door.
The Lamborghini Gallardo is one of the few entry-level cars in the world that is done right. Sure, you might think that a $200,000 car had damn well better be done right, but that isn't always the case with many automakers. With many cars which occupy the bottom price rung within their brand, whether it's a Ferrari California or a Chevy Aveo, you often get the feeling that something has been left out, and that it is intentionally less special. Not so with the Gallardo.
Rather than feeling as though it's been watered down, the Gallardo is simply a Lamborghini with a different focus. It is now well established that Volkswagen ownership saved Lamborghini. Though they had always managed to produce amazing and outrageous cars, Automobili Lamborghini S.p.A. had been changing owners every few years for decades, and was never a huge financial success. The Diablo, built while the company was under Chrysler ownership, kept the factory from being shuttered, but the success of the Diablo was quickly overshadowed.
The first two Lamborghinis to debut under VW ownership have proven to be the brand's two best-selling models of all time, and the Gallardo is the sales leader by a huge margin. It's easy to see why it's so successful too. One could point to its relative cheapness as the reason for its success, but a car that still costs as much as a suburban house needs to offer a little bit more than that, and for the Gallardo that is ease of use. It is the Lamborghini that you could drive every day, assuming you don't carpool. But beyond even that, Lamborghini doesn't neglect its entry level car, and it has had more motorsport applications and special editions than even the Murcielago.
The engine is a 5.0-liter V10 which was enlarged to 5.2-liter starting in 2008. It makes between 493 and 562 horsepower, depending on the year and the state of tune, which varies quite a bit thanks to all of those special editions. There is a choice between Lamborghini's six-speed E-gear automated manual transmission and a traditional three-pedal six-speed manual. Power is sent to all four wheels in most cases, but versions of the car exist which are rear-wheel-drive. The '06 to '08 Spyder is the slowest Gallardo, getting to 60mph in 4.3 seconds and achieving a top speed of 196mph.
At the other end of the fairly narrow spectrum is the LP 570-4 Superleggera and its 3.4-second 0-60 time and 202mph top speed. Before getting into any special editions, the car comes in four basic configurations. There is the standard coupe and Spyder (convertible) and then the performance-oriented Superleggera and Spyder Performante. This is broadly similar to the approach taken with the Gallardo's platform-mate, the Audi R8, with standard and GT versions of the coupe and cabriolet. The special editions are too many to list here individually without being incredibly boring.
Most are either market-specific editions (mostly for various Asian countries where Lamborghini has only recently entered the market) or basically amount to special paint colors or combinations. But deserving special mention is the LP 550-2 Balboni, of which just 250 were made. Named after longtime Lamborghini test driver Valentino Balboni, it is meant to be the ultimate driver's version of the Gallardo. It is available only with a three-pedal manual and only in RWD, and yes, it has a cool-looking stripe. The Gallardo has a roomy and comfortable interior, and it's even fairly easy to see out of.
Luggage space isn't the car's strongest selling point, but it should be remembered that this car shares a platform with the Audi R8, the car generally praised as being one of the easiest supercars to live with. Now, it's true that this does mean that the Gallardo doesn't offer quite as much in the way of lunacy as the big V12 Lambo flagships, but compare it to the similarly-priced Ferrari 458 or McLaren MP4-12C and the Gallardo comes out way ahead in the craziness department. With the big sales numbers enjoyed by the Gallardo (as well as the other cars in this series), one might think that its success was a foregone conclusion.
A cheaper way to get into the raging bull club sounds great, but it was not always so. The Gallardo is the spiritual successor to a whole series of cheaper Lamborghinis. The Urraco, Silhouette and Jalpa all occupied this niche before, but none of these V8-powered bulls could hold a candle to the Gallardo's sales figures. Quality is probably a not-insignificant factor in this. Pre-VW build quality was not excellent in Lamborghinis, even for the flagship models, but it was even worse in the entry models. So the Gallardo is the first of the cheaper Lambos which you weren't afraid to touch for fear of breaking it.
But probably the bigger issue is that the Gallardo is still something special. It doesn't come across as a car which is simply cheaper, it is a different model with a different purpose which just happens to cost less, and that is how you make an entry-level vehicle.