The rakish $219,800 Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera -- $255,695 with my test car's options -- didn't seem to belong on the Eisenhower Expressway with Toyotas, Chevrolets, SUVs and other mass-produced vehicles. Rather, it felt like it would be a lot more at home on California's Rodeo Drive or at South Beach, Fla.
But there was the menacing-looking jet black (Lamborghini calls it "Nero Peseus") Gallardo Superleggera, mixing it up with the usual half-frantic afternoon traffic on the Eisenhower.
I was tucked in a supportive sport bucket seat with its built-in side air bag behind the car's wheel. Sven Asmus, marketing director of the Bentley-Lamborghini Gold Coast dealership on Rush Street, was in the passenger seat, talking about people who buy such a car.
"It's really everybody," Asmus said, as we drove at 65-70 mph -- in a car that can hit 195 mph. "Buyers include young people who come into a lot of money and car enthusiasts who like to drive hard on race tracks. Celebrities, such as professional athletes, buy a Lamborghini. Customers come from smack dab in the city, others from the suburbs.
"Some buyers are people who tire of the typically long wait for a Ferrari they ordered. A Gallardo is readily available and sells for list price, not a premium price."
Are they all males? "Well, the president of the local Lamborghini owner's club chapter is a woman," Asmus said.
The mid-engine Gallardo Superleggera (Super Light) is special because it's a lighter weight -- and thus faster -- version of the regular Gallardo, which is among the world's fastest cars. Extensive use of strong, but lightweight, carbon fiber trims its weight about 285 pounds to 2,998 pounds.
The large sideview mirrors -- needed because of marginal rear vision -- are carbon fiber, and so are the underbody plate, engine bay, hood, side sills, inner door panel and rear spoiler. Rear window glass has been replaced by lighter polycarbonate.
There's 10 additional horsepower, bringing the total figure of the car's 5-liter V-10 engine -- which has a transparent cover behind the back window -- to 530 horsepower, thanks to a larger engine manifold and revised software.
It's understandable that the car does 0-60 mph in 3.5 seconds. Car and Driver magazine did 0-100 mph in an amazing 7.9 seconds with the Superleggera.
You can get this Lamborghini with a conventional six-speed manual gearbox and clutch. But my test car's six-speed automatic/manual "e-gear" transmission had a separate dashboard button to put the car in reverse gear. The transmission had clunky shifts in automatic mode at lower speeds, although it worked well in manual mode with the shift paddles on each side of the steering wheel.
Estimated fuel economy is 10 mpg in the city and 17 on highways with the regular manual gearbox and 11 and 17 with the e-gear transmission. Higher figures with this type of car can't be expected.
The power rack-and-pinion steering is direct but rather heavy, although this is the type of steering you want on such a high-speed car. While firm, the ride is supple. Handling is extraordinary.
The all-wheel-drive Superleggera is essentially a road car that can be used as a race car. But that doesn't mean it's stripped, loud and uncomfortable, as are most competition cars. For instance, despite the weight cuts, it has power windows, with easily reached dashboard controls, a premium sound system with a CD changer, tilt-telescopic wheel and climate control system.
Lamborghini figures that, if folks pay more than $200,000 for an auto, they at least should have those items.
Speaking of options, you need deeper pockets if you want some of the Gallardo Superleggera's extras. For instance, carbon ceramic disc brakes with black calipers cost a whopping $15,600. They're best for hard track use because brake pedal feel with them is touchy for street use unless you really concentrate on braking smoothly at in-town speeds. (Porsche and Ferrari also charge a lot for such brakes.)
A rear spoiler will set you back $5,850. The carbon package costs $3,630. A rearview camera is $2,600. Floor mats are $650, as is the leather-covered wheel. And so on.
If you plan spending track time with the car, it's necessary to get the $650 "Prep. Track Tubular frame" (in-car hardware for an approximately $4,000 rollbar needed for track use). As it is, the car has standard aluminum space frame construction.
The Gallardo Superleggera stands only 45.9 inches high, so getting in and out calls for at least some athletic moves. The interior is roomy for extra-tall drivers, but auxiliary center dashboard gauges are too far away to read quickly.
However, as with any Lamborghini, the best gauge to watch is the speedometer, which is in front of the driver, because the car always tends to go much faster than he thinks it's going. But would Lamborghini owners have it any other way?
2008 LAMBORGHINI GALLARDO SUPERLEGGERA
LIKES: Unusually fast. Superb handling. Rakish styling. Generally comfortable.
DISLIKES: Expensive. Touchy brake pedal. Hard-to-read auxiliary gauges. Optional $15,600 brakes?