There's no such thing as just an espresso. Sure, you can ask for one at the end of a meal, or as a pick-me-up in the morning, but the Italians are very serious about their coffee, and want to make sure you get exactly what you're looking for. So the request for an espresso is likely to be met with another question in response — "Ristretto, doppio, macchiato or corretto?" Literally concentrated or essence, double, marked or corrected. Each has its own unique appeal — ristretto is produced by using a short burst of steam, and the resulting coffee has a rich, intense flavour and full body, but less bitterness. Doppio is double, a real kick-starter for your day. Macchiato has a small dash of milk to make it smoother, and corretto means corrected, but with what I am not at liberty to say. What could you possibly add to a perfect espresso to make it better? Use your imagination.
So, what has this got to do with cars? Well, quite a lot actually, aside from the fact that the Lamborghini team take their own coffee so seriously that they had brought an espresso machine with them all the way from Italy. Simply put, we were here to sample four different flavours of Gallardo, from the basic to the most intense. And we were going to stretch their legs on the track at Yas, well away from traffic and radars, so we could properly appreciate the full variety of experiences on offer.
Our guide for the day was none other than Max Venturi, the magnificently named instructor from the Lamborghini Racing Academy, and he wasn't sitting around. A couple of warm up laps to settle into the car, and we were off, trying hard to stay in touch and follow in his wheeltracks.
Doppio. First up, a chance to get dialled back in to the car I know best, the LP 560-4 Spyder. At first glance, this might seem the least-suited car for the track, being both heavier than the closed-top coupé, and sitting on softer springs. Yet it heads for the track like a greyhound out of the trap, instantly comfortable, familiar and responsive. I loved this car when I first drove it and see little reason to change my mind now. The traction from the permanent AWD system is awesome, the steering excellent, the suspension soft enough to allow a little movement and compliance. You can ride the kerbs and clip the apex without too much complaint from the Spyder, it simply bounces over the obstacle and tracks true to your chosen line.
But for the first time, I began to feel that it was lacking in power. The sibling Coupé runs the same drivetrain, but is lighter and so it has a marginal advantage, and was just beginning to stretch away ahead of me on the long back straight.
Ristretto. So, what of the pure uncompromised version, the LP 560-4 Coupé? Two things — there really isn't enough headroom for people in a crash helmet, as we were — even with the seat on its lowest setting, your head was still pushed against the roof. But once you were in, found an acceptable position and pulled the belt tight, the weight advantage did actually seem to make a difference. Lamborghini reckons there's only about 10kg in it, but the Coupé predictably feels just a touch more precise and nimble. Everything, in fact, that I had liked about the original Spyder, but honed to a degree more precision. It was just a touch faster away from the line, had the edge on the back straight, carved the turn with a smidge less correction. These are fine judgements, and it is only the opportunity to drive both cars back-to-back that highlights the differences, but they are definitely there.
Macchiato. So, on to the more serious stuff. How much harder would the Spyder Performante prove to be? A revelation, that's how much. I did not have fond memories of the Spyder Performante having spent a nervous hour in a Sharjah traffic jam, but here it was in its element. The carbon-ceramic brakes still lack feel at the top of the pedal's travel, but when you want to scrub off a lot of speed because you left it late on the long back straight, they are immensely powerful and effective. The teeth-jarringly hard suspension is a pain on the road, but a boon here. Nothing deflects the Spyder Performante from your chosen line, there's no vagueness under braking or hesitation in the turn. It simply bites and hauls. How much faster this would be in the hands of a skilled driver I don't know, but I imagine the margin is larger than I should admit to here. With skill, you could carry prodigious speed through a turn. Even without it, the Performante Spyder flattered the nut holding the wheel.
Corretto. The Superleggera is the most focused of the entire Gallardo road range, and draws heavily on the Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo racecar. A full 70kg lighter than the LP 560-4 Coupé, it offers little in the way of compromise or creature comforts. Sure, you can specify things like a multimedia navigation system, a lifting system to get the car over speed bumps and even a remote control for opening your garage door, but they all add weight. Better to do without and make full use of the track-focused spec which includes a steel roll cage, four-point belts and Alcantara covering on the wheel. Carbon-ceramic brakes are standard, as are Pirelli Corsa sports tyres specifically developed for the car.
So if this is a car ‘corrected', how well do those corrections work? Brutally well. The Superlegerra makes no sense on the road, it is too hard to ever be comfortable, but as a track weapon, it is sublime. One of the biggest shocks for anyone fortunate enough to enjoy a hot lap in a proper GT racer is not the speed per se, but the speed through corners. These guys just don't slow down, and it is that combination of tenacity and traction that defines the Superlegerra. Treat it with respect, enjoy it for what it is, and you'll be the fastest guy on the track all day.
So, four apparently similar cars, based on the same ingredients, but served up in different ways. The biggest surprise of the day was not how alike they were, but how distinct each flavour was. Which one is right for you? Only way to find out is to try them all.