Miura, Countach, Jalpa. Lamborghini has a habit of using names most people find hard to pronounce properly, but Murcilago takes the cake. For a start it is not even an Italian name. Murcilago is Spanish for bat, and being Spanish it is actually pronounced Moor-thee-ay-laago.
Lamborghini aficionados may well ask what happened to the bullfighting connection that the marque has traditionally embraced in its car names. At this point I revert to legend and explain that Murcilago was a famous fighting bull from the 18th century whose name passed into legend.
Also legendary is the explosive performance of Lamborghini cars. The Murcilago promises to take this to an all-time high. With 571 bhp from a new 6.2-liter V12, a six-speed gearbox, four-wheel drive and superior aerodynamics, the claimed performance eclipses even the mighty Diablo GT. Going from 0 to 60 mph takes just 3.7 sec., with top speed said to be over 206 mph.
Audi's Board of Management rejected early designs produced before they bought the company. Then they appointed 36-year-old Luc Donckerwolke, a Belgian designer raised in Peru, to the task of redesigning the car. A self-confessed fan of Lamborghini from youth, Luc is the first non-Italian to design a Lamborghini, but the result of his hard work is very clearly Lamborghini.
Head on, the Murcilago carries the distinctive chiseled bonnet shape of the Countach with its pantograph single wiper. From the rear three-quarters, the slats and engine intakes carry overtones of the 1970s Urraco, the first "small" Lamborghini. The rest of the car is all new, but the proportions still read Lamborghini, even if it has a less cab-forward look than the Diablo.
Donckerwolke also came up with the computer-controlled variable intake system, which draws copious volumes of cooling air in when the motor is running hot and helps the car maintain its simplicity of line when it is stationary. The one styling anomaly is the huge lower intakes behind the doors, which look like an afterthought. Otherwise, the car has a purity of line not seen on a Lamborghini since the first LP400 Countach, one of my all-time favorites.
The rear spoiler retracts when it is not needed, which will upset the Countach 5000S and Diablo SE brigade! But the corollary of this clean look is a respectable drag coefficient, varying between 0.33 and 0.36 depending on the position of the air intakes. The exterior wing mirrors are attached by long stalks, as they are required to provide adequate view aft when the intakes are open. They can be folded electrically.
The big black intakes on the front and rear of the car really dominate these two aspects. The front ones are a contemporary motif seen on the Porsche Turbo/GT2 and the Ferrari 360 Modena, but the complementary rear vents are a new statement-one that suits this car very well. Power creates heat, and heat needs ventilation. Big power, big heat, big vents! Capiche?
The distinctive scissors doors were first seen on the Countach, carried to the Diablo and now the Murcilago. They are another statement of the uncompromising nature of the car and swing up to reveal an interior that has been rationalized to look simpler and be more comfortable. The center console dominates less, the cabin architecture is softer and more organic, and build quality seems very good indeed. The instrument pack looks traditionally analog but is actually backlit by contemporary electronics.
Sitting in the car confirms Lamborghini's claim that the car is more comfortable. Driving it confirms the claim that interior noise levels are lower to make long journeys less tiring. Even so, when you are accelerating hard, the distinctive Lamborghini V12 soundtrack is still there behind your head. Gurgling, growling, roaring as it rises and falls in a symphony of mechanical delight, it is always a sound to be savored.
Under the skin, the traditional tubular steel and alloy framework is also still there, although it now also uses carbon-fiber structural parts with honeycomb floor panels. Carbon fiber also replaces the previous alloy body, bar the steel roof and door panels. For all that the curb weight is still a substantial 1,650kg (3,637 lb), only 30kg less than the Diablo 6.0 VT. But when you consider that this new four-wheel-drive supercar has many more sophisticated systems on board and superior secondary safety features, the figure is justified.
As before, the engine is mid-mounted with the gearbox in front of the engine and the rear differential integrated into the gearbox. The permanent four-wheel-drive system has a central viscous coupler. Weight distribution is a favorable 42/58 percent front/rear split. Important for handling is the fact the engine now sits 50mm (1.97 in.) lower in the chassis.
Suspension is traditional Lamborghini with double wishbones, coil springs and electronically controlled dampers with manual and automatic control. There is an anti-roll bar on each axle, and anti-dive, anti-squat geometry. The ABS brakes use massive 355x32mm vented discs all around with big alloy four-pot calipers.
The alloy wheels are an all-new design, but these 8.5J and 13Jx18 wheels with 245/35ZR18 and 335/30ZR18 tires are exactly the same dimensions as the mighty Diablo GT.
The heart of any supercar is its engine, and Lamborghini upholds the reputation for producing the most charismatic sounding V12 motor in the world. The new incarnation of the basic 60-degree V12 engine, which has served as the main power unit for Lamborghini since the 1960s, has been completely revised.
With a bore and stroke of 87.0 x 86.8mm, this dohc, four-valves-per-cylinder all-alloy motor now displaces 6192cc with a compression ratio of 10.7:1. It is now dry-sumped, which reduces its installed height by a significant 50mm. Intake and exhaust cams have electronically controlled variable valve timing, and the throttle control is drive-by-wire.
Power is a resounding 571 bhp at 7500 rpm with 479 lb-ft of torque at 5400 rpm. A new six-speed gearbox takes power to all four wheels, and for the first time ever in a supercar from Sant'Agata Bolognese there is a traction control system to (hopefully) save the driver who takes unrealistic liberties with the Murcilago's exceptionally high limits.
The air intake system has variable geometry for optimum ram air generation. This is controlled by the Lamborghini LIE engine control unit, which operates the three positions of intake geometry via two butterfly valves, one on the plenum chamber and one on the bypass valve.
Electronics feature in the Murcilago like never before in the history of Lamborghini. There are three master processors and one satellite control unit, all networked on a CAN-BUS system. The LDAS diagnostic system even has a "black box" recorder.
On the test track, I was immediately struck by the ease of driving the new car. Its clutch and gearshift are moderately weighted, and the new drive-by-wire throttle is very progressive. Apart from the larger capacity, the major differences are the variable valve timing and drive-by-wire throttle, both interfaced with the new engine management system to provide a much more linear response. Compared to its predecessor, the engine both sounds and feels much smoother, and power delivery is simply awesome. There is loads of torque from just off idle, and the throttle response is noticeably crisper. Through the gears, the new motor revs more cleanly and breathes better at the top end. Bearing in mind that the Murcilago has four-wheel drive, the traction control system seems all too eager to have its say in the proceedings. In fact, even on the relatively gentle curve before the pits, I found the traction control cutting the ignition quite intrusively when I accelerated hard in second gear. Even after short shifting to third, it still attempted to interfere, so after a couple of laps I switched it off.
Although on paper the Murcilago uses a double wishbone at each corner, the design has been totally revised in dimension and geometry. The car also uses carbon fiber for its chassis with honeycomb floor panels. The resulting structure is immensely stiff. Combined with a reinterpretation of the classic Lamborghini space-frame structure, it gives the car a substantial handling edge.
The revised front suspension of the Murcilago works incredibly well, and the larger front tires also help. Thus, in tight bends, the new car turns in precisely without the strong understeer of the Diablo. You can place it perfectly, and add or subtract throttle at will to go faster or slower on your chosen line. Simple as that.
Lifting off or braking in fast bends was always heart-stopping in a Diablo. With its engine mass better contained thanks to the lower center of gravity, the Murcilago is infinitely more stable, and its tail stays firmly on line under the same circumstances. It is a far more confidence-inspiring car to drive hard and more forgiving when you take liberties. While it is still a big, wide and heavy car, it just feels less so thanks to its better steering, vastly superior front-end grip and relative lack of roll oversteer.
When all is said and done, the Murcilago is light years ahead of the Diablo in both dynamics and ergonomics, and its build quality is a notch up the ladder, too. You quickly realize that in one fell swoop Lamborghini has rewritten the rulebook.In the Diablo, the engine was the star, and you tolerated the foibles of the steering and handling to experience this engaging powerplant. By comparison, the Murcilago is a coherent and balanced package where the handling, brakes, steering, gearshift and cabin ergonomics are equal partners with the motor. My opinion of the Murcilago rose the more I drove it. This is the best car Lamborghini has ever made by a long shot, and it has a synergy that takes the marque to a new level.
When Audi came to Sant'Agata Bolognese, there were fears the Teutonic mindset might just stifle the Italian soul of the raging bull. Far from it, the Germans seem to have caught a heavy dose of local brio, and their fanatical attention to detail and build quality, not to mention resources, has improved the product immeasurably.
Emotion plays a big role in a supercar purchase, and the Murcilago is more engaging to look at and drive than any contemporary Ferrari. The fact that Lamborghini intends to make 400 cars a year, as part of a total 1,400-unit output when the new small Lamborghini appears in 2003, should be cause for concern down the road in Modena.
|Lamborghini Murciélago Specifications|
|Type||12 cylinders, V60°|
|Bore x stroke||87mm x 86.8mm|
|Intake system||Variable geometry, three modes|
|Valve gear||DOHC, 48 valves, intake and exhaust variablevalve timing, electronically controlled|
|Maximum power||571 bhp (426 kW) at 7500 rpm|
|Maximum torque||479 lb-ft (650 Nm) at 5400 rpm|
|Top speed||Over 205 mph (330 km/h) depending on|
|Transmission type||Permanent four-wheel drive with viscous|
|Clutch||Dry single plate, 272mm with reduced|
|Gear ratios||(1) 2.941; (2) 2.056; (3) 1.520; (4) 1.179;|
|(5) 1.030; (6) 0.914; (R) 2.529|
|Frame||Tubular frame made from high-strength steel alloy with carbon-fiber structural parts|
|Body||Carbon fiber and steel|
|Suspension||Independent front and rear double wishbones, anti-roll bars; anti-dive and anti-squat;|
|electronic shock absorber system with manual and automatic control|
|Brakes||Power vacuum, H system with ABS +DRP,|
|aluminium-alloy four-cylinder calipers|
|Ventilated discs, f & r||355x32mm & 335x32mm|
|Steering||Power-assisted, rack and pinion|
|Tires, f & r||245/35ZR18 & 335/30ZR18|
|Wheels, f & r||Aluminum alloy, 8.5x18 in. & 13x18 in.|
|Turning circle||41.17 ft (12.55m)|
|Wheelbase||104.92 in. (2665mm)|
|Track, f & r||64.37 in. & 66.73 in. (1635mm & 1695mm)|
|Weight||3,637 lb (1,650kg)|
|Weight distribution, f/r||42/58|
|Engine oil||12.68 qt (12L)|
|Fuel tank||26.42 gal. (100L)|
|Engine coolant||15.85 qt (15L )|