Sometimes there's no substitute for the definitive article. Jonathan Crouch drives the Lamborghini Murcielago LP640
Ten Second Review
There's more to building a supercar than just big power and wacky styling. As Lamborghini has demonstrated with the Murcielago, there's no substitute for engineering, heritage, and a company that understands how to build a modern supercar. The last part is key and one reason for the Murcielago's ongoing success.
The twisted genius at Lamborghini's Sant'Agata factory that came up with the final specification for the Murcielago LP640 must, as the phrase goes, have something of the night about them. There's a brooding malevolence to this car, as if it's been distilled from bad intention. It's the automotive world's Colonel Kurtz. Believe it or not, there are people out there who feel as if the standard Murcielago didn't have enough about it, that its 575bhp was in some way inadequate. These are the sorts of people who might consider a 1000bhp hypercar like a Bugatti or a Koenigsegg but are rather particular about aesthetics. As striking as some of these ultra high performance cars are, none are quite as elegantly resolved as the Murcielago, a shape that hasn't aged at all since we first saw the design back in 2001. Since that time, more than 2,000 have found customers and the LP640 is an even more extreme variant and appeals to an even more specialist palate.
The badge tells you much of what you need to know about this car. You won't need to be a fluent Italian speaker to figure out that Longitudinale Posteriore (LP) denotes which way round the engine sits and where, and the 640 corresponds to how much horsepower said V12 cranks out. Bored and stroked to 6.5-litres, this engine has undergone extensive surgery. All that adds up to a sprint from rest to 62mph in 3.4 seconds (0.4 seconds faster than the previous model), with a top speed of well over 200mph. Power is nothing without control and the LP640 features a huge braking system with massive 380mm x 34mm front discs, while the 355mm x 32mm rear discs are bigger than most flagship sports cars wear up front. The engine is no screamer, instead having the deep-chested howl of a classic Lamborghini V12. This is a car that deserves serious respect, the huge engine behind the driver making handling at the limit a bit tricky. Such are the grip levels and the advanced electronic control systems that most drivers will never get anywhere near the limits of traction. Quick left-right transitions aren't the Murcielago's forte but through high speed sweepers it feels rock solid and massively reassuring.
Design and Build
The Murcielago LP640 was originally brought in as a flagship model to sit above the stock 6.2-litre Murcielago model but few were in much doubt that the smaller engine would be quietly pensioned off and so it has proved. The LP640 ushered in a whole host of styling and design tweaks. Revised front and rear bumpers give the car a more aggressive look and feel while the exhausts have been incorporated within the diffuser on the rear bumper. Other revisions included the 'biohazard' rear lights and asymmetric side panels. While the area behind the air intake on the right side is practically closed, the left side features a vast aperture for cooling the oil radiator. An option the more extrovert will specify is a glass cover for the engine bay. The rear view mirrors and the windscreen wipers have been modified to improve aerodynamics and Hermera light metal wheel rims are offered. The interior was given a thorough reworking with revised graphics on the instrument panel while the seats are not only bigger but also feature redesigned head restraints. The leather upholstery features lozenge-shaped stitching called Q-citura. The same design is repeated on the upholstery on the door panels, on the panel between the seats and the engine compartment, and on the roof panel.
Market and Model
Two Murcielago models are now offered both at around the £200,000 mark; the Coupe and the Roadster. The open-topped car may be news to some as for some time after the LP640 Coupe was the sole hard top Murcielago on offer, the Roadster model was still sold with the old 6.2-litre engine. The car retains the maddeningly complicated hood that limits top speed to 99mph when it's in place but with the hood off, it's astonishing and such is the rigidity of the spaceframe chassis that there's not the gurning and twisting that mars so many big, open-topped cars. While it may seem odd to proclaim a car as expensive as this as being excellent value for money, the Murcielago makes sense when compared to its rivals. It's quicker than a Porsche Carrera GT and a Mercedes SLR coupe, both of which have come and gone at prices way in excess of the big Lambo. Even Ferrari have latterly chosen to avoid competing head on, the latest 599 GTB Fiorano being a very different proposition, lacking the classic mid-engined supercar profile. Only very small-volume operations like Pagani and Koenigsegg come close, but again prices are elevated way beyond what Lamborghini is charging. Now that the Ford GT has been pensioned off, it's fair to say that the Murcielago has killed all of its direct competitors.
Cost of Ownership
One thing most Murcielago owners don't worry too much about is cost of ownership. There's a price to be paid for joining the supercar club and many willingly accept it. Depreciation remains fairly high, servicing is eye-watering and parts prices are hefty. One consolation is that the Murcielago's four-wheel drive system and advanced electronics mean that it's surprisingly kind to tyres, which is just as well given that a set of four Michelin Pilot Sport PS2s will cost around £930. Beware of main dealers charging nearly treble this rate for a set of boots. Fuel economy and emissions, if you're interested, are 13.3mpg and 495g/km.
You don't have to spool the clock back too far to find a time when Lamborghini was a chaotic mess. The company was building products that were hugely out of step with the times as the company was passed from one buyer to another, each one entranced by the glamour but without much in the way of vision. Some thought that the magic might have seeped away under the sensible stewardship of Audi. Cars like the Murcielago LP640 however, show that Lamborghini still has that extremity and the will to manufacture a car that will be too much for all but a tiny minority of customers to handle. Imagine Italian styling and charisma with German build quality and depth of engineering and you're on the right lines. It's taken some time for the marriage between Audi and Lamborghini to be fine-tuned to perfection but the Murcielago LP640 shows that this 'dream ticket' is, on its day, quite unbeatable.