15 years ago the last rear-wheel drive Lamborghini was build at the factory in Sant’Agata Bolognese, Italy. In 2009 Lamborghini launched the Lamborghini Gallardo LP550-2 Valentino Balboni to honour their famed and now retired test driver Valentino Balboni. This marked the return of a rear-wheel drive only Lamborghini to the companies supercar line-up. We went over to Italy to check out this Italian bull!
The Lamborghini Gallardo LP550-2 Balboni is not just a Gallardo with RWD. To make the car what it is now a lot of modifications to the setup had to be made. The engine is the same 5.2 liter V10 available in any other Gallardo model, but with a maximum output of 550hp, offering the least horsepower in any Gallardo. On the contrary, the rear-wheel drive system makes the Balboni 30kg lighter than the LP560-4. This allows for a zero to 100km/h sprint of 3.9 seconds and if you keep your right foot fixed to the bottom the Balboni will reach a top speed of 320km/h.
The performance figures are only part of what the LP550-2 is about. Its driving dynamics and characteristics make this car so different from all the other Lamborghini’s on the market today. To achieve this additional changes had to be made to the differential, gearbox, ESP system, springs, dampers, stabilizers and even the tyres. The rear axle has a new 45 percent limited slip differential that ensures most torque is distributed to the wheel with the most traction, yet allowing for great drifts.
After finishing the necessities, a great Italian lunch at the factory and a brief chat with Lamborghini CEO Stephan Winkelmann the keys to an Orange LP550-2 Balboni were handed to us. The LP550-2 Balboni parked next to the main entrance was the ride of the day.
This being the fourth last-gen Gallardo model we’ve driven the interior and controls held little surprises. The signature stripe on the outside is continued on the seats and through the dashboard inside making it stand out from any regular Gallardo, even to people that are not familiar with the current Gallardo line-up. Fire it up and the V10 comes to life with a sharp growl, the beginning of an afternoon with the LP550-2.
As we said before, but we can’t help saying it again, the soundtrack from the back is so addictive that even after a dozen revs and unnecessary gear changes we still could not resist to do it again and again only to listen to the sound. As soon as you hit the road you will notice that even around the home grounds of Lamborghini, where people are used to seeing rare Italian exotics on a regular if not daily basis, the LP550-2 Balboni is still a head turner.
The Emilia-Romagna region where the Lamborghini factory is located, and the province of Bologna in particular, consists largely of plains dotted with villages, farm land and industrial areas. The landscape is crisscrossed by perfect asphalt roads; from major carriage ways to small country lanes running through the farm lands. Ideal for a day in a Lamborghini you would say, however the region also has a very high population density which means the major roads are congested most time of the day. So after a few kilometers on the dual carriage way we left the main roads for the unexploited and deserted country lanes to see what the LP550-2 Balboni is like.
The first thing noticeable about the LP550-2 rear wheel drive system is that the power distribution to the road gives an entirely different sensation compared to the LP560-4, very similar to the differences between the Zuffenhausen duo; 911 Turbo and GT2. Manouvering around the town of Sant’Agata Bolognese the advantage of having a two-wheel drive are obvious. The missing front differential that usually struggles to deliver the power anywhere in these situations adds the most to the smoother inner city maneuvering. In a straight line the rear tyres eat the dry asphalt with ease, but with a 0-100km/h sprint of 3.9 seconds it’s a tiny bit (0.2 sec) slower than its four-wheel drive brother.
The suspension is firm yet a lot more forgiving than the LP570-4 Superleggera. It definitely adds to the ride comfort. Talking about comfort, the Balboni suffered no compromise. The car comes equipped witham air conditioning, sat nav, a nose lift system, a rear view parking camera among other amenities that make your journey more comfortable.
The test car had the E-Gear semi-automatic gearbox, which allows you to drive it in complete automatic or by using the paddle shifters. The gear shift has been replaced by a series of buttons: ‘Sport’ to activate Sport mode, ‘A’ to switch back to automatic and ‘Corsa’ to engage race mode. Sport allows for quicker gear changes while Corsa offers optimum acceleration and more freedom before the ESP kicks in. The single clutch E-Gear in the Balboni has been fine-tuned. With the competition employing newer and better dual clutch systems in their supercars, the current generation E-Gear is desperately in need of a successor.
After driving through the country side for an hour we reached the city of Bologna. In the Italian town the bright colours and the loud exhaust made sure we got plenty of attention. Even when we parked the car and turned off the engine there’s still enough interest in the limited edition Balboni and at some point we counted no less than twelve people looking at it from close-by. The reason for their interest might be the limited edition run of only 250 Balboni’s which make it a scarce sighting. The exclusivity and desirability of the Balboni lies not only in the 250 cars build, maybe even more so in the fact that it has been a long time since the last rear wheel drive Lamborghini left the factory.
After a typical Italian coffee we got back in the car and headed out into the hills South of Bologna. Here the Balboni showed its true character, after engaging Corsa mode that is! In the normal automatic mode the Balboni is a very safe car to drive and it has a larger tendency to understeer then oversteer. This does affect its playful character a bit in that particular mode, but allows you to drive the car safely under different weather and driving conditions without sweaty palms.
In Corsa mode you get the Balboni experience the way Valentino meant it to be. The steering is always direct and razor sharp, the ESP allows the back to slide just the way you want it to. Overall, the Balboni adds a whole new dimension to the fun we had with Lamborghini’s over the past few years. It feels as if a new previously unseen world of opportunities opens up.
After a long day with the LP550-2 Balboni the flight back home offered time to reflect on the experience. The Balboni is a great car with some unique characteristics that cannot be found in any other model in Lamborghini’s line-up. The exclusivity paired with the great driving dynamics will make it an irresistible package for some. Personally, after long consideration, if I had the choice, I would prefer the Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4 over the LP550-2, as I value the LP560-4s great versatility compared to many other supercars. Especially when it comes to driving in changing weather conditions and the combination of luxury amenities with supercar appearance and the very addictive soundtrack.
Leaving any personal taste aside, the LP550-2 is definitely supercar worthy. The only minor drawback we found is the tremendous heat production of the V10 located right behind the drivers seat. Even with the air-conditioning on you can feel the heat coming from behind the seat, which will give you a very hard time to arrive at that gala dinner with a dry back.