Cross-town supercar rivals–one in track cleats, one in street shoes–meet to determine who is king.
By Patrick Hong / Photos by Guy Spangenberg
No other brands in the world more clearly embody the term “exotic cars” than Ferrari and Lamborghini. Not only do they define incredible performance, but they also invoke passion and excitement among car enthusiasts everywhere. While both companies have a healthy respect for each other, make no mistake that each also has a strong sense of pride and a desire to one-up the other. Given their intertwined history—Ferruccio Lamborghini was snubbed by Enzo Ferrari early on when he complained about Enzo’s road cars—there is nothing more thrilling than to see both carmakers try to out-duel each other with each new generation of cars. So it only made sense to round up these two Italian builders’ latest creations and toss them into the ring for a good fight: The 2011 Ferrari 458 Italia versus the 2011 Lamborghini Gallardo LP570-4 Superleggera.
In one corner is the all-new Ferrari 458 Italia. It comes from a rich lineage of being the compact berlinetta of the Maranello family. First there was the mid-engine Dino, then came the 308, the 328, the 348 and the F355. The subsequent 360 Modena took the model line forward a giant step with a dramatically different look that evolved into the F430. The new Italia now takes over the reins and charges ahead with numerous technologies learned from the company’s famed Formula 1 program. Racing is deeply rooted within Ferrari—Enzo actually sold road cars simply to fund his motorsport ventures.
In the other corner, the Lamborghini Gallardo LP570-4 Superleggera—from the cross-town Sant’Agata Bolognese family that gave birth to the much-revered Miura and the out-of-this-world Countach—is based on the standard Gallardo unveiled in 2003. The Superleggera is designed to live on the track, and is equipped with firmer suspension tuning and weight-saving carbon-fiber components that shave 154 lb. from the stock Gallardo. Interestingly, racing was never in the company’s blood. But Ferruccio set out to build a better and more exciting road car than Ferrari.
On the surface, it might seem that pitting the Italia against the Superleggera is like comparing apples to oranges. After all, the Ferrari is designed essentially as a high-performance road car, while the Lamborghini is a track-focused version of the Gallardo. But look closer; surprisingly, both sports cars share unusually similar technical specifications.
Weighing in at 3490 lb., the Ferrari is equipped with a direct-injection 4.5-liter mid-mounted V-8 engine generating 570 bhp at 9000 rpm, with 398 lb.-ft. of torque at 6000 rpm. Tipping the scales at 3470 lb.—a mere 20 lb. lighter than the Italia—the Lamborghini also has a direct-injected powerplant residing amidships that can pump out 562 bhp at 8000 rpm and 398 lb.-ft. of torque at 6500 rpm. The contrast is that the Superleggera’s power comes from a 5.2-liter V-10, and it drives all four wheels. According to their respective factories, the top speed for each car is a claimed 202 mph. The starting price for each hovers around $230,000. Coincidence? Perhaps. And it is probably also safe to guess that Ferrari closely benchmarked the Gallardo while the Italia was being developed.
Climb aboard the Ferrari 458 Italia, and you’re treated to a mixture of old and new complete with richly stitched Italian leather complemented by new technology such as carbon-fiber trim and an all-digital dash. The seats are comfortable and supportive, and the outward view is very good all the way around the car—even to the rear. In contrast, the Lamborghini’s cockpit is all about business: thinly padded carbon-fiber seats with carbon-fiber door panels and center tunnel, matched by the generous use of Alcantara fabric, all meant to shave pounds and convey a sense of speed.
Stare into the Italia’s instrument cluster—front and center is the all-important yellow analog rev counter. To the right is the TFT (Thin Film Transistor) screen that can toggle through various features such as radio and navigation via a clunky and off-putting iDrive-like knob. In the off position, the right screen becomes the speedometer. On the far left there are several screens that can be keyed up (via another iDrive-like knob), including driving aid settings based on different chassis configurations. On the steering wheel you’ll find the manettino dial—just like in an F1 car—enabling you to select your preferred chassis setup: Sport, Race, CT Off (traction control off) and CST Off (everything off except ABS, and you’re on your own). The turn signal buttons are located on the steering wheel as well, just on the inside corners near where you would normally rest your thumbs. This can be annoying for some, especially if you are in the middle of a turn and don’t remember which turn signal is on. Others have found them quite logical in that your hands will never be off the steering wheel. As expected, the large paddle shifters for Ferrari’s Getrag 7-speed twin-clutch transmission are fixed on the steering column.
The Gallardo’s instrument cluster is based on a much older 2003 design. All the important gauges such as the speedometer and rev counter are in analog form, with a small center digital display showing a trip computer and a few of the car’s vital signs. The infotainment system on the center stack is similar to those used in Audis (Lamborghini’s parent), and the climate control is basic with just a few buttons. Just as in the Ferrari, the Lambo’s paddle shifters stay fixed on the steering column (left downshift, right upshift), engaging its hydraulically actuated single-clutch 6-speed gearbox. And there are similar driving modes available as with the Ferrari: standard, Sport and Corsa (for track use), as well as an “everything off except ABS” setting. Although the Superleggera isn’t as technology-laden as the Italia, there’s some appeal to its simplicity and no-nonsense approach.
Driving the two exotics on public roads, the difference in character is apparent. The Lamborghini makes no excuses that its suspension is tuned for the racetrack. On Interstates or winding mountain roads, the Superleggera makes every bump and crack on the road known, and you feel the direct impact of those imperfections clearly through your lower back. The steering’s on-center and off-center feel is direct and nicely weighted, with increasing effort needed through decreasing-radius turns. The car’s all-wheel drive adds that extra sense of safety and confidence so you can drive through the corners a bit faster and count on the front wheels to pull you out.
In the Ferrari, thanks to the car’s adjustable magnetorheological shocks, you can set it to “bumpy road” and it will soak up the concrete gaps on the highway with minimal fuss. The cockpit feels quieter and more isolated from road noise. As the pavement gets twisty, turn the manettino to Race. Not only does the exhaust open up through two of the outer trio of tailpipes for a more racy engine note, the damping also firms up for you to tackle the turns with more composure. The steering on the Italia is lightning quick and ultra-responsive. The turn-in is effortless. In fact, the faster you turn, the faster the car’s computer will adjust its damping real-time to prevent more roll. The trick is to learn to trust the car and know that its rear will stay put when you attack the apex more aggressively. The Ferrari feels lighter on its feet than the Lambo, and is able to dance through the switchbacks with more precision. That said, the Superleggera’s more calming on-track mannerisms—albeit more weighty in feel—invites the driver to take more risk.
Round 2: Track Performance
Through our standard Road & Track test regimen, both exotics turned in almost identical numbers, though from entirely different approaches. The Lamborghini accomplishes its acceleration, braking, slalom and skidpad runs mainly through raw power and mechanical grip, while the Ferrari accomplishes the task with more finesse and electronic optimization.
On the drag strip, the Italia and Superleggera ripped off identical 0–60 mph and quarter-mile runs, tripping the timer at 3.0 seconds and 11.0 sec., respectively. The Lambo’s trap speed of 128.9 mph at the quarter mile showed only a 0.4-mph advantage. Both cars come equipped with launch control where all you need to do is apply full brakes and throttle as the engine rpm builds. When ready, just release the brakes and you’re on your way for a thrill ride. While the Superleggera isn’t bothered by less-than-optimal asphalt, the Italia needs more attention to the timing of the brake release and full throttle application to properly launch off the line with just the right amount of wheelspin.
The higher grip exhibited by the Lamborghini is attributed to its all-wheel drive and its very sticky Pirelli P Zero Corsa rubber. These tires have an ultra-low 60 treadwear rating compared to the 160 rating of the Pirelli P Zeros on the Ferrari. Through our slalom, the Superleggera snakes through the cones averaging 74.3 mph, and the Italia counters with 73.4 mph. Circling our skidpad, the awd Lambo’s natural tendency to understeer hinders it a bit, although it still generated 0.99g, just a tick below the Ferrari’s 1.00g.
Beyond the test data, the home of both the Ferrari and Lamborghini is really on the racetrack. Around the Streets of Willow in Rosamond, California, the 458 Italia’s engine screams with power and its twin-clutch gearbox swaps gears in just 0.04 sec., making the car slingshot down the straight in uncannily smooth fashion. The Superleggera’s single-clutch transmission, while also quick in upshifting, feels clunky and slow by comparison.
Slowing down, both cars are equipped with carbon-ceramic brake rotors so there is no hint of fade after repeated applications. In fact, the Italia’s brake calipers nudge the pads closer to the rotors as it anticipates you applying the brakes. This, combined with the car’s ability to perform multiple downshifts when you hold the left paddle in, further heightens the Ferrari’s impression that it can anticipate your every command and enhances its nimbleness on the track.
That said, apexing and accelerating out of the corner in the Italia also requires more trust in the car. The front wishbone and rear multilink suspension coupled with those magnetorheological shocks and the rear E-diff will find the most optimal settings to keep body roll in check and the back end in place. But relying more on electronic assistance also means that it will take longer to learn the car’s behavior to be able extract more speed.
With all-wheel drive and a fixed all-around double-wishbone suspension setup, the Superleggera doesn’t quite have the quickness in transitions. But what it does offer is the assurance and the predictability that if you do toss the car into a turn, the behavior of the chassis and the grip on the asphalt can be more directly felt through the steering and the seat. And powering out, having driven front wheels and a limited-slip rear differential means you can get on the throttle a bit earlier to pull the car around the apex. Driving the Superleggera requires a bit more effort, but you are rewarded with a stronger sense of connection to the pavement.
Final Round: The Decision
At the end of the day, with both the Ferrari 458 Italia and the Lamborghini Superleggera turning in similar road and track driving impressions and test data, how do we decide which exotic reigns supreme?
The Italia technology is wrapped in a beautifully sculpted body. Every exterior design detail on the car serves an aerodynamic purpose, from the lower front aerolastic winglets that bend to reduce drag and improve downforce, to the rear fender’s raised lip where it meets the engine cover so the air flows more smoothly into the rear radiators. With the Superleggera, one look at the car—visible carbon-fiber components inside and out, the deep front air scoop, the ever-present rear wing, and the strong cut lines that go straight to the back—it is impossible to mistake the car’s intended purpose. The Ferrari is graceful, and the Lamborghini is bold.
So the final decision really comes down to personal preference. The all-around exotic crown would go to the Ferrari 458 Italia. The no-nonsense, singularly track-focused crown would go to the Lamborghini Superleggera. For any car enthusiast, having either one of these exotic overachievers in the garage will do.