In Italian, superleggra means super lightweight. In the case of the Lamborghini Gallardo, it means a lot more. The latest LP570-4 coupe is lighter than before, and it also has an extra seven kiloWatts in the engine room, but the superleggera is really about sharpening one of the sharpest supercars in the world today.

Lamborghini is also using the Gallardo Superleggera as a demonstration of its commitment to stripping excess bulk out of its cars, both now and in the future.

“Lamborghini used to be known for having very lightweight vehicles with powerful propulsion systems. I think we lost that over the course of the years and we have to get back to that," says Lamborghini’s design boss, Manfred Fitzgerald.

PRICING AND MARKET

The Superleggera still comes with a hefty pricetag, as an 18 per cent price hike in Europe points to a bottom line in the $560,000 region in Australia. Although Lamborghini won't admit it, the timing of the Gallardo Superleggera's launch is ideal for it to compete with the recent release of Ferrari's all-new 458 Italia.

The Superleggera is 40kg lighter than the Ferrari, despite the Gallardo’s age, so it seems Lamborghini's work really is worthy of credit. Besides, as a racetrack weapon, the new Superleggera is the best Gallardo yet.

Lamborghini is so dedicated to weight-loss work it entered a partnership with the University of Washington, a global pioneer in the research and development of carbonfibre technology including work with Boeing on its new 787 Dreamliner. Fitzgerald insists the partnership will allow Lamborghini to revolutionise the use of carbonfibre in its cars.

"We've learned over the past couple of years how to better understand the material of carbonfibre, which will be playing a key role in lightweight construction and manufacturing," he says. "Up until today, it was always the same method of having asthetic parts done in carbonfibre, but it will become more and more crucial to have this material also going into structural parts. For us it is a key factor of giving the customers – the drivers – added value. That comes from giving them enhanced driving dynamics, and this you can only do by reducing the weight of the vehicle."

Of the 70kg stripped out of the LP570-4 Superleggera, 40kg is thanks to the extensive use of carbonfibre inside the cockpit, in the engine cover, door sills, exterior mirrors and the re-designed diffuser. The F1-style rear diffuser, in combination with a covered underbody, also helps the Superleggera generate around 50 percent more downforce for high-speed cornering.

DRIVING

Acceleration is fearsome, repeatedly reaching 100km/h in just 3.4 seconds, thanks to a special launch control program, and bounding to 200km/h in only 10.2sec, before hitting its top speed of 325km/h. It's the kind of performance that will earn you more police attention than Lewis Hamilton's Benz burnout.

At the heart of the Superleggera is an all-alloy, direct-injected 5.2-litre V10 engine that develops 419kW at a stratospheric 8000 revs, and produces a hefty torque figure of 540Nm at 6500. As those stats suggest, the engine’s best work is done at high revs, lacking the bottom-to-midrange grunt that many modern forced-induction engines deliver. But that only validates your urge to mash the throttle, just to hear the beast rage as it approaches the upper reaches of its rev range.

The Lamborghini’s sensational acoustics – a deep, rich undertone overlaid by a high-pitched animalistic wail – is a consequence of the engine’s dual-plane crankshaft, where opposing pistons share a common bearing in this crankshaft design. The suspension has been stiffened significantly with a 20 percent increase in damper firmness and new suspension bushes that are 90 percent stiffer.

The harsh difference in the Superleggera's suspension is immediately obvious, even before reaching the end of pitlane at the Spanish Monteblanco circuit where the car was launched to the world’s media. It doesn't offer Grand Touring ability of the LP560-4 Coupe, but that’s because the Superleggera was crafted for racetrack prowess... and it delivers.

The lighter, stiffer Superleggera is a much more focussed track car than the LP560-4. Even though the suspension is rock-hard, it’s well-damped for the racetrack and - with the additional downforce - creates a sense of stability through super-fast sections of the track, where you’re quickly grabbing each gear through the six-speed sequential manual’s column-mounted paddle shifters. The stiffer bushings also ensure that there’s no slack in the suspension, and accordingly, the Superleggera responds swiftly to steering inputs. Turn-in is sharper, with hardly any discernible body roll.

But for all its confident racetrack ability, there's still plenty of mongrel left in this car. Lift off the throttle mid-corner or fail to get the car's weight settled squarely before you punish the powerful ceramic brakes, and the weight of the mid-mounted engine will cause the rear of the car to dance around, requiring subtle steering corrections.

The ESP Sport program is well-calibrated, and allows the all-wheel drive system's 30/70 front-to-rear torque split to slide the tail when you’re powering out of tight corners. But its emphasis on reducing weight as a means of enhancing the driving experience has a second benefit: improved fuel efficiency, which is becoming increasingly important, even for supercar manufacturers.

The Superleggera returns a combined EU fuel economy figure of just 13.5L/100km, which is commendable for a car with its performance potential and proves that innovation like Lamborghini’s will ensure that the supercar has a future. Just don't count on them getting any cheaper.

Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera

Price: estimated $560,000
On sale: second half 2010
Engine: 5.2-litre V10
Output: 419kW/540Nm
Transmission: six-speed robotised manual, all-wheel-drive
Economy: 13.5L/100km
Emissions: 319g/km CO2

RIVALS

Ferrari F458, estimated $450,000
Porsche 911 Turbo, $386,200
Maserati GTS, $318,500