The Lamborghini Gallardo would be the quietest car in the world, if it wasn't for a massive V10 engine roaring a few centimetres behind your head.

An oscillating paired set of five can-sized pistons run at blistering speed at the engine heart.

Sure, you can talk about the leather, discuss intricacies of the sophisticated chassis electronics, or quantify the engineering in the massive Brembo brakes that are hand slotted and drilled to thwart any fade or slip caused by a summer's rain while one was descending the Dolomites.

You may also talk of visibility from the driver's seat, the sweep of the odd-length pair of wipers when it rains, the fact that the cabin's headliner is suede, and the very Audi-like look of the sound system. Perhaps a moment to chat of seat comfort and that $400,000-plus-plus price tag.

But it all comes back to the engine: almost 370kW of raw power sitting waiting at the back of your head.

On the open road, one brief stab of the accelerator pedal will open Pandora's box. This is a car that erupts instantaneously, without any lag to afford the novice a chance to suck breathe and think.

Play games with the Lambo and it has good cause to bite back hard. In the wrong hands, it's the teacher. In the right hands it's a peer. Just don't ever think it's the pupil. Yet, the Gallardo has a soft side.

Treat it like a lady and it'll respond with accurate steering, strong low-end torque and manners that, while a long way from a Kia Rio, are compliant enough to manage a city snarl.

Simply, this is one of the best cars I've ever driven in the city.

Without a clutch, the $25,000 E-gear option gives relief for the left leg though invites new demons. In sympathy with the electronically operated clutch systems that sit atop a standard manual gearbox, the E-gear is at first awfully vague, grows to be clunky, and is at best a rapid-fire delivery system that can scare the undies off a driver who doesn't expect such speedy upchanges.

It'll bang through the ratios as fast as you can pull up the right-side lever, plummet through the cogs at a touch of the left-side lever with a cute throttle blip on the way through.

Soon it becomes a dance. Tab up on the right. Do it again, and again. Corner. Flick the left-side lever once for second gear, apply weight to the accelerator, squeak your hands over the leather steering wheel as you twist left for the corner, then right, more pressure on the throttle, click up with the right gear lever, squeeze the accelerator pedal again, sweep the wheel to the right.

I know. This is not the waltz.

But learn this car and it can become a well-orchestrated movement in metal.

Given the Gallardo is from Italy, with German parents, and it's easy to see why it responds so well to open roads and tight city streets.

Despite the awesome power and torque, the car is difficult to get off the mark.

The engine will need a healthy boot to more than 2000rpm to get off the line, then all hell breaks lose. Don't pussy-foot with this baby — it can bite.

Once under way it is surprisingly docile and can be putted around the city with ease.

There's virtually no rear vision — Lamborghini apparently reckons you're at the front of the pack with no need to check out those trying to keep pace — yet front and side visibility are reasonable.

It can be initially challenging to place on the road, or especially to park.

Selecting reverse gear is by pressing a lonely button on the right-side of the dashboard.

You get acquainted with a small diameter leather-rimmed steering wheel, chamfered at its lower edge so it doesn't scrape across your thighs.

Get used to the idiosyncrasies of the E-gear box and the small stuff — parking in the city, dribbling into the service station, idling into McDonald's and then faced with handing your money up an extra 300mm to the cashier — becomes easier.

I'll quickly inform you that it's not as hard to get into as it initially seems — bum first is the best approach — and visibility to the front is fine.

General switchgear and instrumentation is standard Audi — that's who owns Lamborghini — so that means left-side indicators and left-side volume control for the audio.

In standard form, the V10 is quite muted. While the Germans might be self-conscious about creating too much attention, the exhaust note is the antithesis of Italian thinking, where noise reflects bravado, macho, power.

In standard form it's a rather disappointing soulless aural performance. Kitted with Lamborghini's sports exhaust — around the $6000 mark — it takes on all the aural hype to go with the speed.

Drive it quick, but not too quick, and the gears can be clicked over with very little noise or thump. Hit the loud pedal and start quickly clicking up the ratios, and the Gallardo jerks into the next gear, flinging the head, letting it reveal its power.

The Gallardo was built specifically to take on Ferrari.

It worked, but Ferrari didn't sit idle. Ferrari was already well down the track of building the replacement for the 360.

When the Gallardo — with a 5-litre V10 engine, all-wheel drive, and a 0-100km/h time of 4.2 seconds — appeared, it could better the expected performance of Ferrari's 360 replacement.

So Ferrari simply dumped its new model and started from scratch. Now the latest Ferrari 430 is faster than the Gallardo with acceleration to 100km/h of a flat 4 seconds.

And it does it with a V8, not a V10, and without all-wheel drive.

But don't let this diminish how good the Gallardo is.

That four-wheel-drive system gives a tenacious bite on the bitumen, ideal for fast motoring on winding roads and gives absolutely mind-boggling grip when the road turns wet.

That's something the 430 can't match.

Visually, the Gallardo shows the resemblance to an animal's hind leg as the sheet aluminium is curved over the rear wheels.

Deep mesh, vertical intakes on the flanks ahead of the rear wheels introduces cool air to the engine bay, with hot air exiting through slats over the chunky rear tail-lights.

It is a very strong, masculine design, though perhaps a bit clinical in its execution.

Hewn, rather than carved.

Most of the rear is taken up by a meshed valance, with relief offered by two fat exhaust pipes.

Interestingly, Lamborghini uses black crinkle finish for the exposed engine's intake tubes.

Ferrari uses the same finish, only in red.

Is colour that important?