Wheels – Two for the Show

Porsche Speedster & Lamborghini Performante

Pat Devereux Shopping

They might look like competitors on paper, but in metal, carbon fiber, and sunshine, two new, open-topped supercars could hardly be more different. Both started life with the resolution to lose weight and increase performance over their regular-weight siblings, but how they’ve gone about it and the success of each conversion is as unique as the German and Italian cultures they embody.

Starting with the Lamborghini Performante, the open-topped version of the Gallardo Superleggera (or Superlight) coupe, the mission was to invite the great outdoors into one of the world’s most extreme and uncompromising cars while shedding a few pounds in the process. Remembering that all cabrios must be substantially reinforced to prevent flexing like a ship’s sail when removing the roof, the Performante has seemingly achieved the impossible. It retained its structural integrity, lost more than 130 pounds, and added a further 10 bhp to the already muscle-bound 552 bhp V10 of the coupe.

This feat did not require massive chassis surgery, although strengthening appears obvious throughout. Rather, it rests on a wardrobe change, from plastic to carbon fiber of the side skirts, underbody cover, rear wing, diffuser, and even the rearview mirror casings. The net effect is that one of the most savagely chiseled cars in the world just got even more attitude. To signal this newfound lightness, the Performante carries its name on the side skirts and front spoiler and adds a carbon-fiber wing (available in two sizes) to the rear engine cover. And to telegraph its Italian heritage, the set of twin graphite stripes that run from nose to tail are supplemented by a set of red, white, and green decals.

Not that you would be under any illusion of the Performante’s provenance, particularly once you get into the car, which is quite a “performante” in itself. You don’t so much get in as burrow down into the black Alacantara-swathed cabin, whereupon an array of parchment-colored dials, huge Lamborghini badges, and script confront you. The seats feel hard and unyielding. But once you fire up that V10 behind your head, you realize that’s only the beginning of the all-wheel-drive Performante’s commitment to serve up one of the most uncompromising thrill rides of your life.

Yank on one of the e-gear paddles to select first gear (a six-speed manual is an option), stand on the gas, and the car emits a howl of pleasure that sounds like the whole of Italy roaring its approval. Keep your foot down and the Performante lives up to its name by cracking past 62 mph in 3.9 seconds and keeps going hard all the way to a magical 201 mph. Ride and handling are, as you’d expect, entirely focused on making the car as fast as possible through corners. But who cares when the whole experience is as special as this?

Maybe you do. Maybe you want all that type of performance without having to visit a chiropractor after each time you drive it.

In that case, take a look at the new Porsche Speedster. Unlike every other Porsche wearing the iconic Speedster badge, this is not a stripped-out, go-faster version of a regular 911 cabrio. It’s a hand-built, separate, and completely-loaded-with-luxuries version of the rear-engine model.

Eschewing the Speedster mantra of less is more (some of the previous variants having fewer luxuries than a shower cubicle), the 2011 Speedster prefers to have it all: More is more this year. And it’s none the worse for that. Painstakingly built by the Sport Classic studio, this new Speedster recognizes that comfort and performance need not be mutually exclusive. It has a full leather trim extending through the entire cabin — air vents and coat hook included. It has Porsche’s excellent semi-automatic, seven-speed PDK gearbox (no manual option is available). And it has every other amenity you might reasonably expect in a car costing north of $200,000.

That’s not to say the Speedster has gone soft. It gets the upgraded 405 bhp engine from the new 911 GTS, a limited slip differential, sports exhaust system, carbon ceramic brakes, and active suspension management. Plus it gets the trademark 1.5-inch-shorter windshield and double-bubble lid for the convertible top. So it’s a long way from being anything other than a committed driver’s car.

On the road, where the Lamborghini fights, the Porsche flows with German efficiency, almost cosseting the driver. There’s less wind protection than in the Italian car, but it’s never more than a breeze. Everything feels familiar, comfortable, enduring — and very, very fast. So it’s not worth making a stand about the car not being stripped out enough to justify the name. Enjoy it for what it is: a fabulously well-resolved, open-topped sports car. Only 356 will be built worldwide — to celebrate the 1954 original 356 Speedster model — finished in either Pure Blue or Carrara White. Each car comes with a numbered plaque celebrating the car’s position in the series, but owners can choose this number if it isn’t already taken. So speed is of the essence. 

Prices for the Lamborghini Gallardo LP570 Spyder Performante roll out this month. The Porsche Speedster starts at $204,000.