Lamborghini Urus First Drive in Italy: Lambo Sets a Sizzling Standard for SUV Performance

With 641 horsepower, a 189-mph top speed, and the best tech from Lambo, Audi and Porsche, the Urus is born to bash dunes and smash SUV rivals.

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Lamborghini Urus First Drive in Italy: Lambo Sets a Sizzling Standard for SUV Performance © Lamborghini Urus First Drive in Italy: Lambo Sets a Sizzling Standard for SUV Performance

Like many children of the late Seventies, I was one of those teenagers with a Lamborghini Countach poster taped to my bedroom wall in Detroit, near the equally iconic image of Farrah Fawcett in swimsuit and curls. (I know, such a cliché). Will modern teenagers feel compelled to pay boudoir homage to the Lamborghini Urus, an SUV that well-to-do parents might use to haul cases of Krug, or to dune-surf in Dubai? I kinda doubt it. What I don’t doubt, after testing the Urus near Rome, is that said parents won’t need to fantasize like broke teenagers: They’ll just cut a check and add a Urus to their multi-car collection.

Ulrich takes to the track in the rare SUV that actually belongs there, Lamborghini

Now, when an automaker asks The Drive to test a performance-oriented SUV on track, eye-rolling often ensues. These SUVs are reliably mega-powered, their suspensions surprisingly buttoned down. But their brakes, overstressed by massive curb weights, tend to fade or even smoke after a handful of laps. Among the more-legit efforts, the outgoing 570-hp Porsche Cayenne Turbo S is blazingly fast but not especially fun to drive; it isolates its pilot in the manner of a sedan with autobahn aims. While in Rome, Lamborghini engineers—who benchmarked every performance SUV in sight—tended to agree with me that the 567-hp BMW X6 M has been the beast-mode SUV that best engages its driver, even if the Porsche puts up faster times on some test tracks. And I haven’t yet driven the 505-hp Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio, which set an SUV record at the Nürburgring with a remarkable 7 minute, 51.7 second run. Lamborghini hasn’t released the Urus’ own ‘Ring time. 

But after my hot laps at Vallelunga circuit in the Urus, I’ll wager right now that the Alfa is toast. Perhaps a nice ciabatta, but still toast.

Despite hefty curb weight, Urus gets to 100 kph (62 mph) in 3.6 seconds, peaks at 189 mph, Lamborghini

Why so confident? Well, the Lamborghini posts class-beating numbers in acceleration, top speed, and power-to-weight ratio. So we know that it goes. It harnesses the largest, most-powerful brakes of any car, SUV, or pickup truck in history. So we know that it stops. Then consider that the Urus enjoys the technical know-how and off-the-shelf technology of three top VW Group performance brands—Lamborghini, Porsche, and Audi. Now add the cost-no-object approach of a Lambo that starts from about $205,000, versus the roughly-$75,000 Alfa. The resulting Urus defies the tropes of the crossover category like no SUV I’ve driven. It's even a whale of a good time, pun fully intended. 

Urus lets you take more friends to dinner, then make them hurl on the way home, Lamborghini

Specifically, Lamborghini claims a curb weight of 4,843 pounds. If that’s accurate, it’s about 100 fewer pounds than the Porsche Cayenne Turbo that shares the Urus’s MLB platform (along with the Audi Q7), and about 500 fewer than its Bentley Bentayga cousin. So thank God for those standard carbon-ceramic brakes, with insane 10-piston monobloc calipers up front—nyah, nyah, Bugatti Chiron, you’ve only got eight pistons—and 17.4-inch front rotors, larger than the actual wheels on many cars. Even the rear brakes get six-piston calipers and 14.5-inch rotors, just 0.1 inches smaller than the front brakes of a Corvette Stingray. In case you’re counting, that’s 32 brake pistons per vehicle. 

Mauricio Reggiani, Lamborghini’s chief technical officer and performance guru, says those brakes will haul the Urus to a stop from 100 kph (62 mph) in an insane 110.6 feet. A Lamborghini Huracán completes the same stop in just six fewer feet—and it's a supercar that weighs 1,700 fewer pounds. 

Urus is longer than Porsche Cayenne or even three-row Audi Q7, Lamborghini

The Urus demonstrates that uncanny ability to shed speed—and shred a physics textbook—at Autodromo Vallelunga Piero Taruffi, the longtime F1 development circuit and host of races from FIA GT to the World Superbike Championship. Now, barreling through the track’s high-speed Curva Grande can be a puckering experience, especially if a driver upsets the car’s balance or runs out of room to brake at the end of the straight. I’m bracing for either possibility in this family-hauling Lambo, but I quickly learn that the Urus can attack the section as quickly as some supercars or super sedans. There’s none of the Oh, shit! feeling that you get from some SUVs when it’s time to brake and you suddenly remember you’re not driving a tiny Lotus. I’ve never driven this deep into track corners in any SUV, Porsche and BMW included.

Those corners loom quickly, thanks to the first turbocharged engine in Lambo history: A version of the new twin-turbo V8 in the Cayenne Turbo and Bentayga, but with far more thrust than either, packing 641 horsepower (650 in metric ponies) and 627 pound-feet of torque. Reggiani swears that only the engine block and lower mechanicals are shared with other VW Group products, with the Urus getting its own cylinder head and valves, camshafts and intakes, and larger-volume twin-scroll turbochargers nestled between cylinder banks in “hot-V” fashion. That’s mated to an eight-speed, paddle-shifted, torque-convertor automatic with a planetary gearbox and short, acceleration-happy gearing.  Full engine torque is slightly reduced in first and second gear for durability—e.g., to keep things from blowing up.

With Torsen-based AWD, air suspension, and multilple terrain modes, Urus can get down-and-dirty , Lamborghini

Disappointed at the absence of a rip-snorting, high-revving, naturally aspirated Lamborghini V-10? We are, too, but Lamborghini insists that its portly bull demands a diet of turbocharged torque, with the 627 pound-feet fully on tap by 2,250 rpm. Lamborghini’s engine overhaul also brings a significant 71-horsepower, 37-pound-foot advantage over the Cayenne Turbo S. So girded, Lambo very conservatively claims the Urus charges to 100 kilometers per hour (62 mph) in 3.6 seconds. So I’d expect no worse than 3.4 seconds to 60 mph—making for an interesting drag race with either a 707-hp Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk (which I drove to 60 mph in 3.4 seconds), or a Tesla Model X. Lamborghini doesn’t consider either model as part of its competitive set, and frankly, it's right: Short stoplight bursts aside, the Urus will crap all over the Jeep or Tesla in any performance and handling metric. (Let’s not even discuss luxury, prestige, or exclusivity). Even in a straight line, the Urus should pass the Jeep or Tesla near the quarter-mile mark and never look back, broaching 200 kmh (124 mph) in 12.8 seconds, and peaking at 189.6 mph, the highest terminal velocity of any SUV yet.

Urus seems to show best in darker colors, like this deep gray called Grigio Lynx, Lamborghini

This German-Italian Frankenstein's monster plucks some Audi organs from the lab to help put the power down, choosing a Quattro-based Torsen mechanical center differential over Porsche’s slower-footed, “hang-on” transfer case with wet multi-plate clutches. The default torque split is 40/60 percent front-to-rear, with a maximum of 70 percent able to head forward and 87 percent able to go out back.

Here’s where things get crazy: On top of the superhero brakes, the Lambo adopts an active rear torque-vectoring unit, adaptive dampers, adjustable-height air suspension, and active four-wheel steering. The gyroscope-based, multi-axis Lamborghini Piattiforma Inerziale (LPI), now revised to deal with slippery and off-road surfaces, is the nerve center that assesses and adjusts chassis systems in real time.

The Urus's roster of performance technology is too long to fit in a caption. Read the story., Lamborghini

Still, we’re not done. Porsche lends another ghostly technical hand with its unique-until-now active electric anti-roll bars, enabled by a 48-volt electrical system. The bars’ integrated electric motors—two up front, two in back—apply torque to stiffen or soften resistance, based on vehicle settings and real-time parameters. That brings a vast operating range, from comfy commuting to ruthless control. And Pirelli helped develop seven tires especially for the Urus, from Scorpion off-road rubber to winter rubber and the summer performance P Zero Corsas that we drive on track.

During Urus development, “the most important issue was to avoid side-to-side rolling of the car,” Reggiani says. Mission accomplished: On track or Italy’s narrow public roads, the Urus stays flatter than a Marine’s haircut, connecting corners so gracefully that I’d swear it was six inches lower and 1,000 pounds lighter. It’s clear that all manner of electronic trickery is going on, yet the Urus doesn’t feel artificial or robotic. The electric steering could use more feedback, but it’s lightly, pleasingly weighted—and quick, with a 13.3:1 ratio. And I could definitely feel the all-wheel-drive and torque vectoring at work, taming understeer and overdriving an outside rear wheel to catapult out of turns.

Back seat, here in four-passenger configuration, is spacious and swanky, Lamborghini

Those trick anti-roll cars can also decouple entirely, for the off-roading or dune-bashing that will please many a Saudi prince or Sun Belt billionaire. To demonstrate, Lamborghini carved out a motocross-style dirt course for our silly entertainment. I’m only offered a few laps, but I dial up the “Terra” off-road mode, recall my rally training, and start drifting this $200,000 Urus like it’s a $2,000 Subaru. I’d say I’m the Saudi prince, but a real royal would never wince when he heard rocks chocking off the pricey body and precious wheels. 

As for the turbo V8’s engine and exhaust sound—well, it’s no Lambo V-10 or V12, where every drive through a tunnel becomes an excuse to start World War III. The Urus sounds plenty ballsy from outside the car, but a mite subdued inside. That may be the proper balance for this four- or five-passenger SUV, but a bit more Italian spice would be appreciated.

Gracie, Audi, for the Virtual Cockpit that Lamborghini tweaks with unique graphics, displays, Lamborghini

If the performance seems from another planet, the styling is decidedly earthbound. It seems clear that Lamborghini’s talented designers were circumscribed by the packaging necessities of any family-sized SUV, including the manufacturing hard points of VW’s MLB platform. Hard angles and facets that work so beautifully on the Huracan sports car come off as hectic or superfluous on this relatively tall, chunky vehicle, including the devil's-pitchfork motif on front intakes. The effect recalls an aging German clubgoer who affects a flashy Dolce & Gabbana suit and hopes no one notices the dad bod beneath. The Urus isn’t a bad-looking SUV by any means, but it doesn’t arrest eyeballs and tingle spines in the way we’ve come to expect from Lamborghini. 

It definitely looks more flattering in darker, shall we say "truckier" shades, versus the brand’s familiar candy colors. In Italy, my favored paint specimens included a midnight blue (Blu Astraeus), a tungsten gray (Grigio Lynx) and a killer olive-metallic called Verde Hebe. The various alloy wheel options do look kickass, ranging from 21- to 23-inch diameters. The 22-inch models we drove on track may best split the difference between arch-stuffing style and everyday ride quality.

Exotic cabin brings enormous, intuitive displays, new Tamburo systems interface and room for four or five passengers, Lamborghini

Inside, owners will also meet the Tamburo (or "drum" in Italian), a new central interface module that houses an engine stop/start button (topped by the brand’s flip-up, red-metal Armageddon switch), gear selector buttons, and the Anima and Ego switches that summon customizable performance programs. Those include new Terra (gravel), Sabbia (sand), and Neve (snow).

Fortunately, that cabin brings the visual drama that the exterior lacks; picture an Aventador for the whole family. That includes Lamborghini’s zestier take on Audi’s Virtual Cockpit driver’s display, and a gorgeous, dual-screen infotainment system that sets a high new bar for any Italian automobile. And the cabin looks hot but doesn’t go overboard on boy-racer tropes; a tasteful, pampered teenager will love it. I loved the divider between the rear seats and cargo area, with quilted leather that recalls a $3,000 Gucci handbag, and a metal-and-leather strap to secure the center pass-through.

If the drive isn't entertaining enough, you could always watch a Fellini movie, Lamborghini

And where one might have expected Lambo to do one of those shrimpy, pseudo-SUVs with a near-useless interior, the Urus is surprisingly spacious and practical. At 201.3 inches, it's actually 7.3 inches longer than a Cayenne, and nearly two inches longer than a three-row Audi Q7. Its stretched 118.2-inch wheelbase extends 4.2 inches beyond the Porsche’s, and 8.2 inches past the Alfa Stelvio’s. But the Urus is 1.4 inches lower than the Cayenne, with similar reductions in center-of-gravity and seating position. Lamborghini says the Urus will comfortably seat six-foot-seven-inch occupants up front, and riders above six-foot-three in back. The shorter Cayenne still fits a touch more gear behind its second row, but the Urus’s back seat feels bigger, and its wide, 21.7 cubic-foot cargo hold will fit two full-size golf bags horizontally.

Something we never thought we'd see: A Lambo with room for luggage, Lamborghini

Some sports-car fans—including members of the Internet commentariat who will mostly never be able to afford a Lamborghini anyway—may reflexively dismiss the Urus, just as they scoffed at Porsche’s Cayenne and Macan. But Stefano Domenicali, Lamborghini’s chairman and chief executive, doesn’t care. The Urus, he tells me over dinner in Rome, is “a new Lamborghini, for a new Lamborghini customer.”

“The SUV didn’t dilute the Porsche sports-car brand,” Domenicali argues (correctly), but instead saved it and made it better. All those Cayennes, and now Macans, provide the lifeblood of sales and profits that make cars like the 911, Cayman, and 918 Spyder possible. “The power of the VW Group made Lamborghini whole, and it let us keep this jewel in Italy,” he says.

Anima and Ego settings offer myriad performance and terrain settings, Lamborghini

Domenicali says that nearly seven in 10 Urus owners will be buying their first-ever Lamborghini, including enough women to boost the brand’s overall share of female owners from 2 percent to 5 percent. Still, don’t be surprised to find current Lamborghini fanatics adding a Urus to their collection, and driving it far more often than they do their Italian supercars.  Lamborghini sold a record 3,800 vehicles last year, Domenicali reminds us. The Urus, already rolling from a new assembly line in Sant’Agata Bolognese, should instantly double that figure to 7,600 units. American dealerships will see their first models this fall.

Call it a cynical, me-too marketing strategy if you like. But considering what customers realy want, any automaker CEO dumb enough to say “no” to an SUV—from the lowliest brand to the ultra-luxury heights —would be cheating his or her shareholders and employees, and should probably be escorted to the parking lot by security. As the band Judas Priest suggested, “Out there is a fortune, waiting to be had…” (You know the rest).

Mark my words: For people who can afford any car they like, anywhere around the globe—Vancouver, South Beach, New York, Dubai, Beijing, Moscow, Mumbai—this Urus will be the ultimate status-flaunter, the new gotta-have SUV. And we know how much rich people love SUVs.

Lawrence Ulrich,The Autance’s chief auto critic, is an award-winning auto journalist and former chief auto critic for The New York Times and Detroit Free Press. The Detroit native and Brooklyn gentrifier owns a troubled ’93 Mazda RX-7 R1, but may want to give it a good home. Email him at [email protected].

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