There’s a surprising chill in the desert air at the Thermal Club racetrack, about 150 miles east of Los Angeles, as a group of engineers in black jackets watch a machine come rumbling into the pit lane, a welcome heat coming after a few fast laps from both underneath the body and off the giant brakes. This is the Urus, Lamborghini’s new “super sport utility vehicle.”
For an automaker founded in 1963 to challenge the likes of Ferrari on the racetrack, an SUV seems like a leap at best, heresy at worst. But nothing has slaked car buyers' thirst for high-riders, and Lamborghini is just the latest of its brethren to break from tradition to meet the market.
What's impressive is that the company has done a better job translating its style into the SUV form than other manufacturers. Where Maserati's Levante could be just about any automaker's product and the Bentley Bentayga is just big, the Urus is an aggressive, angular, wedge of garishly yellow metal. You know, like a Lamborghini. Except with added muscle. Hence the name: The urus were a wild ancestor of today's domesticated cattle, according to the Italians.
Beyond looks, Lambo's engineers had to make a vehicle that is all things to almost all people. Your standard supercar is an exercise in excess and unavoidable impracticalities. Sure, you can take a Huracán from the track to the mall, but it won't be that fun. The idea of the Urus is to be just as fun while racing, but capable of rolling over speed bumps and holding the kids and shopping bags.
“It was a difficult project,” according to Lambo's CTO, “when you come from super sport car experience, to face a car with a higher center of gravity, that’s much heavier, and where you need to guarantee roominess and comfort.”
The man who took on that challenge is Lamborghini CTO Maurizio Reggiani. He proudly walks me around his new machine, which he’s been showing off not only on the track but in the nearby desert sands. (The Urus may not conquer the Rubicon Trail, but it should handle Dubai's dunes.) “For us it was a difficult project,” he says, “when you come from super sport car experience, to face a car with a higher center of gravity, that’s much heavier, and where you need to guarantee roominess and comfort.”
Those heat-emanating carbon ceramic brakes are a prime example of his approach. The discs measure 17.3 inches across on the front wheels, 14.6 inches on the back—“the biggest system that exists today in the market,” according to Reggiani. That’s overkill for everyday driving, but crucial to posting good figures on the track. The Lamborghini Gallardo (released in 2003 but nobody's jalopy) ran from 0 to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds and could brake itself to a stop again in 144 feet. The Urus hits 60 in 3.6 seconds and stops again in 110 feet. And it's 60 percent heavier than the Gallardo.
While we’re on the numbers, the Urus uses a new 4-liter V8 engine, with twin turbochargers for that sprint. Reggiani says cutting back on the number of cylinders both made the engine smaller and easier to package up in an SUV body. The turbos add torque at low revs, which is useful off-road. The engine is good for 650 horsepower and a top speed of 190 miles per hour.
To minimize the perceived size of the vehicle, Reggiani's engineers added active torque vectoring, active roll stabilization, and four-wheel steering. If you want to take full advantage and don't appreciate trial and error, time to learn a spot of Italian. The chunky metal tamburo lever clicks between driving modes: Strada (street, or comfort in most other cars), Corsa (race), and—new for the Urus—Terra (off-road) and Sabbia (sand). For each, the computer adjusts the ride height, stability control, engine responsiveness, and just about anything else the engineers could wire up, all in an effort to make this the ultimate transformer.
Lamborghini first went down this dirt track in the late 1980s with the LM002, an SUV that looked like an off-brand Hummer (and was nicknamed the Rambo Lambo). The Urus wears the "sports SUV" moniker much better, and almost gives hints of the iconic Miura, with the headlight eyelashes that graced my childhood bedroom walls, but now it's branching bumper stripes under the headlights. Lamborghini isn’t too worried about recollections of the past though, or cannibalizing current car sales. The Urus is designed to expand its customer base, perhaps including more female and family-focused buyers.
However that works out, for Reggiani and the engineering team, there's value in the task itself. “If you don’t have a challenge that’s borderline level with your confidence, then everything becomes a commodity,” the executive says. At a starting price of $200,000, the Urus isn’t about to become a common sight on the roads everywhere, but it does seem poised to earn the Italian automaker a decent chunk of the super popular, super SUV market.