Lamborghini has made SUVs before but not for 30 years. Meet the new Urus, the first high-rise Lambo made under Audi’s tutelage
The Italian city of Bologna has long had a reputation for innovation, one of the high points being the perfection of the first radio transmission by Guglielmo Marconi. And in the environs of the city, the innovation continues. In one of the outer suburbs, Ducati is implementing new techniques to mass-produce motorcycle frames made from carbon fibre while further out Ferrari is continuing to challenge the outer limits of both supercar and Formula One performance.
To the north, in the little satellite village of Sant’Agata Bolognese, Lamborghini is returning to making SUVs once again but this time through the development of a revolutionary new production technique. The process is called Manufacture Lamborghini, and it’s possibly the most revolutionary way to make automobiles that has emerged since Ford introduced the assembly line back in the early 20th Century.
The product that results isn’t quite so cutting edge, but the new Urus SUV certainly holds my interest for the way that it establishes a new sportier Latin identity for something that began its production life as a Porsche Cayenne and quickly evolved into a generic luxury SUV for other top-end brands within the wider Volkswagen Group.
The 4.0 twin-turbo V8/eight-speed-automatic/permanent-AWD powertrain is now shared with Bentley and Lamborghini, and it’s a safe bet that the underpinnings and suspension pick-ups of the Urus mirror those of the Q7, Bentley Bentayga and the Cayenne. Yet any time you clap eyes on a Urus, it instantly identifies itself as a Lamborghini. There’s certainly no need to check out the badge.
There are multiple reasons for this. Although not quite as distinct as that found on the Countach and Diablo and Murcielago after it, Urus also possesses the ‘Gandini line’ that has defined every Lamborghini since designer, Marcello Gandini, first drew an early design sketch of the Countach.
The ‘line’ is a long one starting at the leading edge of the bonnet on each side of the car, and running past the front wings all the way over the roof to the rear. The hexagonal themes of later models like the Aventador and Huracán are also instantly recognized all over the Urus. Like on the supercars, it also splits the hexagons into Y-shaped fragments, and scatters them all over the place, the visual effect like one of those hippy rock festival domes in the process of being blown away by a hurricane. That might sound messy, but it produces the same dynamic exterior design as the supersports models, which is just the result that head designer, Mitja Borkert, was hoping to achieve. For the Urus is hailed as the world’s first SSUV – Super Sports Utility Vehicle.
“The family feeling with our Adventadors and Huracáns with rear mid-engine layout is recreated by an expert mixture of sharp lines and angular volumes,” says Borkert. “I’m also particularly proud of the rear part of the car. It’s really sexy!”
Indeed, it could be argued that this is now the world’s sexiest SUV. It’s certainly the fastest, judging by the performance numbers being claimed by the Lamborghini PR machine.
Thanks to some judicious cylinder head refinement by Lamborghini, the double-boosted 4.0 V8 produces 478kW (640bhp) and 850Nm of driving force in Urus form. That’s enough oomph to slingshot the 2200kg SUV from 0-100 in 3.7 seconds and from 0-200 in 12.8. Top speed is 305kmh, thanks to the aerodynamic efficiency of the exterior design, the lowered stance the air-suspended vehicle assumes at speed, and the smoothest underbody this side of a baby’s bum. It’s the ‘Slippery Sam’ of SUVs all right.
Meanwhile, usual SUV applications have not been forgotten. Thanks to the instant access to boost, the V8 puts 650-700Nm of grunt on the driving menu at crankshaft rotation speeds just above idle. It should tow the boat just as easily as its Porsche and Bentley cuzzies. That’s providing the substantial rear diffuser doesn’t interfere with tow-bar installation.
It’s also spacious, the wheelbase stretches three metres, and although the roofline looks lower than on most SUVs, there’s plenty of room for tall folk. That’s because the seats of the Urus are sited lower than those of any other SUV. Their side bolsters are as generous and sportily-supportive as those of the supercars, and you do have to account for them when clambering in and out of the Urus.
The cabin is also a place where Lamborghini-ness comes to the fore. There’s leather roof liners and hide-clad door cards. At least six animals donate their hides to furnish the cabin, while the only wood trim available comes with strips of brushed aluminum honey-comb attractively spliced through it (that hexagonal theme again).
Downstream of the torque flow, you’ll find the usual ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox shared by the best German-engineered SUVs, given new calibrations to suit this Lamborghini’s expanded range of driving modes (which still includes a ‘Corsa’ setting for track work). The grunt is then passed on to the usual viscous Torsen centre differential commonly found in Audi’s powertrain layouts. Like the average A- or S-badged car found in the four-ring catalogue, the default torque distribution for the Urus is 40/60, rather than the more rear-biased 30/70 set-up that enlivens the handling of the bullish supercars. The final destination in the energy flow is a torque-vectoring rear differential.
Lamborghini’s veteran chief technical officer, Maurizio Reggiani, admits that getting an SUV to drive like a true Lamborghini “was no easy task”. “We were faced with two variables that are far from our world of lightweight super sports cars with a low centre of gravity.
“Urus, high centred in order to take on any surface and necessarily heavy due to its size, would have a natural tendency to roll through the turns and pitch in acceleration and braking.
“The first goal we set ourselves was to control and manage any movement resulting from the high centre of gravity. We therefore introduced (adaptive) dampers, the calibration of which, with compression and extension, would cancel out any pitching of the car.
“The same principle was applied to rolling: the car must stay as ‘flat’ as possible through the turns to prevent any movement that could affect performance and safety. A dedicated electronic control system ensures maximum stability at high speed and, with suitable adjustments made automatically thanks to the inertial platform that controls all of the car’s functions, the car is also perfectly at ease during urban and touring use.”
There was also a third dynamic that needed accounting for – the lack of agility typical of a long and heavy SUV. Here, the rear-wheel steering system, which allows movement of +/- 3 degrees, comes to the rescue. Reggiani says it allows the Urus to handle like a car with a 600mm-shorter wheelbase. The turning circle is a handy 11.8 metres, and the rear wheels can also pivot outwards on low-grip surfaces to help control any oversteer.
No doubt the $339,000 (before on-roads and options) Urus will drive pretty much like a 4.0 petrol Bentayga or Cayenne when it arrives here in the third quarter of 2018, only sharper with steering both ends. The biggest selling point is that the physics-defying dynamic exhibited by those two luxury SUVs now comes dressed in a more adventurous and aggressive style.