Lamborghini Urus (2018) International Launch Drive

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As Lamborghini passes into the custodianship of LSM Distributors, which retails Porsche and Bentley models in South Africa, performance aficionados eagerly await the arrival of the Bolognese supercar marque's performance SUV, the Urus, around the 3rd quarter of 2018. Is the SUV an exciting new chapter for the storied Italian brand, or does it struggle to do justice to the famous bull emblem on its nose? Our UK correspondent, Matt Prior, reports...  

I suppose, when the matter at hand is as delicate as this, every kg matters, so Lamborghini isn’t going to round the 2197 kg that its new Urus SUV weighs to the nearest 10 kg. So, 2 197 kg it is. Yay, it’s sub-2.2 tonnes! And that’s the first of an array of astonishingly large numbers that relate to the new Urus. Others of note are 478 kW, 850 Nm and R3.495 million, the latter of which is the official local launch price of the newcomer. 

Watch a video of the Lamborghini Urus driving around in Rome:


All of which gets you what, exactly? A super sports luxury SUV. Lamborghini says it basically invented this kind of car, and if you squint a bit I suppose, in the rather brutalist V12-engined form of the LM002, it might almost perhaps have a bit of a point; although I’m not sure it thought so at the time, and it only made 328 of those behemoths before packing that idea in.

But that was then and this is now and now means it doesn’t get a V12 and won’t be built by hand by the couple of hundred Lamborghini employees. The new Urus is based on the Volkswagen Group’s MLB Evo architecture, which underpins the Audi Q7, Porsche Cayenne and Bentley Bentayga, and it’s intended to perhaps double Lamborghini’s output to 7 000 cars a year. 


The Urus' front-end styling is head-turning, in true Lambo style. The doors open conventionally, but the side windows have no frames.

To that extent, it is a marketing-driven car, not an engineering-driven one. It’s a car that Lamborghini acknowledges it can only sell because the firm makes actual, genuine sports cars. Without the badge, the history, the reputation and the 12.4 million Instagram followers, the Urus wouldn’t sell. 

More than a Q7/Cayenne/Bentayga clone?

Is that an admission that the Urus isn’t quite a Lamborghini, after all? Not at all, says Lamborghini. The newcomer shares its basic architecture with other VW Group products, yes, but it’s lighter through better mixed-metal use and with funky C-pillars and frameless doors. It has Lamborghini’s first turbocharged engine and it’s one you’ll find in an Audi; but, ah, here it has 478 kW. It has all-wheel drive, a tall ride height; perhaps, but no other group product marries that to a Torsen centre differential with 60% (and up to 85%) rear bias and a torque-vectoring rear differential, you see.  


Lamborghini's newcomer offers no fewer than 6 driving modes, of which Track is the most hardcore (and noisiest!).

In short, the things that separate a Lamborghini from another brand’s car within the VW Group today, then, are rather more subtle than the fact that only one of them has a V12 engine in the middle of it. Would a V12 engine fit here? Don’t be silly, an SUV requires turbochargers because only they can make the requisite torque. Could you put turbos on the V12? "Look, please stop asking questions and go and drive it," I'm told. And so I do.

When the frameless doors swing open, they feel lighter than a big SUV’s usually do. What's more, the interior is more swooping and extravagant than in most 4x4s; the centre console is high; you can have 5 seats, but this one has 4: all individual chairs wrapped in expensive-feeling materials. So too is the dashboard, where Lamborghini design meets occasional VW Group familiarity, and some new things: a double touchscreen much like the Range Rover Velar's, and a thick bunch of switches to scroll through the drive modes, start the car and operate its transmission.


The interior is awash with leather, carbon-fibre and alcantara. Yes, some VW Group switchgear is carried over, but there's no lack of theatre. 

There are 6 drive modes: Street, Sport, Track (in which the car lowers by 15 mm) and a trio of off-road modes, in which the body rises by 40 mm. Or you can choose your own adventure, by selecting how intense you want to make your suspension-, engine- and steering weight settings. But let’s deal with track first, because, somewhat uncomfortably, my very first steer and throttle press in the Urus is one that makes it depart from a pit lane.

Feels as fast as Lambo claims

Crikey, it’s a fast, not to mention loud, car. The 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 is not overtly laggy and hits a hard rev limiter at 6 800 rpm. The official figures say this is a 3.6 sec 0-to-100 kph car, and that it’ll go from 0 to 200 kph in 12.4 sec. The Urus feels not a bit slower than that. The tremendous wallop of torque comes in from 2 250 rpm, so it doesn’t really matter what gear you’re in, either: in fact, so willing is Lamborghini's performance SUV to run towards its rev limiter, where upshifts are a touch hesitant, you’re quite often better off leaving the transmission in a higher ratio.


It would not be a Lambo without the jet-fighter-style engine start-stop button under the signal red switch cover, now would it?

There quite a lot of noise. You will hear how loud it is, they said; and they were right. But there’s augmentation going on here too. Through a natural symposer using the intake system’s natural frequencies, yes, but augmentation nonetheless. It’s good, but I think an AMG V8 motor sounds better.

Standard carbon-ceramic brakes

What else does it do? Stop, tremendously well given the weight (carbon ceramics with 10-piston calipers are standard). And it does exhibit body roll, despite lowering the ride height in sports mode, stiffening the dampers, and the adoption of 48V active anti-roll bars like those you’ll find on its cousins. But that’s fine – a little body angle gives you something to lean on, the quick(ish) steering weights up rapidly, but doesn’t give genuine natural feel, and then you feel the differential doing its thing, straightening a cornering line and, well, in short, this car is daft-quick around a track.


As a road car, the Urus does a very good job of impersonating a premium SUV, save for the low-profile rubber, which battles on uneven roads.

Which would be amusing for a few minutes if you owned one, and knew what you were doing with it: because it would go more quickly than most sports cars. And consider that sports cars are not typically as comfortable as this on the road...

In its Street mode, the Urus is pretty amenable on good surfaces, albeit fidgety on bad ones: you can blame the optional 23-inch wheels shod with 30-profile tyres for that one, plus the fact that, even when the dampers are in an easier-going mode and the anti-roll bars are allowing the wheels to move independently, at heart this is still an SUV that tries to prioritise handling while weighing 2.2 tonnes.

Easy to live with

Honestly, the Urus' general demeanour is fine: it’s not uncomfortable, and it would be as easy as any car in its segment to cruise around in. The seats are supportive, yet comfortable. The luggage capacity is quite acceptable. Ergonomically, the newcomer's cabin is sound. The steering remains light, and responsive. Pedal feel and -response is strong. The digital instruments and a slick infotainment system are of a fine standard. 


The Urus can easily deliver a brisk turn of pace on a dirt road, where its adaptive system and all-wheel-drivetrain come to the fore.

What’s bad? The engine’s too quiet unless you turn up the suspension to its harder settings, and visibility – because of the high window line – is a bit iffy. But, then, while parking the surround-view cameras are tremendous.

Can 'shrug off-road lumps aside'

And then there’s off-road too. Lamborghini says it wants the Urus to have “best in class” handling, with off-road ability “in the best class”. I don’t doubt it has nailed the former, but as yet I’m not sure about the latter: the ride height in the off-road modes is 215 mm, and put the right tyres on it and I guess it’ll go most places people want it to. Sand dunes, most likely.

I tried it on a gravel track carved into some hills and it was great fun: it’s easy to ride on its torque, it felt agile and you could feel the rear differential straightening its line on corner exit. It is, and I really do mean this, remarkable, in that it is so competent on a circuit, so amenable on the road, and yet still capable of shrugging off-road lumps aside.


The Urus has made a solid first impression, even if it isn't quite as bonkers and devil-may-care as its sportscar brethren.

Summary

I don’t think there are many cars, if any, that can do all of those things (excel on track, be pliable on road and perform competently on a dirt road) better. Was it worth putting a Lamborghini badge on this car's nose? Well, would you be more or less well disposed to this car if it wore a badge you’d never heard of? Is it fine to know that a car is technically excellent even if you may not actually like it very much? That's up to you to decide.

There is one question I can answer quite confidently, however: Does it feel like a Lamborghini? No, at least not overtly, but you can see where Lamborghini tried very hard to instil its essence in the Urus. Think about this: Did a Porsche Cayenne feel like a Porsche when it was launched? Not that I can remember, and look how much a part of the furniture Zuffenhausen 'bahnstormer has become. I guess that will be the way it is here too...

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