For most folk, the name Lamborghini doesn't conjure up mental images of high riding sport-utility vehicles. But back in the late 1970s the Italian supercar manufacturer embarked on an unlikely project to produce a purpose-built military vehicle similar to the AM General Humvee.
When the truck failed to generate interest from government entities, Lamborghini decided to change up the game plan in hopes of recouping their investment. Into the new truck went the 5.2-liter V12 from the Countach, along with its five-speed manual gearbox, while the interior was upgraded with leather trim, power accessories, and premium audio. The end result was the LM002: a barely civilian-spec, Lamborghini-motivated beast of an off-road machine. Just over 300 examples of the LM002 were produced between 1986 and 1993, making the Italian super truck something of a cult classic.
High performance sport-utility vehicles are less of an anomaly today than they were in the 1980s, a paradigm shift originally spearheaded by Porsche when the Cayenne debuted back in 2002.
Porsche's big SUV is seen by many as the model that brought the company back from the brink of collapse during a dark period in the 1990s, and today the Cayenne and Macan crossover outsell all of Porsche's other vehicles combined.
While Lamborghini has enjoyed seven consecutive years of growth, the public's insatiable hunger for SUVs and crossovers has become too prevalent to ignore. And to that end, Lamborghini has issued a response in the form of the Urus, a vehicle that debuts a number of firsts for the brand.
"If you want to stay competitive and maintain your position in the market, you have to adapt," explained Alessandro Farmeschi, chief executive officer of Lamborghini of the Americas. "Since the foundation of the company, this is something Lamborghini has done, and it has helped to position the company where it is today."
The company touts the Urus as the world's first super sport-utility, and to prove it, they brought us to the outskirts of Palm Springs, California, so we could put the new SUV through its paces on the street, in the dirt, and at the track.
The Urus rides on Volkswagen's MLBevo architecture, a modular platform that already underpins the Audi Q7, Q8, Bentley Bentayga, and third-generation Cayenne, among others. While the bones may not be exclusive the aesthetic is all Lamborghini, drawing clear inspiration from Huracan and Aventador supercars. Finding a way to make a sport-utility stick out in a crowd is a sticky proposition, but the Urus' angular sheet metal, sloping roofline, and hunkered-down stance bestow the SUV with some real presence. Whether or not the attention is garnered for the right reasons is largely based on what angle you look at it from.
Under the hood is a significantly modified version of Audi's twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8—the first use of a factory-installed turbo in Lamborghini's history. Farmeschi explains that while other power plants were considered, the boosted V8 provided the low-end torque they needed in a package that was compatible with the platform, and with 650 horsepower and 627 pound-feet of torque on tap, the Urus is certainly not wanting for grunt. Power is sent to all four corners through a ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox.
And if you've got big power in a big vehicle, you're also going to need big brakes to reign it all in. Accordingly, Lamborghini has outfitted the Urus with ten-piston calipers and massive 17.3-inch carbon ceramic rotors up front, while six-piston units are paired up with 14.5-inch carbon ceramic rotors at the rear. Together, it's enough to get the 4900-pound brute to a standstill from 62 mph in just 110 feet.
To get it to perform on-road, off-road, and on a road, Lamborghini outfitted the Urus with a trick adaptive air suspension setup. The system allows the car to be raised or lowered on the fly, and where it sits at a particular moment is based on the drive mode the vehicle is set to.
Speaking of drive modes, there's no less than seven of them to choose from on the "Tamburo" selector, with Strada, Sport, and Corsa comprising the on-road options, while Sabbia, Terra, and Neve are designed to provide capability where the pavement ends. Like the Aventador S, the Urus also features an Ego mode that allows the driver to bring together all of their preferred settings into one custom preset.
One glance around the cabin is all it took to deem the interior of the Urus as the most luxurious to ever come out of Sant'Agata. Awash in high-end materials and premium tech, it's also the first Lambo we've ever been in that we'd describe as "roomy." Despite the aggressive roofline, the sport-utility is designed to accommodate passengers up to 6'7 in height up front and 6'3 in the back while still allowing for two sets of golf clubs to be stowed in the rear cargo area.
The Tamburo, its Anima drive mode selector, and the fighter jet-style ignition button require some brief acclimation, but after we'd sorted out the details we brought the boosted V8 to life. Before bumping the selector into Strada we took a moment to get a better look at the new infotainment system, which is a massive leap forward from the hardware you'll find in the current Huracan and Aventador models. Dubbed Lamborghini Infotainment System III, it consists of a pair of high resolution touchscreen displays in the center stack, with the upper display managing media, navigation, and other related tasks, while the lower display handles things like climate control with integrated haptic feedback to make adjustments easier on the go.
In this default driving mode the Urus is actually a pretty mellow place to be—provided you're not stomping on the throttle. The soft damper settings, subdued exhaust, and light steering would likely make for an effortless commute; it's only the grabbiness of the big carbon ceramic brakes that hint at the capability that can be summoned from a flip of a switch and a drop of the hammer.
We tend to think of Lamborghinis as a constant source of action and drama, but if you're going to drive one car every day, there are probably times when you won't want to drive with your hair on fire, so it's reassuring to know that the Urus will oblige if you ask it to. Sport mode splits the difference between the docility of Strada and the fury of the track-oriented Corsa mode, lowering the suspension, perking up the transmission, and cracking open the active exhaust just enough to keep things interesting without venturing into abusive territory. It was our preferred setting out on the road.
Our street drive led us out to Lamborghini's off-road course, which followed along part of the San Andreas fault line outside of Palm Springs. Upon arrival we swapped our on-road tester for an Urus that was outfitted with the optional Pirelli Scorpion all-terrain tires, selected the Sabbia drive mode, and headed out to the trail.
Like the latest Aventador models, the Urus is equipped with a four-wheel steering system, a feature which paid dividends on this tight course. At lower speeds the system turns the rear wheels in the opposite direction to the fronts, virtually reducing the wheelbase of the Urus to make it handle like a smaller vehicle. At higher speeds the rear wheels turn in phase with the front wheels to provide greater stability.
After a stint dodging rock walls and brush, our guide chimed in on the radio and instructed us switch the drive mode over to Terra. "The speed is going to pick up significantly, so try to keep up," he warned, just before vanishing into a cloud of dirt.
While the Urus isn't exactly a proper substitute for a Raptor when tackling rough terrain at high pace, it definitely got a nod of admiration from us out here. Through a winning combination of software, sophisticated suspension, and sheer horsepower, we brutalized the course with gleeful abandon, throwing some counter-steering in as needed the hardware sorted out how to keep everything on an even keel. No, it's not a Wrangler Rubicon, but the Urus holds its own.
While the Urus had proven to be an amicable steed in the urban sprawl and capable performer where the pavement ends, its greatest trial would be on the South Course at The Thermal Club facility. This is a Lamborghini, after all.
When Farmeschi noted during our technical presentation that the Urus out-paces the Gallardo in a number of performance metrics, it raised an eyebrow or two. But it wasn't until we clicked over to Corsa mode and let this thing loose out on the track that we started to understand the full scoop of what this thing is all about. Yeah, it relies on a lot of power and a lot of brake to cut a fast lap, but it's not just that.
Along with the adaptive air suspension, the Urus features active anti-roll bars that automatically adjust depending on the drive mode selected, tightening up the body motions in the more aggressive on-road settings or completely decoupling from the rest of the suspension to allow for more wheel articulation when off-road. Out here on the track that equates to surprisingly flat handling, but that too isn't enough to make this SUV as sure-footed as it is.
What really makes the Urus the kind of sport-utility you'll actually want to drive on track are the clever all-wheel drive and torque vectoring systems that allow you to feed in the power much earlier than you might expect during corner exit. Understeer is still a reality if you ask more from the tires than grip will allow, but unlike many other big, all-wheel drive performance vehicles, the Urus doesn't punish you every time you look at the throttle with some steering angle dialed in.
Performance sport-utility vehicles are ultimately an exercise in compromise, and even Lamborghini is beholden to the laws of physics. With that said, the Urus stands as a testament to what's possible today in the realm of production automobiles. This is a five-passenger SUV that will pin you to your seat on a race track, put a smile on your face out on a dirt trail, and coddle you with massaging seats as you make your way to the grocery store—all on the same day.
And if the success of the Cayenne provided Porsche with the means to develop the 991.2 GT3, we can't wait to see what the Urus is going to do for Lamborghini.