I will admit to some skepticism. The idea of a Lamborghini SUV was preposterous, bordering on offensive. Who could need such a vehicle? Who could afford such a vehicle? Why even build it? And what is a Urus, anyway?
My attitude persisted beyond the company’s announcement of the vehicle, its unveiling a year ago, and even a conversation at the 2017 L.A. Auto Show with the company’s North American CEO, Alessandro Farmeschi. He promised the vehicle would be a Lamborghini, above all, and would contain the DNA that drives the Huracan, Aventador and other Lambo product.
Otherwise, he promised, there would be no SUV. If it wasn’t entirely Lamborghini, it would not come to market.
I remained dubious as I sat in the seat, started the engine and headed onto the private race track known as the Thermal Club south of Palm Springs. By then, I knew some specs and stats. At 650 horsepower and 620 pound-feet of torque, driven by Lamborghini’s first twin-turbocharged V-8, with a top speed of 189 miles per hour, the Urus was the fastest and most powerful SUV on the planet.
Farmeschi called it the world’s first “super SUV” and boasted that its powerful engine, all-wheel drive and four-wheel steering made it “an SUV with the super-performance of a supercar.”
Yeah, whatever. Some supercar. I knew from reading, and could see with my own eyes, that it was big, wide and heavy — 16 feet long, 7 feet wide, weighing almost 5,000 pounds. Wasn’t it just a souped-up Porsche Cayenne, Audi Q7 or VW Touareg, or an Italian-ized Bentley Bentayga — since all those Volkswagen group SUVs share platforms and some parts?
Then I hit the track, first as a passenger, and later behind the wheel with a driving instructor next to me.
My skepticism vanished at the first corner. The Urus blistered through the apex, accelerated madly forward and drove like it was glued to the track.
The driving instructor urged me to drive as fast as possible through a series of closely spaced cones and jerk the wheel as stiffly as necessary to avoid hitting them. Meanwhile, he urged me to feel the barely perceptible roll as the SUV shifted directions. Electric servo motors, he said, were working in all four wheels to ensure the vehicle remained flat no matter how sharply it was turned.
Then he urged me to test the braking system, which features Lambo-branded rotors that, at 17 inches, are the largest ever run on a production vehicle. Putting me through what he called “the moose test,” he insisted I accelerate as quickly as possible to 75 mph, then brake as hard as possible while steering hard to the left.
The idea is to simulate the emergency braking and steering maneuver required to avoid hitting a moose at high speed. Try as I might, on three passes, I could not brake and steer violently enough to make the SUV lose traction or skid as it rushed to a stop.
Finally the other first-time Urus drivers and I enjoyed some lead-and-follow laps around the Thermal track, the driving instructor a few car lengths ahead of us making sure by radio command that we stayed close to the cones marking the entrance, apex and exit points of each turn — all the while urging us to crank up the speed with each lap.
Folks, I was blown away. I emerged from the Urus grinning, deeply impressed with its handling, in love with the motor and dazzled by the driving dynamics.
Then we hit the dirt. After a plush freeway drive north toward Indio, our convoy of Uruses crossed into the sandy Metate Ranch, a desert outpost offering four-wheel Jeep tours through the rocks and canyons. The Urus navigated cheerfully through deep sand, dry washes and rocky rises. Having experimented on the track with the Strada, Sport and Corsa driving modes, here I explored Sabbia (sand) and Neve (snow) settings.
The SUV felt sure-footed and solid, doing nothing to remind me that I was running the substantial risk of scraping or scratching a $200,000 vehicle.
So good a double-duty performer is it that Lamborghini will build an ST-X performance version of the Urus to race in competitions that include track and off-road sections.
Despite its desert-readiness and track cred, the Urus is a luxury vehicle. From the wood grain paneling to the leather interior to the panoramic moon roof, through the Bang and Olufsen sound system and the heated, ventilated seats, no modern convenience or precious detail has been spared. It isn’t hard to see where the $200,000 went.
It isn’t hard to imagine it as a daily driver, either. The SUV stands only 64 inches high and will drop lower for better aerodynamics at high speeds and rise higher to clear obstacles off road — though only allowing, at its highest, for a clearance of 8.4 inches, which is not really enough for serious rock crawling.
Despite that relatively low height for an SUV, the Lambo folks said the Urus will be comfortable for back-seat passengers up to 6 feet 3 tall, and front-seat passengers up to 6 feet 7. (The five-passenger model is standard; the four-passenger variation is a $3,788 upgrade.)
There’s even the option of a tow hitch, and a promised towing capacity of 7,000 pounds. A Urus could tow a Urus on a trailer to the track. The rear storage compartment holds two golf bags, Lamborghini said.
Farmeschi, clearly proud of his company’s newest vehicle, indicated he believes that Urus will do for Lamborghini what the Cayenne and Macan have done for Porsche: enter new markets in areas that experience winter weather, extend the driving season for Lambo fans whose Huracans and Aventadors spend half the year garaged, and open the brand to consumers who might have found a Lamborghini supercar too intimidating to purchase.
Indeed, Farmeschi estimated that the introduction of the Urus will boost Lamborghini sales by 50% in the first year.
Those sales, if they occur, would be most visible on American roads. For 2017, Lamborghini delivered a third of its 3,800-vehicle global production to U.S. buyers — almost three times as many as its next-biggest markets in Japan, Britain and the combined China, Hong Kong and Taiwan territory. About 20% of those U.S. sales were in California.
I’m still not sure who the Urus buyer might be. But Farmeschi said the waiting time was more than a year when production began. So far, he added, 70% of Urus sales have been to consumers who have never owned Lamborghinis in the past.
It’s hard to guess what they’re cross-shopping, because there is no vehicle on the market that promises, much less delivers, the Urus’ combination of race track performance, daily driver comfort and off-road capability. And there isn’t any SUV, save the new Rolls-Royce Cullinan, that’s over the $200,000 price point.
But on the basis of a full day’s mixed driving in the Urus, I don’t believe anyone who is attracted to this wolf in sheep’s clothing, and can afford it, will be disappointed. Lamborghini has produced a magnificent vehicle.
2019 Lamborghini Urus
Times' take: The world’s fastest, most powerful SUV
Highs: Fantastic track car, desert cruiser and daily driver
Lows: Brings the SUV to a new level of wretched excess
Vehicle type: Four-door, four- or five-passenger luxury SUV
Base price: $203,995
Price as tested: $260,995
Powertrain: 4-liter, V-8, twin-turbocharged gasoline engine
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Torque: 620 pound-feet