Cars: Lamborghini Urus a US$200,000 supercar in SUV clothing

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on May 15, 2018.

Imagine the Urus as the love child of a Countach and the LM002.

The Urus at a pit stop in Bracciano, Italy.

Front headlights and the steering wheel of the Urus.

The Urus on the off-road track near Rome.

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“YOU must have a vision, or you have nothing,” said Maurizio Reggiani, the head of research and development of Automobili Lamborghini SpA, who was in Rome in mid-April to announce the brand’s latest sport utility vehicle (SUV), the Urus, its first since the “Rambo Lambo” LM002 was released in 1986.

This vision, put simply, is to make more money. The Volkswagen AG (VW) subsidiary needs to add affluent families, millennials and women to the ranks of the power-hungry gentlemen drivers it has historically attracted. Last year, Lamborghini sold fewer than 3,900 units worldwide of its two models, the Huracán and Aventador. At full production, the SUV will almost double that number, strengthening Lamborghini’s position as VW moves to bundle some of its iconic brands into a new internal product group called the “super-premium”.

Although the Urus follows utility vehicles from rivals such as Bentley, Lamborghini is hoping sales will support its less profitable models, much the way Porsche introduced the Cayenne SUV in 2002 and “saved” its 911 model from extinction. Numbers don’t lie. Sales of all luxury SUVs were up more than 20% in March from a year earlier. Aston Martin, Rolls-Royce, Ferrari and Mercedes-Maybach are the last holdouts in the segment, and all four have SUV plans in the works.

The US$200,000 (RM790,000) Urus certainly brings the heat, with seven all-terrain drive modes, seating for as many as five, roomier cargo space and a standstill to 100kph sprint time of 3.6 seconds. Imagine it as the love child of a Countach and the LM002 — a 4.0-litre V8 engine with 641 horsepower and 627 pound-feet of torque, the most of any SUV today. Its top speed is 304kph.

Racing around a track in Italy, the Urus grips each corner in an iron fist; it barrels down the straights with an intensity previously reserved for supercars. You can feel the rear wheels adjusting as you slide out of each corner; braking comes hard and fast.

And yes, the guttural roar of the Urus will more than adequately announce your status as the enfant terrible of grocery runs and school pickups. Interiors are smooth enough to balance the raw power, with a foot-long touchscreen and optional sunroof — plus, you can finally see out the back, although there are some blind spots directly over your shoulder. It’s telling that 68% of pre-orders are to “conquest buyers”, or those who don’t yet own a Lamborghini.

Test-driven on sandy and rocky dirt roads — what you may find on a remote country estate — it handles like any other top SUV, thanks to all-wheel drive, four-wheel steering and torque vectoring, even if each clunk or potential scratch wracks your nerves. Unlike a typical Lambo, it has some clearance — as much as 9.8 inches (24.9cm). But even with adaptive air suspension, the Urus is among the lowest-riding SUVs available.

Then again, taking this brawny auto off-road isn’t the idea. You buy this car, or a Bentley Bentayga or Mercedes AMG G Wagon, to access all the power and performance of a storied, respected brand in a rig that sits high on the road and is big enough to fit friends and children and, yes, even baggage for road trips, particularly if the seats are down. There are even four cup holders — a miracle! Compared to the US$460,000 Aventador, the Urus is the best way to get a lot of Lamborghini for your money.

Initial interest is on track, according to Stefano Domenicali, the chief executive officer of Lamborghini. The Urus is sold out for two years following its debut, and 18% of those on order are to be painted the company’s traditional screaming yellow hue. A  hybrid version is on the way.

It’s all coalescing into a rather clear message from Lamborghini that’s echoing across the pastures of northern Italy: Ferrari, your move. — Bloomberg