CAPE TOWN, Western CapeOnce, after a particularly spirited track session in the pinnacle Aventador of the time, I asked Lamborghini’s chief technical officer, Maurizio Reggiani, why the transmission paddles on his brand’s cars were fixed to the steering column, as opposed to mounted to the wheel itself. As though I’d offered him sugar for his cappuccino, his deflated reaction involved more than a few exuberant hand gestures and eye rolls as he explained, in no uncertain terms, that the Lamborghini (and, indeed, Italian) way was the “proper” way.

Years later, I wonder whether Signor Reggiani’s morning coffee was particularly sweet on the day he learnt the brand’s third modern showroom model would have its transmission paddles affixed to its steering wheel.

The reason for this, of course, is that in order for the Urus to exist, Lamborghini would, more than ever before, rely on its Volkswagen Group parent company’s vast expertise (notably around raised-ride-height vehicles) and parts bin. Far from being a negative, what I was most intrigued to discover ahead of my extensive first drive in the Urus was just how much of the Italian brand’s revered – and envied – passion and exuberance has been retained within the final product.

Unmistakably Lamborghini to look at, the first surprise was to learn just how much presence the Urus has viewed in the metal. Sharing its MLBevo platform with the likes of the VW Touareg, Porsche Cayenne and Bentley Bentayga, the closest point of comparison in terms of the Italian model’s coupé-like stance is the Audi Q8. And yet, while images may suggest the Urus to be the more compact of these two cousins, it’s the Lamborghini that stands 127 mm longer and 22 mm wider than the German offering. A longer wheelbase (3002 mm) and lower roofline tell the story of greater performance-driven intent from the Italian brand (despite the recently launched RS Q8 having claimed the Nürburgring Nordschleife lap record for SUVs).

As with the Huracán and Avendator, the Urus is better for the influence of German engineering within its cabin layout and switchgear. That said, while some shared componentry within the Urus is more obvious than others, as with the exterior design it’s refreshing to see the Italian brand has maintained its identity throughout. This includes an Alcantara-clad parcel shelf and the incorporation of the brand’s trademark hexagonal design motif on items such as the air vents and trim accents; as well as incorporated within the menus of the (haptic) touchscreen-based infotainment system.

A slightly clumsy Tamburo (drum) drive mode selector that curiously allows only for one-way scrolling through Strada, Sport, Corsa and Neve (snow) drivetrain configurations takes centre stage within the snug cabin. An optional off-road package adds Sabbia (sand) and Terra (off-road) modes to this menu, while a supplementary Ego (custom) switch permits a customised mix of steering, dampers and all-wheel-drive settings.

From an impressively comfortable and supportive driver’s seat, the combination of a raised shoulder line and relatively narrow glasshouse gives the impression of sitting snug within the cabin of a vehicle built by a supercar-maker, rather than necessarily a raised-ride-height SUV. The downside to this is that rearward visibility isn’t as generous as in most rivals in this segment. Rear passengers, as comfortable as they may be, could feel a touch more claustrophobic in the Lamborghini than in, say, a Cayenne.

All five potential occupants in the Urus will have Porsche to thank for the blistering performance on hand. Mated with a ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic transmission, the first turbocharged Lamborghini is fitted with a version of the VW Group’s twin-turbo aluminium 4,0-litre V8 engine. While both the forthcoming Audi RS6 Avant and RS Q8 feature this unit, in the Urus the wick has been turned up to the tune of 478 kW and a massive 850 N.m of torque, the latter available between 2 250 and 4 500 r/min (the Audis will offer “only” 441 kW and 800 N.m). In the interest of emissions, this engine also features cylinder deactivation under light load.

Under normal driving conditions, torque is delivered to all corners in 40:60 front-to-rear split via a Torsen central differential. Increase the pace and as much as 87 percent of available torque can be directed to the rear, with up to 70 percent sent forward as grip levels dictate.

Lamborghini claims a 0-100 km/h sprint time for the 2 200 kg Urus of just 3,6 seconds. Based on both my time spent with this super-SUV, as well as recent experiences with the mighty Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk and focused Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio, this seems entirely plausible. Similarly, braking performance from the standard 440 mm ventilated carbon-ceramic front discs (370 mm items at the rear) is astonishing.

True to its dramatic, unapologetic styling, even the default (Strada) setting on the air-sprung dampers offers a level of firmness that serves as a reminder you are, after all, still driving a Lamborghini. Impressively compliant nonetheless, this ride can be firmed (with the ride height lowering accordingly) through either Sport or Corsa driving modes, or via Smooth, Medium or Sportive settings in the Ego configurator.

Like its compatriot Alfa Romeo, via active anti-roll bars and active torque vectoring the Urus once again defies both its mass and raised centre of gravity by maintaining astonishing levels of balance and cornering precision at speeds that would challenge the poise of most modern hot hatches. Like the Stelvio Quadrifoglio, it’s the quick reactions of the electrically assisted steering system that serves to heighten the overall sense of occasion. Offering a more convincing easy-going setting than the Stelvio, in the Lamborghini it’s rather the standard fitment of all-wheel-steering that serves to keep its driver alert. Able to (by moving by around three degrees) effectively lengthen or shorten the wheelbase by up to 600 mm, it’s a system that works wonders while pushing on, yet adds a level of sensitivity at lower speeds that takes a little getting used.

While volume (over half of the more than 8 000 Lamborghinis sold in 2019 were Urus units) and corresponding profit can mean only good things for all future products – low-slung and otherwise – what’s most impressive about the Urus is that despite its shared underpinnings, the final product remains as close to being a true Lamborghini creation as possible.

It’s credit to the boardrooms in Sant’Agata Bolognese and at Volkswagen AG that a model like the Urus has been afforded a persona, performance and dynamic ability not easily confused nor conflicted with anything else the Group currently offers.



FAST FACTS

Model: Lamborghini Urus 
Price: R3 495 000
Engine: 4,0-litre, twin-turbocharged V8
Power: 478 kW
Torque: 850 N.m 
0-100 km/h: 3,6 secs
0-200 km/h: 12,8 secs
Top Speed: 305 km/h
Fuel Consumption: 12,7 L/100 km 
CO2: 325 g/km
Transmission: 8-spd auto
Maintenance Plan: M3/100 000 km (optional M5/100 000 km)