Cape Town – My first impression of the Lamborghini Urus when the covers came off at its South African launch on Wednesday was of sheer size.
I was expecting something not much bigger than a Porsche Macan – but at 5113mm long overall on a 3003mm wheelbase, 2017mm wide and 1638mm high, it is bigger than Macan’s big brother, the Cayenne, in every dimension except height, standing poised on its (standard) 21 inch wheels over the world’s biggest carbon-ceramic brake discs.
My second impression was one of crisp-edged, angular styling, with huge, hard-edged air intakes stretching right across the front of the car from corner to corner, below a pair of slit-eyed headlight clusters – so much so that I wondered if this thing would even show up on radar.
Then I got up close and personal with the only Urus in South Africa, and the overriding impression is one of solid quality. There’s none of that slightly raffish ‘performance above all else’ air that has characterised Lamborghinis since the Countach. The cabin is neatly trimmed in dark grey and tan leather, with lots of contrast stitching and brushed-aluminium trim, highlighted by trapezoidal air vents that echo the front styling - a motif that's repeated throughout the interior, on the sharp coprners of the fascia, embossed on the inlay ahead of the front passenger seat and stitched into the centre panels of the seat squabs.
High-mounted ahead of the driver is an aviation-style 'glass cockpit' instrument panel, set off by a bank of switches on the centre stack that look like they came out of a jet fighter. Even the starter button has a red 'weapons lock' safety cover, while the gearshift lever and the drive mode selector (one on either side of it) are quadrant levers just like the flap selector levers on a modern aircraft.
Whatever components they may share under the skin, there's no Audi DNA discernable in the cabin; it's all very Lamborghini and distinctively Urus. Build quality is if anything, even better than all but the most luxurious Ingolstadt offerings, although the seats are a little firmer, more supportive, the leather a little stiffer, as if to remind you that under all this style and luxury there lurks a very, very serious performance car.
'The fastest standard SUV you can buy.'
As we learned at the Geneva motor show, the Urus has a four-litre petrol V8 with dual turbos 'in the vee', rated for 478kW at 6000 revs and 850Nm from 2250-5500rpm, driving all four wheels via an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission, Torsen centre differential and an active torque vectoring rear differential. Default drive bias is 40:60 front to rear, automatically variable to 70 percent front or 87 percent rear bias as required for optimum grip.
Quoted performance figures are 0-100 in 3.6 seconds, 0-200 in 12.8s, and 305km/h flat out - making this, according to Lamborghini, the fastest standard SUV you can buy.
Also standard are rear-wheel steering, adaptive damping tunable through six drive modes and electromechanical active roll stabilisation - a first for Lamborghini - to keep this imposing vehicle flat and level level under hard cornering stresses, by uncoupling the left and right sides of the anti-roll bars and stiffening the outside section, along with suitably asymmetrical damping.
New SA distributor
Lamborghini insists that supercars such as the Huracan and Aventador will always head its line-up, but there is no doubt that it is hitching its star to the Urus; the company has built an entirely new assembly hall, admin building and test track at the Sant'Agata plant, doubling its size from 80 000 to 160 000 square metres, along with plans to increase production from 2017's all-time record 3815 cars to 8000 by 2020, half of which will be Urus models.
So many orders have been taken for the new SUV since its world debut at Geneva (70 percent of them from customers who haven't previously owned a Lamborghini) that the current lead time is a year, although a few earlier build slots have been made available for South African customers to help newly appointed SA distributor Toby Venter (of Porsche and Kyalami fame) get the brand off the ground locally, through new dealerships in Melrose Arch , Johannesburg and Century City, Cape town, with a third planned for Umhlanga.
First deliveries to South African customers are scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2018; Urus pricing starts at R3.495 million.
Q&A with Lamborghini CEO Stefano Domenicali
When I asked Domenicali how Lamborghini culture differed from Ferrari’s he very diplomatically said the two brands complemented each other. As the younger, smaller brand, he said, Lamborghini attracted a younger, more upwardly mobile customer, somebody who had not yet reached the pinnacle of his career, whereas Ferrari customers tended to be more established. Lamborghini, he said, was seen as the more aspirational, cooler brand.
Asked how closely Audi and Lamborghini products were related, he ducked the question by conceding that yes, the Urus and the Audi Q7 share a platform and many Lamborghini components are drawn from Audi parts bins - but that’s not the issue, he insisted.
The things that make a Lamborghini a Lamborghini are design, technology and feel. Whatever their platforms, Lamborghini styling will always be distinctively un-Audi, the software that maps their response to drivers’ inputs will always be more focused and the technology that the driver gets to see and feel will always be special.
He graciously paid tribute to Audi, without which Lamborghini would not exist today, saying it was Ingolstadt’s process engineering that made possible the brand’s growth, and especially Audi’s vision that led to the doubling in size of the Sant’Agata plant to house the Urus production line, when it might have made more sense to build the SUV in Germany. A Lamborghini, he said, must always carry the ‘Made in Italy’ cachet - and Audi understands that.
He pointed out, however, that the co-operation goes both ways, with Lamborghini's smaller, more flexible development centre taking on pilot projects that could possibly point the way to future Audi models.
Domenicali had already said in his earlier presentation that electrification was coming, but that Lamborghini wouldn’t rush into it. Asked for more details, he said Lamborghini envisioned powerful combustion engines (the current V10 and V12 would still be used, he said) linked to electric motors to create super-sports cars that would still meet ever-tightening emissions regulations.
Pure electric cars were still a long way off, he said, partly because of range and weight considerations, but also because pure electric cars all feel much the same to drive. Current electric drivetrain technology, he said, offers limited scope for the uniqueness that makes Lamborghini special.
And finally, when I tried to dig out some more information on the upcoming Aventador SVJ, all I got was grins and headshakes all round the table. Yes, they said, the SVJ would make its world debut in August at the Pebble Beach Concours in Monterey, California, and that it would be accompanied by a big announcement.
Meanwhile, Lamborghini has confirmed that the Aventador SVJ has posted a new record lap time for production cars at the Nurburgring of 6.44.97s, beating the previous mark, set by Porshe's GT2 RS, by nearly three seconds. Click here to see the video.