2019 Lamborghini Urus first drive review: SUV king of obliterative performance

"Lamborghini's SUV will do 130 miles per hour. In. The. Sand." 

I can't tell you how many times I uttered a phrase like that when talking cars with my classmates. I wasn't referring to this 2019 Lamborghini Urus, of course. I was a young boy breathlessly describing the LM002, a cartoonishly muscular, square-jawed SUV from the mid-Eighties.

Born from the ashes of a military vehicle program, that little-known LM002 was more than just grade school recess fodder for me, it lodged in the marrow of my bones as a budding auto enthusiast. It's also the reason I've been out-of-my-head eager to have a go in the Lamborghini Urus ever since confirmation of its production first surfaced.

The LM002 may be the spiritual ancestor of the Urus, but the two share not so much as a dome light. In appearance, construction and, indeed, in purpose, they are entirely different animals. Importantly, however, they share the same penchant for brash styling and gloriously indulgent levels of power.

If your brain is still having trouble comprehending Lamborghini as anything other than as a super sports car company, you're not alone. But think of it this way: Ferruccio Lamborghini, whose name is on the door, founded the company to build grand tourers -- powerful, comfortable cars designed to cover long distances at high speeds. As today's sedan and coupe sales continue to erode, high-powered crossover SUVs have stepped up to become today's de facto GTs. 

While the LM002 was famously temperamental, cramped and difficult to drive, throughout my day of motoring around greater Rome, the Urus would reveal itself to be just the opposite. Tractable when called for, it was also suitably manic when its 4.0-liter turbocharged V8 engine was let off the leash. And despite Italy's coarse-grained and often indifferently paved roads, the Urus was also something of a revelation in terms of driving comfort. 

The Urus features a well appointed and highly customizable cabin. And yes, the infotainment is borrowed from Audi.

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Of course, the old LM002 never actually achieved the velocity that 10-year-old me claimed on tarmac, let alone sand. The "Rambo Lambo" hit 0-60 in around 8 seconds, but back then, that was spry for an SUV -- contemporary Range Rovers took twice as long to hit 60 mph. Thanks to its twin-turbo V8 delivering 650 horsepower and 627 pound-feet of torque, the Urus carries on in that same double-quick spirit. According to Lamborghini, it knocks off the 0-62 sprint in just 3.6 seconds and storms all the way up to 190 mph. If anything, the Urus feels like it could be slightly quicker, and my inner child is pretty darn sure 130 mph on sand is finally within reach.

These days, there's a number of steroidally powered, street-focused, luxury SUVs with acceleration that would embarrass owners of supercars from just a few years ago. Models like the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio, Bentley Bentayga, Mercedes-AMG G65Porsche Cayenne Turbo S and the Tesla Model X are all stupendously rapid devices. But after spending the day flogging the Urus on street, racetrack and a gravel and dirt off-road course, I'm prepared to crown this Lamborghini as the SUV King of Obliterative Performance. Yet it earns that title while still being surprisingly docile to drive and, indeed, comfortable to live with. 

The EPA has not released fuel economy estimates for the 650-hp Urus, but really, who are we kidding?

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Remarkably, it isn't that the Urus is so quick off the line, or that it's so fast on the top end -- although it is emphatically both. It's the way the Urus handles corners and maintains speed that's shocking. Built on the same Volkswagen Group MLB Evo aluminum architecture as the aforementioned Bentley Bentayga (as well as the Porsche CayenneAudi Q7 and forthcoming Q8), the Urus features a 48-volt electrical system that has the requisite juice to power an active antiroll system to keep this big SUV spookily level in hard cornering. It also has an air suspension that can hunker down 1.6 inches closer to terra firma to help lower this big bull's center of gravity.

Out on Italy's Vallelunga circuit, a 2.5-mile, 15-turn road course, the Urus wasn't just stable. It was head-shakingly agile, thanks to its four-wheel steering and standard carbon ceramic brakes with massive 10-piston front and six-piston rear calipers. The brakes can be a bit noisy in low-speed street use and lack some of the feel and initial bite of conventional steel units, but there's no doubting their effectiveness. These carbon ceramic stoppers goad you to brake later and later, and the torque-vectoring driveline means you can get on the power out of the turns quicker than you'd ever think possible. It's almost like the Urus doesn't weigh nearly 4,850 pounds before options, but it does. 

Put it all together, and you've got an SUV with the speed and ankle-breaking moves of Kyrie Irving on a frame that's more like post-retirement Charles Barkley.

One thing that the Urus isn't, regrettably, is particularly tactile. No matter what drive mode you set, its variable-rack steering is quick and the specially formulated Pirelli P Zero tires are forever grippy. But the lines of communication from your hands on the wheel to the tread blocks on the pavement just never really open up. Even in Corsa (race) mode with the exhaust baffles open, the engine could be more vocal to better underpin the drama. A turbo V8 with a 6,800-rpm redline was never going to wail the way one of Lambo's naturally aspirated V12s do, but additional throat-clearing bravado would be a welcome development.

Because its dynamic limits are so high, it can be a little hard to bond with the Urus outside of a racetrack -- a scenario that nearly zero buyers will experience. The Urus will reliably put up big numbers and consistently shock you with its ability, but as a driver, you may be left with the nagging feeling that its command performance has nothing to do with your skills and everything to do with the hardware and lines of code surrounding your seat. That's a bit of a buzzkill coming from a car company known for igniting passions and wearing its heart on its sleeve, but in fairness, that sort of thing is likely of much lower priority for SUV buyers than it is for supercar shoppers.

It's not rock-crawling, but the Urus will happily bomb around gravel and sand courses like this.

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Things are more involving out on the dirt. Lamborghini set up a rallycross-style gravel and dirt course on the hills adjacent to the racetrack, and the Urus was capable of romping hilariously hard around the corners. That was thanks in part to its various systems being optimized for surface conditions in Terra (off-road) mode. 

In fact, the options list offers an off-road pack that includes unique front- and rear-end treatments for slightly better clearances and steel skid plates. You'll never want to take the Urus for a good, old-fashioned rock crawl the way you might with a Range Rover (or even a Bentayga), but blitzing through the sand dunes should be huge fun. Unsurprisingly, Lamborghini views the Middle East as a key market for this vehicle.

The Tambour is the nerve center of the Urus' gobsmacking performance.

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I've mentioned the Urus' various drive modes, but unlike how most new cars feature an innocuous console button to cycle through their various programs, the Urus puts these controls front and center. At the base of the center console is an unusual three-lever control array dubbed "Tambour" (drum). A central paddle-shaped lever sits over the ignition button -- complete with Lamborghini's trademark red hinged missile-launcher-style cover -- and functions as the primary gearshift lever for the eight-speed automatic. It works in conjunction with the shift paddles to select neutral and forward gears. 

The Tambour's more interesting bits are the Anima and Ego selectors. The former features five drive modes: Strada (everyday comfort); Sport (performance street); Corsa (track); Sabbia (sand); Terra (off-road); and Neve (snow). They govern everything from steering weight and throttle response to transmission shift schedule, suspension firmness, ride height, traction management, exhaust loudness and the appearance of the digital gauge cluster. The Ego lever, naturally, allows the driver to tailor their own preferences for each and save them in a preset, such as comfort ride, low-effort steering or loud exhaust.

Lamborghini had this tasty restored LM002 on hand at the press launch to reinforce the Urus' lineage.

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There are plenty of Lamborghini design touchstones in the well appointed cabin, including hexagon vents, batwing-shaped shift paddles and patterned pedal grips. I had the chance to sample several different Urus models, and the cabin feels great. It's a highly customizable environment, with all manner of material colors and finishes available. 

Just as importantly, the Urus' cabin tech hand is bang up to date. If that twin touchscreen system looks familiar, it should. It's the setup found in Audi's sparkling new A8, albeit reskinned to have a more Lambo-specific feel. It features crisp graphics and haptic feedback like a smartphone, along with a no-waiting handwriting function and standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration. A 1,700-watt Bang & Olufsen 3D audio system is optional.

You can get everything you'd expect in a luxury SUV, including niceties such as a twin-screen rear entertainment system, head-up display, wireless charging, panoramic moonroof and even customize the contrast stitching and seatbelt colors. 

2019 Lamborghini Urus

The cargo area holds almost 22 cubic feet, or over 56 cubes with the seats down.

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Another noteworthy Urus option is a premium four-seat configuration that ditches the rear middle seat in favor of a pair of buckets with power articulation. Whether you go with the standard rear seat or the more luxurious four-place setup, the back perches are surprisingly long on legroom and generous of headroom. You might not expect such comfortable rear confines based on the Urus' outside appearance. The tapered roofline makes it seem like it'd be tight back there, but it isn't.

Heck, there's even a decent amount of cargo room -- a smidge shy of 22 cubic feet with the rear seats up, and a over 56 cubes with them stowed. Just like on everyday grocery-getters like the Ford Escape, there's an optional kick-to-open function. 

Advanced driver assist systems don't normally come to mind when pondering Lamborghini, but the Urus isn't your typical Roman Candle from Sant'Agata Bolognese. Ergo, everything from adaptive cruise with auto brake to lane-keep assist and blind-spot assist is available, along with a 360-degree camera, auto high beams and night vision.

The Urus' 650-hp 4.0-liter V8 could use more bark to go with its prodigious bite.

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In other words, the Urus is a wholly viable everyday driver, a Lamborghini model that could easily see 10,000-plus miles of annual use, instead of a couple-thousand clicks worth of Sunday drives like a typical Aventador

The Urus may start at $200,000, but Lamborghini officials tell me they expect customers to spend around $20,000 in options on average. Picking through the model's online configurator, it feels like it would be dangerously easy to double that figure.

Despite that being around the same cost as four years of tuition at Harvard, that oddly doesn't strike me as unreasonable in the rarified air in which ultrapremium SUVs roam.

By now, you've noticed, dear reader, that I haven't discussed the way the 2019 Lamborghini Urus looks. It obviously plays nicely on the brand's design touchstones of Low, Wide and Get the Hell Out of My Way, but it's also wholly unlike any other model to ever wear the fighting bull shield. 

Style is a subjective matter, and while I really like the Urus' overall stance and proportions, I find some of its details overwrought. Particularly the body-color tuning-fork-like extensions into the front air intakes and the fake fender vents. Why does a high-dollar, high-performance beast of unassailable pedigree really need to succumb to artifice?   

A successful Urus will help ensure Lamborghini's supercar-building future.

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Take that thought with a grain of salt. I am clearly not this vehicle's target demographic, and I strongly suspect Lamborghini will sell every Urus it can mint in short order. Indeed, production for the first year is all but sold out, and Lamborghini expects the Urus to immediately double its production totals from last year. About 3,500 units are expected in year 1, and thus far, about 68 percent of preorders are from new customers. 

Those fortunate souls will be getting a very, very good vehicle.

One last thing. Even if you still can't wrap your head around any sort of Lamborghini SUV, be it an LM002 or an Urus, take comfort in one very important fact: The Urus' success will almost singlehandedly bankroll the company's commitment to future super sports cars, including Lamborghini's nascent electrification efforts.

That, friends, is worth celebrating.


Editors' noteRoadshow accepts multiday vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews. All scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms. However, for this feature, the manufacturer covered travel costs. This is common in the auto industry, as it's far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists.

The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's editorial team are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.

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