"I'm very happy with what we are doing at Lamborghini. Urus is going to open up a whole new market for us and introduce the brand to a lot more customers. There's no other car that does everything quite so well."
27 December 2018
Iceland is known as the land of fire and ice, but it also boasts a fledgling car industry, too. The Isar Torveg is a monster SUV designed to tackle the country’s brutal back roads during the winter months.
Equipped with 54-inch tyres and 18 seats, the Isar was created for ‘safe, nondestructive travel in wilderness areas’. Icelanders definitely like their SUVs big, so how will the relatively tiny Lamborghini Urus fair when the going gets rough?
To say Stefano Domenicali is a stickler for detail is an understatement. I’ve just parked a Lamborghini Urus at Dyrhólaey lighthouse, on the southern tip of Iceland, when the Lamborghini CEO notices a speck of condensation inside a headlight unit.
Considering we’ve crashed across some of Iceland’s lesser-used tracks in a colour-coded convoy of automotive exotica, perhaps it should be no surprise that one of the seven Lambos on tour has taken a hit.
The former team principal of Ferrari Formula One is having none of it. A mechanic is dispatched with pit lane-esque speed, whisking away the key so my SUV can be removed and parked in a more discreet location.
Stone chip or not, nothing must de-rail Lamborghini Avventura Iceland – the Italian company’s car launch of this century.
The Urus is arguably the most important model in Lamborghini’s 55-year history. It may not have the astounding beauty of the Miura, the madness of the Diablo, or even the craziness of the Countach, but the pretty Urus is about to give Lambo sales a welcome shot in the arm.
It is already a sell-out for the first year of production and the Italians are looking to double sales volumes in 2019 to around 8,000 cars. The majority of owners will be family folk who would never have considered a psychopathic Huracan or Aventador in a million years. No wonder Domenicali is smiling.
After a string of launch events on tarmac, the raging bull has arrived in Iceland to prove that a pretty, 4.0-litre, twin-turbo SUV can cope with off-road terrain and the odd stone chip. Can it really scrabble up a volcano – the 641bhp should help – or will it crumble like a Gucci handbag dragged down a cobbled street? “Lamborghini is still a macho car – we are not softening the brand with an SUV", insists Domenicali, who claims a sports utility vehicle was already on the cards when he joined Lamborghini in 2016, following his brief stint with Audi.
“The first reaction to the Urus from our traditional owners was sceptical. Then they drove it and said ‘Wow’! If you want hairychested then it’s still there with our supercars. Lamborghini had to develop for the future if it was going to survive and have the finances to build more supercars like the Huracan and Aventador. In the past we polarised people – you either loved our cars or you hated them. With the Urus you either love it or you don’t like it. That is a big step forward, although I’m sure you are going to love it.”
Lamborghinis are traditionally painted in a range of funky, tutti-frutti colours. There has been Verde Ithaca (lime green), Giallo Horus (yellow) and Viola Ophelia (purple). Our Icelandic seven pack was a rather sober mix of black, white, blue and yellow.
The drive to Klettsvegi on the south coast road includes a chance to try the Urus on more extreme gravel tracks. The SUV features Neve, Terra and Sabbia modes – snow, earth and sand. They combine with the usual Strada (street), Sport and Corsa (track) modes already found in other Lamborghinis.
The Kötlujökull glacier is famous for its multi-coloured ice layers – it also provides some of the most challenging driving on Lamborghini’s Icelandic adventure. This is no Land Rover, but the Urus can cope with challenging terrain, even shod with standard road tyres.
The most popular T-shirt in the tourist shop at Hjörleifshöfði reads ‘If you don’t like the weather in Iceland, just wait five minutes’. Unlike your average supercar, Domenicali is keen to prove the Urus glides effortlessly across the snow in Neve mode.
On the road, the Urus is a totally different beast. It out accelerates any current SUV model – even the Bentley Bentayga W12 with which it shares many VW Group underpinnings.
The V8 engine delivers power to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic gearbox, slightly biased towards the rear for better handling. The air sprung suspension can be adjusted through six different driving modes, as well as raised for off-road work.
Even driven aggressively there is little body roll. It may not be as good in the rough as a Range Rover or Bentayga, but on tarmac it feels every bit as comfortable.
Inside, choose between four or five seats. Boot capacity is 616 litres, which is about the same as a Porsche Cayenne. An infotainment system is driven by two touchscreens and the sound system is excellent.
I ask Domenicali why I should choose an Urus over a Bentley Bentayga? “With all due respect,” he says, “because this is a Lamborghini! Let’s not forget these cars have very different souls. Bentley is an incredible brand and part of the same Volkswagen Group, but it appeals to a different type of customer.”
The Italian says his goal is to ensure stable sales growth and prepare the company for the challenge of hybrid and electric power plants. “This is a moment of big change in the industry. I will be here for the arrival of Lamborghini’s first hybrid and possibly the first all-electric car, but that is still many years off. We don’t need to be the first in that segment, but we need to be the best.”
Domenicali still lives in Monza, not far from the Formula One track where he once watched his F1 heroes race. He spends weekdays in Modena and also has a holiday home in the Dolomites. “I have a family so now, with the Urus, I can drive home in a Lamborghini. Believe it or not, my garage is empty. I used to have several motorbikes but my wife said I was too old – and she is the boss.”
Would he ever return to Formula One? “No, but never say never. I wouldn’t go back into a team because I did it for 22 years and I still have a little hair left. As a sign of respect, I don’t like to talk about what has happened to my former team.
“I’m very happy with what we are doing at Lamborghini. Urus is going to open up a whole new market for us and introduce the brand to a lot more customers. There’s no other car that does everything quite so well.”
That’s open to debate. By the time you have added some desirable options the Urus will easily top £180,000 – a total that can buy an awful lot of car.
Among them are models which share that same Volkswagen Group platform. The Bentayga is certainly more luxurious, the Cayenne equally as sporty and the much cheaper Audi Q7 far more practical.
But what will make this SUV extra desirable is the Lamborghini DNA. It oozes from every nut and lightweight bolt. The Urus may share turbochargers with an Audi but even the keyfob feels sexy.
And it has all the usual equipment you would expect in a luxury fourwheel drive: electric tailgate, superior leather trim, electrically adjustable heated front seats and a pair of excellent LED headlights that can cut through the worst Icelandic fog.
I doubt the Lamborghini will ever offer ‘best in class’ handling off-road, but on tarmac it’s stunningly quick and will exit a corner like a ‘proper’ supercar. The steering is light and responsive, the seats are supportive and that rasping exhaust just adds to the drama.
We didn’t have the opportunity to try the Urus on a circuit in Iceland but I’ve no doubt it would be more than competent. Expect Lamborghini to launch a racing series for the Urus within the year.
Until the Aston Martin DBX arrives later in 2019, Domenicali will have plenty to smile about.