First look: Lamborghini Urus

Lamborghini has taken the wraps off its much-anticipated full-size crossover. Although we're still not convinced that the Italian supercar maker has any business building such a vehicle, we can at least report that the Urus, as the concept is called, does not look hideous. In fact, it's rather nice.

It's also quite necessary, says Lamborghini CEO Stephan Winkelmann. He pays some lip service to the notion that company founder Ferruccio Lamborghini originally intended to build comfortable, practical grand touring cars (this is true), but he's brutally frank in explaining the real rationale behind an SUV: supercars alone can't maintain a business.

"The super sports car segment is very cyclical not only due to the entry of new models, but also is very sensitive -- much more sensitive -- to economic downturns than the normal luxury [segment]," he says.

Lamborghini's boom-and-bust history testifies to the volatility of subsisting only on scissor-door, V-12 toys. Belonging to the Volkswagen Group theoretically cushions that inherent risk, but chairman Ferdinand Piech insists that each brand be individually profitable.

Winkelmann thinks the Urus, which is debuting in concept form at the Beijing auto show and would enter production about four years from now, can be very profitable. He predicts Lamborghini could sell 3000 a year -- a huge number considering the company sold a combined 1600 Gallardos and Aventadors last year. Unlike Lamborghini's first SUV, the infamous LM002, it would not be hideously expensive to build. Rather, it would share the same basic architecture that will underpin the next Audi Q7 and Porsche Cayenne. It also may be built in one of the Volkswagen Group's factories, as the SUV's volume would easily outstrip the capacity of Lamborghini's facilities in Sant'Agata, Italy. Pricing would likely start at about $100,000, which is roughly the same as a Cayenne Turbo, and go up to around $200,000.

How much Lamborghini DNA can run through an Audi-bred SUV is uncertain. The Urus certainly promises the outrageous power we expect from the Italian sports car maker -- more than 600 hp. But it won't come from a screaming V-12 engine. The crossover will likely feature a turbocharged V-8 shared with other Volkswagen products, possibly teamed with a battery-powered electric motor. That's right, a Lamborghini hybrid. Where the company thinks it can bring some of its own expertise is in the area of carbon fiber. The SUV uses the lightweight material for its hood, bumpers, and rocker panels as well as structural elements like the seat frames and a crossbeam under the dashboard. The rest of the body panels on the concept are aluminum. Research & Development chief Maurizio Reggiani says all this saves more than 200 pounds and will ensure that the Urus is the lightest offering in its segment. He's also targeting a 50/50 weight distribution. Finally, Lamborghini will develop its own front suspension with a mind toward better steering and a much lower ride height than the Q7 or the Cayenne.

Lamborghini held its media preview in Sant'Agata shortly after the Geneva motor show, where Bentley's SUV -- also set to ride on the Q7/Cayenne architecture -- debuted to near universal derision. Fears that we were going to witness the ugly sequel faded as soon as the curtains lifted on the Lamborghini. In place of the Bentley's blunt grille and chunky proportions, the Urus features an aggressive shark nose similar to that of the Aventador, complete with a chin spoiler that adjusts its angle depending on vehicle speed. The sloping roof -- evocative of the Range Rover Evoque -- tapers to a tail that emphasizes horizontal surfaces. Those details, along with massive, twenty-four-inch wheels, exaggerate the SUV's wide, low stance -- Lamborghini says it will be the lowest riding vehicle in its segment. Dark tinted windows prevented us from seeing the interior firsthand, as Lamborghini said it wasn't finished yet, but we do know it will feature four bucket seats and plenty of exposed carbon fiber. The Urus doesn't have the same visual impact as one of Lamborghini's sports cars -- how could it? -- but it does, at least, speak the same design language. The best way to describe it is a slightly porky version of the Lamborghini Estoque.

Ah, yes, the Estoque. The 2008 sedan concept sits in the Lamborghini factory museum just a few paces from where we previewed the Urus, and it still looks fabulous. Automobile Magazine's European bureau chief, Georg Kacher, has reported there remains a contingent within the VW Group, including CEO Martin Winterkorn, who think Lamborghini should build the sexy sedan rather than an SUV. Winkelmann likewise has not forgotten the Estoque but, for now, stresses that an SUV is a higher priority.

"In terms of group synergy [and] in terms of fitting in the brand, we said the SUV might be the right one," he says.

Daye
A Lamborghini SUV?! VW's product strategy is insane. Rather than allow niche companies like Porsche, Lamborghini, and Bentley to remain true to their heritage and build unique cars, it is forcing each to badge engineer clones of one model from the mother company. These "brands", as they are now referred to, are supposed to offer exclusive (and expensive), limited products for the uber rich. With the volume that VW generates with its bread-and-butter brands, anything Porsche, Bentley, and Lamborghini contribute to the pot should be gravy. And they should be engineering the engines and suspensions of Audis and VWs, not the other way around.

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