NARDO, Italy—In the darkest corner of the Emilia-Romagna, out of sight of Wolfsburg’s prying eyes, Lamborghini chief designer Mitja Borkert and head of vehicle development Rouven Mohr created a secret project codenamed “Sterrato.” Based on the Huracán Evo coupe, the most extreme concept prepared in the Sant’Agata skunkworks since the single-seater Egoista taps the bloodline of the Paris-Dakar winning Porsche 959 and the Group B Audi S1 which competed in the World Rally Championship. Though described as a one-off trial balloon by its creators—who prefer to underplay their guerilla projects under the tight-fisted regime of the Volkswagen Group—the Lamborghini Huracán Sterrato (Italian for “dirt road”) could potentially make it to production as early as 2021.
Hot Wheels meets Tonka Toys meets the Transformers is what comes to mind when you first see this caricature of a coveted, yet barely recognizable high-performance Lamborghini. “They nicknamed me the plebe from the East for a reason,” chortles the blond Borkert in his thinly disguised Berlin Wall twang, grinning from one diamond-studded earlobe to the other. “The sports-car business is all about emotion these days, and that’s what the Sterrato delivers in abundance.” Well roared, lion! But why slap on goofy gear like two light bars, wild decals, and fender flares? the answer from Borkert rang out like a shot: “Because we can. This is a not a pimp-my-ride phony but an admittedly polarizing eye-catcher with the substance of a thoroughbred down to the last cell and fiber. The buyer’s wish is our command—from a laid-back monochrome charmer, to a race-ready competition car, to the ultimate winter special in matte camouflage livery, anything is possible, at a price.” Lamborghini’s ad personam division will see to that.
We’re at the awesome Nardo facility owned and run by Porsche, the temperature gauge reading a friendly 73 degrees Fahrenheit, and the circuit is ours for the day, along with the challenging Strada Bianco off-road playground. The Sterrato looks and feels like a Huracán that has been gene-manipulated in the base camp of the world rallycross federation. It sits a little less than two inches (47 mm) higher above the ground than the rest of the range, its track is more than an inch (30 mm) wider front and rear, the front spoiler has a stiffer upper lip and receding chin, the rear departure angle was increased for extra clearance, and the tread pattern of the bespoke, softer-sidewall tires looks like two-thirds race track and one third Mount Everest car park. It’s an oddball concoction of style, stance, substance, and seriousness. This showpiece boasting start No. 63 (the year Lamborghini was founded) turns more heads than a white tiger slurping iced coffee in a local Starbucks, sounds as captivating as Adriano Celentano and his nine brothers singing a cappella, and with all lights blazing it could well be mistaken for Daktari racing to aid a stricken elephant.
Climbing behind the wheel is easy thanks to the wide-opening scissor door and the elevated ride height. The hip, mixed-material seats look plucked from Kanye West’s Yeezy line, the five-point harness is exceptionally snug (especially where you wish it weren’t), and the driver environment looks familiar despite all the colorful new surface trim. To compensate its weight, drag, and suspension setup handicaps, the stilted soft-roader is fitted with Lamborghini’s normally aspirated 5.2-liter V-10 with 630 horsepower that works all four wheels through a quick-shifting seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. The mighty direct-injection motor needs 6,500 rpm to tick off 443 lb-ft of maximum torque. Peak power comes at 8,000 rpm; the rev limiter is set at 8,500 rpm. This is a wonderful powerplant in the normal Huracán, a car dedicated to inveterate late-brakers and notorious apex clippers, but does it also perform to expectation in this softer sprung, stacked go-anywhere metamorphosis?
When the lights change to green, Lamborghini test driver Nicolò Piancastelli goes out first to pace us in a stock Huracán Evo. We do two laps in Corsa, then ESP comes off by order from the lead car, and sure enough from one instant to the next the Sterrato is attacking insects with its side windows as the driver’s heartbeat quickens and the intercom squawks: Avanti! Forza! Bravissimo! Too much information, Nicolò. This is hard work. Over the brows, the special BBS wheels shod with hand-baked, big and beefy 235/45/R20 front, 305/40/R20 rear Pirellis stretch the springs until the aluminum monocoque cries for mercy. Through the dips, the softer dampers and the cushier tires extend the compression effect all the way to the pit of the stomach. When the radius tightens, blossoming lift-off oversteer is coaxed into creamy slides. Drifting this wild thing in fourth gear at 75 mph certainly fixed another treasured commemorative medal to the brimming clipboard inside my head. The adrenaline floodgates open regularly on the approach to a roller-coaster off-camber uphill corner and toward the end of the fastest right-hander, where it’s all too easy to run out of road, ability, or courage. “This is a bad place to get it wrong. But while waiting for the recovery truck you can at least relish the full panoramic beauty of the Adriatic Sea . . .” Good old Nicolò, my favorite cynic.
The fifth-generation Haldex all-wheel drive system has been carefully recalibrated for the Sterrato. On solid ground, it channels only slightly more torque to the rear wheels, but when it comes to pulling the car quickly out of a second-gear kink, the front wheels are, for three or four car lengths, assigned a larger chunk of the traction work. This explains why this fun-friendly Huracán is tail-happier on the track than the Performante, yet every bit as competent as the Urus on sand and gravel. Having said that, the different tire compound and the more compliant suspension setup do add a yard or two to the stopping distance, which is prone to increase in small increments as the rubber and the pads must absorb more heat. As a compensating measure that also helps to keep understeer at bay, the mechanics reduced the tire pressure by roughly 3 psi during the first three pit stops. Like the Huracán Evo, the Sterrato features LDVI, short for Lamborghini Dinamica Veicolo Integrata. The reprogrammed system controls ABS, ASR, and ESP along with the settings for the AWD, torque vectoring, dampers, and front and rear steering.
Though it doesn’t handle or perform on quite the same level as its ground-hugging stablemates, it loses only two tenths in the zero-to-62-mph sprint, which is over and done with in 3.1 seconds. Maximum speed is 188 mph, down from 203 mph for the slipperier donor model. It’s too early to talk fuel consumption, but when you exhaust the car’s potential to the full, anything better than 15 mpg would be a miracle. Because of the provisional tires, the speed limit on the straight was set at 155 mph, which felt more than fast enough in the violent crosswind and turbulent slipstream of Nicolò’s red Evo pace car. Although the transmission wastes no time selecting the appropriate ratios with the drive mode in Corsa, manually overriding the black box is even more rewarding since it keeps up the flow by avoiding redundant downshifts. Third is a great all-purpose weapon, fourth is the gear of choice for the two double-apex corners, fifth is a test for high-speed cornering grip, sixth takes you all the way to the first soul-shaking left-hander.
After a break, it was time for the off-road portion of the program. One year ago, a preproduction Urus we had driven over Nardo’s white hell paved with stones, rocks, pebbles, and 37 different grades of sand and gravel was very much a used car when we were done flogging it, so the second part of the adventure didn’t bode well for the much more vulnerable Sterrato. “Don’t worry about it,” said Carlo Della Casa, Lamborghini’s new technical director who joined the company from McLaren. “This unique Huracán can take quite a bit of abuse. And I guarantee it will make your next outing a very enjoyable one.” Once more, Nicolò plays the instructor, guardian angel, and preserver of the one and only running prototype. After only one familiarization lap, it’s Go-Go-Go! with ESP off, eyes wide open, and heart approaching the throat. Though the suspension isn’t height adjustable, we did spot a pair of token underbody protection panels earlier on, and there allegedly is a solid skid plate to shield the driveline. Conspicuous by its absence is an in-between mode that bridges Corsa and ESP off, and at the end of the wet section the allegedly self-cleaning tires look like F1 slicks caked with hot mud. Are you sure maintaining this kind of speed is a good idea, Nicolò?
The Sterrato proves to be an intoxicatingly hilarious animal through the rough stuff. It shaves the tops off third-gear lumps like a buzzard on the final approach to his prey, and it dives into dips like an angry rhino chasing a poacher. Power-on equals snap oversteer and one quick zig-zag pendulum maneuver sets the car up before it enters the bend, storming out of one radius and roaring toward the next, shifting the momentum briefly but reliably to the front wheels—fantastic! Except that it takes a lot of confidence (or the encouragement of a seasoned co-driver) to keep the foot planted for that vital rear-to-front torque transfer, which makes all the difference. It’s goosebump stuff on lap two, and by lap three you feel like a hero. On lap four, a stone chips away a chunk of left rear fender cladding, and we’re completely addicted from lap five onward.
An hour later, coated with filth and proudly displaying several battle scars, they have to remove me from the driver’s seat with a blowtorch. The Sterrato suddenly looks the business—like a motocross rider who just mastered the famous four-hour Erzberg Rodeo.
Should it reach production—the possibility of which you can read more on here—there would be a couple of issues to address, such as the durability of those still-prototype flaps and flares, the spiderweb roll cage, the armadillo rear-window cover that messes up what view there is, and the jackhammer noise level—not to mention the roof rack for snow- and surfboards, which does little more than squeeze the lifestyle gland of easy-to-please influencers.
But it’s even more playful than its brethren, and the mere prospect of enjoying a long cold winter in a hard-core sports car is bound to make quite a few Lambophiles reach for their checkbooks. If you don’t build this car, Lamborghini, you need to see a doctor, adesso.