Turned up Urus already has a Pikes Peak record under its belt – and we've driven the prototype
By Mike Duff / Friday, 19 August 2022 / Loading comments
The existing Lamborghini Urus could never be accused of lacking either performance or character. For many that character is the sort that darkens the sky with brickbats, of course – but it’s hard to argue with its success. The Urus has followed the trend set by the Porsche Cayenne and Bentley Bentayga in becoming much more popular than the more traditional models it is sold alongside. Which is why the decision to build a quicker and more expensive version is hardly surprising, even if the Performante’s name does seem incongruous given it was last applied to the track-grade Huracan that set a Nurburgring Nordschliefe lap record back in 2017.
The Urus Performante has just been officially unveiled at Pebble Beach in the U.S., but Pistonheads has already had a turn in a prototype version on the track at Nardó, back in June. (The same place I got to experience pre-production versions of the Huracan Tecnica and Huracan STO.) On-paper differences between the new variant and the existing Urus aren’t great, but the Performante does feel substantially different when compared directly with the existing car.
To mild surprise, Lamborghini hasn’t tried to out-do the Aston Martin DBX 707 on power. The Performante does get more urge than the regular Urus, but only a modest 16hp increase to 657hp. The peak torque of 625lb ft is unchanged, this representing the limit that the eight-speed auto can digest. As with the Huracan Performante weight has fallen slightly, with the Performante shedding 47kg on Lamborghini’s numbers thanks to a carbon fibre bonnet, reduced soundproofing and – the biggest hardware change – the replacement of the standard Urus’s air suspension with lighter steel springs. None of which have turned it into a svelte lightweight: it still tips the scales at a chunky 2150kg.
The Performante’s new suspension is both stiffer and lower. It sits 20mm closer to the ground, with adaptive dampers and the electro-mechanical anti-roll system of the existing Urus still working to fight lean under bigger lateral loadings. It also gets a new Torsen centre differential, which is able to send more torque to the rear axle where a biasing differential then divides the output wheel-to-wheel. As in the regular Urus carbon ceramic brakes and rear wheel steering are standard, and all of its many dynamic systems have been reprogrammed to sharpen the driving experience. The Performante has also gained a new dynamic mode, RALLY, which pretty much acts as a low-grip drift mode for gravel surfaces.
So a different approach to the one that led to the Aston Martin DBX 707 – which remains every bit as plush as its vanilla sister – but one that comes from the same guiding principal of a slightly turned-up driving experience and a correspondingly increased price tag.
Nardó’s spectacular 3.9-mile handling circuit might not be the most obvious place to make acquaintance with a two-tonne SUV, but the Performante prototype deals with big speeds and equally serious lateral loadings remarkably well, and noticeably better than the standard car, which Lamborghini had brought along to allow comparison. I also got to chat to Rouven Mohr, Lamborghini’s new Chief Technical Officer, who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the range – having worked for the brand before a brief return to Audi – and a very interesting automotive backstory. It’s impossible not to warm to somebody who owns a full set of GT-R Nissans as well as a Peugeot 205 Rallye and Renault Clio Williams, and who also used to be a keen amateur drifter.
The regular Urus is hardly shy or retiring, but the Performante is definitely louder and angrier, with a brooding idle and a top-end rasp that seems to harmonise somewhere near the front of my skull at full chat, even through the padding of a helmet. There is also a fusillade of pops and bangs whenever the accelerator is eased. Back-to-back comparison with the standard Urus also confirms that the Performante’s gearbox is both keener to downshift when left in Drive, and prepared to hold onto gears for longer. It lacks the quickness of a double-clutcher, but still feels impressively snappy when ordered to make changes by the steering wheel paddles.
Mohr says that the decision to switch to steel springs was made on the grounds of driving experience rather than just removing mass and complexity, although ditching the air system has saved around 14kg. The Performante prototype felt obviously firmer, even on Nardó’s generally ironed-flat surfaces, but responses were crisper and sensation through the steering much more detailed. That said, the prototype was wearing what will be the option of ultra-grippy Trofeo tyres, while the standard car wore regular P-Zeroes.
On track-focussed rubber the Performante turned in to tighter turns with remarkable enthusiasm for anything so big and tall, this being helped by the aggressive inputs of the recalibrated rear-steering system. (Following in the standard car actually gave the chance to see this working, the back wheels seemingly oscillating as it rapidly added inputs and corrections.) There was also much less understeer than in the normal Urus and, once loaded up, the Performante felt more willing to alter its cornering attitude on the throttle. Overall it felt as if there was less slack, and that the new car was lighter and more agile.
What was missing at Nardó was a chance to feel what the Performante will be like at a gentler pace – it is hard to imagine a world in which too many of the finished versions are going to be regularly fanged around high-speed circuits. While the steel springs are stiffer than the base air suspension, adaptive shock absorbers do allow for differing levels of damping resistance. Yet the air-sprung Urus is actually pretty pliant in its softest Strada mode; the Performante feels like it will certainly have a harder edge, especially when riding on the biggest possible 23-inch rims. It will be very interesting to see how it handles the challenge of a British B road.
From inside the Performante certainly doesn’t feel as if it’s been stripped of toys or luxuries. Beyond the arrival of Performante-branded bucket seats it feels pretty much the same as the existing car, and buyers will be able to take advantage of the same extensive range of bespoke options.
I also got the chance to experience the new RALLY mode on Nardó’s off-road handling course. This was as much fun as you’d expect, slackening the traction control and using the torque-biasing rear differential to both create and then hold big oversteer angles on the low-grip surface. But it does seem unlikely that anyone having put down more than £200,000 for a shiny new example is going to want to bounce gravel and rocks off it.
The Performante has already proved its potency with a production SUV record at Pikes Peak, although Mohr says there are no plans to try and add a Nurburgring Nordschliefe time to that. The Performante might be the most senior Urus, but it is not going to be a limited-run model, and Lamborghini admits that it may constitute more than half of the model’s sales mix once it goes on sale. For Lamborghini buyers looking for performance and theatre – which is pretty much all of them – it is definitely the best encapsulation of the brand’s core values within the Urus family, and a £30,000 supplement over the standard Urus is unlikely to put too many off. And even if few will end up on racetracks, this first experience suggests it deals with the challenge impressively well.
Specification | Lamborghini Urus Performante Prototype
Engine: 3996cc V8, twin-turbo
Transmission: Eight-speed auto, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 657 @ 6000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 625 @ 2300rpm
0-62mph: 3.3 seconds
Top speed: 190mph
Weight: 2150kg DIN
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