“So the track is a little bit cold this morning, we’ll do a few laps to warm up before we really open up the car,” Matteo, my driving instructor for the day warned me before he led me out for our first lapping session. This is the sort of guidance I’d expect to hear at an October track day, but it’s not the sort of thing I’m used to hearing before climbing into an SUV.
Of course, this isn’t your average SUV. It’s the new Lamborghini Urus Performante, a Technicolor expression of four-wheeled excess. After all, why have a 657-horsepower, $229,495 Urus S when you could spend $260,676 for the harder, edgier, 104-pound lighter Performante?
(Full Disclosure: Lamborghini wanted me to drive the Urus Performante so badly they flew me to Rome, put me up in a posh hotel, and then set me loose on a closed racetrack plus a filthy rallycross course.)
On paper, 104 pounds shaved off a 4,740-pound SUV sounds ridiculous, but we don’t drive cars like this on paper. Some of the best Lamborghinis are ridiculous—it’s what makes them so great. Why hold any vestiges of logical thought against this one?
The Performante’s 657-HP comes out of the same, four-liter, turbocharged V8 that powers the standard Urus S (as well as the Audi Q8.) The Performante, though, sings through a new, titanium exhaust that looks lovely in its unmistakable matte hue. Good as it sounds, the exhaust’s real advantage is weight, saving 23 pounds over the standard car.
The rest of the 104-pound weight savings comes courtesy of extensive carbon fiber on the hood, fenders and (optionally) the roof, plus lighter interior materials and 14-pound lighter wheels. Lamborghini told me the little wing hanging off the rear hatch, the more aggressive front facia and numerous other aerodynamic tweaks provides the Performante with 38 percent more downforce over the Urus S.
I felt like I needed all the extra aerodynamic encouragement I could get as I hurtled through the first few, tricky turns at Vallelunga Circuit, just outside of Rome. With successive turns hidden behind a series of crests, it’s one of those high-speed corner sequences where I brushed the brakes, turn in, get back on the gas, and hope that I’ve led a true and virtuous life.
In the first few sessions, I kept missing the important turn-two apex because I didn’t feel like the Performante had enough grip to get me down there. But it did, and probably plenty more grip to boot. It was my brain that wasn’t up to the task.
Despite the new, steel-springed suspension that lowers the car by 20mm, the Performante still sits a fair bit higher than the average track toy. It rolls more, too, and that roll was really messing with my perception. I had to reprogram myself to realize that, even though I was being pitched high above the roll center, the car still had plenty of grip left in its sticky Pirelli Trofeo R tires.
And so, lap after lap, as those near-slicks got warmer I grew more confident. By my third session I was having a ridiculously good time, dashing through the exhilarating first corner sequence and hitting 135 mph on the short straight before diving on the carbon-ceramic brakes. The Performante’s rear-end danced around under hard braking but the nose always sliced cleanly into the next turn.
As fun as it was on the track, the best part of the day was taking another Urus Performante out on the dirt. Lamborghini set up a short rallycross course on a bit of spare pasture land adjacent to the race track. Ignoring the dirty looks I got from the displaced cattle as I walked across the grass, I strapped myself in and was basically told to do my worst on a tight, narrow gravel lane.
The Performante was wildly good on the loose stuff. The new Rally driving mode softens the active dampers and commands a little more rearward thrust from the Performante’s new, Torsen center-differential. It also allows extra slip from the rear tires before the traction control cuts in. However, I quickly learned the system doesn’t like counter steering, as it dramatically reduced the power output whenever I tried to correct a slide. Let the car’s stability control and torque vectoring handle the hard work, however, and I was kicking up rooster tails like a pro.
How many people are really going to take their $260,000 super-sports SUV to rallycross? Roughly as many as will take theirs to a track day, which is to say extremely few. Even pondering those questions again means bringing too logical a line of thinking to this car. In an evocative product like this, it’s all about what it can do, and this is an SUV that can do some incredible things.