Lamborghini Urus Performante | PH Review

We've driven the 666hp flagship as a prototype – time to find out what the real thing is like. On track, at least

By John Howell / Thursday, 13 October 2022 / Loading comments

I’ve driven a few max-attack SUVs this year. The Aston Martin DBX 707, for example. Also the Porsche Cayenne Turbo GT and the BMW XM – although the XM was a wrapped-up prototype full of cables and cut-out switches. And Mike Duff has driven the Lamborghini Urus Performante as a prototype already, but I’ve just driven the production version.

I still cannot tell you what it’s like on the road, mind. I didn’t drive it on the road. We spent a day hammering it around the Vallelunga Circuit, not far outside Rome. From my point of view that was top drawer. It’s a cracking little track: 2.5-miles long, which makes it dead easy to learn, and with a nice mix of corners including a high-speed section and left-right kink to test out the Performante’s stability and change of direction.

But how relevant is that? After all, the Urus Performante isn’t like the limited-run Huracan. It’s not an out-and-out track car, and the vast majority will probably never see a red and white painted kerb. The Urus Performante is a regular fixture in the range. It’s a new trim, effectively, and still very much designed to be a usable everyday SUV. Just with a bit more of a kick. It’s all about having more fun, basically.

It’s not all fun and flamboyance, though. It proved its metal by doing the Pike’s Peak in 10:32.064, making it the fastest production SUV up the ‘hill’. So, what’s made it so quick? We had a press conference that explained all, but I had some great chats with a few of Lamborghini’s engineers, who told me all about its intricacies.

The obvious start is it’s lighter. Not by a massive amount – it still tips the scales at a big-boned 2,150kg, but that’s 47kg lighter than the new Urus S. The weight saving comes from a carbon roof, bonnet, and myriad other bits. The new, bigger front splitter, for example, and the extended side skirts and bigger rear spoiler are all carbon, too. There’s also a lighter titanium Akrapovic exhaust, lighter wheels (as standard they’re 22 inches but you can swell them to 23s), and the air suspension has been ditched in favour of steel coils and adaptive dampers.

The suspension change isn’t just a weight saver, though. The engineers told me it’s mainly about providing a better connection to the body and delivering more driver feedback. And that’s not just through the steering and the seats, but feedback to your ears, because there’s less sound deadening, too. That does save a little more weight, but mostly it’s about heightening the sensory experience along with the exhaust. That’s louder, of course.

The aero additions reduce lift by 38 per cent, which is mostly at the rear to add high-speed stability. And despite working the air a bit harder over the surfaces, the engineers have managed to cut the drag by 10 per cent. They did this by maximising the efficiency of the air passing through the front bumper and out the bonnet vents, and by making the air curtains around the wheels better. At the same time, there’s more engine and brake cooling from angrier holes in the front, and the underbody has been tweaked up to manage the cooling better as well.  

Returning to the suspension for a moment, the bushing remains the same, but the Performante’s front and rear tracks are 16mm wider and the ride height is 20mm lower. To be clear, that’s 20mm lower than the lowest mode of the air-sprung Urus S. It’s stiffer, too, but that’s not really due to the springs. It’s hard to compare the two exactly, but the steel springs are roughly the same stiffness as the Urus S’s dual-chamber air bags when they’re set to their hardest – if that makes sense?

The overall increase in stiffness comes from retuning the 48-volt anti-roll system and the dampers have more rebound. How much stiffer is it? Well, the simplest way to think about it is like this: a Performante in Strada mode – the softest setting for its adaptive dampers – is roughly equivalent to an S in Sport – the mid setting. There’s a new mechanical Torsen diff. That has a default split of 40:60 front-rear, but it’s a bit lazier. It doesn’t rush to shove power to the front axle, which gives the torque-vectoring e-diff at the rear more options for oversteer. Although there are numerous methods the Performante uses to change its dynamic character.

In Strada, for example, the electronic diff at the rear is more open, the front anti-roll bar is set stiffer than the rear, and the rear-wheel steering is calmer. All that means the Performante is designed to push a bit more and feel safer at the limit. Sport mode is the lairy one. That tightens up the rear diff lock, slackens off the front roll bar relative to the rear, and the rear-wheel steering becomes more spirited. You get more oversteer, basically. Corsa sits in between those two. That’s all about achieving a lap time – by being smooth but fast. For example, if you’re aggressive with the steering the RWS tries to keep the car balanced with more stabilising movements. If you’re calmer behind the wheel, then the RWS will interfere less. Then there’s the Rally mode, which is new for the Performante. That’s for larking about on loose surfaces, which we’ll get to in a bit.

I ended up with three stints of four laps on track, with a Lamborghini test driver leading the way. For the first run I started off in Sport, because I wanted to see how playful the Performante actually is. I didn’t find it particularly lairy coming out of any corners, even the slow-speed ones with an aggressive amount of throttle. But then we were on the optional Trofeo Rs (P Zeros are standard), and they have a heck of a lot of grip.

That’s one thing the Performante has in spades: grip. It latches onto the Tarmac like a hungry mouth to a teat. The front starts to push eventually, but only after it’s carrying some serious speed, and as it does there’s even sensation through the wheel that lets you know what’s occurring. Don’t misconstrue what I am saying here: it’s hardly wriggling like a rattle snack in your hands, but as the understeer comes you can feel the wheel lighten a touch. And that’s when you find a lift of the throttle helps scrub away the scrub, as it were, and gets the car rotating.

I was informed by a journalist writing for another title – who needed some drifty shots for his piece – that it does go sideways. If you give it a right old boot full. I chose not to do that for my next stints, though. I thought I’d try to be neat and quick. Boring, perhaps, but I really wanted to see how rewarding a big, two-tonne bruiser of an SUV could actually be on track. I left it in Corsa, and by the second stint I’d learned the circuit pretty well, so on the third go I stepped it up. And I must say, the Urus stepped up, too, relatively speaking.

That’s always the caveat you have to apply to any performance SUV. The marketing bods might try spinning yarns that these mammoths handle like mites, but we all know that’s bunkum. Physics is what dictates speed, not marketing budgets. So let’s be honest: the Urus Performante wouldn’t see where something a quarter of its weight and half its height went, but, bearing in mind the obvious and inherent compromises, I was impressed.

At one point, I happened to be standing at the edge of the Cimini turn, which is a banked, double-apex right. And watching from the sidelines, I was mightily impressed by how little lean it showed, even with all that Trofeo grip notching up the lateral forces. I felt the same on the inside, too. The body control feels very tidy, and, despite its bulk, the Performante changes direction decently; it doesn’t flick spryly through the Esses towards the end of the lap, but, if you grab the thing by its scruff, it does flick left and right gamely.

Through the high-speed Curva Grande at the start of the lap, the rear feels tied down so there’s no heart-in-the-mouth sense of impending doom. Even as I barrelled across the apex kerbs with the thing fully loaded it stayed neat and tidy. The only time it got a bit squirrely was under hard braking for the following right-hander. Just at the point you slam on the anchors the car’s still carrying some lateral load from the exit of the previous turn. And there’s a crest it has to deal with as well, which all leads to some rear-end sway.

The first time this occurred was unnerving, but with a few more laps under my belt I came to the conclusion that a bit of sway was all it would amount to. The brakes themselves – standard carbon-ceramics – are very effective, but when you use them hard, which is what you do on track, the pedal travel feels long and it initiates the emergency braking assist. So as I’m bleeding off the pedal pressure into the corner, it’s still holding the pressure full on for a second or two, thinking I’m about to crash. And I wasn’t, I promise.

That was annoying, but the gearbox was worse. In the press conference, we’d been told that it had been remapped to be more incisive. Sure enough, it’s pretty good managing the changes if you leave it in auto, and the actual gear shifts are quick enough. I didn’t find myself pining for some dual-clutch hardware to replace the torque converter eight-speed ‘box fitted. But when I was using it in manual mode, which you’ll want if you’re trying to extract the maximum performance and feel involved, the thing just wouldn’t respond to my calls for downshifts. The engine’s tune was telling me a shift was possible, but the nannying software wouldn’t sign one off until the revs dropped, to the point they’d be way under the limiter after the change. That’s deeply frustrating.

The straight-line performance isn’t, though. It’s enlivening. The Performante has the same torque as the S and just a modest increase in power. The new peak is 666hp, which might put a few more superstitious buyers off, but it’s quick without anything devilish about its delivery. The V8 pulls impressively strongly with its vast wall of mid-range shove, followed by a wilful, if not exactly crazed, top end. And that’s accompanied by the Thunderdome soundtrack which is only heightened by the freer-breathing exhaust. Even with a helmet on you can hear its bellow, but from outside you get the full anger and rat-a-tat reports on the overrun.

I did say I’d talk about the Rally mode. After the track sessions, we were sent off to a mini rally stage to try it out. These cars were fitted with the P Zeros, so normal road tyres, and the first thing to mention is they did well to find some grip on the loose, slightly muddy surface. With Rally mode activated, the ESP and ABS are less invasive and the RWS acts like the back castors of a shopping trolley, swinging you around like Stig Blomqvist. So you end up sideways into every turn, with the ESP nipping away to stop you looking silly (we weren’t allowed to turn it fully off) and allowing you to carry the slide on the way out. Needless to say, it’s a bit of gimmick. Even fewer people will drive their Performante on a dirt track than on a racing one. But it was still fun.

And that applies to the rest of the Performante. It was its ability out on track that impressed me most. To the extent that I had more fun than I thought I would. So while it’s not necessarily my kind of car, I came away with an appreciation of its abilities. If it’s your kind of car, then why wouldn’t you buy the Performante over the S? The difference between the two is £21,000, which (let’s face it) is nothing in the context of this market. You’d almost expect to pay that just for the fancy Alcantara-trimmed interior these days, but you get so much more on top. And as long as it rides okay on the road – still the glaring unknown – the Performante seems like a no-brainer to me. From what I’ve seen it’s as capable and enjoyable to drive as the Cayenne GT. 

The main trouble will be getting hold of one. Lamborghini expects demand for the Performante to be 50 per cent of all Uruses. It can’t meet that, though, because they can’t build all the extra bits, including the fancy carbon elements, in sufficient numbers. They can probably build enough to account for 40 per cent of sales, which judging by how many Uruses it’s selling, is going to make for a lot of disappointed people.

Specification | Lamborghini Urus Performante

Engine: 3996cc V8, twin-turbo
Transmission: Eight-speed auto, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 666 @ 6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 627 @ 2,300-4,500rpm
0-62mph: 3.3 seconds
Top speed: 190mph
Weight: 2150kg DIN
Price: £209,700

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