Lamborghini's expansion over the past decade has been nothing short of remarkable. Between 2010 and 2017, deliveries to customers nearly tripled from 1,302 cars to 3,815, with 2018 expected to see the marque break the 4,000 unit barrier for the first time. Its Bologna factory has also doubled in size in recent years, from 860,000 square-feet to 1.72 million. Growth like this hasn't been achieved by resting on its laurels, though; the company has had to continuously expand its lineup while cannily ensuring supply never comes close to matching demand.
The Huracan, for example, has been available in no less than six distinct guises, from standard Coupe through to Performante Spyder, while the recently-launched Aventador SVJ has renewed the appeal of Sant'Agata's aging flagship. To continue its success, however, the manufacturer has had to look beyond its established supercar offering and add a third, more practical, accessible, liveable Lambo to its range.
This could have been achieved in two ways. The first through a Ferrari FF-rivalling saloon, previewed by 2008's Estoque concept, and the second by jumping on Porsche's SUV bandwagon with a 4x4 of its own. Cue the Urus concept, unveiled at the Beijing show in 2012. While the saloon may be the PHier preference, the original Urus design was a rather stunning one, I thought; part Aventador part Rally Fighter, it was sporty and purposeful yet sleek and simple.
From the way it's told, the choice between the Estoque and Urus came down to the exceptional feedback the company received regarding the latter, particularly from its Middle-Eastern customers and dealers, which persuaded the board that it should be the SUV which was pushed into production. So now, half a decade later, here I stand, facing a row of 10 or so brightly coloured Lamborghinis in the Dubai desert, waiting to take them into the dunes.
How does the production Urus look in the metal? Well, much as it does in pictures, which is to say not fantastic. Certainly it's a fine line for Lamborghini to tread, imbuing the car with the requisite brand DNA and signalling its 'Super SUV' status, but to these eyes it achieves the rare trick of appearing simultaneously overly-fussy yet not particularly eye-catching. It's aggressive, sort of, but more for its 22-inch wheels and primed stance than any cohesive feature of its design. If only they'd stayed truer to that Beijing concept...
Inside, the mixed feelings persist. The cabin is undoubtedly beautiful and exquisitely crafted, yet it lacks the drama and pulse-quickening sense of impending performance that comes with sliding into any of the company's other models. Perhaps this was always going to be the case, by virtue of the extra ride height and improved visibility, but it still seems somewhat underwhelming nonetheless.
Then you fire up the engine. The 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 may not be the V10 or 12 that aficionados hoped for, but it roars into life - via the familiar fighter jet switch - just as you'd hope, and its 650hp and 626lb ft could hardly be deemed insufficient. Such a prodigious output also makes it ideal for the dunes, where the long and short of driving is fast up, steady over, slow down, stay in a low gear and don't brake or accelerate too hard. Sounds straightforward enough. Away we go.
Travelling in convoy, we head beyond the confines of our base in Dubai's Desert Conservation Reserve, along a dirt road so rutted as to appear deliberately corrugated. The quality of the Urus' air suspension and electro-hydraulic damping is immediately evident, absorbing the high frequency tremors with ease for a far better ride than the reserve's Land Cruisers, or the GMC Yukon which ferried me here from airport - and felt like it was mounted on a set of jackhammers as soon as it left the smooth tarmac of the road.
Only a few of the cars are specced with the specific Off-Road Package, which includes revised front and rear bumpers for respective 7.6 and 1.5 degree improvements in approach and departure angle, front and rear skid plates, improved underfloor protection, and the Sabbia and Terra driving modes. Lamborghini estimates that around 10-15 per cent of Urus customers will spec their cars this way, although how good an indicator of an intention to actually take the car off-road that is, it's impossible to say. Regardless, those Sand and Gravel modes are available as a standalone option without all the other trimmings - the rest of the cars here are set up thusly, and none seem to struggle any more than the rest.
Which is pretty impressive, really. The going is hardly Dakar-esq, but it's no walk in the park either. The sand is incredibly fine, like flour underfoot, and very quickly finds its way into every exposed nook and cranny of the car - resulting in the odd cringe-inducing grinding noise from below. The Urus shrugs it off, though, riding its wave of torque over the steep golden dunes again and again, never failing to transfer its power to the right place at the right time to get itself in and out of trouble.
One by one the angular machines fly up the wind-rippled banks, engines thundering, rooster tails of the powdery grains spraying in their wake. A quick flash of the brake lights as they crest each dune before they pivot downwards and disappear onto the other side. Following the trail between dunes provides ample opportunity for tail-out tomfoolery; with so much power on tap it requires the merest tap of the throttle for things to get silly, though when they do the Urus is communicative and compliant, which only adds to the fun.
While I was lucky enough not to find myself stuck at any point, there were a few others who weren't so fortunate, though from my understanding the Urus was only found wanting in the same locations as the Land Cruisers which accompanied us. It certainly held its own on the day, demonstrating its off-road credibility and proving itself to be more than the Chelsea Tractor many will assume it to be. The Urus ST-X Concept and its forthcoming rallycross-style racing series ought to go further still.
Things come to a head at a vast expanse of flat sand, upon which sets of cones identify the various stations at which we are invited to test the limits of the car in various ways. A figure eight, a drag strip, dune surfing and donuts. In Sabbia mode the Urus will hold a gear until told otherwise, and is quite happy bouncing off the rev limiter as it performs one, neverending, circular powerslide, engine howling and sand sloshing across the windscreen like water. Even with the Scorpion all-season tyres suitably deflated for our exploits in the dunes, my car never misses a beat, providing a full afternoon of entertaining off-road oafishness. What more could you want?
If Lamborghinis are about drama, extreme performance and, most of all, fun, then the Urus delivers on its KPIs ably whilst expanding the marque's reach and, ideally, its profit margin too. If that means more money to develop future Performantes and SVJs then even better, but the Urus isn't merely a necessary evil, to be endured in the promise of better things to come. It may not look the best, and it may not be a Lamborghini as we've come to understand it, but the Urus opens up a whole new way to enjoy everything that Lamborghini stands for, while comfortably seating four adults and carrying their luggage too. And for that it's worth celebrating in its own right.
SPECIFICATION - LAMBORGHINI URUS
Engine: 3,996cc V8, twin-turbo petrol
Power (hp): 650@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 626@2,250-4,000rpm
0-62mph: 3.6 seconds
Top speed: 190mph