The Lamborghini Urus collides with history in Iceland
The driver’s window was down long before he stopped next to me, so I rolled mine down. Clearly, he wanted to talk, but the driver stared at me a few seconds first. Then his eyebrows raised, but his face otherwise remained deadpan. Over the clatter of his diesel, finally: “Holy s–t.”
It was a common sentiment, if not always so eloquent. In a land where “Super Jeeps” like his—all 40-plus-inch tires and snaking snorkels up the windshield pillars—are a common sight, my Lamborghini Urus attracted as much attention as Ed Sheeran, who’d recently added a second night to his debut Icelandic performance due to popular demand (fun fact: Iceland has half the population of Vermont).
That it was, as far as I could tell, the only yellow vehicle on the island certainly contributed.
For an automaker looking to make a splash in the frigid North Atlantic, that’s reason enough for us to be here. Being the first X to do Y always gets attention, and Lamborghinis are all about attention. In a place where sports cars are nonexistent and luxury cars appear to be outnumbered by American heavy-duty pickups (seriously), the locals took up a nationwide game of “spot the Lamborghini” on Snapchat.
Lamborghini doesn’t have an Icelandic distributor, and it’s not because Iceland threw all the bankers in jail a few years ago for transgressions related to the Great Recession. There’s simply never been any good reason to import one. With a maximum national speed limit of 56 mph (90 kph) and more gravel roads than paved ones, it’s not supercar country. That the long, harsh winters wreak havoc on the roads they do have only reinforces the argument against it.
Why are we here, then, other than novelty? Because this is only the second time in the company’s history there’s a reason to be. And really, the first time around only resulted in 300-odd “Rambo Lambos” worldwide, so the likelihood of one making it out here was so low as to be inconsequential. The Urus, though, is predicted to double Lamborghini’s global sales, and it’s capable of doing that specifically because it’s designed for places Lamborghinis don’t go.
Places like this.
I wince at the thought of pulling a supercar onto a dirt shoulder. Getting it dirty is bad enough, but what if the edge of the pavement isn’t level with the dirt and I bottom out? It’s not something you think about when driving the Urus, or at least you shouldn’t. After all, it’s an SUV, and it shares its bones with the Bentley Bentayga, Porsche Cayenne, and Audi Q7, all of which have proven themselves capable off-roaders. Still, there’s a mental hurdle tall enough to require pole vaulting before you just wing it into the dirt.
Part of that is knowing the smallest wheels you can get on an Urus are 21 inches, and even the custom-made winter tires only have rubber band–thick 35-section sidewalls. The other part is knowing Iceland is composed entirely of lava rock, which might as well be called razor rock. I’d successfully compartmentalized such concerns for several hours before our Lamborghini support staff thought to mention his pickup didn’t have any spare tires in the back of it. I probably should’ve asked, or at least looked.
By that point, I’d been ripping up and down the long, winding dirt road to a remote campsite for more than an hour, crashing through deep potholes and powering up steep, narrow passes. In fact, I’m glad he waited to tell me, because by then I was confident the Pirelli Scorpion Winters were as tough as the rest of the vehicle.
It would’ve been easy enough to shred one if I was feeling masochistic. Just a bit of rock crawling would’ve done it—and busted up the lower half of the vehicle for good measure. Air suspension and a maximum of 9.8 inches of ground clearance be damned, the Urus is very clearly the Lamborghini of SUVs. The way it looks, the sound it makes, the way it slams gears in a straight line, they all make it very clear: The Urus is about being fast first and an off-roader second.
Which makes its off-road abilities that much more impressive, frankly. The third thing the Super Jeep driver asked me, after engine size and price, was how it was holding up in Iceland. “Oh, it’s fine,” I said. It was. By the time we met, I’d spent two days roaming the southwest corner of the island, banging down back roads over and over to make sure the videographer got the shot. We never needed a spare tire, or anything else but fuel, for that matter.
It wasn’t just sturdy, though. It was actually fun. When an automaker sends you to an off-road course, you can bet it’s been pre-run a dozen times to make sure the vehicle can handle it, if not deliberately designed to the vehicle’s capabilities. This time, though, Lamborghini didn’t ask where I was going, and I didn’t tell. If the Urus were nothing but a big, yellow mall crawler, it would’ve been obvious pretty quickly. Instead, it was a 641-hp, carbon-fiber WRX.
Even on studless snow tires, the grip impressed in the dirt. Each wheel digs in and goes, letting you drive it like a nose-heavy rally car. As we’ve reported previously, the Urus is incredibly stable off-road and doesn’t respond to Scandinavian flicks. It does push, though, if you muscle it into a corner, a relic of its Audi-derived, engine-forward layout. It’s easy enough to drive around. Finish your braking ahead of the corner, let the grip carry you through, and stand on the throttle when you unwind the wheel. The stability control’s “off-road” setting doesn’t let you get away with much, but the Urus is so completely predictable that you don’t worry at all about turning it off. Goose the throttle midcorner, and you can hang the tail out with good old-fashioned power oversteer, but it would really rather just go. Let up on the power just a little, and it comes right back in line and shoots you down the road.
Does a Lamborghini have any right to do that, though? Yes, actually. Really, Lamborghini is the only supercar builder with any historical claim to SUV heritage, and the Urus has more in common with the LM002 than you might think. The Urus is, of course, the first Lamborghini SUV since the LM, but it’s also the first Lamborghini with a front-mounted engine since the LM, the first four-seat Lamborghini since the LM, and the first V-8 Lamborghini since the LM001, the LM002’s prototype.
It’s also the first Lamborghini since the LM to require you to fiddle with a bunch of levers on the center console while you drive, though the functionality is a bit different. Manual transmission and transfer case shifters are out, lever-actuated electronics with sexy-sounding Italian names are in. I’m still not clear on whether “Tamburo” refers to a specific lever or all three together, but from left to right we have “Anima,” which changes the drive mode, “Reverse,” so cleverly disguised as a hand rest you’ll struggle to find it the first time, and “Ego,” which overrides Anima and loads your personal steering, damping, and drivetrain settings.
There are also levers behind the steering wheel, more commonly referred to as paddles. You’ll use them far more than you think, but only because pulling the one on the right is how you put the Urus in drive. The transmission doesn’t need your input otherwise.
Likewise, reverse will get the biggest workout back down on the Tamburo. Whether you use Anima or Ego more, or at all, depends on the driver. Knowing most of you will keep it on the street, Strada (street) is the default, then Sport and Corsa (race). For the adventurous, keep tugging at it, and you’ll get Sabbia (sand), Terra (dirt), and Neve (snow). Take a guess where Lamborghini expects to sell most of these.
Despite its mountainous terrain, Iceland isn’t suffering an abundance of great driving roads for its depressingly mundane speed limit to ruin. The best ones aren’t paved, which is its own sort of fun, but there are a few tarmac gems scattered here and there. The easternmost stretch of Route 435 near its terminus at Lake Thingvallavatn is the crown jewel. Sure, the twisty bit lasts only 3 or so miles (5 or so km) and the best of it is the very last mile and a half, but what a hill climb it is. Climbing more than 1,000 vertical feet through craggy rocks and tufts of moss, it’s a thrilling string of high-speed yet technical corners with precious little guardrail to save what stability control can’t. The view from the top has to be seen to be believed.
Sport is all you really need on the street, but Corsa makes the exhaust sound so much better. Even on winter tires, the Urus has so much grip on pavement that you won’t give a second thought to the “ESC Corsa” message on the digital instrument cluster. Between the rear steering, the adaptive damping, adaptive anti-roll bars, and torque vectoring rear axle, you have to drive like an absolute maniac to get the ESC’s attention at all. Understeer is your primary spoiler, and it’s avoided the same way as on dirt: slow in, fast out. Weld the brake pedal to the floor, let the superlative 17.3-inch carbon-ceramics and their 10 binders each up front eradicate speed, then breeze through the corner and roll the throttle right back to the floor as soon as you pass the apex. The seemingly endless, nose-lifting thrust is accompanied by the best noise a factory-built twin-turbo V-8 has made yet, convincingly naturally aspirated in timbre and appropriately loud for super SUV, if not a supercar.
In the style of famous Italian explorers (Christopher Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci) following in the footsteps of criminally underappreciated Norse explorers before them (Erik the Red, Leif Erikson), Lamborghini has not discovered Iceland but instead opened it to the world of exotic automakers. Although others will follow, the Urus is the first because it is the only one that has any historic and functional right to be. Iceland does not tolerate automotive pretenders, and Lamborghini hasn’t built one.