2017-12-18 13:19:03
Wheels: Lamborghini’s Urus Is the Luxury S.U.V. Party’s Most Flamboyant Guest

SANT’AGATA BOLOGNESE, Italy — It is named after the primitive wild cattle from which today’s beasts of the field are descended, but what the new Urus sport utility vehicle represents is an evolution: a bigger, bolder Lamborghini.

The Italian car company, best known for flamboyantly sexy super cars, dabbled once before in off-road ruggedness. A boxy brute called the LM002, it could have passed for any old military-spec mudder, despite the badge and the V-12 engine. Just 300 were produced from 1986 to 1992.

But the Urus is unmistakably a Lamborghini, with low lines, pronounced rear fenders and the top-end performance of a sports car.

The Urus, said Mitja Borkert, Lamborghini’s head of design, is the fastest S.U.V. ever built, able to reach 300 kilometers (or nearly 190 miles) per hour.

“This is our ticket to the future,” Mr. Borkert said, surrounded by the morning mists in Italy’s so-called Motor Valley, where carmakers like Ferrari and Maserati are also headquartered. “This car is meant to be a statement, a trendsetter.”

Mr. Borkert’s boasts aside, the Urus is a late arrival to the automotive world’s rustic luxury party, even if it is the most outrageous guest.

Sports car companies began trading tarmac for trails — or at least occasional trips onto grass — in earnest in 2002, when Porsche introduced its four-wheel-drive Cayenne. The Cayenne quickly became the company’s most profitable model line and helped lift the company out of crisis.

Other makers of sports and luxury cars got the message. Nowadays almost every high-end carmaker sells either an S.U.V. or something resembling one. Maserati has the Levante, which made its debut last year, and Ferrari the GTC4Lusso, a sedan with four seats and four-wheel drive. The Bentayga from Bentley — like Lamborghini and Porsche a unit of Volkswagen — has until now claimed to be the fastest S.U.V. And soon Aston Martin and Rolls-Royce will begin selling their own ostensibly off-road offerings.

Gian Luca Pellegrini, editor in chief of Quattroruote, Italy’s leading car magazine, said S.U.V.s no longer really responded to a functional need — two-wheel-drive models that are far removed from their off-roading ancestors are now common — but conveyed that their owners had a modern and dynamic life.

“S.U.V.s allow people to choose beyond the traditional models, and that is one of the keys to their success,” he said.

While it might seem ridiculous to spend a couple hundred thousand dollars on a car and then drive it in the mud, luxury S.U.V.s have allowed makers of exotic sports cars to sell to wealthy customers in developing countries where roads might not be suitable for a low-slung roadster.

“It is a new starting point for our company and for our brand, without diluting our brand,” said Stefano Domenicali, Lamborghini’s president and chief executive.

The Urus is an imposing, angular vehicle resembling the Huracan and Aventador super cars, powered by a twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8. But moving from sports cars to S.U.V.s posed some challenges, Lamborghini officials admitted, particularly the Urus’s weight and higher center of gravity.

Yet they are confident they have created a “typical Lamborghini car in a different segment,” said Federico Foschini, the company’s chief financial officer.

Lamborghini is so convinced of the Urus’s success that it has doubled the size of its factory — to 160,000 square meters — to accommodate the new vehicle’s production. Lamborghini officials said they expected to sell about 3,000 each year once the factory is at full capacity in 2019. That would essentially double the company’s existing sales.

In addition to countries where the infrastructure makes sports cars not very apt, like India and the Arab world, Lamborghini expects the Urus to increase the company’s sales in the United States, Japan, China, Britain, Germany and Canada. The car will be available in Europe next summer, and next fall in the rest of the world. The suggested retail price in the United States is $200,000.

“In the short run, S.U.V.s will bring very interesting additional volumes,” Ferdinand Dudenhöffer, director of the Center for Automotive Research at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany, wrote in an email. “We expect that about 40 percent of all car sales of these high-luxury brands will be S.U.V.s.”

Around 4,700 luxury S.U.V.s were sold in 2010, but that number had grown four times by 2016, according to IHS Markit. Global crossover and S.U.V. sales grew to 26 million units in 2016, from eight million units 10 years earlier, and are expected to reach 34 million in 2020.

“We estimate that about one-third of all passenger cars worldwide will be sold as S.U.V.s,” Mr. Dudenhöffer said.

Roberto Verganti, professor of leadership and innovation at Politecnico di Milano, a technical university in Milan, said that cars were an “aspirational product” and that the shapes they took tended to reflect societal desires. In the case of S.U.V.s, that means family and friends.

“And the aspiration in our society is staying together, as it’s easy to be alone and free, like coupe cars allowed us to do in the 1970s,” he said.

Mr. Verganti argued that having a family or friends to drive with had become a statement in Western society. Not only that, but living in the city is the norm nowadays, while cars designed to also travel off road, through the countryside, allow people to dream of nature, Mr. Verganti said.

“S.U.V.s are a mirror of how society is changing,” he said. “The aspirations of people, what they miss, is dependence. ‘I want to belong, to do with others.’”