Lamborghini unveiled its stunning new Urus 4x4 at the Beijing motor show, but Motoring had already been in on the big secret months ago
Lamborghini reveals Urus SUV at China Auto Show in Beijing
Stephan Winkelmann, Lamborghini's enigmatic and always perfectly coiffured president and CEO, has just given a masterful presentation to a crowd of mainly Chinese journalists that must be 20 people deep. He's a rock star. In front of him is the mosh pit - everyone goes completely nuts, he smiles, he waves, he disappears behind the stage, followed by an army of sweaty hacks desperate for a sound bite - anything - about what he has just unveiled to collective gasps and rapturous applause: the Lamborghini Urus, an SUV concept.
It's safe to say that 2012's China Auto Show in Beijing has just been stolen by the wild-looking bull, right under the noses of the justifiably embarrassed Bentley contingency. It's a staggeringly beautiful car, and a shock that a 4x4 can look so sexy. The Urus is easily the biggest draw of this entire show.
However, my personal introduction to what will undoubtedly end up being the third Lamborghini model line happened months ago, much closer to home. And I've had to remain silent about it until now.
Journalists are, by their very nature, opinionated, and we motoring hacks are no different. We give our views to our readers and some people might even take what we say seriously. But even if you don't accept our opinions, at least we give you something to think about.
Car manufacturers happen to be extremely interested in what's written about their cars and, so long as we're heaping praise upon them, all is well in the world.
That isn't always the case but it's easy to write about what we think, publish it and then get on with life. When the president of a car company wants your honest opinions first-hand, however, it's a little more difficult to be blunt and straight - especially when he's German and taller than you.
And so it was, that the "pleasure" of my company was requested by Winkelmann. It was this January, the venue was the Qatar Motor Show in Doha and I had an hour behind closed doors with him, because he wanted my opinion on something.
I knew I hadn't been venomous in print about any of the cars his firm produces. On the contrary, I love them and feel extremely protective of the company that first ignited my lust for cars all those decades ago.
So I wasn't overly worried; just curious. Were the rumours doing the rounds on the internet about Lamborghini intending to build an SUV correct? And if so, were the imagined computer renderings seen online in any way representative of a car they'd actually put their name to? I really hoped not.
My time came, in I went and signed a non-disclosure agreement to keep my mouth closed before the unveil and sat down with him while he explained those rumours were, indeed, correct. Winkelmann had, he said, been having sleepless nights about this, terrified of the potential damage that could be caused to this precious company. But the reality, he confessed, is that Lamborghini needs to become more profitable and better able to withstand any future knocks in the world's economies. In short, Lamborghini needs a Porsche Cayenne.
When Porsche unveiled its monstrous SUV 10 years ago, the motoring world reeled in horror. Not just because it was ugly, but also because Porsche had, up to that point, been exclusively a sports car manufacturer. The masses saw things differently, though, and bought the Cayenne in massive numbers. Pretty soon, that carbuncle on wheels represented half of all Porsche's worldwide sales and, while time has done nothing to diminish my loathing for the early models, I've come to see the Cayenne as a good thing. Because the money that car makes for Porsche allows the company to keep building epic, low-volume sports cars such as the Carrera GT and 911 GT3 RS.
Winkelmann has watched this situation unfold over the years and has taken to heart the fact that Porsche's reputation was not sullied one bit by the change in direction. In fact, in China Porsche isn't known for making sports cars - the market there is totally skewed towards SUVs and big, luxurious saloons. For the Chinese, a 911 isn't a proper Porsche. A Cayenne or Panamera is.
So if we're to keep having Lambos like the new Aventador or the evergreen Gallardo - both of which are absolutely brilliant cars - we need to accept that a Lamborghini SUV might be the only way to secure their futures. I don't have a problem with that but, in light of Bentley's best-forgotten recent SUV concept, a Lamborghini 'ute would have to knock your socks off, blow you away, hit you between the eyes. It would have to rock.
As requested, I gave him my honest opinion as outlined above. He nodded, scratched his chin, made notes. And then, after a quick glance to make sure nobody else could possibly see, he lifted a screen and showed me five computer renderings that bore no relationship to what I'd seen on the web. The sense of relief was palpable - it rocked all right.
Lamborghini, unlike most luxury or sports car manufacturers, has previous form when it comes to SUVs, namely its LM002, unveiled first as a concept called the Cheetah in 1977 and then as a production car nine years later. Just 328 LM002s were built over a period of seven years, mostly for the Middle East market, but the company's rep didn't suffer because it was totally and utterly barking mad. With a V12 engine lifted straight from the Countach and gigantic, run-flat tyres that looked like they'd been stolen from a 747, it was rightly dubbed the "Rambo Lambo".
While the images I pored over showed a car more restrained in its styling than the LM002, it was still evidently a Lambo while managing to be so much more than a bloated Aventador. The powertrain was, he said, yet to be decided. In fact, parent group Volkswagen hadn't yet decided if it could even enter production. All anyone knew was that a prototype concept car was being finished for an unveiling at the Beijing motor show in April. He said he wanted me there to see it. I said yes.
After our time was up, we shook hands and I left, feeling a bit dirty if I'm honest. I liked what I saw; I just didn't like myself very much for liking it. And then, six weeks later, I received an invitation to a closed gathering of select worldwide media at the factory in Sant'Agata Bolognese, Italy. I went, saw the real car emerge in the design studio as dry ice was pumped out with thumping electro music, and I stopped feeling dirty. Everyone there was in unison: this as yet unnamed SUV rocked.
And now here I am in Beijing, having just witnessed two leggy models pull the satin cover off the Urus. What?! This cannot be! Winkelmann is insistent, however, that this name perfectly fits the Lambo SUV and, to be fair, it does sound much better when he says it. Try "Lamborrrgheeenee Oorooz". Still, I think to myself, if only he'd sought my opinion about the name. The crowd doesn't seem bothered - all everyone knows is that this red Lambo is the maddest SUV they've ever seen. He wants to sell 3,000 a year, he says. He could probably achieve that in the UAE alone.
Details are still sketchy but he talks about it being four-wheel drive, putting out around 600hp, being best in class when it comes to CO emissions, having fully adjustable suspension for different ground clearance settings and it being at least four years away from production. It has one of the most incredible interiors I've ever seen, crafted from Lamborghini's own patented carbon-fibre weave material and its stunning body suddenly makes the Range Rover Evoque look a bit old hat - its lines are so sharp you could cut your teeth on it.
As I look over it again from my vantage point, I can see Bentley's unforgivable EXP 9 F concept SUV on the next stand. Earlier, when one of Bentley's PR men tried to get me to look around it and I objected, he resorted to "well OK, how about the interior? At least that's nice". He'll be looking at the Urus with envy - this is what an outstanding SUV should look like. Team Lambo has done good.
Do my opinions matter? I can't in my wildest dreams imagine Winkelmann changing any plans for this car if I'd expressed any serious doubts or negativity. But it was nice to be asked and, if nothing else, it's a sign of enormous trust in this newspaper that we were first to be told about it. Maybe my opinions are worth more than I thought after all. And it's my opinion that, yes Lamborghini, you should build this thing. Change the name to that of another fighting bull, I beg you, but build it, sell it and long may you prosper.