There’s a strange degree of convergence taking place at some of the world’s great performance car makers. The game seems to be to develop essentially the same machine, only from starting points at opposite ends of the product spectrum, with some very entertaining, Mad Max-style freakshows emerging as a result.
At Lamborghini, on one hand you have the HuracÃ¡n, which has recently been jacked-up 44mm and cladded with rowdier bodywork to give us the Sterrato: a V10-engined dirt-track supercar redolent of Lancia’s Group 4 Stratos.
On the other hand you have this latest Urus derivative, for which the regular air suspension has been substituted with steel springs that set the body 20mm closer to the road. The new car also has widened tracks, extra carbonfibre body panels and a fair bit more aerodynamic performance. The result is the £204,000 Urus Performante: a 3.3sec-to-62mph SUV that believes it’s a supercar.
Equivalent models at Porsche are the box-fresh 911 Dakar (okay, there’s some serious heritage there) and the slope-backed Cayenne GT Turbo. Seating capacity aside, they’re all the trying to be the same sort of entity.
Are these kinds of cars any good? It varies. Having already driven the car on circuit, this is our first chance to see how well the range-topping Urus Performante works in the UK and – spoiler alert – as is so often the case with ultra-high-performance SUVs the feeling is more one of admiration than love.
No surprise that the Performante is absurdly fast, and would be even had the Porsche-designed twin-turbo V8 not been boosted from 641bhp (and 627lb ft) to 657bhp (with the same torque). It’s a nominal increase – one for the brochure – but those totals generate performance that defies the car’s 2150kg mass, down 47kg on the standard Urus. An Akrapovic titanium exhaust also means you’ll be heard long before you’re seen if you’ve got the engine mode set to anything other than Strada, which is passably subtle. Less subtle are the looks. The standard Urus is hardly shy but carbonfibre wheelarch extensions mark out the Performante, as do the vented, two-tone bonnet and beefy front air intakes.
But that's all window-dressing. The Performante’s true strength and most interesting asset is its handling, which really is exceptionally assured. For this particular application Lamborghini has quickened the car's steering rack, sharpened throttle response and increased the ratio of the Torsen centre differential (so it’s more rear-biasing), all of which could have contributed to making the Performante a spiky mess on a good B-road but this isn’t the case. Precise, close body control aided by the active anti-roll bars of the regular car allows these detail changes to shine, and the steering also has some life to it, pulsing through the wheel’s Alcantara-trimmed rim. From the driver's seat the Performante isn't half as cynical as it looks from the outside, even if that is quite a low bar.