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Off-roading in the most unlikely SUV: The Lamborghini Urus Performante

SUVs are rarely used to go off-roading in, but are they capable? Ted Welford takes the Lamborghini Urus Performante on a rally course.

SUVs are absolutely dominating new car sales at the moment, with 46 per cent of all new cars sold in Europe in 2021 being models of this bodystyle. That figure is only expected to grow when you consider the influx of new SUVs due on the market in the coming years.

It’s easy to see the appeal, as these models bring more eye-catching styling, while their higher ride height helps to give drivers and occupants a better view out on the road and presents more of a ‘secure’ feel from behind the wheel.

Though SUVs originally played on their four-wheel-drive capability, an increasing number are purely front- or rear-wheel-drive, with many buyers not interested in whether it is actually suitable to take off the tarmac.

Photos: PA Media

But, what if you still want an SUV that can go off the beaten track? While a Jeep or Land Rover might be the safe and sensible options, safe and sensible is a bit boring. What isn’t boring is the Lamborghini Urus Performante – perhaps the silliest and most extreme SUV on sale, even dubbed a ‘Super SUV’ by the Italian marque.

While the Urus – first introduced in 2018 and now Lamborghini’s most popular product – might be more likely to be seen lapping Harrods than on an off-road course, the firm is keen to demonstrate it can be used away from tarmac.

To try it out, we’re on an off-road rally course just next to the Vallelunga race circuit near Rome. We also got the chance to try the Performante – the new, most extreme version of the Urus yet – out on the track itself, as it can even be equipped with bespoke Pirelli ‘Trofeo R’ semi-slick track tyres, the first SUV to get that kind of rubber.

But for the new Performante, Lamborghini has also engineered a new ‘Rally’ driving mode that’s our focus here. Admittedly it’s more suited to a dirt track than it is ascending a steep bank or negotiating deeper water, but it adds a further dimension to the Urus, and will come in useful for those wanting to demonstrate their SUV’s capability in a different setting.

On jumping into the Urus, it’s clear that this is no rough-and-ready utilitarian SUV. The cabin is awash with black Alcantara – a suede-like material widely used in high-end performance cars. It’s on the steering wheel, the seats – even the dashboard. Jumping in with your muddy boots on would feel like walking into The Ritz with your wellies on.

Once you’ve pressed the engine start button and the mighty 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 engine has fired, it’s time to activate that ‘Rally’ mode on the central cluster, which Lamborghini calls the ‘Tamburo’.

Just the thought of having a ‘Rally’ setting on Lamborghini takes a minute to adjust to. Still, it’s an angle this Italian firm is exploring, and will continue to do so when it reveals an off-road-focused version of its Huracan supercar later in 2022.

But back to the Urus and the course that awaits us. It’s no Dakar Rally, and admittedly a front-wheel-drive crossover with a decent amount of ground clearance could probably master most of it. But that’s not the point here, as it’s the fun factor that is what makes this SUV so special.

You see, what the Rally mode does is ease off the traction control, allowing for more oversteer – and essentially means you can get it a little more sideways. Of course, this comes with the caveat that this is only permitted away from the public road, and where safe to do so.

At the same time, the Rally mode sends a greater chunk of torque to the rear wheels and means that if you put your foot down coming out of the dirt stages’ corners, it’s really easy to get it to slide, yet always in a controlled fashion. It feels like it’s been engineered in a way so that anyone, whether an experienced rally driver or a 21-year-old that’s just won the EuroMillions, can enjoy it within their capabilities.

The grip levels are also impressive, admittedly on this predominantly dry course, and more so when considering our test Urus Performante is riding on normal ‘off-the-shelf’ road tyres.

Admittedly this dirt stage didn’t let us experience the full 657bhp that the Performante offers, but accompanied by the fantastic growl of the titanium Akrapovic exhaust system, it’s impossible not to smile when drifting a Lamborghini around a rally stage. Those Alcantara seats also keep you firmly in hold, too, while even though the Performante rides on fixed steel springs – rather than the adaptive air suspension of the standard car – you don’t feel like your back’s about to give way. Far from it.

A Lamborghini with a Rally Mode shows this Italian firm’s eccentricity as its very finest, and demonstrates that even the most Made in Chelsea of Chelsea Tractors can still prove their worth off-road if need be.

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What is Lamborghini’s Urus Performante going up against?

Lamborghini has recently unveiled its Urus Performante as a more focused and powerful version of its popular SUV. With 657bhp and far less weight than the standard Urus, it’s weighing into battle with some serious firepower.

But what is it going up against in its quest for performance SUV supremacy? Let’s take a look.

Photos: PA Media

Aston Martin DBX707

Aston Martin’s DB707 is one of the primary rivals for the Urus, with this performance SUV bringing a whole lot of performance from its 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 engine.

But Aston Martin hasn’t just thrown an uprated engine into the DBX707. It has also heavily revised its suspension, fitted a new wet-clutch gearbox and even gone for a new exhaust to ensure that this model drives as well as possible.

Bentley Bentayga S

You might think of comfort as the name of the game for Bentley – and usually, this would be true – but performance is definitely the focus for the Bentayga S.

Designed to be the most focused version of Bentley’s popular SUV, the S incorporates electric anti-roll control technology to help it in the bends, while a revised sport mode adds extra weight to the steering while firming up the suspension. A new sports exhaust is also fitted to the S, ensuring it sounds even more noticeable.

Ferrari Purosangue

Though we have yet to see the Purosangue in full, Ferrari’s new SUV is bound to arrive in the segment with a particular focus on dynamics. After all, the Italian firm’s range of vehicles are some of the sharpest around, so it’s expected that this will filter into the Purosangue.

Expected to be revealed in full at the start of September, this will be one for the Urus to watch.

Range Rover Sport V8

The new Range Rover Sport has only recently been unveiled, arriving with a bold new look and an innovative interior. While plug-in hybrid powertrains will no doubt be the go-to choice for more fuel-conscious Sport drivers, it’s the full-fat V8 that’ll attract keener drivers. A racier SVR model will also likely arrive in the future.

With 523bhp, the 4.4-litre supercharged engine will enable the Sport to go from 0-60mph in just 4.3 seconds.

Porsche Turbo GT

Porsche’s Cayenne has often been seen as one of the more focused SUVs on the market today, while the range-topping Turbo GT adds some extra firepower into the mix. With its 4.0-litre turbocharged V8, it has 631bhp and can nail the 0-60mph sprint in just 3.1 seconds.

The Turbo GT is also lower and stiffer than the regular Cayenne, while larger brakes and grippier tyres are both fitted as standard.

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How does the Mini John Cooper Works Bulldog Racing feel on the road?

The Nurburgring 24 Hours is often seen as one of motorsport’s greatest challenges. Tackling the famous ‘Green Hell’ over a full day takes a huge amount of commitment, skill and mechanical prowess, which is why the cars that undertake the prestigious event are some of the most focused – yet robust – vehicles that take to a circuit.

So it’s not very often that you see one on the road – and the Mini John Cooper Works by Bulldog Racing is definitely not a car that you’d expect to see sauntering around a West Sussex roundabout.

We’d been offered a chance to ride along in this stripped-out racer to see how it compared with the regular Mini. After all, the retro-inspired hatch is one of the most popular models and has been praised for its sharp, nimble handling. But how would one that had been prepared to spend a full 24 hours lapping the world’s toughest race track feel in comparison?

Photos: PA Media

Quite a bit different, would you believe? Of course, the fundamentals are much the same. Since the Mini was built to compete in the SP3T class – which is a ‘Special’ class that allows up to a 2.0-litre engine with a turbocharger – it needs a ‘regular’ powertrain. So that means a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine under the bonnet feeding power to the front wheels via an automatic gearbox. Of course, a variety of other upgrades have been included to ensure that the Mini can compete; there’s a full rollcage, fire extinguisher system and a whole suite of radios that race cars like these require.

There’s also a huge 100-litre fuel tank which sits right behind you in the rear of the car. It’s filled up via a nozzle in the plexiglass window. The normal fuel filler cap? The covers a pneumatic connector designed to power the air jacks.

In fact, the more you delve the more you realise just what has gone into transforming this car. The brakes are larger AP Racing units, while there’s a whole aerodynamics kit bringing a large front splitter and a flat underfloor. Then there’s the wing, which – as well as being absolutely massive – can be adjusted too.

Inside, the Mini feels like a full-time race car. Interestingly the regular car’s navigation system remains, as does the standard air-conditioning – though this only works at low speeds to help keep drivers cool. The car is barely-there in terms of features, though it is awash with buttons and controls for functions like the main lights and the aforementioned fire extinguisher system. There’s also a switch to illuminate the car’s number board, which is a requirement for N24 cars and allows for the car’s unique racing number to be seen at night.

Then there’s the exhaust, which was made in-house by Bulldog and gives the car an almost ludicrous noise when started up. And that’s just what we hear as we creep out of a quiet lane close to Bognor Regis to head up and experience what this Mini feels like from the passenger seat.

As much as we would’ve liked to have been driving, even being in the passenger seat was a sensory overload. This is a firm car, of course, but even the team at Bulldog would – we’re sure – admit that it hadn’t been tested to cope with the level crossings that rise over sections of railway line in West Sussex.

It still feels inherently ‘Mini’, mind you. There’s a way to the car’s steering and the ease with which it tracks corners which does feel much like the road cars, albeit turned up a fair few clicks. The exhaust blares at higher revs and because there’s very little sound insulation, everything echoes and reverberates around the cabin. It’s an all-engrossing experience, made all the more apparent because we’re on public roads driving past other road users who suddenly have a fully-fledged N24 racer heading towards them.

Our route dips and dives through the countryside, with the Mini carving its only little red-flash-route through the hills. You’re sat remarkably low, but despite this, there’s still a decent enough view over the area ahead, though navigating traffic and parked cars at the side of the road does require some effort by the looks of it.

Though it is remarkably firm, though truck lines on the tarmac do cause the car to pull from side to side on occasions. For all of its upgrades and mechanical changes, though, this is still a car that can, theoretically, take to the road and transform local roads into something very special.

However, you can tell that this is a car designed to be put through hell. Which is just what the Nurburgring provides.

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Porsche Taycan sets electric production car record at Nurburgring race circuit

The Porsche Taycan is the new fastest electric production car to lap the famous Nurburgring racetrack in Germany.

The circuit, nicknamed the ‘Green Hell’ for its unforgiving nature, is one of the longest racetracks in the world at 12.9 miles. It’s widely used by manufacturers when developing their new cars, and holding a lap record is a particular claim to fame.

With Porsche development driver Lars Kern at the wheel, the Taycan – in extreme Turbo S form – became the fastest production electric car to ever go around the track, with a time of seven minutes 33.3 seconds. This overtakes the existing seven minutes 35.6 seconds time set by the Tesla Model S Plaid in September 2021.

Photos: PA Media

Completely standard apart from a roll cage and racing seats (both requirements for the lap run), the Taycan Turbo S was also equipped with Porsche’s new performance kit. Currently just offered in Germany, this includes 21-inch RS Spyder alloy wheels with track-ready Pirelli P Zero Corsa sports tyres, though these can be used on the road. It also received an update to its Dynamic Chassis Control, allowing the Taycan to be more agile.

The Turbo S model sits at the top of the Porsche Taycan line-up, with its twin electric motors developing as much as 751bhp when launch control is activated, and allowing for a 0-60mph time of just 2.8 seconds.

Kevin Giek, vice president of the Taycan model line, said: “We’re delighted that the Nurburgring record for electric cars is back in Porsche hands. This lap time not only shows how much potential lies in our new performance kit, but also confirms once again the sports car genes of the Taycan.”

Porsche also holds the overall Nurburgring lap record, with its 919 Hybrid racing car lapping the track in an incredible five minutes 20 seconds.

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Ferrari tests hypercar racer ahead of 2023 Le Mans return

New vehicle will enter into the Le Mans Hypercar class.

Ferrari has been testing its new Le Mans race car ahead of the firm’s return to the famous endurance race in 2023.

Undertaken at the firm’s Fiorano test circuit, the session saw endurance racing driver Alessandro Pier Guidi get behind the wheel of the new vehicle and complete an initial shakedown period.

Guidi said: “After so many months in the simulator, I finally had the chance to drive the real car, and that was a big thrill.

“Driving the Ferrari that will return to the top endurance class fifty years since the last official participation was very emotional for me. We are only at the start, and much work is ahead of us, but it feels very positive. I am proud and happy to have debuted the LMH, marking the beginning of a new adventure for Ferrari”.

“After so many months in the simulator, I finally had the chance to drive the real car, and that was a big thrill.”

Racing driver Alessandro Pier Guidi

LMH rules allow for either a prototype or road car-derived vehicle to take part in the race, with Ferrari taking the former route. The images released showcase the car wearing heavy camouflage, though the racer’s huge rear wing can easily be seen, as can the compact ‘bubble’ cockpit that is adopted by many Le Mans-specific vehicles. An air scoop at the top of the cockpit can also be seen.

Ferrari stated that the rest of the shakedown day was used to check the ‘various propulsion and electronic systems’ with the team alternating between on-track sessions and longer break periods that allowed for engineers to perform specific checks.

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SSC Tuatara hits new top speed of 295mph

Hypercar was driven by a customer at the Kennedy Space Center Merritt in Florida.

An SSC Tuatara has hit a new record top speed of 295mph while testing at the Johnny Bohmer Proving Grounds at Space Florida’s LLF, Kennedy Space Center Merritt.

The hypercar was piloted by car collector and Tuatara customer Larry Caplin, who was also behind the wheel when the model hit a two-way average of 282.9mph last year.

However, this new record appears to be from a single run, with SSC noting that the information was recorded by data logging firm Racelogic, who sent a technician to validate the figures alongside independent analyst Robert Mitchell.

Mitchell is the owner of Apex Nurburg, a performance car rental firm based at the Nurburgring Nordschleife race track in Germany. He was one of a number of prominent online personalities who questioned claims from SSC in 2020 that it had broken the world production car speed record with a two-way run average of 316mph.

Concerns were raised as analysis of the video footage did not tally with the speeds that were being claimed. Dewetron, the company that made the GPS data logging technology used in the run, said it did not have a technician on site to check the device was correctly calibrated, with SSC later admitting it could not verify the top speed claims it had made.

Photos: PA Media

In later runs, the firm has worked to provide more transparency to ensure its claimed figures are accurate.

Speaking after the latest run, Mitchell said: “I think this car is a 300 car all day. The sheer acceleration at these high numbers above 250, 260, even into the 280s, it’s hands down the fastest car that I have seen.

“The acceleration is there, the top end is there, and I believe that this is the only car that I know of right now that can be verified running 300, especially in such a short distance.”

The SSC Tuatara uses a twin-turbocharged V8 engine that makes 1,726bhp while running on E85 or methanol fuel. It has a carbon-fibre monocoque that is lightweight while also providing extra safety for the driver.

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The car racing games to look forward to in 2022

It’s set to be a bumper year for fans of racing games, with a new Gran Turismo just one highlight.

The video game industry is huge, having overtaken the movie industry during the coronavirus pandemic as people were forced to stay home and keep themselves occupied.

It was already on track to take the top spot before the pandemic, and while genres such as first person shooters tend to get the biggest headlines, car racing games are quietly one of the most important sectors.

Many games, in particular the online-focused iRacing, saw their popularity boom during lockdown as frustrated racing drivers took to the virtual circuit to get their competitive fix.

For racing game fans, 2022 could be one of the most exciting in recent memory. Here are the new releases to look forward to.

Gran Turismo 7 – March 4

The Gran Turismo franchise is responsible for nurturing a huge number of car enthusiasts since the first game was released on the original PlayStation. Since then it has grown to be one of the biggest franchises in gaming, and has even helped gamers become real life racers.

The next instalment attempts to take the game back to its roots, with players starting at the bottom of the racing rung and working to the top.

There’s also an online mode so you can go head-to-head with drivers from around the world, while a hugely detailed climate system should bring realistic weather.

Need for Speed 2022 – TBC

Speaking of massive racing game franchises, we’re getting a new Need for Speed game this year. While GT made its name as a circuit racer, NFS sees heavily modified road cars used on city streets.

Pretty much nothing is known about the game, aside from a vague ‘late 2022’ release date. However, it’s being made by Criterion, who made some NFS games before, including 2010’s much-loved Hot Pursuit.

Unless there’s a massive departure from previous games in the series, we can expect lots of highly tuned cars, beautiful real world locations and regular face offs with the police.

Forza Motorsport – TBC

The only downside to Gran Turismo is that it’s a PlayStation exclusive, meaning PC and Xbox players can’t give it a spin. That’s where Forza Motorsport comes in. Essentially acting as the Xbox alternative to the GT series, over the years it has also developed the open world arcade-style Forza Horizon.

This year, though, we’re getting a new Forza Motorsport, which focuses on circuit racing and building up from the game’s slower cars up the fastest in the world.

Aside from a gorgeous trailer released in 2020, we know next to nothing about this instalment, but expect it to be feature-packed to make the most of the next-generation console hardware.

Grid Legends – February 25

Grid Legends has just gone on sale and provides a curious alternative to the typical racing game genres. While most arcade-style games have some kind of story mode, Grid uses a combination of computer graphics and real-world actors to tell the story of your drivers journey up the racing ranks.

Tracks are typically in city centres locations such as London and Moscow, with a festival vibe to the surroundings. You can also create your own races to challenge others, with disciplines such as drifting and elimination-based setups.

F1 2022 – TBC

Much like football has FIFA, racing games have the F1 series. Each year, Codemasters releases the latest iteration in the series, which is based around that season’s Formula 1 championship.

This year’s iteration will be more hotly anticipated than usual, though, as a new set of car regulations has brought a heightened level of intrigue to the championship. Fans will be eager to get behind the wheel.

Expect the usual career mode as well as the popular My Team, which sees players create a team at the bottom of the championship and develop the car to become a world beater.

Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown – September 22

The Test Drive franchise goes back an incredibly long way, but it has not seen regular releases like some of those above. However, the Test Drive name returns after publisher Nacon bought the rights to the name.

The new game’s name hints at a follow up to the groundbreaking open-world Test Drive Unlimited, released on the Xbox 360 in 2006. That game was set in a faithful recreation of Oahu, Hawaii, while the new game is set to feature a complete recreation of Hong Kong. It should be pretty spectacular.

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Everything you need to know about Gran Turismo 7

Gran Turismo isn’t just one of the biggest racing game franchises of all time, it’s arguably one of the biggest gaming franchises full stop.

It’s no surprise, then, that the internet has been going wild for Sony’s latest ‘State of Play’ event, which has highlighted everything fans of the series can expect from Gran Turismo 7 ahead of its release on PlayStation 5 on March 4.

Here’s everything you need to know about Gran Turismo 7.

Photos: PA Media

Over 400 cars and 34 tracks

In racing games, content is king, and having a huge number of cars and tracks to choose from is a great way to stand out from competitors. Historically, Gran Turismo had a ludicrous number of car options, with umpteen special variations of each Japanese enthusiast car.

That might be a thing of the past, but GT7 still has an excellent selection of cars, with over 400 vehicles from more than 60 automotive brands. The track list has 34 locations around the world with 97 layouts, with a mix of real-world circuits and fictional creations from previous games.

The world map is back

In old school Gran Turismo games the home page of your career was a world map that saw you flitting around the world entering races and buying cars. This is back in the form of a ‘resort’ that will act as your base as you start in a small, compact car and build to some of the fastest machinery in the world.

Incredibly detailed weather patterns

One thing we didn’t expect in a video about a racing game was a detailed lesson about how weather patterns are formed. However, Gran Turismo 7 replicates real-world climates so that cloud formation and weather patterns are realistic to their location and ever-changing.

In the video, a time-lapse clip shows a dry race turning wet. Then, when the rain stops, puddles remain off-line while the track dries on the section where the cars are driving, just as in real life.

Sip a coffee and learn in the Cafe

Gran Turismo is credited with playing a huge part in growing car culture for a whole generation of young gamers, and it takes this role seriously today. It wants to inspire the next generation of car enthusiasts, and one of the ways it hopes to do this is in the ‘Cafe’.

Players can work through a menu of ‘quests’ that involve collecting iconic cars from various points in automotive history. As you collect more cars you’re treated to videos detailing their history and why they’re so important, with relevant people from their stories – such as designers and engineers – drafted in to explain the details.

Tuning and modifications

Tuning makes a welcome return to Gran Turismo, which sees players able to upgrade their vehicle to make it faster and handle better over time.

In the video, the player takes a classic Volkswagen Beetle and fits upgraded parts that have been bought at the resort. The description appears to show it has had a 455bhp Porsche engine fitted, too.

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Ken Block thrilled with the Audi RS Q e-tron

This was a car swap of a very special kind: with Mattias Ekström as the instructor in the co-driver’s seat, Ken Block tested the Audi RS Q e-tron with start number 224 on snow and ice. The outing during the GP Ice Race in Zell am See in Austria was the spectacular prototype’s first appearance after its successful debut in the famous Dakar Rally.

The Audi RS Q e-tron, with which Audi clinched four stage victories in January, was just one of the stars on the icy course in Zell am See. Audi Tradition also brought along the Audi quattro A2 Group B rally car, which competed in the 1983 Rally Finland. In addition, a DKW F 91 and a DKW Hartmann Formula V caused quite a stir.

For Ken Block, the weekend trip to Europe was like a visit to automotive paradise.

“The laps in the Audi RS Q e-tron were a phenomenal experience – even though the car probably feels more comfortable in the desert than in the snow,” said Ken Block. “Thanks to Mattias Ekström, who patiently explained all the special features of his car to me. A few minutes behind the wheel was enough to understand the fascination of this car.”

Ken Block, Audi quattro Rallye A2 Gruppe B

Mattias Ekström was impressed. “It only took three turns for Ken to get fully up to speed,” said the Swede, who, with ninth place, was the most successful Audi driver in the 2022 Dakar Rally. For Ekström, the event in Austria was also the perfect preparation for his participation in the prestigious “Race of Champions”, which was held in the north of Sweden last weekend. Ekström only had to admit defeat to the eventual winner Sébastien Loeb in the semifinals.

In addition to testing the Audi RS Q e-tron, Ken Block also took a little trip down memory lane and drifted around the circuit in the Audi quattro A2. For the American, who was inspired by Audi rally cars as a teenager, this was a personal highlight: “An insane moment that I won’t forget in a hurry.” Soon there will be even more moments like this: With the purely electric Audi S1 e-tron quattro Hoonitron, which Audi developed as a one-off exclusively for Ken Block and which was inspired by the Audi Sport quattro S1, the Hoonigan team is producing a video entitled Electrikhana that will be released in the next few months and will be the latest chapter of their Gymkhana series.

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