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Italian stallions: The new Roman SUVs

Add Roman good looks to SUVs with horsepower of 500-plus and you get cars with both style and substance, says Simon de Burton...

Until recently, Italian panache was sadly lacking in the SUV world – but now the available options for lovers of Latin automobile design seeking to hit the marina in four-wheel drive style are gradually increasing.

It all began back in 2016, when Maserati pulled the wraps off its lovely looking and beautifully appointed Levante: while its lack of sports car purity might have had marque founder Alfieri Maserati spinning in his grave, it offers a suitably exhilarating 190mph ride in a 590hp petrol-engined Trofeo format.

Then, at the end of last year, came Alfa Romeo’s mid-sized SUV contender in the form of the Stelvio, which thoroughly impressed me in terms of comfort, ride, performance and economy. I drove a 2.2 litre diesel-engined Milano Edition from the UK to Switzerland and back, but wish I’d opted for the fire-breathing 503hp Quadrifoglio that is good for a claimed 177mph.

In terms of outright performance, however, both the Stelvio and the Levante Trofeo now face some serious competition from the latest arrival in the Italian SUV arena – which is hardly surprising, because it carries the raging bull symbol of Lamborghini on its bonnet.

The long-awaited Urus is powered by a four litre V8 twin-turbo petrol engine producing 650hp (sufficient to thrust the lightweight aluminium-bodied car to 62mph in 3.6 seconds and on to a top speed of 190mph), making it – according to Lamborghini – the world’s first “super sport utility vehicle” (owners of the Levante Trofeo and Range Rover Sport SVR might disagree). The term utility is, of course, used loosely. There’s little that’s utilitarian about the Urus, which boasts a luxurious interior and no fewer than six different driving modes that can be dialled up through a console-mounted selector called a “tamburo” and range from “strada” (a quiet exhaust note and pliant ride) to “corsa” (race-firm suspension, sharpened throttle and transmission response, and a proper, Italian sports car howl from the tailpipes). In between, there’s a setting for sporty road driving, plus one each for driving on snow, on sand or in general off-road situations.

Styling-wise, the Urus is said to combine elements from some of Lamborghini’s most celebrated two-seaters, among them the Miura, Countach and Aventador. There’s even, it’s claimed, a nod to a Lamborghini of the past that many people never knew existed – the LM002, otherwise known as the Rambo Lambo.

When the LM002 first hit the streets in 1986, the choice of four-wheel drive vehicles more or less boiled down to Land Rovers, Jeeps, Toyota Land Cruisers and the Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen – making the wild and wacky LM002 appear radical to say the least. Born from the thinking behind a one-off military prototype called the Cheetah, it combined the 444hp V12 engine of the Lamborghini Countach with Humvee looks and a premium interior.

A new LM002 cost $120,000, but demand was weak and a mere 301 were made – although they are now officially “classic” and values have climbed back steeply for those in the best and most original condition. Back in December, one of the 60 to have been exported to the US appeared for sale at RM Sotheby’s Icons sale in New York. Finished in menacing jet black and offered with everything from its original tools to its special floor mats and bespoke rear-mounted cargo box, this particular LM was described as being “the finest example of this wild machine available for sale”. Someone among the bidders clearly agreed, because it was finally sold for $467,000 (including buyer’s premium) – almost four times what it cost new back in 1990.

I doubt the buyer cared that he (or she) could have had a new Urus for less than half the price, or that it would go faster than an LM002 while being quieter, more comfortable and not nearly as thirsty – because, in the attention-grabbing stakes, the unbeatable example of 1980s automobile excess that was the Rambo Lambo remains in a class of its own.

SPECIFICATIONS

Lamborghini Urus

Engine: 4 litre, twin- turbocharged, V8 petrol

Top speed: 190mph

Price: from £131,500

Maserati Levante

Engine: 3.8 litre, twin- turbocharged, V8 petrol (Trofeo version)

Top speed: 190mph

Price: from £56,000

Alfa Romeo Stelvio

Engine: 2.9 litre, twin- turbocharged V6 petrol (Quadrofoglio version)

Top speed: 176mph

Price: from £69,500

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