Brilliant on road, even better off it…
By Mike Duff / Thursday, 11 May 2023 / Loading comments
It’s easy to treat an off-roadish Lamborghini Huracan as proof that at least one shark has been jumped. This is pretty much the same accusation that many levelled at the track-biased Urus Performante when it was launched last year. The case of a supercar deliberately compromised to do something silly it is unlikely to ever be called on to do is easily critiqued.
Yet here’s the issue with such joyless reductionism. After being lucky enough to drive it on road, track and dirt in the US, the Sterrato now represents the high watermark of fun I’ve had in any Huracan variant. And that’s against some tough competition.
This isn’t going to seem like the most obvious comparison for a supercar which can easily be optioned to £250,000, but the Sterrato reminded me strongly of the Ariel Nomad. Which is the Ariel variant that, in my experience, delivers the highest yield of smiles per mile. Granted, the Lambo has a roof and a V10 engine, is massively faster and costs five times as much. But when it comes to dynamics, both are proof that a taller and softer performance car done well can be a winner.
We’ve already covered the Sterrato’s origin story in plenty of detail, so here is the cut-down version. Five years ago two newly-arrived Lamborghini executives, both Germans, were comparing key automotive influences. Design director Mitja Borkert and then head of vehicle engineering Rouven Mohr found a shared favourite in the Lancia Stratos, which led to an off-the-books project to turn an old durability test mule into the original concept of a modestly lifted, beefed-up Huracan. The Stratos inspiration was obvious in this concept’s slightly remixed take on the rallying Lancia’s famous Alitalia livery.
While the idea was well received after being shown in 2019, it wasn’t confirmed for production. It took the return of Stefan Winkelmann for his second stint as Lambo’s CEO to shine the green light – he liked the idea so much he said yes on his second day back in the job. That led to the original plan to build a limited run of 900 cars, but with huge demand seeing this number bumped upwards – there will now be 1,499. Given an all-new car replaces the Huracan in 2025, that means the Sterrato will make up a significant proportion of the remaining production.
Pretty much all of the original concept has made it to the finished version. The Sterrato sits 44mm higher than the regular Huracan, with that difference most obvious by the gap above the chunky tyres at the top of the wheelarches. It also gets crossover-style plastic body cladding, this being as much decorative as protective, with Mitja Borkert saying it is so important to the visual signature of the car that buyers won’t be able to have this painted by the factory. There are also new sill covers and redesigned bumpers front and rear, plus low-down auxiliary lights and roof rails.
The increased ground clearance and new front end means this is the first Lamborghini supercar since the Diablo not to come with, or need the option of a front-end lifter. Which, for many Huracan owners who have winced at the expensive sound of bumpers meeting speedbumps, is likely to be a significant part of the appeal.
Mechanically it is little changed from the rest of the family. The 6.2-litre V10 now makes 601hp, that representing a 30hp loss, due mostly to the fact it now breathes through a high-level snorkel behind the roof to keep it within a cleaner flow in dusty conditions. The seven-speed double-clutch gearbox sends power to each corner, and the Sterrato does without the active rear steering of other recent Huracan variants – although carbon-ceramic brakes are still standard.
Climbing into the cockpit reveals that the new air intake has brought another issue, a glance at the rearview mirror revealing nothing more than the plumbing’s internal ducting. The mirror itself still needs to be fitted for homologation reasons. Visibility from the rear three quarters is compromised too by the tiny rear side screens; this is probably the only time I’ve driven a supercar actively wanting it to have blind-spot monitoring, especially given what soon turns out to be the tendency in California of other cars to sit in the exposed area for a good gawp.
The rest of the cabin is pretty much unchanged from other Huracan variants. The Sterrato’s raised ride height gives a higher driving position, but one that is still below most other cars. There are also the same mild ergonomic frustrations, especially given the portrait-orientated touchscreen’s lack of smarts and the need to use it to adjust temperature settings. By supercar standards, the Huracan is close to drawing its pension.
Yet the niggles barely register next to the pluses. Subjectively the V10 is as mighty as ever and despite the slight loss of horsepower there is no subjective decrease in performance. It sounds less savage than the Huracan Tecnica or STO, but still has plenty of snarl when pushed and a willingness to be worked hard. As always the naturally aspirated engine’s superpower is the linearity of its responses, the way power is added pretty much horse by horse. It can’t match the low-down punch of turbocharged rivals, where torque often seems to arrive as suddenly as a police raid, but the Sterrato has a surgical accuracy to its responses which they lack.
Against tough competition, the tyres are the real highlight. When Lambo first showed the car sitting on what looked like off-road rubber suggested it would be sent into battle wearing what were effectively all-terrain tyres. The reality is different; despite their chunky pattern the Bridgestone Duellers have been carefully optimised for both road and dirt. So although ultimate grip levels are indeed lower than those of stickier sports tyres, there is still more than enough adhesion for rapid road velocities without feeling wayward. When pushed, the Sterrato surrenders grip in a beautifully progressive way – just like the Ariel Nomad, in fact.
Despite having less grip to call on the Sterrato keeps the combination of a keen front end, proportional responses and a good amount of feedback – the aloof steering of the early Huracan is a distant memory. Lacking active rear steering denies the savage turn-in of the STO or Tecnica, but it also makes it feel stable. The Sterrato’s chassis is obviously softer and there is more body roll on the raised suspension, the springs being 25 per cent less stiff than the regular car. But this doesn’t feel excessive, and ride quality over rougher surfaces is pretty impressive.
Even when pushed the Sterrato doesn’t feel loose or lacking in discipline, staying poised even as the well-flagged limits draw near. This all happens at lower and friendlier speeds than it would in a sportier ‘Can – it’s the exciting feeling there are possibilities beyond grip, not the edgy sense it is going to suddenly depart. On road, the Sterrato feels keen and alive at loadings where most supercars would be rubbing sleep from their eyes.
And off-road? In addition to the familiar STRADA and SPORT dynamic modes, accessed by a toggle switch at the bottom of the steering wheel, the Sterrato has gained a new one – RALLY. Like the same setting in the Urus Performante, this is effectively a low-grip drift mode. (Rouven Mohr, now promoted to Lamborghini’s Chief Technology Officer, says this was originally designed for the Sterrato, but the Urus got to market first.)
Engaging this on a loose surface brings a slightly ridiculous amount of fun. To prove this Lamborghini created what was basically a rallycross track at the Chuckwalla Valley Raceway about 80 miles east of Palm Springs in California. This used parts of the 2.3-mile tarmac circuit, plus a bespoke track in the dust and sand of the surrounding desert. It also gives the chance to turn on the ultra-bright LED auxiliary lamps which, it turns out, are illegal for road use on both sides of the Atlantic.
Before leaving the dusty tarmac the Sterrato is already showing a wilder side than it does on road; even with stability control energised in Sport mode it is easily pushed into gentle drifts, the car’s dynamic brain working invisibly with the all-wheel drive and differential to stop it getting too far out of line. But RALLY and a properly low grip surface turn it wild, control slackened to allow serious oversteer, angles held by some clever throttle management. Talking to Mohr afterwards makes clear how hard the various active systems are having to work to maintain control – but from the driver’s seat it just feels heroic.
Okay, so it is possible to spoof it. As with the Urus Performante, RALLY mode is intended to do its thing with a constant throttle position – once the Sterrato is sliding you can just stamp the gas and it will hold an angle. Trying to manage the finer accelerator control myself sometimes made the traction bog down, as if it suddenly doubted I wanted to be playing, with a noticeable pause before power builds again. Turning the ESP fully off proved just how hard the system had been working, 601hp able to spin up all four wheels at pretty much any speed possible on the tight low-grip course. But it also confirmed that the Sterrato’s underlying chassis balance is fundamentally benign.
Will any Sterrato buyers actually use their cars this way? Probably not many, and probably not often. Several of the cars in Palm Springs were already sporting battle scars and needed to be cleaned between stints to stop dust from clogging radiators and coolers. The use of standard carbon-ceramic brakes might also prove costly to judge from the expensive noises made when a stone got briefly stuck behind one of the test car’s calipers. But it doesn’t need dirt, of course – RALLY would probably be just as much fun in snow, or even a sodden racetrack.
Like over-capable SUVs, the idea behind the Sterrato is for a car capable of adventure; travelling to the sort of rough and rugged areas that Lamborghinis rarely get to see – hence the roof rails and ability to carry some modest, lifestylish loads. As such it shares an obvious parallel with the Porsche 911 Dakar, although without some of the Porsche’s tastier off-road kit. While the Porsche could (probably) get further off the beaten track, the Sterrato’s going to be faster and sound better as it attacks the wilderness. It’s also the first Lambo I can think of that categorically looks better when dirty.
A final conversation with Rouven Mohr gives some more food for thought. While the Sterrato is indeed slower than other members of the Huraclan, it’s not by the margin you probably expect. On the demanding handling track of Porsche’s Nardó test centre in Italy it is only around five seconds adrift of the Tecnica, albeit with two more driven wheels, and would be slightly quicker than a launch-spec Huracan LP610-4. The last Huracan variant is definitely the most eccentric outlier in the set, but also one of the highlights.
SPECIFICATION | Lamborghini Huracan Sterrato
Engine: 5204cc V10, naturally aspirated
Transmission: Seven-speed double clutch, all-wheel drive
Power: 601hp @ 8000rpm
Torque: 413 lb-ft @ 5500rpm
Kerbweight: 1470kg (dry)
Top speed: 160mph (limited)
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