2023 Lamborghini Sterrato First Drive: Ridiculous obliteration of boundaries

DESERT CENTER, Calif. — Lamborghini knows something about its buyers: They like to be able to appear, and to perform acts that are, ridiculous. Normally, that’s meant scissor-hinged doors and unhinged performance on pavement. On occasion, though, Lambo has taken its boundary-obliterating show off-road – and not just because stability control spectacularly failed. The legendary LM002 was a V12-powered luxury pickup largely meant from Emirati sheiks to power-slide up sand dunes, while the brand’s best-selling Urus is more than capable of doing silly things in places more rugged than the Starbucks drive-thru.

And now, plowing sideways through a dirt track and into the pantheon of Lambo’s bat-shit off-road vehicles comes the 601-horsepower, V10-powered, $273,000, limited-edition 2023 Lamborghini Huracán Sterrato. It is lifted 44 mm or 1.73 inches for greater ground clearance and suspension travel. The track is widened by 30 mm up front and 34 mm in the rear, enough to require bolted-on fender flares. Its tickly underside is armored with aluminum skid plates. The body is safari-fied with nostil-like driving lights, roof bars to support a gear-toting rack, and a snorkel so it can breathe more readily when drawing lines in the sand. It looks less like a supercar

and more like the getaway vehicle for a pair of tomb raiders, looking to sneak out of Giza ahead of the cultural police, and whatever curse the thieves may have uncorked.

Just a few weeks before driving the Sterrato through  —  literally, through  —  the Southern California desert, I had been behind the wheel of its slightly-cheaper and alternatively-missioned sibling, the Huracán Tecnica, in twisty Italian mountain roads. With 30 more horsepower, rear-wheel-drive, rear-wheel-steering, a tuned exhaust system, and Bridgestone Potenza Race tires, it was surprisingly delightful and easy to drive quickly, even/especially through technical turns and blasting curves.

The Sterrato was a whole different bullfight, but remarkably similar in its capacity to elevate my driving skills. It was so simple to drive well through bounding hairpins, arcing sweepers, and elevation-switching chicanes — usually utilized by dirt bike racers — that it was actually startling. I have driven all manner of trucks and SUVs in the sand, but I’ve never had this experience with a “safari’d” performance car.

The Sterrato is a revelation in this respect. Its “Rally” mode and torque-vectoring all-wheel drive system — coupled to a tuned version of the Huracan’s seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, and electronically-locking rear differential — knew exactly what to do, regardless of what the desert, again literally, threw at it.

“Imagine the wheels are less like a regular wheel and more like a boat’s rudder,” my co-pilot and a Lamborghini factory race driver, told me. “The harder you turn, the more they push at the sand, and let the torque vectoring do its job of finding grip.”

I didn’t believe him at first — I was tentative on my initial laps. But once I allowed myself to give in to the Sterrato’s intelligence, it rewarded me with visceral glee. Rarely does adding more steering and more power work on a track-track, but utilizing this recipe in the dust, the Sterrato knew exactly what to do in whatever circumstance I attempted to mire it. Alternately tail happy, and nose happy, it delighted in finding grip and digging itself out. I don’t really understand physics, but driving the Sterrato off-road turned out to be one of those experiences where using a bigger hammer somehow yields more precise results.  

The 1.73-inch lift is meager, but it provides enough confidence to traverse ruts, washboards, sand traps, and little hillocks. Surprisingly, it even felt more capable on road than every other mid-engine Lamborghini I’ve driven as it’s more capable of attacking sidewalk cuts and parking lot entrances without fear of dermabrading the front clip’s underside of the front clip. That kind of confidence alone is worth a $30,000 price bump over a normal Huracan. If I could even buy one – all 1,499 are apparently spoken for.

Some credit must be given to the knobby, 235/40/19 (front) and 285/40/19 Dueler AT002 run-flats, custom engineered by Bridgestone for the Sterrato’s combined needs for high-output capability, loose-surface grip, and remote desert use. With significantly more sidewall than a typical Huracan, the car felt downright cushy on the highway and the crumbly asphalt that runs the length of Joshua Tree National Park. And while the aggressive tread made it a bit more rumbly (with an assist from the howling V10) I found myself willing to make the tradeoff. Or wondering if Lamborghini, or everyone, should just shod their exotics with smaller wheels and higher profile tires.

Lamborghinis, like all supercars really, are for extroverts. Being looked at is kind of the point. But the Sterrato takes this ogling to another level. Every moment of driving it, I felt like a 50-pound bag of antelope jerky tossed into a lion’s den. If I had a duned desert in my backyard, or an even greater need to be gazed at, I would want a Sterrato more than I already do. As it stands, it is an ideal coupe de grace

for the Huracan line, a thrilling end, in a car that, like the brand itself, exemplifies an affection for a ridiculous obliteration of boundaries.