Lamborghini Makes a Big Mistake and Axes the Asterion
Ever since the Muira took the world’s collective breath away 50 years ago, Lamborghini has been at the forefront of creating some the most extreme performance cars on the planet. From the now-legendary Countach and Diablo to the insanity of recent cars like the Venino, Reventón, and Egoista, the company isn’t exactly what you would call subtle. But every now and then, the company has offered cars more in line with what founder Ferruccio Lamborghini envisioned: refined grand tourers that could shame Ferrari in both performance and luxury. Long-forgotten cars like the Islero, Espada, Jarama, and Urraco all put up a valiant effort, but none of them ever caught on quite like Lambo’s highlighter-colored supercars.
But at last year’s Paris Motor Show, the company created a sensation with the breathtaking Asterion concept. After half a century of extreme angles and outrageous shapes, the needle had spun all the way back around to zero, and the idea of an understated car from Lamborghini seemed both subversive and radical. It was an elegant grand tourer that made the Ferrari FF look like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. It had a 607 horsepower V10 from a Huracán mounted amidships, and had three additional electric motors that brought power up to an insane 907 horsepower. Lamborghini claimed that it could go from a standstill to 60 in under three seconds, and top out at around 185 miles per hour. Even better, as Lambo’s first-ever hybrid, it seemed like it was well on the way to production.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be.
While Lamborghini insisted that the car was just an engineering exercise at the outset, execs changed their tune after the car garnered near-universal praise. But while the automotive world eagerly awaited production details, Lambo brass stayed lukewarm. Speaking with Top Gear, company CEO Stephen Winklemann seemed barely able to hide his contempt for the car’s drivetrain, saying, “We all know what we have to do. Down the road we see turbocharging and plug-in hybrids. There is no way out – assuming the legislation doesn’t change.” Now, the company has officially dumped the Asterion, claiming that the company faithfully believed it didn’t offer the “ultimate track performance,” which is a strange standard to have in a company with a limited racing presence. Interestingly enough, brand loyalists haven’t seemed to question the track-worthiness of the upcoming Urus luxury SUV, which could still inherit the Asterion’s hybrid drivetrain in some form, and is now said to be getting a high-performance Superveloce version.
And with that, Lamborghini is dumping its beautiful grand tourer for an SUV. While we’re disappointed, it’s easy to understand why. The luxury SUV market is exploding, and despite China’s recent woes, the company will still probably sell a ton of Uruss (Uruses?) there, as well as in the Middle East, New Jersey, and nicer parts of Miami. The Asterion would’ve been a niche, ultra-exclusive car that would appeal to a much smaller base.
But Lambo is missing another market altogether, and that’s namely everyone who buys a Ferrari, Porsche, Aston Martin, or McLaren instead. While all gearheads have a special place in their hearts for the company, its cars are generally thought of as being reserved for guys who spend four figures a year on hair gel and wear tank tops to formal events. Despite playing the card that the Asterion just wasn’t enough of a Lamborghini for Lamborghini, the company is very different than the radical indie that shocked the world with the Countach 42 years ago. Today, it’s a brand owned by the Volkswagen Auto Group, and one whose engines show up (slightly modified) in Audi sedans. The build quality of its cars is world-class, you can see out of the rear windows, they don’t catch on fire (as much), and they’re considered to be some of the easiest-to-drive supercars in the world. Building the Asterion wouldn’t have taken anything away from the brand’s mystique, it would’ve given it a deeper lineup that appeals to enthusiasts, not just ultra-rich people who want to be seen.
So will the Urus SUV really be more of a true Lamborghini than the Asterion? Despite gorgeous looks, jaw-dropping performance, and cutting-edge technology that’s already becoming commonplace in rivals like Ferrari, Porsche, and McLaren, it seems that the company has cynically played the “soul” card to avoid taking a true step forward in favor of what seems like a cynical money grab. And should the company really be putting all its stock into naturally-aspirated V12s while even Ferrari is acknowledging that it’s time to diversify its lineup with turbos and hybrid drivetrains? The saga of the company’s hybrid grand tourer is proof that even radicalism can become dogmatic. If Ferruccio Lamborghini were around today, he’d probably love the Asterion. The Urus? That sounds like a tougher sell.
Follow Derek on Twitter @CS_DerekS