Wettstetten, Germany - If you ask a car enthusiast to name the fastest SUV chances are they would put the Lamborghini Urus at the top of their list. And with good reason since the near supercar performance of this huge machine is headlined by its 3.6 seconds 0-100km/h time.
While the twin-turbocharged 4.0 litre V8 that powers the Urus makes 650hp and 850Nm of torque, its 2,200kg bulk needs every last bit of this to achieve the target performance numbers. So why do high performance SUVs have to be so big and heavy? The answer lies in simple physics. To make a vehicle of this size and weight go this rapidly you need a mountain of grunt.
However, the more power an internal combustion engine makes the more heat it produces, which in turn requires bigger and more efficient water and oil cooling systems. And as turbocharged engines require more fuel when working hard, the fuel tank has to be larger too.
Stopping the charge of such a heavy car requires massive brakes, which in turn weigh more, even if they are carbon-ceramic. And the big wheels and tyres required to accommodate these big anchors and support the vehicle’s performance potential in the bends add yet more weight. This is the grand law of escalation at work, and it clearly supports the argument that the best way to improve vehicle efficiency and handling is to reduce both absolute and unsprung weight.
MTM’s Roland Mayer used to work in Audi’s development department before he left to start his own tuning company specializing in Audi and VW. Slowly expanding over the years to encompass other brands within the VW Group, MTM is renowned for being able to squeeze more power and speed out of the cars they tune, and have several Nardo top speed records to prove it.
“While Lamborghini has done an incredible job of making the Urus handle like a big sportscar on a racetrack, any car that heavy is going to be hard on its tyres and brakes,” Roland explained. And he right as in our own experience even the 1,700kg Nissan GTR that relies on computers to finesse its handling is much harder on its brakes and tyres in a racetrack showdown than rivals that weigh 200 or 300kg less. As Scotty famously said in the original Star Trek series, “Ya canna change the laws of physics.”
However, when you break down the real-world performance of a given vehicle, it is not all about sheer horsepower, torque, 0-100km/h and top speed. Those in the know consider this to be bar talk, and a vehicle’s power-to-weight ratio, aerodynamics and gearing all play their part too. Ultimately it is the combination of these factors that splits the difference between the good and the great.
The question Roland Mayer posed to his team soon after Audi launched their SQ2 high performance compact SUV was simple but far reaching. “If we can improve its power-to-weight ratio and uprate the handling and grip to match, can we build an SQ2 that will equal or even beat the lap time of the Lamborghini Urus around the Sachsenring?”
The Audi SQ2 TFSI is powered by the VW Group’s ubiquitous EA888 1,984cc leaves the factory endowed with a decent 300hp at 5,300-6,500rpm, underpinned by 400Nm of torque from 2,000-5,200rpm. The standard seven-speed S-Tronic dual-clutch transmission transfers this to the quattro 4WD system with minimal losses, enabling the stopwatch to record a brisk 4.8 seconds sprint to 0-100km/h. Top speed is electronically capped at 250km/h.
Roland’s team have vast experience with the VW Group’s turbocharged in-line four-cylinder motor family, and has extracted nearly 500hp from variants of it in the past. Ever tightening emissions regulations have seen the edge slowly eroded from these big numbers, but even so the 480hp Stage 5 conversion installed in the MTM SQ2 is not to be sniffed at.
This is the most potent of the five possible engine conversions available for the SQ2, the lesser ones being good for 350, 360, 381 and 433hp respectively. The entry-level conversion is an ECU remap only, and subsequent gains are made by the addition of a free-flow air filter, free flow exhaust, with a larger intercooler always recommended for optimum efficiency. The relevant lines of code in the ECU mapping are rewritten to optimise output with each hardware variation.
As the stock turbocharger runs out of puff around the 420hp mark, the range topping 480hp conversion requires a bespoke turbocharger featuring a larger compressor and turbine wheels. This is accompanied by high flow fuel injectors and an uprated fuel pump to supply more juice to the hungry engine. On the outlet side the exhaust backpressure is dramatically reduced with a larger downpipe, free-flow 200-cell catalytic convertor and OPF, stainless steel sports middle silencer and modified Audi rear silencer.
The resulting 480hp arrives at 6,500rpm, accompanied by 610Nm of torque at 4,000rpm. The electronic top speed limiter of the standard car is removed, with a choice of 260, 270 or 280km/h as the new Vmax.
To handle the extra power and torque the twin-clutch transmission is uprated with beefier clutch packs, and its ECU remapped to both shift faster and to handshake perfectly with the modified engine ECU in the closed loop CAN-BUS data transfer system.
The Urus tips the scales at 2,200kg, while the SQ2 weighs just 1,510kg. That means in standard form the Lamborghini has a power-to-weight ratio of 3.38 kg/hp, while the Audi’s is 5.03 kg/hp. The 480hp MTM SQ2 rewrites this equation with a stunning 3.15kg/hp that decisively bests the Lamborghini.
Both cars have permanent 4WD that enables them to optimise their acceleration from rest in all weather conditions. The MTM SQ2 certainly makes the most of this and pips the Lamborghini decisively. Its 0-100km/h time tumbles from 4.8 to just 3.3 seconds (Urus 3.6 seconds), and it passes the 200km/h mark in 12.2 seconds (Urus 12.8 seconds), a massive improvement over the standard cars respectable 19.0 seconds.
A fast lap time on track requires a combination of sheer speed with strong braking and handling. Here, the extra grip to help deploy the MTM SQ2’s vastly increased engine output comes from a set of 8.5J x 20-inch MTM Nardo alloy wheels shod with 245/30ZR20 Continental SportContact 6 tyres. At the time we tested the car the springs and dampers were development parts that drop the ride height by 35mm. The production version of MTM’s sport suspension is available as you read this.
Out of the box the SQ2 has a measure of stabilising understeer. However, experienced drivers prefer a more neutral stance going into a bend, which is where MTM’s modification for the Haldex differential comes in.
The greater grip and keener turn-in resulting from the chassis modifications give this sporty compact SUV even greater agility, and makes the most of the fact that it is a good 690kg lighter. That said, the Lamborghini's more sophisticated air suspension system gives it a suppler ride.
On the road the MTM SQ2 is a very different beast from the factory car. With 180hp and 200Nm more under the bonnet it goes like a scalded cat, the rapid and seamless gearshifts adding to the feel that the full throttle acceleration from rest to 200km/h and beyond is just one long blast of sustained madness.
At the other end of the performance scale the solution for effective stopping power is MTM’s Brembo-made big brake kit that consists of 380 x 38mm carbon ceramic discs clamped by six-pot callipers with Pagid high performance pads. These tireless anchors wash off big speeds with eyeball popping g-force and deliver good pedal feel around town as well.
Soon after I drove the car, AutoBild Sportscars magazine took it to the 3.67km long Sachsenring where they do their speed testing. The result was most illuminating. In a previous test the Lamborghini Urus set a lap time of 1:36.99 minutes. The MTM SQ2 stopped the watches at 1:37.50 minutes, or a mere 0.51 second slower.
To put this in perspective the MTM SQ2’s banzai lap time equals the first-generation Audi R8 V10. In comparison the second-generation Audi R8 V10 Performance laps in 1:32.77 minutes, while the current lap record for production road cars is held by the Porsche 991.2 GT3 RS at 1:26.40 minutes.
Even if the MTM SQ2 did not quite manage to topple the Urus, it came within a hairs breadth of doing so. The real eye opener however, is the fact that the fully modified MTM car costs just over a third of the price of its mighty cousin from across the Alps.