Dirty rotten scoundrels: Lamborghini Huracán Sterrato vs Porsche 911 Dakar | Top Gear
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Tuesday 5th December
Speed Week 2023

Dirty rotten scoundrels: Lamborghini Huracán Sterrato vs Porsche 911 Dakar

You wait a lifetime for a supercar that’s as much fun off the beaten track as it is on it... then two come along at once

Published: 08 Nov 2023

The sense of wrongness is what gets you. You're peering down the barrel of a honeycomb themed Lamborghini Huracán interior, or across the fetish crisp arcs of a set of Porsche 911 dials, and beyond is, basically, a path made for goats. Wild goats with satanic eyes. There are sullen holes and bitter little ditches, tree stumps and various types of rock, all considering a menu of potential damage from chipped paint to a dislocated axle. Said path isn’t quite wide enough for either car, so there’s a wilful ignorance to the susurration of branches on the flanks that speaks of the necessity of machine polishing in the near future, and there are more than one or two crunching sounds that sound ominously expensive. And yet we press on.

All is not quite as it seems though. Some would call it abuse, but technically, using a tool in the manner for which it was designed is perfectly legitimate. This is a mantra repeated just as a bright orange, £230,000 Lamborghini Huracán Sterrato launches itself into a glorious slide, limestone shale machine gunning the sidepods and rear arches, undertray clattering, V10 splendidly operatic. A slight yump and we float lightly into the air, a brief moment of silence before ploughing our ridiculous furrow onwards towards a water splash of indeterminate depth. Lamborghini may have made its name building tractors, but I’m not sure this is what Ferruccio had in mind.

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And yet this definitely is what Lamborghini intended the Sterrato to do. The name itself translates as ‘dirt road’ in Italian, and the Porsche 911 Dakar following behind couldn’t be any more eponymously explicit. Both are super sports cars with off-road tyres, suspension lifts and protected bellies. Both have loose surface modes with defined rear bias, both are typically unsuited to the rally raid treatment. Which makes them even more delicious. Saying that, these are not the most graceful or resolved of their respective model lines. Neither is what you’d call pretty, but they are defined by their aesthetic flaws, find truth in their awkwardness. They’re work boots on an athlete, but the packaging gives the impression both will be good for your soul.

Photography: Olgun Kordal and John Wycherley

Rewind a bit, and you’ll find method in the madness. Since Porsche announced the 911 Dakar and Lamborghini stretched the Huracán’s remit, this test was bound to happen. And at Top Gear’s annual Speed Week, it’s up to us to figure out which one of these two is the most fun. Terrible job, but someone’s got to do it.

On first impression, in the real world, both are actually more comforting on-road than the dedicated sporting versions. Which is nice. Softer, more compliant. Yes, there’s the ghost of tyre rumble on an A-road and generally more road noise and yes, the top speeds are more limited thanks to the tyres, but both hit 62mph from rest in 3.4 seconds apiece, so they’re not exactly gelded. Both have a more relaxed attitude to body control, though that’s not as much of a problem as you might imagine because neither is floppy. Heresy possibly, but it becomes apparent quite quickly that they’re more usable, more of the time, than the rest of the models in their ranges. More surprisingly, both are more than capable on an actual racetrack, although not in the manner usually accepted by serious faced men with clipboards.

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In fact, they’re more fun. Not faster, because physics isn’t stupid, but when you aren’t busy chasing lap times, sometimes less really can be more. The edge, the line, the limit – it becomes a blurry suggestion rather than a sharp and potentially expensive moment. In both of these cars you can pick at the edges of traction, nibble at under- and oversteer, get comfortable with stepping outside the boundaries. And both cars allow you freedom to explore. Where a more committed 911 or Huracán might snap, the Dakar and Sterrato yawn. They are, for those of us not blessed with the reactions of a caffeinated weasel, much easier to skid about in. And therefore, more of a laugh. They’re a workout for your hormones, a very welcoming adrenaline gym.

The Porsche is the better, more reliable companion, with tidy body control and surprisingly accurate steering. Throw it stupidly into a corner and it tips, easing into controllable oversteer if you keep the throttle open. It will pull straight eventually unless you’re carrying a lot of momentum, but there’s a grace to the way the Dakar plays. It’s a surprisingly balanced car – not some GT3 RS that handles like it’s on cliches and terrorises your self-confidence. When you attack the Gotlandring jump, it lifts with a very bum heavy, nose high flight path, but lands with the single shush of expensive damping. It’s ace.

The Sterrato is... more childish. It’s noisy, uncouth, a bit brash. Stick it in the rear biased modes and open the exhaust valves and it launches into corners like it wants to eat them, slews wildly into oversteer, bellowing the song of its V10 people. You can change up mid-corner and mid-slide in both, but where the 911’s eight-speed box gives you a neat little kick, the seven-speed in the Huracán launches the car up the road and back to the limit of the steering rack. And while the 911 is noisy, the Huracán is just loud. And not just from the exhaust, either – you hear every stone against the Lambo’s belly, every rock that spits into the wheelarches. The Porsche is like a Tesla in comparison, sliding through the same geography with barely a scrape or rattle.

And that’s where these two really do start to diverge – off-road. Not rock crawling or mud plugging – that’s not what they’re for. But gravel and dirt and bad surfaces? They are, literally, awesome. Obviously it’s not without a certain amount of trepidation – the Porsche costs £173k without options, the Lamborghini just under £233k – so even the inevitable stone chips are expensive. Luckily, excitement manages to sucker-punch concern when the stones fly and the engines howl. If there’s more fun to be had than these two on a dirt road and a bit of time to play, it’s hard to imagine. Interestingly, they’re both easy to control, but where the Sterrato crashes over, into and through, the Dakar floats across exactly the same obstacles. And that’s without engaging the dedicated off-road mode that splits torque more evenly between the axles and using what feels like much more delicate traction control. Two cars that seem so very similar on paper, but are incredibly different in practice.

The verdict is unsurprising, but complete. The Porsche 911 Dakar is probably the most daily usable 911 on sale – especially if you’re subject to the vagaries of the UK’s National Highways, or live somewhere even vaguely unsmooth. It’s fast and fun, but has that extra beef that means you could actually take it mildly off-road without problems. The old saying rings true here, albeit with a slight modification – if you want to go somewhere fast and loud, take the Sterrato. If you want to get back again, pick the Porsche. It also feels the most engineered of the two, the most resolved, the more mature. Without the carbon roll cage so that you can access the space behind the front seats and the optional roof-rack, it’d be a cracking daily. To be frank, the 911 Dakar is the car that I’d buy if it were my money and I actually wanted to use the damn thing every day. It’s the better car.

But this test isn’t about what’s ‘better’, but about which car is more fun. And the Lamborghini Sterrato is ridiculously amusing. Part of it is the incongruity of a mid-engined supercar wearing chonky tyres and a mild lift. The other is the frankly fabulous noise that naturally aspirated 602bhp V10 makes in the various more aggressive modes – it’s surprisingly demure in Strada. But the best thing about the Sterrato is that it simply doesn’t take itself seriously. At all. It won’t handle serious off-road and hits things with alarming regularity, putting those strengthened bumpers and belly pan to good use. It’s still wide and hard to see out of, so it fumbles through gaps off-road and is a terror to parallel park on it.

But if you do happen to have access to a graded dirt road or a field or two – both likely more accessible than a racetrack – then it’s hilarious. It’s the same vibe as the Ariel Nomad as opposed to the Atom – the remit has expanded along with the suspension travel. So the Sterrato wins this test in terms of the standards set, but the truth is, both of these cars are winners. Real world supercars in a world increasingly filled with unused potential. They’re ultimately slower than their counterparts, but by God, they’re quicker to make you smile.

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