Combining two separate classes in the car industry has produced some of the most exciting and dynamic vehicles. For example, performance sport utility vehicles (SUVs), super-fast station wagons and hot hatches earned their places in the automotive hierarchy by taking a pretty ordinary vehicle and giving it a lot of power, trick suspension and a braking system that is extremely fun to drive with. However, what about authentic off-road vehicles? Could they ever be as fast as bonafide sports cars? Could their crude suspension systems, massive wheels, all-terrain rubber or sturdy chassis ever provide the same excitement as a thoroughbred sports machine? If you had asked those questions a few months ago, we would have said “no”. But since then, Porsche and Lamborghini have released two vehicles that are defying what we think of as sports cars, introducing the most attractive automotive trend of 2023—off-road supercars!
Porsche 911 Dakar
Those who know a bit about Porsche’s racing history weren’t surprised by the introduction of the 911 Dakar in late 2022. After all, Porsche won the famous Paris-Dakar race twice (1984 and 1986) and has significant off-road experience for what is primarily a sports-car brand. However, making an actual off-road-capable machine was an enormous step for this company since it created a segment that most enthusiasts weren’t even sure existed. But Porsche is known for pushing boundaries, and the 911 Dakar is all about that.
Under the wide arches, high body clearance, distinctive front bumper and off-road tires lies a standard Porsche 911 GTS with all-wheel-drive. It means that the same 3.0-liter, twin-turbo engine is in place, delivering 473 horsepower (hp) through an eight-speed PDK automatic transmission. But the similarities end there since the 911 Dakar is 3.15 inches higher than the standard model and has completely revised suspension, undercarriage and unique wheels. If the regular 911 GTS was designed to provide maximum performance and handling on the street, the 911 Dakar does the same job—but on loose surfaces, mud or snow. And it does surprisingly well, primarily due to a suspension system capable of long travel, a powerful engine and a low center of gravity—much lower than any comparable off-road SUV.
If you immediately developed a need for the 911 Dakar and imagined yourself crossing deserts and jumping dunes, you’ll need to hurry up. The 911 Dakar is a one-year-only model (only 2,500 will be made) with a base price of more than $220,000, significantly more than the standard 911 GTS. Already, there is enormous interest in this model, and we feel that Porsche will include similar versions in the standard 911 lineup. Interestingly, you can improve the looks of the 911 Dakar even more with expensive color schemes designed to resemble the famous Rothmans livery and usable accessories such as jerry cans, ramps, roof racks and tents for buyers who will use theirs as overland vehicles.
Lamborghini Huracán Sterrato
As a supercar brand of the highest order, Lamborghini’s history hides one special model that strayed away from the rest of the lineup. That car was introduced in 1986 and was called the LM002. It looked like a Hummer H1 (which wasn’t a coincidence), but it had a V12 engine from a Lamborghini Countach. Nicknamed “Rambo Lambo”, it was the first high-performance SUV that wasn’t especially successful on the market but showed how brave and forward-thinking Lamborghini could be. Fast forward almost 40 years, and we again have an off-road capable and insanely fast Lamborghini designed to go further than any Lamborghini ever has. Looking at it, you realize this is not an ordinary Huracán—far from it. This one is thoroughly redesigned to offer a very specific and highly dynamic driving experience and turn the mid-engine sports car into an off-road beast.
First, let’s start with its name. Sterrato is Italian for “dirt road” or “unpaved surface”, where the newest Huracán model will hopefully spend most of its time. The Huracán silhouette is recognizable, but the Sterrato received a host of specific details in its front and rear bumper design, body trim, auxiliary lights on the front and a periscope-type air vent on the back. Lamborghini’s engineers completely reworked the all-wheel-drive system with new stability-control technology and driving models better suited for off-road driving. The 5.2-liter V10 engine is unchanged and delivers 610 hp to all four wheels via a seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission. Of course, the Sterrato is 1.7 inches higher than the regular Huracán and has different brakes and exhaust systems.
As expected, the automotive community went crazy for the new off-road Lamborghini. The planned production is 1,499 vehicles at $325,000 each. With insane performance, the silhouette of a fighter jet and a V10 growl, the Huracán Sterrato brings a whole new dimension to sports-car driving. Until now, sports cars were judged by how well they hugged the road. The Sterrato blurs this line and proves itself while going sideways in the dust.
These two cars have created a new segment in the sports-car class. Off-road supercars are no longer a myth or even a concept. They are genuine and amazingly capable. They offer an insane level of usability without compromising looks, prestige or performance. Equally at home on the muddy trails as on the boulevards, the 911 Dakar and Huracán Sterrato deliver on their promises.
But which one is better? If we look at the performance sheet, the Sterrato is more powerful and faster, and its V10 is intoxicating. The 911 Dakar might be slower, but it has more suspension travel, higher body clearance and somewhat more off-road capabilities. The Sterrato will be produced in a smaller number of copies and is more expensive than the 911 Dakar. The Porsche is easier to live with on a daily basis.
The list of pros and cons could go on forever, but one thing is sure: Whichever car you choose, it will give you an unexpected driving dynamic and sheer thrill. The only mistake would be not to get it dirty and drive it off-road as it was meant to be driven.