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Was the Lamborghini LM002 The First Performance SUV?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro December 2016

I recently told you that the GMC Typhoon was the world's first performance SUV, the grandfather of a group that has grown to include the Porsche Cayenne Turbo, and the BMW X5M, and the Mercedes-Benz GLE63 AMG -- among many others. Several of you told me I'm wrong, and that the Lamborghini LM002 was actually the world's first performance SUV. So who's right?

Before we get started, some background on both vehicles. The LM002 made its debut in the late 1980s as a half-truck, half-SUV with a 444-horsepower 7.2-liter V12 -- designed for boats -- along with full-time 4-wheel drive, a 5-speed manual transmission, and an immense 5,972-pound curb weight. It could go from zero to 60 in 7.7 seconds and reach a top speed of something like 120 miles per hour. In all, roughly 300 different LM002 models were made before production stopped in 1992.

The Typhoon came out several years later, in 1992, with a completely different approach to the performance SUV. Gone were the truck bed, the brawny styling and most of the off-roading capability. Also gone were the stick shift, the immense curb weight and the giant V12. Instead, the Typhoon used a 280-hp 4.3-liter turbocharged V6, all-wheel drive and a slightly more luxurious cabin than that of the GMC Jimmy on which it was based. It also used a 4-speed automatic transmission. Performance was more impressive than with the LM002 -- the Typhoon did zero to 60 in just 5.3 seconds -- and sales were far expanded: GMC made just under 5,000 Typhoons before stopping production after the 1993 model year.

So which really lays claim to the title of first performance SUV?

To answer this question, we have to really consider the performance SUV as we know it -- and that means examining cars like the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT, the Porsche Cayenne Turbo and the BMW X5M. In each case, these models use tuned versions of normal engines -- and they forsake off-roading capabilities for performance. They also offer revised versions of standard SUV designs, livable driving experiences and reasonably high production numbers.

In other words: Today's high-performance SUVs are a lot more like the Typhoon than the LM002.

Indeed, one could suggest the LM002 was designed more with off-roading in mind than all-out performance -- an argument that would be backed up by its relatively modest performance numbers, even by the standards of its day. The LM002 also used a bespoke engine and a completely new design -- and its production figures ensured very few would ever find their way into garages.

Although one might look at the LM002 as the beginning of an era, I don't personally think it has much in common with today's modern high-performance SUV contingent: Its bulky styling, truck-like body style, huge V12 engine and extremely limited production aren't shared by any of today's performance SUVs. On the other hand, many of the Typhoon's characteristics -- subtle exterior revisions, a standard engine tuned for more power, extra luxury, better handling, no off-road capabilities -- are exactly what modern performance SUVs are all about.

Therefore, my verdict: The Lamborghini LM002 didn't kick off the high-performance SUV trend. In fact, it didn't really kick off any trend. But it's one of the coolest vehicles of all time -- and I couldn't be gladder that it exists.

Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Was the Lamborghini LM002 The First Performance SUV? - Autotrader