A performance SUV is tantamount to a chainsaw with jet propulsion. There’s really no need for it, but to dismiss it is to deny man’s inherent quest for power, in whatever form it may come. Thirteen years ago, the Mercedes Benz ML55 AMG was the first on the scene, and it was viewed as obnoxious, heavy, purposeless and, at the same time, magnificent and utterly desirable. Sticking a heaving, snorting V8 under the hood of a 5,000+ pound four-wheel-drive behemoth was nothing short of genius, as it really birthed the modern performance SUV, and automakers will never look back — even when the price of oil climbs.
Thankfully, the performance SUV has improved markedly over the years: these beasts now sport better driving dynamics, better designs, and even more luscious power. These blistering behemoths now provide the automotive landscape a solid amount of passenger and cargo room, the confidence of All-Wheel-Drive/Four-Wheel-Drive, beefed-up suspension components, monstrous engine outputs, and aesthetics befitting sports sedans.
Of course, if you care a lick about gas mileage, you’re barking up the wrong tree, but if you happen to want it all (sans gull-wing doors), then in the right place. We had a chance to cruise around in some of the best four-wheeled tarmac eaters that also happen to ride on stilts in celebration of our new series, Octane. Here’s our report. Which one you choose is entirely up to you and your fat wallet.
Additional contribution by Bradley Hasemeyer.
Land Rover Range Rover Supercharged
Best SUV for the Bespoke Barnstormer: If you make the mistake of thinking that the Range Rover is only for polo-match-watching, finger-sandwich-eating upper crusties, then you’re
wrong partially right. For anyone who has a decent amount of coin and a healthy sense of rock-crawling, trail-blazing adventure, this is the power SUV of choice. The swanky and very comfortable interior is as nice a place as you can be this side of a Bentley, and its street prowess is nothing to laugh at, either. Just ask its 510 horsepower supercharged V8 to bellow you some notes as you roast sports cars — then go take on a canyon.
Miles Driven: 686
Verdict: Cultured, frighteningly fast, makes like Sir Edmund Hilary where others fail.
Memorable Moment: Scaling a steep rocky incline in street tires like a mountain goat in running shoes.
BMW X5 M
Best SUV for the Nurburgring Nut: Easily the fastest member of this illustrious group, the X5 M was originally laughed at by the motoring cognoscenti. Who needs a 555-hp SUV? Well, the jury’s still out on that one. The more important question is morel like “Who wants one?” (Everyone’s hands go up in the classroom except the guy who likes collecting porcelain thimbles.) No one’s questioning it now. The 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 throws this Sport Activity Vehicle (SAV) to 60 MPH in a kidney-smashing 4 seconds.
Miles Driven: 329
Verdict: A wickedly fast sports sedan that just happens to have a higher center of gravity.
Memorable Moment: Going toe-to-toe with a C6 ‘vette.
The First Ferocious Four-Wheeler: The Lamborghini LM002 (1986-1993)
Built for Middle Eastern oil tycoons with a flair for the dramatic, Lamborghini’s LM002 was really the first performance SUV ever made. As angular as I.M. Pei’s entrance to the Louvre mated to a stealth fighter, the LM002 housed a monstrous V12 engine (with an optional 7.2-liter marine power train, used for off-shore power boats). With a bespoke interior, special tires designed for desert heat and a 76-gallon fuel tank, the LM002 was appropriately dubbed the “Rambo Lambo”.
Porsche Cayenne GTS
Best SUV for the European Hitman: After shutting up the critics who cried foul of their SUV, the (arguable) perfecters of the sports car have expanded this AWD off-roader with some mind-blowing specs. Sure, you could tip the scales and the price tag with the Cayenne Turbo S, but there is something to be said for the engine note and oomph a naturally aspirated V8 brings — and though it has the least amount of said oomph from its competition in this round-up, the presence, feel and confidence the GTS delivers makes up for those extra tenths of a second. 420 horsepower and 0-60 in 4.6 makes it the opposite of a slouch, anyway.
Miles Driven: 471
Verdict: An amazing use of AWD, naturally aspirated displacement and Alcantara.
Memorable Moment: Using the car as a sound booth to record audio for other projects. It’s that solid and quiet.
Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG
Best SUV for Apocalypse Cruisin’: There’s no mistaking this beast. Based on the original Merc Gelandewagen (built for military applications), the G63 AMG bellows its presence from quad side exhaust pipes and launches off the tarmac like Usain Bolt on amphetamines. Though the interior ergonomics lack the fluidity of more modern cars, it’s a comfortable and technologically impressive place to be. But just about nothing is more impressive than the way the doors sound when they close and lock — as if they were designed alongside components for Fort Knox. Too bad Hollywood-ites have no idea what their AMG G-Wagens can actually do, since they just cruise the boulevard and roll up to five-star restaurants at 15 MPH. Sad.
Miles Driven: 625
Verdict: The awesome result of strapping a 500-horsepower twin-turbo V8 into a bank vault.
Memorable Moment: Storming small towns in upstate New York.
Chrysler Grand Cherokee SRT8
Best SUV for the ‘Merica Lover: Standing as the only domestic in this round-up is like being the only American driver in an F1 race — it holds its own and you root for it because you must. The redesigned in-all-the-right-places Jeep is the best-priced SUV on this list, and is much less “check out my badass car” than the X5 M and the G63; plus, it has a surprisingly comfortable ride. Additions like the much-lauded UConnect with a wi-fi app for connectivity, loads of cup holders and outlets, USB ports and a launch control button right next to the traction options got us excited to spend every driveable minute in this wild card. The 470 horsepower and 465 lb-ft of torque sure didn’t hurt.
Miles Driven: 366
Verdict: Low on posh, big on torque, huge on respect.
Memorable Moment: On multiple occasions people referred to this American Muscle as “sexy”, which was quite awkward coming from the men.