Opinion: Fast SUVs confuse me

Fast SUVs confuse me

There's an old saying: if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it's probably a duck.

Unless of course it's the size of a bloody ostrich, in which case it's probably a performance SUV. Ever rising power outputs, increasingly sophisticated electronic systems and clever suspension engineering mean that these steroid-fed faux-by-fours are now, in some instances, able to offer a startlingly accurate imitation of proper performance cars.

An example: in a recent comparison test, the Mercedes-AMG GLE63 belted up the drag strip in 12.30sec at 183.77km/h, passing 100km/h in just 4.18sec on its way there.

Those figures are almost identical to those recorded by the Porsche 911 GT2 during Performance Car of the Year 2001, a car that then-Deputy Editor Jesse Taylor distinctly remembers climbing out of and thinking “well, that's it, cars can't possibly get any faster than that.”

Another example. Range Rover recently crowed to all and sundry that its Sport SVR was the fastest production SUV to lap the famed Nurburgring Nordschleife, having taken just 8min14sec to lap the 22km circuit.

It was a record swiftly batted away by Porsche's latest Cayenne Turbo S, which managed the same feat in just 7min59.74, a time that needed every ounce of Walter Rohrl's skill to achieve in a 996-series 911 GT3.

Porsche cayenne turboI can't help but think, however, that claiming to be the fastest/best handling SUV – something Lamborghini has its eyes on with its forthcoming Urus – is a little like winning the local D-grade cricket league: an admirable achievement compared to the relative competition, but not likely to result in a call-up for the baggy green any time soon.

After all, the latest GT3 is over 30 seconds up the road from the Cayenne Turbo S, while the humble Megane Trophy-R – a car with less than half the power and torque (and yes, 1000kg less to haul) – is five seconds faster.

Renault Megane Trophy turningHowever, the key difference is that while the Megane would keep lapping until the driver keeled over, even the finest of these super-SUVS can only fight physics for so long, with tyres shredding and brakes wilting under the strain of containing the weight and engines suffocating from their own immense heat output.

It's why, after a few years of experimentation, SUVs were deemed ineligble from PCOTY. To be honest, a couple are now probably impressive enough – BMW X5 M and the aforementioned Cayenne – to make a case for inclusion, but ultimately the driving experience is so much less satisfying than anything with a proper centre of gravity.

Yes, they're built because they sell in extremely large numbers, but just because something is popular doesn't make it a good idea. Just look at Justin Bieber, or planking (remember that?).

Mercedes-AMG C63 estateWe implore anyone looking at one of these over-endowed off-roaders, go and drive an Audi RS6, or a Mercedes-AMG C63 S Estate, or an HSV Clubsport R8 LSA Tourer, or a VW Golf R wagon, or a Skoda Octavia RS wagon.

No matter your budget, the right combination of space and pace is out there, just closer to the ground than you might realise.

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