Heady performance, decent dynamic ability and with a practical SUV body, sports 4x4s may not be everyone's cup of tea but here is our list of the best ten money can buy
19 November 2019

Performance SUVs are among the most divisive cars on sale. They’re powerful, but also heavy and often shaped in ways that will make an aerodynamicist wince.

But they’re effective, mixing sports car pace with the fashionable – to some eyes anyway – image of an SUV.

As the list of 10 cars below shows, they’re all quite unique and make this class one of the most eclectic in today’s new car market. These are cars for people who want it all – luxury, performance, space, desirability, plenty of four-wheel drive capability and plenty of driver appeal. So, should we all so stubbornly refuse to compromise?

1. Range Rover Sport SVR

Such a car can be widely admired, but most certainly will not be roundly loved. For some, its flagrant thirst, weight, expense and comfort-limiting excess smack too obviously of needlessness. For others, more is simply more – and the hottest Range Sport does excess like few others.

A diesel V8 is, after all, plenty quick enough. However, this is a question of taste, not quality. Admirers of the super-SUV niche – and they are numerous and growing in numbers – deserve an unclouded verdict that recognises the outstanding prospect among many.

No rival better mixes handling prowess, off-road talent and an SUV-flavour sense of luxury and functional plushness. But more importantly, none other comes close to matching the lewd sense of fun it keeps so amply on tap.

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Our Verdict

Range Rover Sport SVR

JLR’s first ‘special vehicle’ is big on charm, pace, capability and driver engagement. Expertly judged and executed

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2. Jaguar F-Pace SVR

When Jaguar started making SUVs, that it would one day make a performance SUV became a pretty bankable probability. And the day it did, it showed so many of its faster-moving German rivals where they’d been going wrong by launching a fast 4x4 brimming with pace and sporting sense-of-occasion, but also more laid back in its dynamic character than many.

The F-Pace SVR is the sports car for someone who wants a car to use on the office commute and school run, and for weekend errands – and not one so stiffly suspended that it feels like a gigantic, rolling vehicular contradiction. Its snarling 5.0-litre supercharged V8 gives it all the speed and drama a car of this size ever needed, and its purposeful handling is exciting to boot; but its practical cabin and boot, and its pragmatic chassis tuning, also make it a car well-suited to the real world, too.

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3. Porsche Macan Turbo

When Porsche recently updated its best-selling model – nearly 100,000 Macans were sold in 2017 alone – it elected to leave the exterior design largely unchanged.

Don't assume for a moment that any laurels have been rested upon, though. The Cayenne's younger sibling was already the best-handling car of its type, and a mechanical makeover has only lifted its sky-high levels of precision and composure. 

This is genuinely rewarding car to drive at almost any speed. In ‘Turbo’-branded form it’s powered by the same 2.9-litre turbo V6 that you’ll find in Audi’s medium-sized RS models, and it’s made the car a 400bhp prospect for the first time – and a typically fast, agile and purposeful one as well.

On air suspension as standard, the Macan Turbo cuts a more refined figure on motorway schleps than any hot hatch with comparable pace. At other moments it’s capable of hunkering down on its axles in height-adjusted fashion, and of cornering like some modern Subaru Impreza wagon. The latter phenomenon is genuinely remarkable to witness.

Not as practical as many cars here – but arguably more dynamically impressive than any of them.

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4. Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio

This is the performance SUV whose chassis was signed off by the man who brought you the handling of the celebrated Ferrari 458 Speciale. It also has a turbo V6 engine derived from a V8 from Maranello, and itself is from a maker of some of Europe’s most revered sports saloons and coupes, which is back to form after something of a hiatus.

Some promising signs, then – and the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio doesn’t squander them. Though it isn’t built with the apparent precision and integrity of some of its opponents, the Stelvio drives with fine vertical body control, and with rapier steering response that belies its mass and body profile.

It’s a big car to drive as instinctively as a small one, and eyebrow-raisingly fast with it. What it lacks, however, is much of the onboard comfort and ride sophistication that would typically distinguish a luxury SUV. The list of jacked-up family cars that are firmer-riding than this is short indeed.

Having hit the super saloon nail dead centre and perfect with the Giulia Quadrifoglio, Turin has followed up to equally stirring effect here.

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5. Audi SQ7

The SQ7 graduates Audi’s seven-seat luxury SUV to new heights as a driver’s car, with a diesel V8 better suited for the car’s trick chassis than any equivalent petrol engine might have been.

The diesel prerogative does at least keep the SQ7 at arm’s length from powerhouse SUVs such as the Range Rover Sport SVR and Porsche Cayenne Turbo, which is for the best. Because even with the right option boxes ticked, the Audi is no dynamic rival for either. It lacks much in the way of tactile control feedback, and doesn’t particularly invite you to explore its handling limits.

But it’s quieter, cheaper and more efficient than other cars here. It’s also more easy-going and comfortable than most, and it feels more usable too.

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6. Porsche Cayenne Turbo

This is the quickest, in the real world sense, SUV money can buy. Thanks to its supreme visibility and a supremely effective chassis, a Cayenne Turbo can cover ground, from point to point and in any weather, faster than anything of its wider capabilities might even approach. But understand also that the quickest SUV isn’t necessarily the most enjoyable to drive.

We can think of plenty of fast, desirable, practical and luxurious family cars that would conjure up more lasting affection from their owners. That being said, people like fast SUVs and non is faster than this.

That it comes with Porsche quality, including a beautifully laid out interior and a smart chassis set-up to help hide its mass, makes it all the more desirable – even if it isn’t to everyone’s taste. 

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7. Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S 4matic+

The GLC 63 Coupe’s biggest enemy is its five-door sibling, because that car offers the same performance from the same intoxicating V8 engine.

But, if you’re smitten by the swoopy, divisive styling of the coupé, the car’s desirability will be almost unmatchable. It’s packed with the luxurious perceived cabin quality you’d expect from Mercedes-AMG, and also beats the Porsche Macan Turbo to 62mph by half a second - although it can’t match that car’s dynamic abilities.

This car’s firm, noisy ride will limit its appeal to less enthusiastic folk. However, its retention of an evocative petrol V8 in a mid-sized performance SUV, when some rivals have turned to six-pots, will be enough to draw some to the GLC 63 Coupé.

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8. BMW X3 M & X4 M

BMW is a fairly recent addition to the ranks of manufacturers making hot SUVs at the smaller end of the market. While there has been an X5M and an X6M for several years, this is the first time those cars have had smaller counterparts. 

They’re oddly serious, buttoned-down counterparts, too. Using fixed-height steel coil suspension rather than air, and seeking to carve out dynamic identities as higher-rising versions of the M3 and M4 rather than as any-occasion luxury SUVs with a performance flavour, the X3- and X4M are firm-riding, keen-revving, six-cylinder options that seem desperate to recover some sporting credibility in what many would consider a doomed attempt.

The cars have identical axles and chassis tuning, and use the same M5-derived four-wheel drive system, which combine to make for surprisingly high grip levels and keen cornering balance. Even so, they’re not the easiest cars to handle on the limit – and neither do they offer the broadest dynamic playbook in the class. 

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9. Tesla Model X

Any SUV with close to six-hundred horsepower, that can crack 60mph from rest in three seconds flat, is worth a mention in this top ten. The top-of-the-range Tesla Model X qualifies in both of those respects, and that it does so without burning a drop of fossil fuel arguably gives it greater 21st century appeal than any other car here.

Using twin electric motors and having two driven axles, and having height-adjustable air suspension to boot, the Model X wouldn’t be last in this class for outright offroad ability. Usability comes with the usual electric-car caveat, but with 95kWh of usable battery capacity to tap into, this EV can put more than 250 miles between charges when driven for efficiency.

The weight of its batteries does adversely affect its ride and handling somewhat, and to the point where the car’s appeal as a performance car is markedly blunted. But as a fast, roomy, zero-emissions family car, there’s plenty left to recommend it.

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10. Maserati Levante S GranSport

Other SUVs are more luxurious and even better to drive at speed, but the Levante offers a broad spread of talents, backed up by a certain degree of style – the latter of which few can match.

It’s not cheap, ranking ahead of even the Porsche Cayenne S, which is a mightily impressive machine. But the Italian is arguably more desirable, not least because it’ll likely remain rarer.

It’s also fractionally cheaper than a Range Rover Sport with its much less powerful 334bhp supercharged V6. If you’re sold on the exclusivity and romance of the Maserati badge, the Levante S will be hard to ignore

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