Sometimes the most fun path to take is the one that leads down the road of absurdity.
SUVs are all about comfort, practicality and utility. But for a select few, the word sport is taken a bit too literally in sport utility vehicle and these boat-towing off-roaders suddenly transform into wannabe sports cars.
Take a look at the trio of vehicles here. All may have started life as premium, luxury SUVs. But after a trip to the various brand’s performance tuning arms, they’ve emerged as fire-breathing monsters that would rather hang out at Laguna Seca than Moab.
The old man of this group is the Porsche Cayenne Turbo S. Having played this game for years, Porsche’s hot-rod SUV underwent a thorough refresh for 2015 that includes a mild bump in power. The BMW X5 M is another veteran of the performance SUV world that is new for 2015 and more potent than ever.
Challenging the two established German contenders is a newcomer to the world of high-power luxury SUVs, the Range Rover Sport SVR. With a supercharged V8 engine, sport-tuned suspension and high performance tires, the SVR has the goods. But will it be enough to upset the BMW and Porsche proverbial apple carts? After a day of hard flogging, the scores were tallied and we found out which of these SUVs really is a decathlete in a linebacker’s body.
3rd Place: 2015 Range Rover Sport SVR
More Sport Utility than Sports Car
Despite the SVR transformation, the Range Rover Sport still remains the most all-around SUV in the comparison. In other words, it hasn’t gone all-in when it comes to performance like the BMW and Porsche have.
The Sport SVR has the highest seating position and behaves the most SUV-like in terms of ride quality and response. It still handles quite well for such a capable off-road vehicle, but compared to the other two here, it just can’t match their reflexes.
Part of this has to do with the 275-mm width tires. Although it may sound crazy, a 275-width tire is too narrow – in this comparison, at least. And while on the topic of small, the 15-inch front brake rotors are the smallest in the test and when combined with the softest brake pedal, they do not inspire much high speed stopping confidence.
SEE ALSO: 2016 Range Rover Sport SVR Review
The SVR also lacks the adjustable sport modes found in the other two SUVs. It does feature a dynamic mode and a sport setting for the transmission, but the X5 and Cayenne allow for individual customization of most of the vehicles mechanical components.
Range Rover does retain its six terrain modes for off-roading and those 275-mm tires are the least on-road compromised tires of the group. But spending all that money for a shiny new SVR to then take it off-road and risk damaging its pretty front fascia seems like a waste.
But Then There’s That Engine
Our lukewarm reception to the SVR ends once that big V8 engine comes to life. Here, Land Rover has done everything right. Displacing 5.0 liters and supercharged for extra effect, the V8 busts out 550 hp and 502 lb-ft of torque. That’s enough to hustle the 5,148-lb Range Rover from zero to 60 mph in just 4.5 seconds.
Even if that is the slowest zero-to-60 time in the comparison, the Range Rover Sport SVR feels faster than it really is, thanks to all the low-end torque provided by the supercharged engine. And then there’s the sound, which is worth the price of admission alone. If you’ve ever heard a Jaguar F-Type V8 under full acceleration, that is the exact noise the SVR makes. It’s a classic V8 rumble with complementary backfires that are amplified by depressing the exhaust button or as I call it, the glorious noise maker.
And despite having the lowest official fuel economy ratings, the SVR returned the best observed average, during our testing. This can be attributed to the programming of the eight-speed automatic as much as the differences in fuel usage and behavior between supercharged and turbocharged engines when driven with enthusiasm.
The Elegant Brute
The interior of the Sport SVR is finished in high quality materials, as should be expected from Land Rover. The rear seat is easy to get in and out of, and the arm rests are set at the right height. At 27.7 cubic feet, the rear cargo area is bigger than the Porsche’s, but does include a higher, less accessible loading floor.
The best way to describe the Range Rover Sport SVR is as an elegant brute. It’s the muscle car of performance SUVs that focuses more on sound and style than handling and all-out speed. If the main reason for buying one of these high-powered SUVs is to impress your friends, family and members at the local country club, get the Sport SVR. It’s arguably the best looking, it feels fast, and, of course, has the angriest exhaust note.
Fast Facts Engine: 5.0L supercharged V8; 550 hp, 502 lb-ft Transmission: Eight-speed automatic Pricing US: Starts at $112,345 after destination charges, $121,940 as tested Pricing CDN: Starts at $126,565 after destination charges, $136,215 as tested EPA Fuel Economy: 13 mpg city, 19 mpg highway, 18.7 mpg observed average CDN Fuel Economy: 17.3 L/100 km city, 12.2 L/100 km highway, 12.6 L.100 km observed average
2nd Place: 2015 Porsche Cayenne Turbo S
The High Price of High Performance
Zero to 60 takes just 3.8 seconds and top speed is listed all the way up at 176 mph. The Cayenne Turbo S is fast – faster than anything else here. That’s what happens when a vehicle has the most power, most torque and lowest curb weight.
At the heart of this performance is a 4.8-liter turbocharged V8 engine making 570 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque. Like the other two vehicles, it’s paired to an eight-speed automatic transmission. The engine produces a good, classic V8 burble under hard acceleration. With the exhaust button engaged, the Cayenne is louder than the X5 M, but nowhere as noisy as the raucous SVR. It’s probably a more fitting overall engine note for this class and does feature a few pops and burbles when decelerating.
And the performance doesn’t end with the engine; every other mechanical component is dialed in. Scroll through the three drive settings to engage sport plus mode. Here, the Cayenne feels the most connected to the road and is the best in the comparison. For an SUV, it’s surprising how quickly and confidently I can hustle this nearly 4,927-lb lug around twisting back roads. The amount of pendulum rebound body motion found in most SUVs during hard cornering is virtually eliminated with the Turbo S.
The massive brakes, measuring 16.5 inches up front, are quick to react. Combined with the wide 295-mm tires, the Turbo S is almost grabby in how fast it wants to stop when the brake pedal is depressed.
Make it Your Own
If driving the Cayenne Turbo S on hardcore mode at all times isn’t your thing, it can be altered through various preset drive modes or completely customized through individual functions like the suspension and transmission. It’s also got an adjustable ride height like the Range Rover, but one ups the Sport SVR by offering three manually lockable differentials. But equipped with the sport tires, the Turbo S isn’t well suited for serious off-roading.
Inside, drivers sit lower in the Cayenne than the other two SUVs which is fitting for the Turbo S’ car-like driving characteristics. The ride comfort in default mode isn’t quite as soft as the Range Rover’s, but does best the BMW’s.
The front seats are quite comfortable, though, as are those in the back. But no matter which seat, headroom can be a bit of an issue for taller occupants. The center stack features the wall of ubiquitous buttons and switches found in virtually all modern Porsches and the infotainment system isn’t great, much like the one found in the Range Rover. This could be the first Porsche I have ever driven with virtually no dummy buttons, as this Cayenne is fully loaded.
Pay to Play
And that brings up the issue of price. The Porsche Cayenne Turbo S begins at $158,295 after destination charges, which is some $48,000 more than the Range Rover Sport SVR and almost $60,000 more than the BMW X5 M. As tested, this loaded up Cayenne hits $172,740.
It may seem easy to think that someone who can afford a $100,000 X5 M can easily spend a few more bucks to buy the almost $160,000 Cayenne Turbo S, but that’s like saying someone looking for a $25,000 car might as well just get a $40,000 car instead.
The Cayenne is the best performing SUV here, but the cost of entry is steep. If money is no object, the Turbo S is fantastic. But when it comes to bang for the buck, it’s beat by our first place finisher.
Fast Facts Engine: 4.8L turbocharged V8l 570 hp, 590 lb-ft Transmission: Eight-speed automatic Pricing US: Begins at $158,295 after destination charges, $172,740 as tested Pricing CDN: Begins at $179,215 after destination charges, $196,510 as tested EPA Fuel Economy: 14 mpg city, 21 mpg highway, 16.6 mpg observed average CDN Fuel Economy: 16.7 L/100 km city, 11.2 L/100 km highway, 14.2 L/100 km observed average
1st Place: 2015 BMW X5 M
Hot Rod SUV at an Affordable Price
The BMW X5 M is the most dedicated to sport amongst the three competitors. There are no off-road modes like the other two vehicles, which makes sense, since no one is going to go bush-whacking in this steroid pumping Bavarian brute. It’s also the only vehicle to come equipped with sports-sedan-like staggered tires, 285/40R20 up front and 325/30R21 in the rear.
At the heart of this beast is a 4.4-liter turbocharged V8 that unleashes 567 hp and 553 lb-ft of torque. That’s not as much as the Cayenne Turbo S, and with an extra 300 pounds or so of weight to carry around, the X5 M isn’t as fast in a straight line. Still, a zero-to-60 mph time of four seconds flat is nothing to be ashamed of and that’s still faster than the Range Rover Sport SVR.
SEE ALSO: BMW X5 M Review
Like the Cayenne, there is a bit of a delay before the power really comes on while the turbochargers build boost. But once up to pressure, the big SUV lurches down the road with surprising urgency.
The X5 M has a higher-pitched V8 sound than the other two, partially due to it having the smallest engine here as well as a more European exhaust note, complete with barks during high-rpm upshifts. And unlike the SVR and Turbo S, there is no exhaust button in the X5 M. Only high amounts of throttle will open up the sound of the turbo V8. Otherwise, it’s the quietest engine here.
Among the three eight-speed automatic transmissions, BMW’s is the best of the group. In sport plus mode, it acts deceivingly close to a dual clutch setup. It may not be as refined in normal driving as the Cayenne’s transmission, but when it comes time to put your foot down, this eight-speed is fantastic.
A Street Savage Tailored to Your Liking
The X5 M allows drivers to customize the mechanical settings more than the other two. Transmission aggression, throttle response, steering effort, suspension firmness and stability control intervention can all be tailored to your liking. And your favorite settings can be saved with the M1 and M2 buttons on the steering wheel.
And, speaking of which, the X5 M has the best steering wheel of the group, with a nice, meaty feel. In sport plus settings, the X5 has the stiffest steering, but the Cayenne provides a bit more feedback and feel. In general, the X5 M doesn’t quite have the handling responses of the Cayenne, but I’m talking negligible differences that are more than made up for with the price difference.
Ride comfort in the X5 M is not as good as the Turbo S, which might be due to the massively wide rear wheels. The Bimmer drives more like a crossover than a SUV, slotting in somewhere between the SUV-riding Range Rover and the car-like Cayenne. It also carries a deceiving amount of speed, which can exceed legal limits without much effort.
Inside, some of us found the X5 M’s mix of colors, textures and materials a bit too busy, while others consider them works of art. The front seats are the most comfortable in the test and we liked the wide infotainment display screen as well as the color head-up display. The rear cargo area is the largest here, but the not everyone is a fan of BMW’s split tailgate design.
Bang for the Buck Champion
The BMW X5 M is nearly as much of a performance SUV as the Cayenne Turbo S, but for a whole lot less money. The $109,095 as-tested price isn’t exactly pocket change, but compared to the $179,215 hot rod Porsche, that’s a huge savings. So, if money is a top consideration, even in the world of six-figure sport SUVs, it’s hard to beat the X5 M’s performance per dollar.
Fast Facts Engine: 4.4L turbocharged V8; 567 hp, 553 lb-ft Transmission: Eight-speed automatic Pricing US: Starts at $99,795 after destination charges, $109,095 as tested Pricing CDN: Starts at $107,995 after destination charges, $121,095 as tested EPA Fuel Economy: 14 mpg city, 19 mpg highway, 16.9 mpg observed average