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Best performance SUVs: Top 10

Love them or hate them, high-performance SUVs are here to stay. Here are ten of the best on sale today

There was a time not that long ago, when utility vehicles were not much more than an estate car riding on a raised four wheel drive chassis. Then, in the 1970s, vehicles like the ground-breaking Range Rover and Jeep Cherokee started adding a modicum of luxury and performance to this segment. Soon others started to follow, and today most major manufacturers offer some form of fire breathing super SUV in its line-up. Whether you like it or not, the age of the performance off-roader is well and truly with us.
Making a logical case for a massively overpowered off-road vehicle, which will most likely not see anything more rugged than a rain-soaked Homebase parking lot may not be easy, but few can deny the desirability and feel-good factor of these thundering behemoths. There is something really satisfying about sitting high above the traffic, more mundane tin boxes in the morning traffic knowing you could easily blow the doors off them if the mood took you. So instead of rationalising these crazy cars let’s take a look at our top 10 and then you can tell us your thoughts in the comments section below.

Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT
Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT 
The original 1974 Jeep Cherokee was a practical go anywhere vehicle, providing 100mph performance when fitted with the top spec 6.6L 215 bhp V8, it heralded the beginning of a new type of sports utility vehicle. Fast forward 40 years and the latest Grand Cherokee SRT with a 462bhp 6.4L HEMI powerplant takes this concept to a whole new dimension. In true American tradition, the SRT eschews forced induction in favour of a massive V8, with a sub-five second 0-60 time and eye ball flattening in-gear acceleration. It’s quite possibly faster than any Italian exotic from the ‘70s, and would give any modern sports car a run for its money.
Range Rover Sport SVR

The current generation Range Rovers are undoubtedly among the top luxury SUVs that money can buy, the new-spec diesel power plants provide effortless, torquey performance to match their wafty image. But sometimes the man about town is in a hurry and for that he may want to take a look at the Range Rover Sport SVR, a vehicle that is sure to pique the interest of even the most devoted sports car fan – as well as the local constabulary if you’re not judicious with your right loafer. 542bhp is enough to blast this land yacht to 162 mph, and now that the Sport has its own bespoke chassis, the corners are handled with the kind of deftness that would befit a car half the SVR’s size. 
Having entered the SUV segment in the late 1990s with the capable yet boxy ML, Mercedes has continually improved its offerings adding a whole host of new models and ensuring that its range topping ML models remain at the pointy end of the performance SUV spectrum. The 2016 ML63 AMG has ditched the much loved 6.2-litre naturally aspirated V8 for an even more torquey 518bhp twin-turbo 5.5-litre unit. Tick the Performance Pack option and that figure is upped to 549bhp. At just over 2.3 tonnes, it may not be the most dynamic SUV out there but as an overall package the ML63 AMG is a very satisfying machine indeed. 
BMW tested the demand for powerful SUVs with their first generation X5 4.8is, equipped with a 360bhp V8. The buying public immediately warmed to the concept and demand for its overpowered SUVs has been strong ever since. In its latest iteration, the top X5M makes a massive 575bhp from a twin-turbo 4.4-litre V8, and thanks to the trick torque vectoring 4x4 setup tackles corners with the sort of vigour usually reserved for two-seater sports cars. With a 0-62 time of 4.2 seconds it can also hold its own against any of its competition.

Porsche Cayenne Turbo S
It has been 14 years since the controversial first generation Cayenne arrived on the motoring scene. Much has changed since then, and the once conservative buying public have warmed to the idea of an off-roading Porsche – well, some of them anyway! The Porsche makes a great case for itself, especially considering its almost physics defying dynamics and acceleration. The latest Turbo S currently sits at the top of the Cayenne range and with 562bhp and a 176mph top speed it is also one of the fastest SUVs money can buy.
Audi has been offering four-wheel drive on its range for longer than most and while it was late into the SUV game, it pulled out all the stops when it did arrive. The RS Q3 is its flagship mid-sized SUV and combines Quattro all-wheel drive with a characterful 5-cylinder 335bhp engine to power it to 62 mph in a very rapid 4.8 seconds. The RS Q3 also excels dynamically and if you don’t need the larger interior space of the other SUVs on our list it is the perfect machine to deliver the goods regardless of what the weather may be up to. It’s also just about the most fun you can have in a fast Audi this side of an R8...
It has held out for longer than most, but the relentless niche filling that has afflicted other major manufacturers has finally taken hold of Bentley as well. Traditionalists may groan at the thought of a Bentley SUV but they may take solace in the fact that at 187mph it is the fastest as well as the most luxurious Sports Utility Vehicle ever made. The combination of Bentley style and effortless performance from the 600bhp W12 engine has unsurprisingly found many admirers, and for the moment it is the priciest and most luxurious SUV you can buy.

Jaguar F-Pace
Another recent entry into the SUV segment, the F-Pace hopes to build on Jaguar's current good form and take the fight to the class leaders. The top model currently available comes equipped with a 380bhp supercharged 3.0-litre V6, however it surely won’t be long before the company's 5.0-litre V8 finds its way into future versions. Even as it stands, the F-Pace is a quick and dynamically adept vehicle with a 5.1 second 0-62mph time and handling that easily matches its competitors. The fresh new styling adds to its desirability. 
The Scandinavian take on the performance SUV is somewhat more restrained than its German counterparts. Eschewing a massive V8 power plant for the more eco-conscious combination of turbo four potter and electric motor, the XC90 T8 Hybrid produce an impressive combined 395 bhp and much lower emissions than the competition. The ‘always on’ nature of the electric motor provides snappy acceleration with 62mph reached in just over 5.0 seconds, and as always the Volvo is filled with class leading active and passive safety systems. 

> Read our review of this interesting hybrid here
Tesla Model X

Tesla Model X
Tesla has created waves in the sports sedan segment for years with its Model S range of all electric sedans that are capable of leaving Ferrari owners weeping into their neckerchiefs away from the lights. The company now turns its attentions to the SUV sector with its futuristic looking Model X SUV. The Falcon wing doors may look cool but it is the 503bhp P90D models 0-62 time of 3.5 seconds that will turn the most heads. The Model X may well be the harbinger of a new era of powerful all-electric SUVs that combine face deforming acceleration with some environmental friendliness too. 
Honourable mention
Well before it was the done thing, Lamborghini, the most unlikely of manufacturers built a limited run of its own luxurious V12 powered off roaders. Manufactured between 1986 and 1993, 328 of these massively expensive, massively powerful and well just massive vehicles were produced. It was the first true performance SUV and while its Countach sourced 444bhp V12 makes all the right noises, the massive 2.7ton weight does blunt its acceleration off the line. Nevertheless the LM002 is an unhinged modern classic in true Italian tradition.

> Take a look at our history of luxury SUVs, which traces the evolution of this hugely popular segment

Words: John Tallodi

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