With their bulging waistlines, portly kerb weights and high-rise build, SUVs were never meant to go fast (despite what the "sport" in their name might suggest).
But these days everyone wants to have their cake and eat it, and over time these soccer mom-fueled Goliaths have been tweaked, tuned and tinkered with to the point at which they can genuinely take on some of the fastest cars on the road.
There was a time when, if you ever wanted to see what six bags of groceries, a school science project and two screaming children looked like at 185mph, you’d have had to fire them all out of a cannon. Now, thanks to the efforts of a few ridiculously unnecessary manufacturers, you can achieve that with the car in your garage.
Read on for a roundup of 10 of the most gratuitous super SUVs on the market.
Even the group of Lamborghini salesmen and top brass who unveiled the Lamborghini LM002 at the 1986 Brussels Auto Show didn't really know what they had on their hands. This was a canned project to create an off-road military vehicle, mutated into a Countach V12-powered luxury SUV. Truly, the world had never seen anything like this before.
But while it was a leap into the motoring abyss, it had not gone unnoticed by celebs like Sylvester Stallone and Tina Turner, a bevy of Saudi princes and King Hassan of Jordan. In other words, the very same types of people who now drive V12 G-Wagens and Bentley Bentaygas, some 30 years later.
Lamborghini had almost accidentally created the super SUV. It could have been even madder – the LM001 prototype had its motor in the back! (Albeit a Chrysler V8). For complete madness, the final production version (in service from 1986–1993) could be specced with a 7.2 liter marine V12, which is also found in Class 1 offshore powerboats. Dubbed the “Rambo Lambo,” the LM002 more than lived up to its name.
The Bentley Bentayga is fast in so many ways. Its 187mph top speed eclipses all other production SUVs; its acceleration of 4.0 seconds to 60mph is supercar territory; but fastest of all is how quickly this gargantuan SUV will turn other road users against you.
Its ostentation knows no bounds, and makes the average Range Rover Sport driver look like they are a paid-up member of Greenpeace. But bling is the name of the game in places where this car will sell well. And, quite frankly, if you have a spare $200,000 burning a hole in your Balmain jeans, then this could be one of the most capable cars on the planet.
That familiar W12 sits under the hood, hooked up to twin-scroll turbos and a ZF 8-speed automatic gearbox; everything is channelled through a chassis with eight settings including Sport and, err, “Sand Dunes.” You know where all this is going – that's right, everywhere. And very, very fast.
Brabus G800 Widestar
Having first appeared in 1979, the Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen should have really disappeared a long time ago. Even Mercedes is rumoured to have attempted to get rid of it numerous times, but people just keep buying them.
It really is a curious thing, the G-Class: originally designed to traipse around farms, it has gone on to be fitted with the same high performance AMG-built V8s and V12s that punt SLs and Maybachs down the autobahn. The madness peaks at the Brabus G800 — an 800hp breezeblock that will hit 62mph in 4.2seconds and a top speed of 167mph. Try pitching over 5,000lbs of steel into an Autobahn right hander at that speed and you will know what true fear feels like.
Porsche Cayenne Turbo S (2016)
While some SUVs may benefit from some fettling, there is little you can do to improve a Porsche Cayenne Turbo S.
Let's put it into context. The Range Rover Sport SVR had previously been the quickest SUV around the Nurburgring, with a time of eight minutes and 14 seconds. But Porsche likes the Nordschleife lap times to look like a party only it is invited to, so the new Turbo S set a time of 7:59.74. That puts this 570hp, two-and-a quarter tonne luxury SUV almost side-by-side with the track-biased 996 GT3.
Never before has so much effort been put into a car to change it from its on-paper purpose. At its heart is a 4.8-liter twin-turbo V8 engine, driving through an eight-speed auto, and everything is stopped by gargantuan ceramic brakes. All this will cost you $158k.
Proof that super SUVs need not be supersized is the Nissan Juke. The Japanese company shocked the world in 2011 when it proved the Juke ain't no joke, with an R version designated for ultra-limited production. The popular-yet-gawky inner city off roader had been crammed full of the go-bits from a Nissan GT-R — you know, the one that laps the Nurburgring quicker than a Ferrari Enzo.
So, that means a 485hp V6 under the bonnet and a 250mm-shortened drivetrain of a GT-R beneath the skin. The sprint to 60mph took just 3.7seconds. Rumour had it that it was an unofficial in-house project that went under the radar of the Nissan top brass. But, as a PR stunt, it worked just well enough to the point where Nissan agreed to build it in limited numbers of just 23.
In the end, and with a price tag of roughly $500,000, it is thought just three were made. The good news is there is a Juke-R 2.0 upgraded to 600hp, so if you want one, just ask Nissan nicely...
Range Rover Sport SVR
No SUV run-down would be complete without one Range Rover. One of the most name-checked brands in the history of hip hop, the Range Rover ferries everyone from Chris Brown to the Queen.
What makes it so special is not its ability to scare bikers on the ‘Ring, or how it accelerates to 60mph in 4.5seconds and reaches 162mph. It’s the fact this Range will still tackle muddy terrain better than Arnie in Predator, and look damn good doing it, that makes it so great.
The engine is lifted from the Jaguar F-type V8 R. And, with optional 22-inch wheels wrapped in Continental ultra-high performance rubber and hiding blue Brembo brakes, this is a seriously classy machine.
Hennessey HPE800 Twin Turbo
It is one thing beating a Ferrari off the lights, but this moment takes on a new level of magic when you do it with the kids still strapped in from soccer practice and Labrador’s face glued to the inside of the tailgate.
That seems to be the point of the HPE800. A one-time Chevrolet Grand Cherokee SRT (no slouch in standard form) has been chopped and screwed within an inch of its life to create a 7-liter, 805hp Frankenstein's monster. You'll arrive at 60mph in 3.1seconds and 823 torques should be enough to alter the axis of the earth slightly while you do it. It also gets 20in wheels, lowered suspension, a carbon fibre lip spoiler, and a Brembo brake system that will no doubt work harder than a college slacker the night before thesis day.
Tesla Model X
To some, an electric SUV is like a mild-mannered Donald Trump – it just doesn’t work. But then you show those people the Tesla Model X, and they usually shut up.
The all-American SUV, with its production delays and Marty McFly gull-wing doors, is like no other car. With four-wheel drive, seven seats and a 5,000 pound towing capacity, it does what most SUVs do and more, but here’s the thing: it is also claimed to be the fastest SUV on the planet.
How fast? With acceleration to 60mph happening in as little as 3.2 seconds, it should be able to (on paper at least) leave a Huracán LP 580-2 at a Malibu traffic light. All this from 90 kWh battery providing 250 miles of range. There are even regular over-the-air downloadable updates adding safety and navigation features to the dashboard, enhancing performance and improving the driver experience. But, for the SUV purists out there, this just isn’t what it’s all about. Guess it’s up to you to decide.
BMW X5 M (2016)
There was a time when, if you had a BMW with two letter ‘Ms’ in its model designation, you could pat yourself on the back. But when an X5 arrived in 2009 with an M screwed to its trunk, it seemed like a step too far.
However, with 550hp from a 4.4-liter twin turbocharged V8 combined with BMW’s legendary chassis engineers, it had to be worth a look. It would also hit 171mph with the M Driver’s Package, which was nothing to be sniffed at seven years ago.
The reality, though, (even with 50:50 weight distribution) didn’t quite hit the spot — especially if you’d ever had the fortune of a few minutes behind the wheel of an E30 M3. With the latest model stuffed with 575hp and hitting 60mph just shy of 4.0seconds, there’s no denying this is a gravity defying piece of kit. You just can’t help wondering if Range Rover did the same job with less fuss.
Mercedes ML 63 AMG (2016)
Mercedes-Benz’s flagship ML has a 525hp twin turbo V8, and will hit 60mph in yadda, yadda, yadda…
It’s testament to the current crop of mad SUVs that a car like this can start to sound so run of the mill. So what makes the AMG so special? Well, in many ways, it’s the fact that it isn’t. While many of these super SUVs make a big song and dance out of defying their SUV characteristics with supercar-level performance, the AMG does what it was designed to: waft about and be easy to drive — albeit at faintly ridiculous speeds that you barely notice in the cabin.
Commanding in both driving position and quality, and with an exhaust waffle just to remind you of the AMG heritage, this could be the best or worst super SUV of the lot, depending on which way you look at it.