crankandpiston.com pits the Range Rover Sport against a Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG and a Porsche Cayenne Turbo to find out which of our three sporty SUVs gets to walk into the sunset.[Not a valid template]
In 1966, Italian director Sergio Leone assembled an all-star cast for his now legendary Italian Western set during the American Civil War. Clint Eastwood – the eponymous Good referred to only as Blondie – denotes a subdued reverence and practicality that continues to draw fans to this day. Lee Van Cleef – the Bad – emphasised, thanks to an outlandish and abrasive style, an aggressive power that fascinated many. And Eli Wallach – the Ugly – was the comical oaf, difficult to take seriously at first but an entity that would become more significant and popular as time wore on. At loggerheads throughout, the protagonists would settle their differences in a climactic three-way standoff. Today, in our very own ghost town high in the mountains, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly prepare for a whole new kind of showdown.
Heading our sporty SUV group is the brand new Range Rover Sport, our eponymous Good, which is flanked by the Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG (the Bad), and… a shameless joke at Porsche’s expense, the Cayenne Turbo (the Ugly). All boast similar power, all are similarly priced, and all have proven a smash in their respective showrooms. But which of our trio will emerge victorious from our standoff? Which of the three will find the unmarked grave and find the $200,000 of stolen Confederate gold in Sad Hill Cemetery? Which of our three is the best?
Despite the early morning hours, temperatures in Dubai have already hit the low 40s as our convoy rolls out of Dodge towards the mountain range almost 150km away. For the opening leg, I am joined by crankandpiston photographer Arun in the Cayenne Turbo. True, had my forethought been better, I would have started in the Good (the Range Rover) and left the Porsche until last for chronology sakes. Unlike our other two sports SUVs here today though, this particular Cayenne is the personal car of Porsche Middle East and Africa’s CEO. Scrapes, scuffs and dings will therefore go down like the proverbial lead balloon, which means we have to be even more careful than normal on today’s shoot. Understandably, the other members of our team – crankandpiston Journals contributor Steve Smuts in the Merc, and crankandpiston digital team John and Cedrick flanking us in the Range Rover – are loathe to climb aboard the Porsche just yet.
Our trio skips most of the commuter traffic heading out of the city towards our neighbouring emirate to the north, and given that this is the Middle East, the sight of SUVs and 4x4s is a frequent one. Where our convoy differs however is the balance between off-road capabilities and dynamic handling on winding mountain asphalt: a stiffened chassis, reconfigured suspension and lowered ride height is all well and good, but too low or tight and the essential DNA of an SUV – namely comfort and practicality – could be irreparably damaged.
On the almost endlessly straight and monotonous highway network though, Porsche seems to have found a good balance thanks to comfortable leather seats and enough bounce in the suspension to massage bumps and kinks out of the ride: it even gives Arun the freedom to get some practice motion shots done on the highway. My focus though is the driving position, and again, with plenty of head and legroom and a cocooned driving position (thanks in part to the simply enormous transmission tunnel between the front seats), it’s a good balance between dynamic and practical. Regrettably it’s not all sunshine, roses and chewed cigar ends. The button-fest centre console is quite complicated to navigate around, the turnkey start switch by my left knee looks like it’s trying too hard to be retro, and the grab handles on the centre console do sometimes make life difficult: somewhere to leave my phone and wallet whilst driving as opposed to something I constantly keep cracking my knee on would be preferable.
We manage to avoid angry Confederate brigades on our way to the first stopping point for fuel: cue an impromptu test of the rear doors amidst confused looks from fellow motorists at the petrol station. Turns out that whilst the boot can be opened and closed from the keyfob on both the Range Rover and the Mercedes, it cannot on the Porsche.
That’s just the start of our cut-throat bounty hunting showdown. And standing as we are in the shadows of the Ras Al Khaimah mountain range, it’s also an ideal time to give our trio the once over.
It’s not the strongest of starts for the Porsche (the Ugly), the elongated headlights and air-intakey front bumper a remarkable improvement on the Cayenne Mk 1 but it’s a look that’s difficult to love. The 911-esque styling is still a little too forced, and as we found during the shoot, there’s little else to draw the eye thanks to a slightly too-subtle rear and smooth bodylines. The Range Rover meanwhile, though hardly shouty itself, boasts a much more elegant design, complete with rippled bonnet lines, aggressively carved headlights and vented flanks. You might call it ‘aggression light’, and while it may not blow your shoulder holster off, it’s still an effective look.
Sliding across to the Mercedes though – the Bad – and it’s an entirely different matter. There’s another level of brash outlandishness for our antagonist, courtesy of chromed detailing, a proportionally enormous front grille, and AMG emblems on every conceivable panel: the alloy wheels; the exhaust tips; the bootlid; the headrests; the floor mats; the doorsills. Each emphasises the raw power under the bonnet, each a notch on the Mercedes’ Colt 45. By far, the ML63 is the most aggressive and thus most distinctive of the three, peaking my curiosity enough for me to swap seats for the next leg through the mountain passes.
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