With the ‘most powerful Land Rover ever’ about to drop at Pebble Beach Concours, Bassam considers the phenomenon that is the Sport Utility Vehicle.[Not a valid template]
I find it quite amusing that while the world has gone SUV crazy, those that position themselves as hardcore car enthusiasts seem to have universally adopted a negative stance towards the Sports Utility Vehicle. I liken it to the music snob that goes out of their way to express just how terrible the tracks on the Top 40 countdown are, all the while insinuating that their taste in tunes is vastly more sophisticated than everyone else’s because they are such huge fans of that obscure Indie rock band no one has heard of.
Twenty years ago SUVs were known simply as 4x4s and their purpose was mainly to navigate terrain that a normal car couldn’t. I’m talking about the likes of the Toyota Land Cruiser, Nissan Patrol and Land Rover Discovery, that could traverse continents but weren’t particularly good to drive on the road as they were incredibly heavy, pretty slow and threatened to flip onto their roof every time you turned the steering wheel. The 4×4 only started to morph into the SUV (as we know it today) when the Mercedes GL and BMW X5 arrived on the scene with a vastly more car-like demeanour than their more agricultural high-roofed cousins.
The game was changed once again when the Porsche Cayenne arrived on the scene. Despite being amongst the ugliest car designs ever sketched, the first generation SUV from Stuttgart was not only a runaway success, but it also spawned the performance SUV genre. Fast forward to today and the new (and vastly better looking) Cayenne Turbo goes up against the brutal Mercedes ML63 AMG and the fantastic all-new Range Rover Sport, which says a lot for how far the homely SUV has come. All three of the above rock over 500bhp and possess handling that would shame most sports saloons from 10 years ago, not to mention many of those on the market today.
While it may be fashionable to mock SUVs for being too big and too brash, that would be a blinkered view. The current Range Rover Vogue is such a good luxury car that it rivals the best from Bentley (another brand about to join the party with the EXP 9 F) and Rolls Royce. Meanwhile the Cayenne and little brother Macan are genuinely good steers, while the badass Merc ML63 is definitely a true AMG (think hotrod on stilts). I haven’t even mentioned the added practicality, visibility, space, and comfort that comes as standard in today’s SUV. Nobody is claiming that these behemoths will ever replace a stripped-out sports car when it comes to the thrill of driving, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t belong on our roads either.
While the Rolling Stones will always be my favourite band, I don’t always change the channel when One Direction comes on the radio. Sometimes I might even sing along.