Performance cars, by their very definition, are small, lightweight and agile and they usually have a significant helping of horsepower. SUVs, on the other hand, tend to be large, heavy, and sturdy and they generally prioritize low-end torque over hp. There seems to be absolutely no overlap between the concept of a performance car and an SUV, and yet the market clearly shows that there are buyers out there willing to part with their hard-earned cash to get behind the wheel of a seemingly oxymoronic performance SUV. One of the more recent manufacturers to give a crossover their performance treatment is Ford with the new Edge; in review of the Ford Edge, even the base engines are powerful and fuel-efficient, with the ST variant offering even more impressive acceleration. And, like Ford, other carmakers, particularly premium brands such as BMW and Mercedes-Benz, have been slapping their respective performance badges on utility models for much longer.
The first thing that springs to mind when two seemingly contradictory design philosophies converge in one vehicle, is compromise. Surely, with such different natural emphases, there will be a host of compromises made on each in the finished product? In short, yes. There is often a noticeable amount of give and take between both sides of the performance SUV coin. The first aspect to go is often off-road ability – while the automobiles in this category may retain the mechanical ability to venture off the beaten track, not to mention the cargo space suitable for a weekend camping trip, unfortunately, they tend to be much lower-slung than their true off-road counterparts and this drastically hampers their ability to go rock climbing or even to get much more adventurous than a well-graded dirt track.
On the flip side of that, where the SUV side of these split-personality vehicles loses their 4×4 prowess, the sportscar personality loses its featherlight, agile traits. On track or on a tight, twisty piece of tarmac, performance-oriented sport utilities feel bulky – well they don’t just feel like it, they are, thanks not only to their significant size but also to their 4×4 underpinnings – but they feel unwieldy and, if you enter a tight corner with too much speed, they can even feel downright messy.
All that said, there is one major area in which both personalities of these schizophrenic creations benefit from the best of both worlds: power! In order to ensure these cumbersome beasts have the performance credentials befitting their M, AMG, or ST badges, or any other automaker’s performance badge, they need a whole whack of power. The AMG derivative of Merc’s GLS63 (its biggest SUV), for example, has a 4.0-liter bi-turbo V8 engine under the hood with 603hp on offer, which is enough to take it from 0-60 in just 4.1 seconds. The BMW X7 M50i is powered by a 523-hp TwinPower turbo 4.4-liter V8 and will hit the 60 mph mark in 4.5 seconds. Even the Ford Edge ST, which sits at the much more affordable end of the market than the two aforementioned premium automobiles, dispatches the benchmark sprint in under six seconds, thanks to its 335-hp twin-turbo V6.
Fuel economy does take a knock, what with the sizable motors that power these hefty cars (although the AMG SUV is a mild hybrid, which will give some slight relief in terms of miles per gallon consumed).
All about the money
Another advantage of owning a performance SUV? Easy – they look so cool! Are they compromised? Undeniably so. Expensive? Absolutely. A bit silly? Very likely. But do they have the cool factor going for them? Oh yes, they have it in spades. That may well be owed in part to the simple fact that they are silly and expensive – there’s something about being able to spend an arm and a leg on a vehicle that doesn’t seem to make any sense that says you just don’t care; you did it because you could and if the wannabes are jealous then let them be. And that attitude, no matter which way you swing it, carries with it a certain amount of swag.
So ultimately, performance SUVs may combine ‘performance’ and ‘SUV’ to somehow become neither true performance vehicles nor true sport utility vehicles – what they do become, though, is status symbols. One simply needs to check out the driveways in affluent areas to see this fact ring true. After all, be it right or wrong, in today’s society, prestige matters when you reach a certain level of economic success, and few automobiles carry a greater sense of distinction and say you’ve made it more than a performance SUV.
But hey, why not?
The thing about performance SUVs is that, while they are undoubtedly compromised in their nature, and while they are certainly largely about your financial prominence, one cannot ignore the fact that they simply are great fun to drive. Sure, they’re neither true sportscars nor true off-roaders, but they’re different beasts altogether and they’re a hoot from behind the wheel. Should you choose one over a sports car or an off-roader? Well, that’s impossible to say as it’s really up to you – but if you have the cash to burn on one, embrace the spirit of these contradictory beasts that put the sport in sport-utility and ask yourself for the heck of it: “But hey, why not?”