Need an SUV that can do more than just tow a trailer, ford a stream, or transport between five and seven people in the utmost comfort? High performance SUVs are out there for individuals who want to balance out the practical aspects of their daily driver with a significant wild streak of horsepower and handling. These hot rod sport-utility vehicles are often criticized by purists as making little sense given their tall centers of gravity and immense curb weights, but it only takes a few minutes behind the wheel of a high performance SUV to understand how much sway modern engineering has over the laws of physics.
Let's take a quick look at 9 high performance SUVs.
There are many potent versions of the 2014 Porsche Cayenne, but it's the Turbo S trim that represents the full extent of the German brand's high performance SUV tomfoolery. Available starting this year, the 2014 Porsche Cayenne Turbo S manages a staggering 550 horsepower and 553 lb-ft of torque from its turbocharged 4.8-liter V-8 engine. All of this output is managed via an eight-speed automatic transmission, which sends power to each of the vehicle's four wheels via a full-time all-wheel drive system. It only takes 4.3 seconds for the Cayenne Turbo S to hit 60-mph from a standing start, which is very impressive for such a heavy vehicle. The SUV's on-track performance is also respectable, as its suspension does a good job of keep the truck pointed in the right direction with a minimum of drama.
The 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT has also seen some upgrades for the current model year, most notably in the drivetrain department where it ditches its older five-speed automatic transmission for a much smoother eight-speed autobox. The vehicle additionally offers launch control, which complements the four-wheel drive Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT's Sport and Track modes intended to make the most of its V-8 engine. With 470 horsepower and 465 lb-ft of torque on tap from this 6.4-liter unit, there's no doubt that the SRT is veritable land missile, clicking off a 0-60 time of just under five seconds. In fact, thanks to the Performance Pages apps available with the SUV it's possible to record and share your high speed exploits with other owners via the Internet.
The 2013 Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG represents the evolution of one of the first high performance SUVs to be unleashed on the North American market. The Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG comes with a veritable cornucopia of go-fast features, including a sport suspension system, a feature that can actively cancel out body roll, and a 5.5-liter, eight-cylinder engine that makes use of twin turbochargers to churn out a healthy 518 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque. All-wheel drive helps to keep wheel spin to a minimum in the ML63 AMG, while a seven-speed automatic transmission allows the SUV to reach 60-mph from a standing start in 4.7 seconds. Need even more grunt? Slapping on the vehicle's optional Performance Package boosts engine output to 550 horsepower and 560 lb-ft of twist.
The all-new 2014 Land Rover Range Rover Sport Supercharged is much lighter than ever before, as the brand elected to extensively employ aluminum throughout its construction (including a chassis that is entirely fabricated from the low-mass metal). The end result is a more spry handler that feels more at home in high performance situations. The Land Rover Range Rover Sport Supercharged isn't just better in the corners, but with roughly 700 lbs less weight to lug around its 5.0-liter supercharged V-8 engine has an easier time accelerating the vehicle to 60-mph (a feat it achieves in just five seconds). 510 horsepower and 461 lb-ft of torque are commanding figures, indeed, for the Land Rover, and an eight-speed automatic transmission and four-wheel drive are standard with the model.
The 2013 Ford Explorer Sport might not boast the lofty power ratings of some of the other high performance SUVs on our list, but then again, it doesn't feature the same kind of high end price tag, either. The Ford Explorer Sport is an affordable, all-wheel drive SUV that provides 365 horsepower and 360 lb-ft of torque from its twin-turbo, 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 engine. Matched with a six-speed automatic transmission, the Explorer Sport can reach 60-mph in a quick 5.9 seconds. It also offers a much more aggressive look than the standard version of the Explorer, as well as sport seats up front to keep driver and passenger planted during high speed shenanigans.
The 2013 BMW X6 M is the sole remaining member of the brand's SUV M stable, and while its 'coupe-like' styling is largely a take-it-or-leave-it affair, there is no denying the brute force and surprising levels of performance offered by this automobile. It all starts under the hood, where the BMW X6 M conceals a 555 horsepower, twin-turbo 4.4-liter V-8 engine. Also capable of generating 500 lb-ft of torque, this motor is yoked to a six-speed automatic transmission and uses an all-wheel drive system to ensure that traction is maximized at full throttle. 60-mph arrives in a scant 4.3 seconds when the accelerator is floored, and the vehicle also comes with an adaptive suspension system as well as anti-sway bars that can react to current driving conditions for the utmost in stability.
It might look a bit like the military vehicle that time forgot, but everything else about the 2013 Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG screams performance - especially if you happen to be standing beside the side pipes protruding from underneath the driver's side of its chassis. The Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG receives the same hot rod treatment as the ML63, which means a twin-turbo, 5.5-liter V-8 engine as its only available power plant. Output is a little bit different for the G63 AMG, showing as 536 horses and 561 lb-ft of twist - enough grunt to punt the right-angled SUV to 60-mph in 5.3 seconds - and a seven-speed automatic transmission is standard. The mightiest G-Class retains its four-wheel drive system but loses a bit of ride height, which means its not quite up to the hardcore off-road standards of its less robust lineup-mates.
The 2014 Infiniti QX70 doesn't represent a special edition of an milder model. Rather, the Infiniti QX70 was designed to be a high performance SUV right out of the box, especially when taking into consideration that it shares a portion of its chassis with the Infiniti Q50 sports sedan. The QX70's lithe handling is a bit part of its appeal, but ordering it with its available 5.0-liter V-8 engine uncorks excellent straight-line speed as well. With 390 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque to play with, the QX70 scoots to 60-mph in 5.5 seconds, and its seven-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive give it a smooth, sure-footed ride.
The 2013 Mercedes-Benz GL63 AMG is the last of the trio of high performance SUVs tweaked by in-house tuner AMG to make our list. It may also be the biggest, although only by a few inches. The Mercedes-Benz GL63 offers seven passenger seating to go with its redesigned platform and 550 horsepower, 5.5-liter V-8 engine. This twin-turbo mill also produces 560 lb-ft of torque, and comes with all-wheel drive and a seven-speed automatic transmission. Accelerating to 60-mph takes 4.8 seconds with the hammer down in the Mercedes-Benz, and an air suspension system, quicker steering, and an set of active swaybars contribute to the GL63 AMG's above-average handling capabilities.