Whether you think the performance SUV is a contradiction in terms, a complete oddity, or the best of all worlds, there’s no doubt that it can start a discussion. On paper, these high-riding, highly tuned cars shouldn’t work for skilled drivers, but they’re flying out of showrooms faster than most can reach 62 mph.
In many ways, it’s not hard to see why they’re popular. Their speed and usefulness make it easy for them to fit into most people’s lives. Also, despite having a heavy curb weight and a high center of gravity, many of them drive with more poise, accuracy, and style than you’d think, which lets them be driven hard on roads with turns and curves.
Then there are the standard perks of a high-end SUV, like a luxurious cabin, a commanding view, and all-wheel drive for safety in any weather. And if it’s your bag, there’s street cred for all that trendy off-roading. On paper, these cars have everything you could want.
Our top 10 SUVs here are the SUVs with the best performance, with a mid-sized feel and a price cap of around £100,000 (though some of our contenders are a bit more expensive than this limit). Here is a list of Super SUVs, which are more unique and expensive fast 4x4s like the Lamborghini Urus.
1. Porsche Macan GTS
The Macan is the only SUV that will earn the reluctant respect of a true sports car fan. Even though it’s getting close to its tenth birthday and is mostly based on the original Audi Q5, which came out in 2008, Porsche’s entry-level off-roader continues to set the bar in this closely fought class, with a mix of speed, space, and dynamic grace that makes even the biggest skeptics nod in approval.
With a new, all-electric version on the way, Porsche has given the current Macan lineup an update and cut down on the number of models. The top-of-the-line Turbo has been discontinued, but the GTS essentially takes its place. It has the same 434bhp turbocharged 2.9-liter V6 as the Turbo, so there’s no loss in performance (you can go from 0 to 62 mph in just 4.5 seconds, and the top speed is just under 170 mph).
Importantly, its slightly lowered and improved suspension gives you a driving experience that makes you feel like you’re in a smaller, hot hatch-shaped car. Its physics-defying tricks are hard to believe. The steering has the same weight and feel as the brand’s low-slung road-burners, and the dampers, which cost a lot to tune, are made of cast iron but are soft to drive.
Yet, the Macan is as comfortable and easy to drive as an executive saloon when you just want to cruise. It comes with standard air suspension and a cozy, well-appointed cabin. It’s not quite as big as some of the newer cars here, but it’s still big enough that no one will complain. If you can only drive one SUV, this should be it.
2. Jaguar F-Pace SVR
When Jaguar started making SUVs, it seemed likely that it would also make a racing SUV at some point. And when it did, it showed many of its faster-moving German competitors where they were going wrong by releasing a fast 4×4 with a sporty sense of occasion and a lot of speed, but it was also more laid-back than many other fast cars.
The F-Pace SVR is a sports car for people who want a car they can drive to work, to take their kids to school, and to run errands on the weekend. It is not so stiffly suspended that it feels like a huge rolling contradiction. Its growling 5.0-liter supercharged V8 gives it all the speed and drama a car this size could ever need, and its purposeful handling is exciting. Its practical cabin and trunk, as well as its practical chassis tuning, also make it well-suited to the real world.
The great F-Pace SVR moved up to first place after a makeover in 2021. Its body now moves through the air a little bit better. With the new torque-converter automatic gearbox from the Project 8, the V8’s full 516lb-ft of power can now be used in all gears. Changes to the suspension have made the model smoother and easier to use without taking away from its speed. The inside and the entertainment system have also been changed. Don’t get me wrong, this is a very cool piece of gear.
3. Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio
The first racing SUV from Alfa Romeo doesn’t need much of an introduction. It’s the car whose frame was approved by the person who made the famous Ferrari 458 Speciale handle well. It also has a turbo V6 engine that is based on a V8 from Maranello. It comes from a company that makes some of Europe’s best sports saloons and coupes and is back on its game after a while.
Over the past few years, these things have come together in a beautiful way. Simply put, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio is one of the quickest and most fun performance SUVs on the market right now. It has great vertical body control and a quick steering response that belies its size and shape.
Even though a mid-life update in 2020 helped improve the cabin’s perceived quality, this is still not the most comfortable fast SUV you can buy for a pretty large amount of money. As before, it’s one of the least flexible cars in its class when it comes to ride quality and day-to-day use.
Still, if driving thrills are the most important thing to you, this is probably the sports SUV for you.
4. Range Rover Sport P530
The all-new Range Rover Sport isn’t the most specialized car in this line-up, but it has the best mix of skills. Yes, the Rangie has enough speed and handling to keep a good driver interested, but its real strength is that it combines these qualities with amazing luxury, comfort, and polish. Oh, and the ability to get to places that other SUVs can’t get to when things get hard.
For now, there is no crowd-pleasing SVR version, so the P530 is at the top of the performance tree. It has a slightly tweaked version of the older car’s supercharged 5.0-liter V8 engine. Here, it makes 523bhp and can go from 0 to 62 mph in 4.5 seconds, which isn’t bad for a car that weighs just under 2500kg.
When it comes to mass, the Sport has a lot of clever handling tricks to help make up for its heavy kerbweight. The big Brit handles surprisingly well thanks to its dual chamber air springs, 48V active anti-roll bars, limited slip rear differential, and four-wheel steering.
But if you loosen the suspension, the Range Rover moves almost silently and with a feeling of luxury that matches its beautifully made and well-finished interior. The Sport can also climb over the hardest terrain with the ease and speed of a Himalayan sherpa. This is its “party trick.”
5. Porsche Cayenne Turbo
This is the fastest SUV you can get in the real world. Because it has great vision and a very good chassis, a Cayenne Turbo can get from one place to another faster than most cars, no matter what the weather is like.
But in its third-generation form, the Cayenne has lost some of the sharpness and rear-wheel-drive stability that made the models before it such great performance SUVs. Don’t get me wrong, the energy with which this 2.3-ton SUV changes direction is still pretty amazing, but the Cayenne Turbo’s previously fiery personality seems to have been turned down a notch to make it a more liveable, widely appealing fast SUV than it was before.
6. Audi SQ7
The SQ7 first became well-known because it did things a little differently than most of its competitors when it came to being a fast, effective, and very useful SUV. The 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged diesel V8 engine was a big part of this. This engine gave the SQ7 fast acceleration and decent gas mileage, at least compared to the other cars on this list.
But in 2020, Audi got rid of that oil-burning engine and put in a 4.0-liter twin-turbo gasoline V8 that is found in cars like Bentleys and Porsches as well as Audi’s own RS models. Here, it makes 500 horsepower and 568 pound-feet of torque, all of which is used to amazing effect.
This is a very nice car. It’s fast, smooth, and very comfy, and it can fit seven people inside. It also drives well for a car of its size, though it can’t quite compete with Porsche, Alfa Romeo, or Jaguar in terms of driving engagement. Even though the new gasoline V8 is a great engine in its own right, it’s not as interesting as the old diesel.
7. Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S 4Matic+ Coupe
The GLC 63 Coupe’s biggest rival is its five-door sister because it has the same powerful V8 engine and drives just as well as the GLC 63 Coupe.
But if you love the coupe’s swoopy, polarizing design, it will be almost impossible to find a better car. It has the kind of luxurious interior you’d expect from Mercedes-AMG, and it gets to 62 mph half a second faster than the Porsche Macan Turbo, though it can’t match that car’s handling.
Its hard, noisy ride will make it less appealing to drivers who don’t like to drive a lot. But the fact that the GLC 63 Coupe has a gas V8 engine while some of its competitors have switched to six-cylinder engines will be enough to draw some people to it.
8. BMW X3 M Competition and X4 M Competition
BMW is a relatively new addition to the list of companies that make hot SUVs in the smaller size range. Even though the X5 M and X6 M have been around for a while, this is the first time those cars have had smaller versions.
They are also strangely serious and put-together. The X3 M and X4 M have fixed-height steel coil suspension instead of air suspension, and they try to be more like higher-rising versions of the M3 and M4 than luxury SUVs with a performance flavor. They are firm-riding, quick-revving six-cylinder options that seem desperate to regain their sporting credibility, which many people would say is a lost cause.
Both cars have the same axles, chassis tuning, and four-wheel drive system, which is based on the M5. This makes for amazing levels of grip and good balance when turning. Still, they aren’t the easiest cars to drive at the limit, nor do they have the most options for handling.
9. Maserati Grecale Trofeo
Maserati seems to be getting back on its feet, and the once-proud Italian brand is starting to get some of its swagger back. The most obvious sign of this newfound confidence is the amazing MC20 supercar, but there is also a brand-new GranTurismo, which is even offered in an all-electric version. But the Grecale, a mid-size SUV that aims to compete with the Porsche Macan, might be the most important new addition, at least in terms of sales.
In its top Trofeo form, it has all the right parts to go up against the very popular Zuffenhausen SUV. It has a tweaked version of the MC20’s Nettuno twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 engine. This engine gives the car a useful 523bhp and is said to go from 0 to 62 mph in just 3.8 seconds. It’s not the most musical engine (though in Sport or Corsa modes, the exhaust crackles more), but it’s fast and easy to drive.
The suspension has also been improved to keep up, and while it’s not as sharp, controlled, or fun to drive as a Macan, the Grecale can still be driven with a lot of spirit. Its rear-biased four-wheel drive system even lets you change the throttle out of slower turns.
The interior is a real standout because it has more room than most and looks and feels very luxurious. And when the dampers are set to the softest level, the Maserati has a smooth, polished ride that makes it easy to fit into your life.
10. Land Rover Defender 90 V8
The V8-powered Defender is just over our budget, but it has so much personality that we had to put it on this list. The supercharged 5.0-liter engine can be found in other JLR products. It’s not the most sophisticated thing out there, but it does its job well, giving the car a lot of personality with its throbbing backbeat and supercharger whine.
Even though it wasn’t made by the Special Vehicle Operations section, the Defender has a lot in common with the cars they make: It has 22-inch wheels, more than 500 horsepower, and a delicious-sounding exhaust. The mechanical team also wanted to make sure that driving this car was fun and that the big old engine didn’t take over. People who worked on the V8 say they wanted it to feel a little bit like a rally car, especially when it’s not on a track, where the car feels surprisingly well-balanced and easy to steer.
On the road, it’s smooth, polished, and scary fast, and even though it doesn’t handle like an F-Type SVR or Cayenne Turbo (how could it? ), it moves in a way that feels good. All in all, it’s not the least bit practical, but it’s a very cute car.