SUVs never used to be associated with sportscar levels of speed, but these days, there’s some pretty formidable options out there. Here’s our top 10 performance SUVs.
SUVs, or Sports Utility Vehicles, have long provoked the ire of car enthusiasts. They’re big and heavy by design which gives them a dynamic handicap, and they tend to be some of the worst polluters on the road. In many respects then, SUVs could be seen as hugely inefficient. And yet, they’re stupendously popular.
Part of the SUV’s appeal is its inherent ability to multitask. They’ll rarely be the most optimal sort of car for a given scenario, but nowadays most do a pretty good job of catering to various needs all at once. Hypothetically, a vehicle of this ilk should allow you to do the school run, go on adventurous off-road excursions, and have fun on a twisty back lane thanks to car-like handling traits – all in one package.
Each of those tasks could probably be achieved to a better standard by something else, but with an SUV, you only need one car instead of three.
That’s the idea anyway. In reality, different SUVs tend to be tailored more towards each of the three disciplines. A Vauxhall Grandland, for instance, is a cost-effective way of hauling plenty of people and luggage around, but you wouldn’t want to take one on the Stelvio Pass. Similarly, a Porsche Macan might offer you better sporting prowess, but a Land Rover Defender would be far better suited to a muddy forest track.
With that in mind, we decided to focus in on some of the best performance-oriented SUVs out there. This is Fast Car after all…
Top 10 Performance SUVs
Range Rover Sport
The Range Rover has been the definitive luxury SUV for decades, and despite JLR’s somewhat questionable reputation over reliability, the brand shows no signs of weakening. Since the mid-2000s, the British marque has been offering a Sport model alongside its regular stately SUV, and this year they’ve launched a new one.
The new minimalist styling has garnered a mixed reaction, but the same core ingredients remain: swathes of luxury on the inside, combined with a potently quick engine. There’s a number of variations that you can choose from, but from a sporting perspective, the P530 V8 is the one to go for. In this guise the Range Rover comes equipped with 530hp: a figure good enough for 0-60mph in 4.3 seconds and an electronically limited top speed of 155mph.
Oh, and to mark its launch, JLR put together this rather spectacular promotional video. Worth a watch if you’ve got a spare six minutes or so.
Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk
We couldn’t write up this list without mentioning the Trackhawk. Effectively the Dodge Challenger Hellcat’s bulkier cousin, this pumped-up Jeep makes use of the same 6.2-litre supercharged V8 that’s found in the Detroit muscle car (albeit slightly detuned to 707hp!).
In other words, that makes it the most powerful Jeep ever built – and the fastest too. By comparison, its 0-60 time of 3.5 seconds makes the Range Rover Sport look slow. There’s no pesky speed limit either, which means that if you’re crazy enough you can take this SUV all the way up to 180mph.
Indeed, the Trackhawk is packed full of the excess that we’ve come to expect from Stellantis’ American division over the years, but if a standard Trackhawk just isn’t powerful enough for you, then stateside tuning firm Hennessey has the answer. Their HPE1000 tuning package elevates the Trackhawk’s specs up to 1000hp and an equally mind-boggling 969 lb ft of torque.
Tesla Model X Plaid
On the other end of the spectrum, there’s Tesla. Instead of gas-guzzling V8s, Elon Musk’s company has become the go-to specialist in battery-electric vehicle technology. However, while the propulsion method may be different, the outcome is very much the same.
In ‘Plaid’ form, this unassuming SUV is perhaps the ultimate sleeper car. From the factory, it comes with 1020hp, which Tesla claims will propel you to 60mph in just 2.5 seconds. Those of you interested in drag racing will also be intrigued to learn that those figures translate into a sub-10-second quarter-mile time.
Of course, being a Tesla, it’s not just the performance that’s ridiculous about this car. You also get gullwing doors and a cabin that’s set up for wireless gaming. And of course, there’s the controversial ‘yoke’ steering wheel too. We’ll leave you to decide whether those are positives or not, but one thing that’s an undeniable plus point about this car is the access that it grants you to Tesla’s ‘supercharger’ network – still the most stress-free way of charging an electric vehicle.
Lamborghini Urus Performante
If you like performance SUVs that make a statement, then you should like this one too.
The Volkswagen Group has a wide array of performance SUVs under its banner, including the Audi RS Q8, Bentley Bentayga, and Porsche Cayenne Coupe. However, standing at the top of the tree is this, the Lamborghini Urus Performante.
The Urus marked the Italians’ first attempt at transferring their poster-worthy supercar styling onto an SUV platform, and in Performante guise, it raises the visual bar even higher.
Underpinning it all though is the same tried and tested MLB Evo platform found under the skin of the three other cars I just mentioned. So, although this does mean that it’s got German reliability on its side, there is certainly an element of ‘copy and paste’ about the Urus’ DNA.
However, Lamborghini has made a big effort to make the Urus Performante feel significantly different to drive compared to its siblings. The same 4.0-litre V8 found in its counterparts remains, however a large overhaul means that it now outputs 657hp. For context, a Porsche Cayenne Turbo churns out 542hp from the same block.
Lamborghini has also shed 47kg of weight out of the Urus, and increased downforce by 8% thanks to the new aggressive aero package. What’s more, for the first time ever on an SUV, the rims come wrapped in Pirelli Trofeo R semi-slick tyres.
If the Urus just doesn’t feel special enough to you, then Lamborghini’s age-old rival might have the answer.
There’s no platform sharing involved with the brand-new Ferrari Purosangue. Instead, this is an entirely bespoke vehicle designed to be the best performance SUV on today’s market.
The first thing that you notice about the Purosangue is, naturally, the way it looks. It has quite a short glasshouse, which creates the illusion that it’s more low-slung than it really is. Ferrari have done their best to give it the handling traits to match that thoroughbred illusion too, having teamed up with Multimatic to implement a pioneering new form of electronic damper technology.
The more you dive into the work that’s gone into the Purosangue’s platform, the more apparent it becomes that this should be the best-handling SUV in the world. Plus, with a V12 melody coming out from the exhaust pipes, it goes without saying that this is the SUV you’d get the most goosebumps from driving.
Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio
Sticking with the Italian theme, next up is Alfa Romeo’s Stelvio Quadrifoglio. Released alongside the stunning Giulia saloon, the Stelvio does well not to look outstaged when the two cars are parked side by side.
Arguably the most beautiful of the current crop of performance SUVs, the Stelvio’s attractiveness is amplified further by a surprisingly good set of dynamic traits.
Albeit unlikely to match the Ferrari for sheer poise, the Stelvio certainly holds its own on an engaging B-road: more so than any of its main rivals. While that’s brilliant for spirited Sunday drives, it does come at the unfortunate expense of a slightly harsher ride quality than you’d perhaps want from a supposedly all-purpose SUV.
However, when you put your foot down again and allow its twin-turbo V6 to whisk you along to 60mph in less than four seconds, those little gripes just seem to disappear. If it weren’t for Alfa Romeo’s crippling reputation for poor reliability, I have no doubt that these would’ve sold by the dozen. Check out our review of the Stelvio here!
Hyundai Kona N
Time for a change of pace. Not everyone can afford the big full-fat performance SUVs like those listed above, so what about if you’re working with a slightly smaller budget?
Well, in that scenario, the Hyundai Kona N becomes very appealing. The South Korean marque’s sporty N division is arguably the most exciting up-and-coming performance brand of the moment and has already produced some fantastic sports cars in the shape of the i30, Elantra, and Veloster N models.
To create the Kona N, the i30 hot hatch’s platform was chosen as a base – and a pretty good one at that. However, although the Kona is shorter lengthways, it’s taller than the i30, meaning that an even stiffer chassis was required to make it handle in a comparable manner. The trade-off there is the level of comfort that you can expect on a normal drive.
Easily the smallest car on this list, the Kona N is perhaps best described as a ‘crossover’ rather than an all-out SUV, and that makes it much easier for it to replicate the feel of a hot hatch – something further aided by its 276hp 2.0-litre turbo four-pot.
Off-roading may be off the table given the fact that it’s front-wheel drive, but let’s be honest, few SUV owners venture anywhere beyond tarmac anyway. So, if you like the idea of an affordable sporty car with decent cabin space, but prefer a higher-up driving position, the Kona N should suffice nicely.
Ford Bronco Raptor
Having just said that most SUV owners don’t take their SUVs off-road, up next is a model which is more all-terrain-focused than any other vehicle on this list.
When the new Ford Bronco was unveiled, it was met with widespread adulation. The Blue Oval managed to successfully pull off the tricky task of modernising a beloved classic shape, and as such, the Bronco became the most talked about SUV for a good few weeks, if not months.
Now, there’s a Raptor version. This ultimate form of the Bronco comes equipped with a much greater range of suspension travel and an entirely revamped set of heavy-duty running gear. The chassis has also been comprehensively reinforced to ensure that this thing really is as tough as it looks; in fact, torsional rigidity is up by 50% over the standard Bronco.
It also has various GOAT (Goes Over Any Type of Terrain – nice laboured pun, Ford) modes which allow it do everything from rock crawls to Baja desert runs. And since it’s a Raptor model, it’s also got plenty of power under the hood. The 3.0-litre Ecoboost V6 has been boosted to 418hp, therefore making this the most powerful Bronco under the Ford stable.
The Jaguar I-Pace is one of those cars that probably should have achieved more than it did. Debuting in 2018, the I-Pace was one of the first fully electric vehicles to roll off the production line of an established pre-Tesla era luxury brand. What’s more, it also featured elegant, interesting styling (certainly by SUV standards, anyway) and a set of handling traits worthy of the Jaguar name. Yet, for whatever reason, it just never quite caught on. A shame, really.
Performance-wise, I’ll admit – it won’t blow your socks off in the same way that some of the other performance SUVs on this list do. Its dual-motor powertrain kicks out 395hp, while 60mph is reached in 4.8 seconds: no slouch by any means, but it’s not going to win a game of Top Trumps.
However, the I-Pace can claim a motorsport pedigree which no other SUV listed here – or anywhere, for that matter – can. Between 2018-2020, modified versions of the car were used in the one-make Jaguar I-Pace eTrophy series, which ran as the premier support category to the FIA Formula E World Championship. Plus, if you believe the press releases, a variety of tech from Jaguar’s own Formula E team trickled down into production I-Paces over the years. Pretty neat, right?
Brabus P 900 Rocket Edition
Let’s end on a wild one.
The regular Mercedes-AMG G63 is an SUV that arguably could have its own place on this shortlist. Offering a blend of popular utilitarian looks and impressive interior luxury, not to mention a throaty 4.0-litre V8, it’s no wonder that the G63 is as popular as it is.
However, in a world of bonkers tuning houses, Mercedes’ original blueprints have been turned all the way up to 11 by those crazy enough to do so. The best example of this is the newly-released Brabus P 900 Rocket Edition.
Tasked with the duty of carrying Brabus’ flagship Rocket nameplate, this pickup-SUV is an utterly ludicrous machine.
Weighing in at a hefty 2.5 tonnes, the Brabus’ uprated 4.5-litre 900hp twin-turbo V8 propels it to 62mph in just 3.7 seconds, and if you keep your foot planted it’ll row its way through nine gears to reach 174mph.