Imagine for one minute that cars are professional boxers. Hatchbacks and small sedans are your lightweights, your mid-executive saloons are flyweight with the bigger executive sedans occupying the welterweights division. Next to weigh in are the middleweights and cruiserweights, where speed, precision and power need to be used to devastating effect against the opposition, think of typical sports cars ranging from the humble M3 to the likes of the Nissan GTR and Porsche Cayman. Within this context, the heavyweights can only be occupied by the ever-growing SUV market. Unlike in the slightly lower divisions, the heavyweight weight class is all about power and status!
There are a number of key cars that demonstrate this point, for example, the previously featured Range Rover and Mercedes G63 AMG but there are so many more pretenders to the throne so who should you bet on, who can you reliably put your money behind? The first names that will come to mind are the BMW X5 and X6 M models, the Mercedes ML63 no doubt and of course the Audi Q7 and Porsche Cayenne. There is an excruciatingly large number of fractionally smaller SUVs ranging from the Kia Sorento to the Hyundai Santa Fe, Volvo XC90, Toyota Prado and even the Land Rover Discovery but these fall short of real heavyweight status. Our scale focuses on the Toyota Landcruiser and Nissan Patrol as the smallest of our heavyweights, the underdogs if you will and the likes of the Infinity XQ80 and yes, the Dartz Prombron on the other end of the scale. The Dartz which is the most expensive SUV in the world at a staggering R15 Million is not a car that we would recommend though despite the fact that it has unparalleled security and bling with exotic leather made from whale pe#is foreskin.
When all is said and done we would only recommend the following five vehicles from the healthy choices available on the market.
There is no doubt in our minds that the current champion is the Mercedes G63 with the Range Rover a definite number 1 contender. Both carry the SUV market to a level where it can even compete with the leaner cruiserweights at their own game… speed. Outright performance isn’t the only criteria though and neither is opulence otherwise the newly launched Bentayga would be an obvious winner (We would love to get our hands on it). Rather it is the complete package offering luxury, performance, practicality and value for money that we feel makes for a world class champion. For this reason, the ML63 which is priced at just over R1,5 million also falls down the pecking order. We are left with a three-way grudge match between the diesel models from Porsche, BMW and Audi.
The Audi is perhaps the most attractive choice. A thoroughly beautiful specimen from most angles it is also the most powerful of the trio. Audi’s legendary built quality shines through in this car as the marque’s improving interior design from both an ergonomic as well as an aesthetic point of view. We are willing to bet is also the thirstiest given its large 6.0-litre V12 engine. This is possibly its Achilles heel given its practicality with usable 7 seats and somewhat decent boot space.
The Porsche which shares its platform with the Q7 is also quite appealing. Porsche has incredible sporting heritage and the Cayenne’s steering is brilliant for such a large car. Despite being a more prestigious brand its interior design is not as organised as in the Audi despite the quality of the materials used. From a performance perspective too, it lags ever so slightly behind its younger brother from another mother.
The unlikely 5.0d is our number 2 contender then for the heavyweight throne. Don’t be fooled by the 5.0d designation, it is actually powered by a 3-litre engine that is half the size of Audi’s monstrous V12 and smaller still compared to Porsche’s 4.2 litre V8 which produces only slightly more power. The 5.0d’s party trick is its three turbos, that right, not one and not two but three turbochargers power what is essentially the same 3.0-litre engine found in the 330d and indeed in the X5 3.0d and 4.0d models. Power delivery is smooth and seemingly boundless ignited by the eight-speed automatic transmission. At a shade under R1 million, this is the cheapest contender (cheaper even that Audi’s 4.2-litre V8 TDI Q7). Unfortunately, the price tag is reflected in the materials inside the cabin. The quality is not inferior to its competition by any means but it doesn’t have the same air of luxury. It’s a bit like having heavyweight that can deliver knockout punches in the dozens but doesn’t really look the part, it doesn’t inspire much confidence. For this reason, the X5 doesn’t quite unsettle the Range Rover and the G63 enough.
What is clear however is that the environmentalists have pushed motoring into an era of engine capacity downsizing where the diesel is king. And that is why the X5 M or even the Porsche Cayenne Turbo S didn’t make our list. They are capable of dethroning our favourite SUVs but are a dying breed.
We say if you’re going to be bulking up, do it sensibly with a diesel engine and the X5 5.0d would be our recommendation!
Writer: Katlego Modipane