Our man, Matt Bubbers, is a salt-of-the-earth car guy. The kind of man who looks upon almost any vehicle built after 1990 with certain distain. Certainly it’s too porky, too HAL-9000 and too focus-grouped-to-death to be worth loving. Simple, light and low is Mr. Bubbers’ vehicular mantra.
Which is exactly why he looked at me like I’d run over his cat when I told him we were doing a ‘Sport’ sport utility comparison test. We’d gathered up three of the best premium pedestrian truck turned manic by their makers – the BMW X6 M, Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 and Range Rover Sport Supercharged. Luxury machines with go-fast capability and family practicality is the goal here.
“Contradictory by definition,” is how Matt pigeon-holed them. “How can a 5,000 lb. truck, 12-feet tall and festooned with computers be any fun at all?” Let’s find out – oh, and we shall never speak of fuel economy here, as all out entries are brutally thirsty.
Third Place – Range Rover Sport Supercharged
You’ve likely noticed that the Porsche Cayenne hasn’t been included in our trio, even though it is the hallmark example of this genus of sport truck. There’s a good reason for that. Porsche Canada has none to lend us. So popular are the German SUVs, there’s months of back-orders for Canuck customers. All righty then…
So the desire for sport utes that can haul and, ahem, haul, is exactly why Land Rover dropped this ‘Sport’ model into its lineup between the safari-ready LR4 and opera-opulent Range Rover. Behind its family familiar styling is a special “Adaptive Dynamics,” mode in its clever Terrain Response traction system. Dial it in and Land Rover says the truck can suddenly predict what a driver’s going to do and tightens up the standard air suspension, steering, throttle response and gearbox so the truck corners flat and fast.
So does it work? Not quite to the level we thought it would. The bad news is that the Sport can’t fight physics, it’s the tallest and heaviest beast in our brood and drives, well, without much outright sportiness. The good news is that the Landie is always composed and comfortable far, far beyond it rivals here and some luxury sedans. What’s more, its motor feels like something ripped from the Orient Express: a 5.0-litre V8 wearing a supercharger. It’s good for 510 horsepower and 461 lb-ft of torque via a six-speed automatic transmission. The pulling power – and sound – of this engine is pure indulgent mechanized awesomeness. Too bad the 0-100 run here is the slowest then at 6.2 seconds.
Still, while it does not win the sport-sport ute crown here, the Ranger Sport does win for being one of the most cosseting, luxurious trucks we’ve yet driven. I’ll go on record as saying that this is one of the only vehicles with a roughly $100,000 as-tested sticker price that I think is worth every penny. What you get for that coin is a properly elegant, hushed and large interior for five and their gear, plus perhaps the world’s most commanding driving position. Don’t forget adaptive cruise control, a harmon/kardon 17-speaker stereo, rear seat DVD screens and surround view cameras. Even Mr. Bubbers called it: “Classic. Understated. Cool.”
Second Place – BMW X6 M
You’ll either love or loathe the styling of BMW’s X6. The idea here was to take the proven, though somewhat pedestrian X5 SUV, tear-off its body and replace it with a swept skin, seating inside for four instead of five, less cargo room and a higher sticker price (about $5K). Wait, what? That recipe at least makes some sense in this M form where a bit of svelteness and a tight cabin add to the sporting feel.
Of our trio of testers, the Bimmer does the best job of splitting the difference between luxo-truck and a sports machine. On one hand, you have kit like the properly polished interior with a Full Merino Leather treatment ($4,500! Wow.), soft close doors from a 7 Series sedan and even a head-up display like on those F-35s the Feds are all steaming about.
On the other hand, this rig’s been given the full, modern M-division treatment. Stuffed under the hood is a 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 making a best-in-test 555 hp and 500 lb-ft of torque. Not 10 years back these were supercar power numbers. Impressive. The mill’s mated to a six-speed automatic gearbox with paddle shifters.
Being one of those modern machines our Mr. Bubbers despised, the X6 is fitted with all sorts of computers and buttons to make it as soft or sporty as you like. Oily bits like its steering, xDrive all-wheel drive and variable suspension have been tuned specifically for this model. We quickly found pushing the ‘M’ button on the satisfyingly fat steering wheel quite addictive. You see, in your driveway you can deep-dive into the Bimmer’s binary controllers and tell the truck’s performance systems what to do when you punch that button. Our unit has everything cranked to max. Punch the M button and this X6 went from librarian to WWE superstar instantly, firming up its handling and barking a great note out of its exhaust. Perfect for those impromptu on-ramp attacked before switching off and cruising down the highway again. Naught to 100 takes a brisk, best-in-test 4.7 seconds.
Two factors hold this BMW back from top-spot here. First, it’s limited seating and cargo capacity do hurt its sport utility, well, utility. The X5 M’s the better choice here, given that it’s essentially a five-seat box on wheels with the same power system and a slightly lower sticker. Which brings us to part two: the price. The X6 M starts at a whooping $100,900. Our tester was $113,150. You gotta pay to play here.
First Place – Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8
This, ladies and gentlemen, does not happen everyday. Not only has a breed-and-built in Detroit, Michigan truck beaten its Germany and British rivals, but it’s done so for roughly half the price. Loaded to full-jam as our tester was, it was only $65,180. It starts at just $55,095, If you can afford the BMW, buy two of these instead.
We know, we know, Jeep has a long, long way to go before its name is as gilded as those of Land Rover and BMW, but this rig does wonders to move that needle along. Here’s what we’re wielding: the new generation Jeep Grand Cherokee, packing a unique Quadra-Trac active four-wheel drive system and a whooping 6.4-litre Hemi V8 making 470 hp and 465 lb-ft torque. If Thor’s hammer came in truck form, by Odin, this would be it. Zero to 96 km/h takes just 4.8 sec.
What amazes us about the Jeep is largely the same stuff that gets us all hot and bothered about the Porsche Cayenne (ya, I just said that…). Forgive the expression, but it’s German weissbier versus an American lager. Either way, a heady experience. Flat and fast cornering skills from the SRT defy logic and the blatting exhaust note here will make even the greenist eco-weenie all hot and bothered for a test drive. Indeed, this is not just a regular Grand Cherokee with a big ‘ol engine and nothing more masquerading as something special: the adaptive damping suspension’s properly sharp, there are new Sport and Track modes in the Selec-Track system, the steering’s direct and the wheels are 20-inch lightweight forged alloys wrapped in wide extra-sticky tires.
Three faults here tarnish the polish on an otherwise prized pig. The first two are gearbox related: The G.C. SRT8 gets a (how to say this politely?… dated) five-speed automatic gearbox. On the highway, the engine wails unnecessarily. A sixth gear would quell noise and boost fuel economy. Second, if you’re hustling hard into a corner and tug a shift paddle to downshift, there’s no rev-matching feature to get the V8 and transmission talking politely. This means the truck bucks about nastily. Our third quibble? The SUV’s suspension. Even in the softest setting this is one firm family ride.
The Jeep’s interior is one of Chrysler Co.‘s best to date, though admittedly not nearly as polished as the BMWs or Landies. The door plastics and some of the switchgear tarnish the Grand’s cabin, but the optional leather-wrapped dashboard, 100 percent real carbon-fibre trim and bolstered SRT seats with suede inserts are properly executed luxury/sport features. Even the cargo area is only behind the super-sized Land Rover’s by 68 litres (2.4 cubic feet) with the second row tumbled.
Note that this Jeep also wears, adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring, a 16-speaker 900-watt stereo, a trailering kit and a panoramic roof for that $65K price. Value and velocity gives it the win here.
So after all this, what does young Matt say? “My pick? Urgh. None.”
Damn it, Bubbers…