In drawing up the shortlist of piping-hot vehicles for this year’s Performance Car of the Year (PCOTY) we had to ask ourselves, with limited space available do we include a performance SUV?
The performance SUV is, of course, a peculiar phenomenon. Like that mole that keeps getting bigger, it just doesn’t seem to be going away. As such, it’s something we here at MOTOR can no longer ignore. (Unlike that mole – you really should get that checked out.)
Not that we have been ignoring performance SUVs, really. In the 23 years we’ve been doing PCOTY we have included a few of these lovable, angry, high-riding hippos, from the BMW X5 M to the Porsche Cayenne Turbo. But the question for PCOTY now is more like, which one do we take? You only need to look away for five minutes and there’s twice as many of the things as before, and only more to come.
Besides Ferrari’s incoming Purosangue SUV (the thought of which makes me spew in my mouth a little bit), apparently Alpine and Lotus are working on SUVs now too. I’m all for business, but how these brands – bastions of lightweight driving purity – plan to make their own versions of fundamentally heavy and languid-handling vehicles is something I am equally curious and nervous to see.
Personally, the most flattering thing I could say about the performance SUV is that it can’t be thought of logically. It’s an off-road vehicle that, short of an unsealed road that any car can drive on, really can’t go off-road anymore. It’s been whisked into a car that exists for speed and performance, but owing to its surplus weight and high centre of gravity is just a bit awkward and undesirable to drive fast.
So you are left with a large, heavy car you can’t take off-road and is covered in parts that you paid for that you’ll never use. It would be like buying a Toyota LandCruiser, fitting a 400kW petrol engine, stiff springs, huge brakes and enormous wheels with low-profile tyres – all at great cost – to create a vehicle that doesn’t really do any one thing very well. What’s the point of that?
Also, I can rationalise the explosion in the general SUV’s popularity to people wanting to express a lifestyle they’d like people to think they have (even if they don’t have it), but what kind of lifestyle is the performance SUV expressing? You wanted a sports car but the significant other wanted an off-roader so here’s a lesson in compromise?
Of course, sometimes if people just want something, that’s all the reason you need to offer it. And most of these cars are much better than I’m giving them credit for. Like, annoyingly so, which is completely down to the engineers who are sent to work on them (punitively?). A lot of these SUVs now drive like oversized, overweight hot hatches trying to work around a weirdly high centre of gravity. And, dare I say, it can be kind of fun slowing down your inputs and managing so much weight as it moves through exaggerated axes. But on a racetrack a performance SUV still feels odd, and probably always will.
And so we’ve decided that after this issue it’s time to make a bit of a change – there might not be a performance SUV at PCOTY again. But for good reason, because this year we’re going to host the first Performance SUV of the Year. Yes, that’s right (and please don’t cancel your subscription). We’re still figuring out how it’s going to work, but the goal is to come up with a test that makes sense. Even if the segment itself doesn’t.
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