Sporty SUVs: Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8, Porsche Cayenne Turbo, Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG, Range Rover Sport Supercharged, and BMW X5 4.8i

Brian Konoske

Unfortunately, the Range Rover can't be a true athlete because it's just too porky--the fattest in this corpulent crew. Look underneath, and you'll see why: The Range Rover alone uses full-frame construction. Not only that, but Land Rover's engineers have actually hung massive iron ballasts from all four corners for vibration tuning. Clearly, shaving pounds was not a primary concern.

Despite the efforts of the supercharger (which emits a deeply unsexy whine), the 4.2-liter V-8 is hard-pressed to move so much mass with any urgency--its 0-to-60-mph and quarter-mile times are the slowest here. You also feel the Range Rover's weight during tight, low-speed corners, where it understeers early and earnestly. And, after several passes over one particularly intense section of Route 16, the heavy Rover had fatigued its Brembos, whereas none of the other trucks showed any signs of brake fade.

The Range Rover Sport has its sights on the right place. Unfortunately, it's let down by its old-tech construction and an overemphasis on extreme off-road ability. What, then, of the vehicle in its crosshairs--the BMW X5, the sport-ute that started it all?

BMW X5 4.8iFor the most part, the new X5 carefully hews to the original's successful formula. The biggest changes in the 2007 redesign address criticisms of the last-generation version. There's a larger cabin with roomy, easily accessed back seats, and the X5--alone among the SUVs here--now offers a token third-row seat as an option. The cargo hold is larger and more useful as well.

The X5 has grown more than seven inches longer and some two inches wider and taller, but it doesn't feel appreciably bigger from the driver's seat. It retains the same sedanlike, down-in-the-car seating position as before, and the driver faces a fat, three-spoke steering wheel that would be at home in any BMW sport sedan. Some bemoaned the quality of the plastics on the center console, but everyone gave props to the optional Napa leather ($1000), which was ultrasmooth and rich.

Both the straight six and the V-8 engines are more powerful than last year's offerings, the latter having been enlarged from 4.4 to 4.8 liters and now making 350 hp. But even that figure looks small in this steroidal crowd, and the V-8 needs to be revved high to quicken the pace when the road opens up. Luckily, it sounds great doing so. The X5's six-speed automatic uses a new electronic gearshift, a console-mounted lever that toggles forward and back for manual shifts, but its action is rather dainty and unsatisfying.

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