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

Brian Konoske

Porsche Cayenne TurboThe words "Porsche" and "Turbo" always denote seriousness, and the Cayenne is no exception. But Porsche's stern refusal to compromise results in a vehicle that's certainly very capable but not much fun. The Cayenne Turbo not only endeavors to provide Porsche-like levels of performance (such as its advertised 171-mph top speed) but also major towing ability (7716 pounds) and serious off-road chops (with up to 10.7 inches of ground clearance).

But all that off-road hardware--such as the standard two-speed transfer case with low range--is really just along for the ride, because no sport SUV is going to see off-roading tougher than the dirt roads we drove in Hill Country. Why not? In a word, tires. Tackling difficult terrain in high-performance tires is like going rock climbing in wing tips. In fact, a sharp rock punctured a sidewall on one of our Cayenne's 35-series, twenty-one-inch tires, and that was on a relatively ordinary dirt road.

As part of the Cayenne's 2008 redo, Porsche has added direct fuel injection and variable valve timing to the twin-turbo V-8, upping output to a nice, round 500 hp--easy to remember for barroom boasts. Torque is an impressive 516 lb-ft, but the Turbo still proved disappointingly docile in town. Its six-speed automatic likes to start off in second gear, and, until the turbos kick in, you have a relatively puny 4.8 liters tugging more than two-and-a-half tons. But once we got it onto the wide-open roads west of Austin, the Porsche turned into a rocket. We'd be cruising at a casual 80 mph and come up on a driver doing the 70-mph limit. Almost invariably, the incredibly polite local driver would move onto the shoulder to facilitate a pass. They wouldn't have to stay there for long, though, because the Cayenne Turbo accelerates from 80 mph with a ferocity that doesn't begin to let up until 120 or better. "I was amazed how 140 mph felt like nothing," said road test editor Marc Noordeloos after an evening run back to town in the Porsche.

Our Turbo's all-singing, all-dancing suspension--air springs with three firmness settings and active management plus optional active antiroll bars--kept the Cayenne stable through high-speed sweepers. But it couldn't make this high-and-heavy beast feel nimble when we hit a series of tight switchbacks coming south out of Kerrville. And reconciling the high-speed cornering ability with a decent ride requires toggling among the three suspension settings. Furthermore, in marked contrast to Porsche's sports cars, the Cayenne's steering had drivers grumbling about its lack of feel and its ultraquick response off-center. "Regular street manners have been sacrificed to the road racing gods," concluded Sherman.

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