Starting the recently redesigned Mercedes-AMG G63 on a cold morning makes new enemies with every chug of its twin-exit side exhausts. In contrast, pulling away at ten-tenths from an unassuming Corvette in the full-aggro Lamborghini Urus brings a big smile to the face of every person under 95 who happens to be watching. Driving up in the shiny black Range Rover makes a comparatively subtle statement of prosperity and taste, but as with G63 and Urus, it also flaunts an indifference—to the environment, to the masses, and, well, to everything else.
Social acceptance is a fickle thing. In the midst of a quickly intensifying carbon-emissions debate, you’d think overpowered and under-efficient high-end SUVs like these would be shunned and shamed. But the Urus is sold out through early 2020, the G63 accounts for more than half of all G-class sales, and the Range Rover has been the darling of city slickers and the landed gentry for almost 40 years. Why is this conspicuously carbon-emitting trio so popular? We spent a long weekend to find out.
Despite its idiosyncrasies, it’s impossible not to be smitten by the stylishly butch Italo-German Urus. The 190-mph five-door is an astonishingly competent 641-hp mud wrestler and eye-catching status symbol wrapped in a seriously go-faster package. Even when stationary, the brand-new, yet strangely déjà vu G63 looks about as mean and intimidating as a semi-truck with the full “move-over, grandpa!” kit. At 150 mph, an aggressively tailgating G-class has been known to trigger panic attacks followed by waves of hate. The Rangie, too, can hug the fast lane all day long, although high revs and high speed don’t really suit its character. It’s the oldest and least expensive contender in this mini regatta, and the most conservative in terms of power output and torque delivery. We sampled a supercharged V-8 Vogue model (a Euro-only spec trim roughly equivalent to the Supercharged model we get in the U.S.), which further lowers the acceleration time from the entry model and makes all the right noises, to boot.
The Urus looks short and low and compact in this company, but it’s actually some four inches longer than the Range Rover while eclipsing the Mercedes by a sizable 10 inches or so. In combination with having the longest wheelbase, you’d expect a tangible packaging advantage. Not exactly. The Lambo’s cargo capacity handily loses the to the Range Rover by more than 30 cubic feet, although it comfortably bests the G63. The G63’s side-hinged tailgate is ultra-heavy because of the spare wheel attached to it, while the Rover’s is horizontally split and not all that practical unless you count the lower portion’s ability to serve as a bench. Then there’s the Urus’s, with a back window that looks as narrow as an embrasure through the rearview mirror.
Boasting classy seats and expensive materials, the cabin design of the Urus attempts to fuse the practicality of a daily driver with the flair of a proper sports car. Means to this end include Huracán-style instrument graphics, an Audi A8–inspired infotainment setup, and the usual covered starter button flanked by the Aenima and Ego chassis modes. Pulling back the T-handle to engage reverse is clever, but the only way to get back into drive is via the shift paddles. Boo.
Like every G-wagen before it, the latest iteration wants to be mounted in two energetic steps. Once arrived and installed, one feels sort of invincible, even though the slab-sided doors are still too close for comfort. The commanding driving position is complemented by veranda-like visibility, cleaned up controls with A- and S-class overtones, and expensive surfaces that clash masterfully with the cube’s rubberneck stance. Featuring much improved seats but sans the latest MBUX infotainment software, the G63’s interior remains an odd mix of old and new. The four air vents mimic the oddball headlamp design, the center stack is stuffed with E-class parts, the steering-wheel controls are numerous and messy, the inner door handles could not be more awkward to operate, and the list of driver-assistance systems is short for a new model. Welcome remnants from the past include the in-dash push buttons that lock the three differentials (the center diff is now a variable-rate multi-plate clutch type), the essential passenger grab handle, and the world’s noisiest central locking system.
Dedicating three of its six driving modes to Sabbia (sand), Terra (rocks), and Neve (snow), the Urus aims to cater to all occasions. With the air suspension set in the tallest position, the dampers in soft and ESP in Corsa, the Lamborghini is the uncrowned king of the gravel road, even though putting it through its paces as such may require a respray every 1,000 miles or so. Lacking a height-adjustable chassis, the only terrain the G-wagen dislikes is deep sand. Sporting enormous spring travel and wheel articulation, a trick four-wheel-drive system complete with low-range transfer case, and enough ground clearance to straddle the odd boar, the G63 AMG rules boulder country with a tipping angle of 35 degrees.
When confronted with ramp angles and fording depths, the Range Rover assumes its casual “been there, done that” attitude of a motor car with nothing left to prove. It’s an expert in filtering, cushioning, isolating, and distancing its users from the terrain they’re wafting over. It’s not one single talent that does the trick, but a blend of virtues and abilities. The result is best described as multidirectional low-noise compliance—a cossetting balance of roll and ride, dive and yaw, stability and poise. The Rover’s dynamic soul lies in the flow, and that flow is now more concise and linear than ever. Although one can dial in specific setups like Eco or Freeway, Auto selects a fine balance which always favors luxury living over beastly SVR-like traits. So don’t expect brake pads studded with shark teeth, sway bars as fat as lamp posts, or lightning-quick steering response.
All three V-8 engines in this shootout come out of standardized parts bins, but they were comprehensively made over by bespoke precision engineering departments before being shipped to production. The 518-hp, supercharged 5.0-liter V-8 is kind of a last-of-line effort before JLR will reportedly start buying eight-cylinder engines from BMW in 2020. The G-wagen’s 577-horse, twin-turbo 4.0-liter eight put together in Affalterbach is based on the one-displacement-suits-all unit also used in lesser Benzes. Finally, the 641-hp, twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8 fitted to the Urus is the highest-performance edition of the Volkswagen Group’s top-notch kraftwerk developed by Porsche.
Despite similar outputs and curb weights, the three super SUVs are leagues apart in the way they perform. At 190 mph, the Urus is merely 11 mph slower than the base Huracán, which bests its five-door sister model by about half a second in the zero-to-60-mph run (the Urus gets there in 3.4 seconds, according to Lambo). The Mercedes-AMG G63 checked out of the wind tunnel with a claimed 0.54 coefficient of drag, thereby almost matching the east pillar of the Brandenburg Gate. Its acceleration time of 4.4 seconds to 60 mph is nonetheless almost as astonishing as its maximum speed of 138 mph (150 mph with the Driver’s package), which pays tribute to drag, mass, and the flow rate of the gas pump. The Range Rover needs more time to hit benchmark speed at 5.1 seconds, but it will do 155 mph if so required. Consumption? On paper, they’re pretty close and the numbers are paltry as you’d expect, in the range of 14 to 18 mpg combined. On an empty German autobahn, it’s the G63 AMG which drinks its companions under the table.
The Cores of the Things
With many miles behind us, the Urus and the Benz leave the most lasting impressions. The AMG defies the law of physics. Up to 110 mph, the relentless thrust never ceases to amaze, and even at this speed, matting the throttle makes the nine-speed automatic kick down two or three gears so you can thunder on without losing momentum. Select Eco mode, and the Mercedes will coast to supplement the part-time cylinder cut-off function. Like every AMG product, the meanest SUV to wear the three-pointed star spits and spats at idle, rumbles and roars up and down torque mountain, and blares and trumpets as it approaches its 7,000-rpm redline. The Lamborghini practically owns the 125- to 190-mph speed bracket. The sixth sense built into the throttle pedal, the instant-response turbochargers and the telepathic eight-speed transmission turn the 627 lb-ft of maximum torque into kinematic putty. There is no doubt about it: The Urus is at this point in time the quickest factory SUV money can buy.
As for the Range Rover, it simply does its job and it does it well. After its recent facelift, it is now ergonomically on par with the complex competition, it has picked up a few new assistance systems on the way, and the redesigned seats are more comfortable. The supercharged engine never was an object lesson in efficiency and refinement, but the progressive torque delivery underlines the S in SUV, and it makes travelling to the rpm climax both more confident and more involving. The Urus and the G63 can reel in the horizon more quickly, but in sync with their more extroverted personalities, they feel busier and more agitated. The Range Rover lets them pull away. Less so because it must, more so because it can.
Just as the Cayenne turbo will show the 911 Carrera who is boss, the Urus is a four-door sports car in SUV livery. We’re not only talking its performance here, but also its handling, steering, brakes, and fun-to-drive factor. Air-sprung and shod with 22-inch tires, the DNA selector locked in Corsa and the mind set in fast forward, the stealth-gray Lambo never ceases to surprise its driver and shock other road users. You can brake so late it’s almost insane, and the tires bite with seemingly endless amounts of grip. With brakes still hard at work, you can turn in early and rotate the Urus promptly and effortlessly into a corner. Yes, there is some understeer, but nothing that a momentary flick at the wheel or the lightest of lifts off the accelerator can’t fix. Assisting from behind the scenes are torque vectoring, Lambo’s subtle but effective rear-wheel steering, and active sway-bars.
Insanity is also a term that comes to mind when you board the ultimate G-wagen. About as publicity shy as Lady Gaga or Kim Kardashian, the G63 puts on a show as soon as you give it some stick, growling and squealing through the gears, squirming out of sight and out of earshot in no time at all. Longitudinal acceleration can be related to a space shuttle during liftoff. While the shoebox aerodynamics help reduce the stopping distance from 70-plus-mph, there is no real remedy for the high center of gravity, and even in Sport mode the adaptive dampers cannot teach this steel castle on wheels truly inspiring road manners. The ride is okay but far from brilliant, the ESP starts flashing and whirring as soon as the driver starts pulling out the stops, and the variable-rate steering firms up during brisk changes of direction.
Jump in the Rover, and the overriding feeling is that of being in charge of an underperforming overachiever. Which may be an illegitimate polarization, because there is of course plenty of grunt to work with and because the low interior noise levels, cushy ride, and exquisite driver environment are only elements of the bigger picture. Having said that, the Range Rover is without a doubt the luxury GT of the SUV guild, less ostentatious than a Bentley Bentayga or Rolls-Royce Cullinan and yet still an old-school grand cruiser bristling with atmosphere and ambience. It invented the segment, and it still owns a good part of it. The Rover can do town and country, highway and byway, short hops and long hauls. But it has been around a while, and it shows. The others brake better, steer with more precision, are less vague at the limit, and more fun to drive overall.
As always, it’s the perspective that colors the judgement. If you must have a high-luxury SUV with the soul of a sports car, take the Lamborghini. If you’re into a retro-looking head-turner crammed with contemporary engineering, you may be a G-class type. If you want the best all-rounder at the best tariff, the oldie but goodie from Solihull is the upper-crust SUV for you. It is truly hard to go wrong in this company.
2019 Lamborghini Urus Specifications
|PRICE||$204,000 (base, est)|
|ENGINE||4.0L DOHC 32-valve turbocharged V-8; 641 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 627 lb-ft @ 4,500 rpm|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV|
||12/17 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||201.2 x 79.4 x 64.5 in|
|WEIGHT||4,850 lb (est)|
|0–60 MPH||3.6 sec|
|TOP SPEED||190 mph|
2019 Mercedes-AMG G63 Specifications
|ENGINE||4.0L twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8; 577 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 627 lb-ft @ 2,500 rpm|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, 4WD SUV|
||13/15 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||191.9 x 86.1 x 77.4 in|
|0–60 MPH||4.4 sec|
|TOP SPEED||149 MPH|
2019 Range Rover Vogue Specifications
|ON SALE||Now (Europe)|
|ENGINE||5.0L supercharged DOHC 48-valve V-8; 518 hp @ 6,500 rpm, 461 @ 2,500 rpm|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, 4WD SUV|
||16/21 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||196.8 x 87.4 x 73.6 in|
|0–60 MPH||5.1 sec|
|TOP SPEED||155 mph|