Automotive manufacturers are seeding the clouds of a worldwide performance downpour. Who's got the highest horsepower? Which one handles best? What's the quickest lap at the infamous Nuerburgring? Who wins?
We all do.
This seemingly limitless convergence of high-performance hardware continues to blanket our highways and whet our appetites. Not limited to passenger cars, high-output sport/utilities occupy one arm of this tempestuous storm.
The four PUVs (performance utility vehicles) you see here are the latest, most track-ready sport/utilities we've ever driven. It wasn't long ago that exceptional sport sedans would boast about the performance numbers any one of these grocery-getters makes. Yet, with this hyper performance, we're happy to report that every one of these 315-plus-horsepower, two-ton-plus models meets or exceeds California Low Emissions Vehicle status. Like low-fat chocolate cake, you can have your fun and feel good about your indulgence.
In many ways, these sporty extroverted SUVs are designed and built for the American buyer. Sure, they're sold in other markets, but not in the numbers the high-output versions are here. Six-cylinder or even diesel models can be found overseas. Americans have an insatiable appetite for V-8 performance and sport/utilities, so why not combine the two?
Our mission for this comparison was to put the claims of our guests to the test. This isn't a beauty contest nor a tally of nifty electronic features. This is a flat-out performance test. Each player attempts to maintain or further the reputation of its maker while claiming superiority among its peers.
While these makers' marketing departments wish to avoid the term sport/utility, we call 'em like we see 'em. In our eyes, a tall wagon-shaped package featuring an all-wheel-drive chassis with second-row (and third-row in one case) seats that fold flat is a sport/utility. BMW would prefer that we call the X5 a "sport activity," while Cadillac would like to see "performance utility" attached to the SRX. Meanwhile, Infiniti describes the FX45 as a "bionic cheetah" or "premium crossover" vehicle. Only Porsche is content with its Cayenne nomenclature, saying it "brings exceptional dynamic capabilities to the sport/utility category." We'll see.
One sunny day, we put each vehicle through our usual battery of five track tests (acceleration, braking, slalom, skidpad, and figure-eight). We also wanted to combine all these behaviors in a separate lapping session at a racetrack, using the Streets course at Willow Springs International Raceway. Then it rained on our parade. What seemed like bad luck at first became an even better demonstration of how well all four put their engines, brakes, suspensions, tires, and AWD systems to use on a wet surface. The differences in philosophy and hardware jumped out at us as plainly as the badges on our test subjects.