Mon­sters

You might think that SUVs have no place on a track, how­ever sporty their pre­ten­sions. You’re so wrong

Top Gear (UK) - - CONTENTS - WORDS: TOM HAR­RI­SON

Their looks are di­vi­sive, but there’s no ques­tion about the se­ri­ous­ness of in­tent of the G-Class, Stelvio and Urus

MERCEDES-AMG G63 A L FA ROMEO ST E LV I O QV L A MBORGH I N I U R U S vs vs

Spoiler alert: none of these SUVs is the win­ner of Speed Week. De­spite their best ef­forts, no car­maker has yet man­aged to en­gi­neer its way around the laws of physics. A big­ger, heav­ier car is al­most al­ways less ca­pa­ble than a smaller, lighter one, and so it will re­main un­til some­one fig­ures out how to make a chas­sis out of an­ti­mat­ter. Or can­dyfloss. But that’s not to say these three are here merely to make up the num­bers (or be­cause we couldn’t fit all of Rowan’s cam­era gear in the 488 Pista). While none are quite right for the ul­ti­mate award, each is tremen­dous in its own way, and thor­oughly de­serv­ing of a place among our favourite per­for­mance cars of 2018.

Take the Urus. Ig­nore, for a mo­ment, any philo­soph­i­cal ob­jec­tions you might have to a Lam­borgh­ini SUV – es­pe­cially one that bor­rows so heav­ily from the VW Group parts bin. You should also ig­nore the way it looks – for it di­vides opin­ion like noth­ing else here – and what by­standers will inevitably think of you (and mut­ter to them­selves) when you draw up out­side your chil­dren’s school or the lo­cal su­per­mar­ket.

What you ab­so­lutely must not and in­deed can­not ig­nore, how­ever, is the way it goes. Lambo has de­ployed ev­ery last bit of tech­nol­ogy at its dis­posal to make the Urus drive un­like any other 2.2-tonne SUV. The re­sult is per­haps as im­pres­sive a tech­ni­cal achieve­ment as any other car here – Ch­i­ron ex­cepted.

Rear-wheel steer­ing gives it a vir­tual wheel­base shorter than a Hu­racán’s, so it swivels into Cha­rade’s hair­pins alarm­ingly pur­pose­fully, and the big­gest car­bon-ce­ramic brakes ever fit­ted to a pro­duc­tion car (cam­ou­flaged be­hind mas­sive al­loys shod with the stick­i­est road-le­gal Pirellis avail­able) give

tremen­dous stop­ping power. Mean­while some­thing called ‘ac­tive roll sta­bil­ity con­trol’ firms up the out­side sus­pen­sion in fast cor­ners, all but elim­i­nat­ing body roll, while proper cen­tre Torsen and ac­tive rear dif­fer­en­tials com­bine to fling you out of cor­ners with­out so much as a “Dio mio! Let us just think this one through” from the com­put­ers.

The G-Class can­not do this. It may be built on an all-new plat­form (this, don’t for­get, is the first ‘all-new’ G in the name­plate’s 40-year his­tory), so the driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence is now closer to that of a mod­ern SUV than Scor­pus’s char­iot, but along­side the Lambo it still feels like a bit of an anachro­nism.

Pre­his­toric trac­tion con­trol you can’t re­ally turn off cuts power with lit­tle to no warn­ing or, it seems, provo­ca­tion, so you have to be su­per-smooth and in­cred­i­bly hes­i­tant with the throt­tle. It rolls, pitches on its springs un­der heavy ac­cel­er­a­tion and brak­ing, and doesn’t much like quick di­rec­tion changes. And yet… it is by far and away the most like­able SUV here. I defy any­one not to fall in love with the way it rears up as you ac­cel­er­ate (some­thing I’m con­vinced Mercedes could have elim­i­nated but chose not to), the ma­chine-gun noises that em­anate from its side pipes and its brutish, squared-off face. This is a car that is com­fort­able in its own skin, that doesn’t take it­self too se­ri­ously. As lov­able as the old G – which in AMG form was so way­ward it verged on dan­ger­ous – but in an­other league dy­nam­i­cally.

It might not be in the same realm as the Lambo, but this is still a G you can en­joy driv­ing quickly – more so on (or off…) the road, where you aren’t go­ing fast enough to ex­pose its fail­ings – some­thing we never thought we’d live to see.

We also didn’t think we’d ever live to see Alfa make an SUV, let alone one so good we’d want it on Speed Week. The Stelvio Quadri­foglio is based on the same plat­form and uses the same driv­e­train as the fast Gi­u­lia, and you can in­stantly tell. It doesn’t feel in the least bit toned down or sani­tised. You get the same su­per-sharp, su­per-quick steer­ing, the same en­ergy from the 2.9-litre Fer­raride­vel­oped V6, and, as the weight penalty is only about 60kg, the same bal­ance and del­i­cacy.

What the Alfa brings to this party of three is a de­gree of en­gage­ment and in­ter­ac­tiv­ity. The Lambo, though dev­as­tat­ingly fast, is recog­nis­ably from the “big, fast VW Group car” mould, in that it’s very locked-down. All about the speed and the grip... and the ease with which you can ac­cess them. The Alfa is a much more in­volv­ing thing – more con­ven­tion­ally fun. Few SUVs feel quite as car­like as the Stelvio, which has a mea­sure of daft­ness, like the G, but also a hint of that same kind of fo­cus and pur­pose as the Urus. It treads a happy mid­dle ground in this lit­tle cav­al­cade – none of whose man­u­fac­tur­ers have com­pletely bent physics to their will, but are get­ting mighty, mighty close.

Seven-odd tonnes of posh SUV treat the Cha­rade tar­mac to a gratis flat­ten­ing ser­vice

Cha­rade’s sec­ond-to­last cor­ner was in dire need of resur­fac­ing

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