Take one of the UAE’s most popular SUVs, the Range Rover Sport, shave a whopping 420kg from its weight, add to the mix a 3.0-litre V6 or, if you prefer things a little more spicy, a burbling 5.0-litre V8, and bring to the boil with a suspension and gearbox which are equally awe-inspiring on tarmac or tundra. Make those new engines more economical than their predecessors, sharpen the car’s looks, increase rear legroom and finally, offer the all-important seven-seat option that’s so popular in our region. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the recipe for success, which Land Rover began serving in 2013.
Of course there are those who prefer Apfelstrudel to Cream Teas, and Dampfnudel to Yorkshire Pudding, so to cater to their tastes, BMW brought the new X5 to the table, and Porsche, the Cayenne Turbo S. Despite sharing the old X5’s 2,933mm wheelbase, the new model has more space inside, is subtly restyled outside, and plays host to a 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 that could definitely rip the top off a rice pudding. Factory. Like the RR Sport, it boasts an eight-speed gearbox, taming 650Nm of torque from the X5, 625Nm in the case of the Sport.
The Cayenne Turbo S is, as has always been the case, a road car first and foremost, and while it boasts an astonishing 750Nm of torque, what it lacks is serious off-road credentials, and for that reason, we made an early decision to send it speeding out of contention.
Both the Range Rover and X5 are blisteringly quick — for SUVs anyway — on tarmac, and likewise both boast a list of traction, braking, chassis and torque vectoring controls designed to turn what should be top-heavy people movers into vehicles you can fling into the bends, if not recklessly, then at least with enough gusto to have your passengers reaching for the grab handles. The X5’s interior trim is not vastly different to the outgoing model, and that’s a good thing, but the same cannot be said of the Range Rover Sport; the number of control buttons and switches has been reduced by half, reducing the visual ‘clutter’ and so creating more elegance. It’s quieter too, with Range Rover claiming best-in-class road noise levels.
Both vehicles obviously sit high on the road, and drivers have a great view of their surroundings, but Range Rover always seems to pip competition to the post when it comes to giving the driver that feeling of being in command of the road.
Critically though, it’s when venturing off-road that the Range Rover shows its depth of capabilities. At the launch in the UK, I was wading through rivers, battling mud to the top of the wheel arches, climbing slick, slimy grass slopes, and, somewhat bizarrely, driving through the middle of a Boeing 747. The Sport’s Terrain Response system, ride-height adjustment, optional two-speed transfer case, and Dynamic Active Rear Locking Differential combine to make this SUV as utilitarian as it is sporty, and as good as the BMW is, Land Rovers were going off-road long before the idea of building luxury SUVs had occurred to anyone else. Decades later, Range Rover is not about to turn its back on the off-road market and as a result, the new Sport is as happy in the mud as it is on the Mulsanne Straight. The BMW is an excellent car, of that there’s no doubt, and on the road there’s little to choose between the two, but the Range Rover Sport wins the off-road battle, and for that reason, it wins our SUV of the Year accolade. Cream tea anyone?