The upper echelons of the SUV segment are more congested than ever, and a sub-niche has formed at the ultra-premium end with the arrival of the Range Rover SV Autobiography, Maserati Levante and Bentley Bentayga.
The SV Autobiography is derived from the existing L405 Range Rover, but everything has been dialled up to 11 to yield what should be the ultimate Rangie.
There is more power for starters, as the 5.0-litre supercharged V8 is uprated to thrash out 542bhp and 680Nm, enabling the 5.2m-long SUV to cruise at 250kph, should the need and circumstances to do so present themselves. The interior is suitably opulent, too, as it is layered in the finest cowhide, polished wood trim and knurled aluminium.
Thing is, you get much the same experience in a standard Autobiography, so there is some question as to whether the SV truly moves the game on and whether it is worth the sizeable extra spend.
Maserati’s Levante has been a high-profile debutant in the ME, taking the storied trident brand into a genre it’s never previously got close to. As a first effort, the Levante is mighty impressive, offering chassis dynamics that are a cut above the rest of the SUV horde, thanks to an extremely low centre of gravity and clever adaptive air suspension. The full-fat 424bhp twin-turbo V6 is also epic. However, the Levante is ultimately let down by its cramped rear quarters and the fact that it’s matched in most respects by the cheaper Jaguar F-Pace and Porsche Macan.
It’s fair to say Bentley has thrown absolutely everything into developing its mould-breaking Bentayga, which currently stands alone at the pinnacle of the SUV segment with its Dh1.0m price tag. What you get for this money is a 2.4-tonne SUV that seemingly defies the laws of physics.
This is the only way to describe a behemoth that you can fling around like a sports saloon, thanks to ingenious electric anti-roll bars that all but nullify body roll, no matter how hard you toss it into corners. Yet, the flip side is plush ride quality that’s totally in keeping with the Bentley ethos. The W12-powered Bentayga also throws out the SUV rulebook with its 300kph V-max. Inside, you get all the trimmings you’d expect in a vehicle wearing the winged badge, with lashings of handcrafted leather, burr walnut trim and a superb Naim sound system with 20 speakers. You’ll also find every mod-con you could ever imagine. The Bentayga sets a new SUV benchmark, just as its makers intended.