Ray Ho – 11/27/2019

Love it or hate it, SUVs are taking over the automotive landscape…. or a little closer to home, the dreaded 405 FWY. People are flocking to them because of their higher ride height and their perceived utility.  The fact is you can often fit a comparable amount of stuff in a smaller station wagon on your Costco runs. But we don’t live in Europe so good luck trying to find a decent wagon. Therefore, SUVs are all the rage in the U.S. SUVs, especially the more compact ones are often the best sellers for their respective brands: How many Porsche Macan have you spotted today?

I recently had a chance to test drive SUVs from different manufacturers. I always like the shape of the iconic Jeep so I drove the 2019 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 4×4 ($41,545 base, $55,760 as tested) first. My daily driver is a slammed FR-S so it is not surprising that after I climbed into the cabin, my first impression was “Wow the ride height is tall”; Am I on a monster truck? Once moving it again feel like I am driving a school bus. Well at least that is how I image it would be like driving a school bus since I have not actually driven one before. When I step on the accelerator, the power is plentiful but the ride is bumpy. I often see lifted versions of Jeeps with massive tires (such as the trail rated ones) and I can image their ride must be pretty rough. But who cares, the feeling you get inside one of these is priceless; you feel like you can conquer any terrain. Even though in reality you are crawling on the 405 while fiddling with the infotainment screen in the newly updated interior.

Next up is the gigantic 2019 Mercedes Benz G550 SUV.   The G feels heavy but the power (416hp and 450lb-ft of torque) is excellent especially in the Sport mode. Everything is very refined.  But even with the modernized cabin with MBUX, it is debatable whether it  justifies the $141,545 as tested price tag ($124,500 base).  I am not fond of the “way to sensitive” active side boosters; Why does it turn on while traveling at very low speed? This ultimate MB SUV, like the Jeep, is geared toward very specific breed of owners, albeit this one requires someone with a matching gigantic wallet.

You can never have too much power that is why I went on the 2019 F-PACE SVR ($79,990 base, $89,900 as tested) next. This big cat is worthy of the SVR (Special Vehicle Racing) name. The power (550hp and 502 lb-ft of torque) is insane and should be outlawed in a SUV. The exhaust note is explosive just like the F-Type SVR. The styling is still gorgeous just like the F-TYPE SVR. But understandably the chassis is no F-TYPE SVR. In fact, it feels nervous under hard driving. But with this much power, I am willing to overlook it along with those overly grabby brakes.

You do feel much safer in the Range Rover Sport SVR ($68,650 base), it shares many interior elements with the Jag but it somehow feels much more luxurious. The signature grill and the timeless body shape just makes it feel more special. No wonder the Range Rover is still among favorites for high rollers and ballers alike.

The Discovery is another big luxury SUV offering from Land Rover. It has electric everything. In fact, there may be a little too much electronics as I found myself getting annoyed waiting for the 3rd seats to fold up and down. Though not nearly feel as luxurious as in the Range Rover, it is still a great family luxury SUV and it is relatively more affordable ($52,300 base).

The beautiful yet simple 2020 Volvo XC60 T8 E-AWD Polstar ($71,050 base, $73,490 as tested) is somewhat of a disappointment. It’s beautiful interior and refine drive-train (415hp and 494 lb-ft of torque) begs a more compliant suspension. Stiffening the suspension does not necessary make a car sportier or handles better. In this case, you feel every little bumps on normal roads. Obviously those oversize 22″ rims with 35 aspect ratio low profile rubber didn’t help either. It is a shame because this understated luxury SUV could be among one of the best on the market.

If fun and performance is what you are after then look no further than the 2019 Alfa Romeo Stevio Quadrifoglio AWD ($80,245 base, $88,540 as tested). The exhaust sound is incredible sweet. The power (505hp) is just plain nuts. You will be tempted to floor the gas pedal all day long. The Alfa’s signature front grill and the rim design are not my cup of tea but the drive is impeccable. The Stevio is easily my favorite among these performance SUVs.

A big surprise is the 2020 Hyundai Palisade Limited AWD ($46,400 base, $47,605 as tested). It drives much smaller than it is. I would prefer more power (291hp and 262 lb-ft of torque) especially when going up mountain roads but it is more than adequate for everyday street and freeway driving. It is so comfortable and smooth. The cabin feels very roomy. Kudos to the Hyundai designers for the great packaging.  This could be a perfect family vehicle that proves we don’t need mini vans.

The 2019 Fiat 500x ($29,195 base, $35,075 as tested) is an unexpectedly fun vehicle. Though this little guy is not in the same league as the other performance luxury SUVs, it is very composed and it felt solid. Despite modestly powered, in this package it is very easy to drive. The car feels safe and well built which is not something I associated with Fiat as I recall the earlier model tiny 500 (though undeniably cute) were under-powered and handled poorly. This bigger sized 500x is definitely worth considering if you are in the market for a compact SUV.

While I would like to see more sports wagon and hot hatches for the sake of better handling and efficiency, the test drives reinforced why I think more and more people gravitate toward SUVs.  The new SUVs comes in all shapes and sizes and they can be very capable, sporty and luxurious.  Hey, I suppose it could be worse, the minivans could be making a comeback.