THE BIG BOYS OF THE LUXURY AND PERFORMANCE WORLD — BENTLEY, MASERATI AND LAMBORGHINI — ARE HOPPING ABOARD THE SUV BANDWAGON. WELL, IT WORKED FOR PORSCHE
First luxuriously appointed cab off the rank is the Bentley Bentayga, which arrives in New Zealand next month.
Naturally there has been plenty of buzz about Bentley's first SUV — based around the same MLB-Evo architecture that underpins the Audi Q7 &mdash and especially the power boasted by its all-new 6-litre twin-turbo W12 engine.
Suffice to say, this will be one fast way to go antiquing in Central Otago.
With a 301km/h top speed, the Bentayga is faster even than the Porsche Cayenne Turbo S, which is also very fast.
A mammoth maximum torque figure of 900Nm helps the Bentayga sprint from standstill to 100km/h in 4.1sec.
Combine that peak torque with 447kW of power and we're talking supercar fast.
Not bad for a 5.1m-long SUV that'll seat five. Out of interest, the 5-litre V8 Range Rover Supercharged (probably the next most well-appointed SUV on sale in New Zealand right now) records 375kW and 625Nm.
Expect Bentayga pricing to be in the mid-$300,000s but with reason. There'll be plenty of luxurious touches and an extensive options list.
It'll be the most luxurious SUV on the market when it arrives, but this is no soft-roader.
The Bentayga features Drive Dynamics Mode, which allows the driver to select from a variety of settings depending on the driving environment, as well as the first 48V electronic Active Roll Control system in a vehicle of this type, which automatically minimises body roll and individual wheel control over scrabbly surfaces.
Off-road, a Bentley Dynamic Ride system will increase axle articulation for improved grip.
And that name?
The company's marketers tell us it's inspired by Taiga, the vast expanse of coniferous forest that covers a large swathe of Siberia, as well as the Rogue Bentayga, a rugged area of peaks in the Canary Islands that draws climbers from all over the world.
So ... something to do with off-road prowess then? We're none the wiser. Never mind, we all thought Cayenne sounded odd once.
It has possibly generated the smallest amount of column inches of our three mega SUVs, but Maserati has kept a fair chunk of information about its entry into the mega SUV category to itself.
When it arrives at the end of 2016 however, the Levante will boast the most complete model range, with (possibly) a twin turbo V6, a V8 petrol and a V6 diesel on offer.
The engines will be sourced from the Levante's sedan stablemates, but will likely be re-tuned from their base outputs for the new vehicle.
In other words, expect the 202kW/600Nm 3-litre V6 turbo diesel and the 390kW/650Nm twin-turbo 3.8-litre V8 from the Quattroporte GTS to pack even more of a punch in the SUV.
The Levante is also probably the most conservative of these luxury SUVs; very reminiscent of the Ghibli's sedan styling.
The eight-bar grille and trident badge is present, while three "porthole" air inlets down the front fenders are a nice visual link back to Maserati's sedans and coupes. It's the prettiest SUV here by some margin.
It's also the Italian carmaker's first SUV, although they've been toying with the idea for over a decade — and Driven is at the international launch this week.
You might remember the much curvier (and terribly named) Kubang concept from some years ago. Ride-height aside, the Levante shares little with that earlier design.
As for specification, not much is known. Engine stats aside, hardly any details have been forthcoming, although some inside info suggests the Levante will come with Q4 intelligent all-wheel drive, an electronic suspension system with controlled damping and air springs, and a specially calibrated eight-speed automatic transmission.
At least the manufacturer settled on a suitably Maserati-ish name in Levante. Kubang has a worrying onomatopoeic quality to it that would have had insurance assessors laughing.
Still the most theoretical of these mega SUVs is Lamborghini's effort. Called the Urus (which makes Bentayga sound almost normal), early rumour suggests the SUV will be powered by a high-output turbo V8, such as the one that powers the Porsche Cayenne Turbo. If so, this will be Lamborghini's first turbo model.
But wait, there's more. Before he fled the scene, outgoing Lamborghini CEO Stephan Winkelmann added further fuel to the fire by suggesting there might eventually be a hybrid-drive Urus, which would be the brand's first hybrid powertrain.
Something Winkelmann didn't leave journalists in doubt about was his requirement that the Urus be the fastest production SUV in the world. Yes, he really said that. "It has to be [the fastest]; it's a Lamborghini," Winkelmann told the motoring press. With Porsche managing to fling a Cayenne Turbo S around Nurburgring in under eight minutes, the bar has been set. Expect Lamborghini to come out fighting.
Lamborghini's SUV will have the longest gestation of these mega load-luggers, having been around in concept form since 2012 and not expected to join the company's range until 2018. So it's hard to know what specification and design details the SUV will feature by the time you can put your name on a list for one.
Future product aside, it's easy to forget that of the three manufacturers listed here, Lamborghini is the only one possessing form when it comes to building SUVs. That's right, they've done it before. The Lamborghini LM002 was a great slab-sided 4x4 built in the late 1980s. It looked a bit Hummer-ish, was powered by a 5.1-litre V12 and, despite the company's tractor-building heritage, was a left-field development even then.
At that time, Lamborghini was lurching from financial near-miss to financial near-miss and manufacturing mid-engined monsters such as the Jalpa and Diablo. Despite this, the big SUV stayed in production for seven years, although only around 320 were delivered.
With its faux-militaristic looks, the LM002 found favour in the Middle East and with oligarchs and princes alike. Probably the same clientele the Urus will appeal to.