Car enthusiasts and physics concur: Tallness is inherently at odds with fun. At least when it comes to driving; Wilt Chamberlain probably disagreed. Regardless, the tall, banausic crossover proliferates. So abundant are these be-hatched trucklets that we find ourselves desperately trying to classify them, adding words such as “premium,” “compact,” and—wait for it—“performance.” Yet those three adjectives aptly characterize the machines before you, all of which occupy a tiny but expanding corner of the crossover universe.
Despite the funneling of crossovers into ever-smaller buckets, narrowing the field for this test was actual work. Alphabetically, then: Alfa’s Stelvio effectively straddled our field’s $55,000 base-price/350-hp requirement with a 280-hp, $42,990 starting model and a 505-hp, $77,000 Quadrifoglio. BMW’s X3 and X4 M40i had similar problems, the X3 lacking power and the appropriately priced and competitively powerful X4 M40i lacking a practical roofline. Infiniti’s QX70 is just too old, its last redesign coming almost a decade ago. Jag’s F-Pace was beaten in our visit to this segment in 2016, and Volvo’s hottest XC60 powers its rear axle with an electric motor.
That leaves Audi’s freshly minted SQ5, Mercedes-AMG’s GLC43, and our returning champ, Porsche’s Macan. To save $12,800 this go-round, though, we’ve substituted the Macan S for the GTS, which showed its rounded rump to the Jag in last year’s matchup. There is an immense amount of common ground among the three assembled, starting with base prices, all of which fall within an improbable $620 window. All three are powered by longitudinally arranged turbocharged 3.0-litre V-6 engines and come standard with all-wheel drive. All are within a single inch of one another in overall length. And all three were created to reconcile the absurdly American priorities of sitting high and going fast.
Built on the VW Group’s MLB Evo platform, which also carries the S4 and S5, the 354-hp SQ5 starts at $55,275 (in Premium Plus trim) and is the newest crossover in this contest. Its Prestige package, which includes navigation, Audi’s Virtual Cockpit configurable instrument cluster, and a few more tricks, added $4200 to our tester. Another $3000 tapped the S Sport package, endowing the SQ5 with red brake calipers, a torque-vectoring rear differential, and height-adjustable air suspension, for when you can’t resist the suburban Rubicon. Rounding out the performance options are $1000 21-inch wheels. All in, this is a $65,800 SQ5.
With 362 horsepower and a $71,055 as-tested price, the GLC43 is both the most powerful and most expensive vehicle in this test. Don’t blame its $55,895 base price, though—there’s plenty of fat to cut from our heavily equipped example. Capable self-parkers, we’d gladly surrender the $1550 Advanced Parking Assistance package. Forgoing another $4130 in paint and upholstery options would put the GLC’s as-tested price right between those of the Macan and SQ5. Being an AMG means most of the performance options, such as height-adjustable air springs, are built into the base price, but 21-inch wheels come with a $1000 burden here. Navigation and multiple driver-assist and safety features are provided by the $5950 Premium package.
As our reigning champ of all things small, tall, and sporting, Porsche’s Macan uses VW’s older MLB platform shared with the previous Audi A4, S4, and Q5 variants. With 340 horsepower and at $64,905 as tested, it proffers the most modest output and price in the test. Four performance-enhancing options totaling $5400 stand out: Porsche Active Suspension Management, Porsche (brake-based) Torque Vectoring Plus, 20-inch wheels, and the Sport Chrono package. Our tester also came equipped with navigation, lane-change assist, and heated front seats.
Though we might not know exactly what to call these things, we do know just where to drive them. Continuing a long tradition of incensing the Ohio State Highway Patrol, we headed out from Ann Arbor, Michigan, to southern Ohio’s Hocking Hills where the roads are technical, fraught with blind crests, and tighten mid-corner. We logged 700 miles in three days, smoking brakes, scrubbing tires, and having, well, fun to reach this conclusion.