The modern SUV has become the “car” of choice for most, and it’s not hard to fathom why. Seating room, cargo space, and the higher driving position are a given. Still, we think the growing popularity has more to do with how SUVs morphed from a standard, everyday vehicle to a high-performance machine capable of outrunning a sports car. And it does it while still having five to seven seats, sufficient cargo room, and the off-road smarts of its vintage predecessors.
Fun Fact: The 2016 Porsche Cayenne Turbo S is the first production SUV to lap the Nürburgring in under eight minutes.
The first-gen Porsche Cayenne that debuted in 2003 was a bold effort by the German automaker. It drew flack for its 911-inspired styling, but the Cayenne was an instant hit with its sporty performance, premium cabin, and a potent lineup of powertrain options. The second-gen Cayenne arrived in 2011, bearing Carrera GT styling cues and plenty of functional performance.
Professional racecar driver Walter Röhrl, a man no stranger to achieving lap records in a Porsche, entered the record books again while piloting a 2016 Cayenne Turbo S. He lapped the Nürburgring in 7:59.74., making the Cayenne Turbo S the world’s first production SUV to circle the ‘Ring in under eight minutes.
#4. Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio
Date Announced: September 29th, 2017
Fun Fact: The Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio was a full eight seconds faster than the previous record holder, the 2016 Porsche Cayenne Turbo.
The Alfa Romeo name has been conquering racetracks since the automaker’s founding in Milan, Italy, in 1910. Jeremy Clarkson of the Grand Tour (formerly of Top Gear) famously said that you couldn’t be a true petrolhead until you’ve owned an Alfa, possibly a gentle dig at the brand’s propensity for unreliability and shoddy build quality.
However, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio is a different kind of Alfa. It’s a sporty-looking SUV, for starters, but one with eye-watering credentials. It has an all-aluminum 2.9-liter twin-turbocharged V6 and an eight-speed automatic gearbox, pumping 505 horsepower to all four wheels. The Stelvio Quadrifoglio rockets from zero to 60 mph in 3.3 seconds and is one of the quickest SUVs you can buy.
Italian driver Fabio Francia took the Stelvio Quadrifoglio for a spin at the Nürburgring in September 2017. It lapped the 12.9-mile Nordschleife in a blistering seven minutes and 51.7 seconds, a full eight seconds faster than the previous record.
#3. Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S
Date Announced: November 22nd, 2018
Fun Fact: The Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S is quicker around the Nürburgring than the Ferrari F430, Lamborghini Murcielago, and the Mercedes-AMG SL65 Black Series.
The Germans know their way around the Nürburgring, so it’s no surprise the Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S is on this list. It has a 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V8 with 503 horsepower, the same output as the Stelvio Quadrifoglio’s V6. However, the Mercedes blasted its way around the ‘Ring a full two seconds faster than the Alfa, ending the Italian SUV’s reign.
With Mercedes-AMG development engineer Markus Hofbauer at the helm, the GLC 63 S completed the 12.9-mile Nordschleife in seven minutes and 49.37 seconds. The AMG Performance 4MATIC+ all-wheel-drive system (with variable torque distribution and a rear axle locking differential), air suspension with adaptive variable damping, and ceramic composite brakes each helped Hofbauer make the most of the V8’s power and torque.
#2. Audi RS Q8
Date Announced: November 6th, 2019
Fun Fact: The Lamborghini Urus had a lap time of 7:47. But since the lap was unofficial, we can’t include the Urus on our list of fastest production SUVs around the Nürburgring.
If the Lamborghini Urus, the Audi RS Q8’s corporate cousin, had officially lapped the Nürburgring, its record would not have stood for long. In November 2019, professional driver Frank Stippler completed a lap of the ‘Ring in seven minutes and 42 seconds (7:42.253), about five seconds faster than the Urus.
Under the hood of the Audi RS Q8 is a 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V8 with 591 horsepower and 590 lb-ft. of torque. It also has a quattro all-wheel drivetrain, an eight-speed automatic, and a 48-volt hybrid system to save fuel. According to Audi, the RS Q8 can hit 60 mph from a standing start in 3.2 seconds and finish the quarter-mile in 11.6 seconds.
#1: Porsche Cayenne Turbo GT
Date Announced: June 14th, 2021
Fun Fact: The Porsche Cayenne that holds the current Nürburgring lap record is a Cayenne Coupe, a variant of a standard Cayenne SUV.
It didn’t take long for Porsche to reclaim the Nürburgring lap record. In June 2021, with track temperatures at 114.8 Fahrenheit (46 degrees Celsius), professional driver Lars Kern circled the ‘Ring aboard a Porsche Cayenne Turbo GT Coupe and broke Audi’s record by about three seconds. “This Cayenne model is a top performer,” said Stefan Weckbach, Vice President of Product Line Cayenne. “Its record time on the Nordschleife confirms the dynamic capabilities of our new performance SUV.”
The 2021 Porsche Cayenne Turbo GT’s 7:38.925 Nürburgring lap time is more impressive considering the Lexus LFA, Ferrari 458 Italia, and the Chevy Corvette C6 ZR-1 all have ‘Ring times of seven minutes and 38 seconds, and all of them are supercars. But the Cayenne Turbo is a practical SUV, although it does have a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 with 631 horsepower and 626 lb-ft. of torque – not bad for a daily driver.
“The wheels normally leave the ground at both the Pflanzgarten I and II crests, but these sections felt smooth and quiet in this Cayenne. There is a lot of wheel travel, and the body stays solid and controlled,” Kern said. “The drivetrain makes a really strong impression. It delivers power in every situation as well as perfect gear changes.”
Sabine Schmitz: Queen of The Nürburgring
Did you know the late Sabine Schmitz holds the record for driving the fastest seven-seat SUV around the Nordschleife? What’s more impressive is she did it in a bone-stock Skoda Kodiaq RS, the quickest and most expensive Skoda you can buy. It featured Skoda’s most powerful diesel engine, a 2.0-liter bi-turbo unit generating 237 horsepower and 369 lb-ft. of torque. Schmitz and the Skoda had a lap time of 9:29.0, a record that stands to this day.
Ruhe in Frieden, Sabine.
Alvin Reyes is an Automoblog feature columnist and an expert in sports and performance cars. He studied civil aviation, aeronautics, and accountancy in his younger years and is still very much smitten to his former Lancer GSR and Galant SS. He also likes fried chicken, music, and herbal medicine.