By Chris Chase
When SUVs and crossovers first became popular as vehicles for daily driving, they were aimed mostly at buyers seeking off-road or all-weather traction and the general utility that comes with a larger, boxier vehicle.
But as utility vehicle sales began to outpace those of cars, automakers realized there was an appetite for SUVs with styling, horsepower and handling traits more often associated with sports cars, especially among shoppers looking for luxury models.
Unsurprisingly, most of the resulting vehicles come from Europe, but North American and Japanese brands have gotten in on the game, too. Here’s a look at what you can expect when shopping for a used high-performance SUV.
Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG/Mercedes-AMG GLE 63, 2012-2019
Mercedes-Benz introduced the third generation of its mid-size ML-Class SUV in 2012, and then refreshed and renamed it the GLE-Class in 2016. The third-gen model lasted until 2019 before a redesigned model arrived for 2020.
Of all the SUVs we’re looking at here, the ML63 and GLE 63 are the muscle cars of the bunch, built more for straight-line speed than racecar handling. Depending on the model year and trim, a 5.5L V8 generates anywhere from 518 hp/516 lb-ft of torque to 577 hp/560 lb-ft. All use a seven-speed transmission and all-wheel drive.
These are not fuel-efficient machines. Natural Resources Canada’s fuel consumption estimates are 17.3/13.5 L/100 km (city/highway), and like most high-end German vehicles, the ML and GLE require premium gasoline.
Early versions of the 5.5L V8 were known for timing chains that don’t receive adequate lubrication, which can cause them to wear prematurely. Symptoms include misfires and rough running, long crank times before the engine starts, and a rattling sound when the engine is running. Left unchecked, a stretched timing chain could lead to a catastrophic engine failure. Mercedes redesigned the timing chain system in 2013, so this should not be a worry in the GLE 63 and later versions of the ML 63. If you want to know more, here’s a video about the 5.5L V8’s timing chain.
Read this page to learn where to look for the most common sources of oil and coolant leaks in the ML63 and GLE 63 engine.
Both the ML63 and GLE 63 came standard with an air suspension system that provides a great ride and good handling. However, such systems often develop leaks as they age, and replacing faulty components can get expensive.
AMG versions of the ML and GLE-Class SUVs were also fitted with a variety of other high-performance brake, suspension, and exhaust equipment that may be more expensive to repair and replace than in lesser versions of these vehicles.
BMW X5M/X6M, 2015-2018
BMW first applied its speed-centric M treatment to the X5 and X6 in 2010, and both were redesigned into a new generation in 2015, which is where we start our buyer’s guide.
The X5 M and X6 M share a 4.4L turbo V8 that makes 567 hp/553 lb-ft of torque, which goes through an eight-speed transmission to an all-wheel drive system.
The engine has a coolant pump dedicated to keeping the turbochargers cool. In this video, an X5M owner talks about his discovery that the pump in his car wasn’t working and shows how to check whether it is running.
Here’s a BMW service bulletin about a well-known oil leak from the engine.
In this discussion, BMW owners discuss oil consumption in the X5M/X6M engine.
Porsche Cayenne Turbo, 2011-2018
The Cayenne Turbo is the most potent version of Porsche’s mid-size SUV model. The second generation arrived in 2011 featuring a 4.8L turbo V8 with 500 hp/516 lb-ft of torque. Porsche followed that with a Turbo S upgrade in 2013, whose engine makes 550 hp/553 lb-ft. An eight-speed automatic transmission and AWD were standard in all Cayenne Turbo models.
In 2017, Porsche released a service bulletin to address a known issue of camshaft bolts that can loosen and break in 2011 models, causing the engine to stall. Here’s one Cayenne owner’s account of what happens when the camshaft bolts break.
The Cayenne is also known for failures of the AWD transfer case, a secondary transmission that directs power to the front wheels. Symptoms of a failing transfer case include clunking sounds and jerkiness and hesitation during acceleration. Here’s one owner’s story of a transfer case that failed outright and was replaced under warranty.
Here’s an account of the sort of headache a complicated air suspension can cause.
The Cayenne Turbo is known for engine coolant leaks. This owner decided not to wait for leaks to happen and replaced a variety of components preemptively.
Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT, 2012-2019
Jeep launched the fourth generation of its Grand Cherokee in 2011 and, in 2012, revived the high-performance SRT8 model it had introduced during the previous generation of this upscale SUV.
The 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 uses a 6.4L V8 that makes 470 hp/465 lb-ft of torque, which is handled by a five-speed automatic transmission and four-wheel drive. For 2014, all Grand Cherokee models upgraded to an eight-speed transmission, and in 2015, Jeep dropped the “8” from this speedy Grand Cherokee’s name and gave the big engine a nominal power boost.
In 2018, Jeep rolled out a Trackhawk variant with a supercharged 6.2L V8 making 707 hp and 645 lb-ft.
Some Grand Cherokee SRT owners complain of rough or inconsistent shift quality in the eight-speed transmission, which results in slower full-throttle acceleration.
In this discussion, Grand Cherokee SRT owners talk about a clunking sound from the rear differential when shifting into gear at a stop or when transitioning from acceleration to deceleration (or vice versa).
Jeep issued a service bulletin for a different rear-end clunk caused by shock absorber mounts.
Here’s a thread about a creaking sound from the Grand Cherokee’s panoramic sunroof.
In 2016, Jeep recalled the Grand Cherokee because of an electronic gearshift design that made it too easy to leave the vehicle without putting the transmission in “park.” This recall was the subject of a high-profile lawsuit after a rollaway Grand Cherokee killed actor Anton Yelchin.
In this discussion, Grand Cherokee SRT owners puzzle out which model years are affected by an issue with valvetrain lifters in the 6.4L V8.
Infiniti FX50/QX70, 2009-2014
Infiniti restyled its audacious FX SUV in 2009. The base model was the V6-powered FX35, but we’re focusing on the speedier FX50 and its 5.0L V8, which makes 390 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. This is the least-powerful vehicle in this article, but in 2009 it was a rarity among Japanese SUVs for its V8 engine, which has one of the most distinctive exhaust sounds in the segment. In 2014, Infiniti renamed the FX to the QX70, and that was also the last year for the V8. All FX50 and QX70 models were standard with AWD and a seven-speed automatic transmission.
The FX50/QX70 has proven to be a durable vehicle with very few common issues.
Scanning the drivetrain section of the forum at InfinitiFX.org reveals numerous questions and complaints about the seven-speed transmission in the FX50 and QX70. Here’s one specific discussion about the transmission in Infiniti’s sporty SUV.
Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio, 2018-2020
Alfa Romeo’s Stelvio is the newest model in this article, launched in 2018 as Alfa’s first-ever SUV. Most versions use a turbo four-cylinder engine, but our focus is on the Quadrifoglio variant, which has a turbocharged 2.9L V6 that makes 505 hp and 443 lb-ft of torque. AWD and an eight-speed transmission are standard in the Stelvio Quadrifoglio.
The number one issue Stelvio owners complain about is a battery that fails to hold an adequate charge. It may still be strong enough to start the engine, but the Stelvio’s electrical system is apparently sensitive to low voltage so that a weak battery can cause all kinds of weird problems. Here’s some more Stelvio battery-related reading.
We also found complaints about water leaks, which were the subject of a recall to fix a leak that could damage an electronic control module. All other information we came across points to the Stelvio’s mechanical components holding up well in the car’s first few years on the road. Still, the potential for electrical problems makes us very hesitant to recommend one as a used vehicle purchase, especially if warranty coverage has expired.