The real supercars: Do SUVs qualify?

What is a supercar? You may be surprised to discover that the meaning of the word has changed quite a few times over the years. And it’s time it changed again. Why? Because there is a select group of vehicles far more deserving of the term than flashy Italian road rockets with ridiculous prices.

To find one of the first mentions of the word, “supercar”, you need to go back almost 100 years. On 11 November 1920, an advertisement appeared in The Times newspaper for the Ensign 6. “If you are interested in a supercar, you cannot afford to ignore the claims of the Ensign 6,” it read.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the US developed its own breed of supercars. In fact, what we now often refer to as muscle cars were known back then to the Yanks as supercars.

These were usually mid-sized cars with ridiculously large engines. The 1956 Ford Fairlane, for example, sported a burly 5,1-litre V8 that generated168 kW of power, which was a lot at the time. These vehicles didn’t have the chassis, suspension or brakes to deal with all that power, but they sure were brisk in a straight line.

The fact of the matter is that the term, “supercar”, has evolved over the years to mean different things
to different people. In 1994, Popular Science magazine even referred to the vehicles of the future – fantastical automobiles with hybrid drivetrains and natural gas engines – as supercars.

To most of us, though, a supercar is defined in the following way: an ultra-exotic sportscar with loads
of power and dramatic styling. It is usually produced in limited numbers and is incredibly expensive.

It can be argued, however, that a supercar’s defining characteristic is its impressive performance. For a supercar to truly impress, it needs to have blistering acceleration, exquisite handling and a frightening top speed.

But why have we decided to define modern supercars in this way? What makes a supercar, well, super? Consider the following: Supercars are extremely expensive. They are also impractical – they can usually accommodate only two people and there is no space for luggage.

It is almost impossible to be seen in one of them without looking like a smug and pretentious elitist. But the cars can turn any humdrum trip into a nightmare, since every bump, pothole and road imperfection suddenly becomes a massive obstacle that has to be negotiated with great care. And they aren’t very comfy and well equipped. What is “super” about all that? Nothing!

Supercars are one-trick ponies. Yes, they are fast and agile, but they’re pointless, since they offer far more power and performance than the average owner will ever make use of. And they demand far too many sacrifices.

In my opinion, a vehicle that deserves to be called “super” needs to be adaptable, able to deal effortlessly with any situation, which is why I think modern luxury SUVs such as the Range Rover Sport, Porsche Cayenne and Mercedes- Benz GL-Class are the true supercars of our time.

They aren’t quite as fast and agile as the cars produced by manufacturers such as Ferrari and Lamborghini, but they are nevertheless very impressive. The way in which these large vehicles can defy the laws of physics is astonishing. More importantly, though, they completely eclipse fancy sportscars when it comes to things such as comfort, practicality and all- round capability.

A vehicle such as the Range Rover Sport has around 280mm of ground clearance and a wading depth of 850mm, yet can offer sportscar-like handling and speed. It is spacious and comfortable, but also sporty and agile. Slip it into Sport mode and it corners as if it’s on rails, but take it off road and it can deal very adequately with ditches and dongas.

Vehicles such as the Range Rover Sport and Merc GL might not sit at the pinnacle of performance, but their breadth of capability makes them the true supercars.

Why settle for a vehicle that can only do its best work on smooth tarmac when you could have one that can deal with any surface and any scenario? That’s the question that cash-flush potential buyers should be asking themselves.