Large Sport-Utility Vehicles
The largest rigs available.
There are some 20 large SUVs on sale in the segment, and nearly all are based on rugged truck platforms. They stretch at least 15.5 feet long from bumper to bumper. They sit high up off the ground, and many are among the tallest passenger vehicles on the road. Strong V8 power is the norm, though some models come with V6s, too. All of these SUVs are good vehicles for towing. Most also offer a choice of two- or four-wheel drive as well as three rows of seats. Obviously, generous interior room is a given.
Families, Celebrities Own Them
Over the years, these big SUVs became increasingly popular with Americans. Most SUVs attracted families that needed vehicles for vacations, towing boats, horse trailers, campers and the like. But with the arrival of the Lincoln Navigator and the Cadillac Escalade in the 1990s, full-size SUVs also developed a following among musicians, professional athletes, Hollywood stars and other celebrities who liked the "bling" that these big SUVs sometimes wear.
No wonder, then, that large SUVs often are accessorized with custom items such as fancy wheels, chrome trim pieces, running boards, entertainment systems and grille guards. Indeed, "the average Hummer leaves the dealership with more than $5,000 in accessories on it," according to Gary Cowger, an executive at General Motors Corp.
Full-size SUVs aren't just big on style. With their heft and mass, they've been known to get top safety ratings in crash tests. But some critics blast the big SUVs for overriding small cars during crashes and causing excess damage and injuries. In recent years, auto companies have sought to install frame structures at the front of big SUVs that will match up better with lower-riding cars in the event of a crash.
The downside of these roomy SUVs, of course, is fuel mileage. Toyota's worst mileage vehicle, for example, is its full-size Land Cruiser SUV with four-wheel drive. Weighing more than 5,400 pounds without any passengers inside, the 2008 Land Cruiser is rated at just 12 miles per gallon in city driving and 15 mpg on the highway. This is less than a third of the mileage rating for Toyota's popular gasoline-electric hybrid car, the Prius.
Big SUVs Still in Demand
Still, full-size SUVs continue to sell. Even with gasoline prices reaching record highs early in calendar 2007, Chevrolet sold more than twice as many Tahoe SUVs than it did its smallest car, the Aveo. Cadillac sold more Escalades than it did its smallest sedan, the CTS. And sales of Range Rover's largest models were holding steady.
Simply, people who have to tow boats, trailers and the like can find no substitute—save a full-size pickup truck—to a full-size SUV. And people with large-sized families still want a comfortable vehicle for all.
Large SUV News
Infiniti's largest SUV, the QX56, is revamped for 2008 with slight front and rear appearance upgrades and new conveniences including a power folding third-row seat. The QX56 can seat up to 8 people and is powered by a 320-horsepower V8.
General Motors Corp. continues to reap the benefits of all redesigned and re-engineered SUVs at three brands—Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC offer more streamlined, less bulky Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban, GMC Yukon and Yukon XL and Cadillac Escalade models. They use a new, modern platform for improved ride and handling, and engine power ranges from a 320-horsepower 5.3-liter Vortec V8 in a base Chevy Tahoe to a 403-horsepower 6.2-liter V8 in the 2007 Cadillac Escalade.
Note that while there are no hybrid full-size SUVs yet, there are attempts to boost fuel economy. For example, the Vortec 5300 V8 in the Tahoe and Yukon includes Active Fuel Management technology. This system monitors the vehicle's travels and can automatically stop combustion in half of the eight cylinders when less power is needed, such as when a Tahoe is coasting. The shutdown of the cylinders helps improve fuel economy by up to 7 percent, GM engineers estimate. The federal government rating for a two-wheel-drive Tahoe with this engine has been 16/22 mpg.
Meantime, Chrysler announced it plans a hybrid version of its full-size Aspen SUV in 2008. The vehicle will be powered by a 5.7-liter HEMI V8 that gets electric motor assistance to reduce fuel consumption 25 percent over a non-hybrid HEMI model. The Aspen already comes with a V8 that has Chrysler's Multi-displacement system that, like the GM SUVs, allows it to run on only four cylinders to save fuel when road conditions and driver needs allow.
Mercedes in the Segment
The 2007 model year marked the first time that Mercedes-Benz of Germany entered the consumer full-size SUV market in America.
The GL-Class is the first Mercedes SUV to seat up to seven people and tow a reported 7,500 pounds. Starting retail price is around $55,000, and power comes from a 335-horsepower 4.6-liter V8 with 339 lb-ft of torque at 3000 rpm. Note that the GL-Class has unibody construction, rather than the segment's traditional body-on-frame construction, in large part because it's built at the same assembly plant as the Mercedes M-Class, which is a midsize SUV.
The GL-Class comes standard with Mercedes' 4Matic all-wheel-drive system and features power-down third-row seats that fold into the cargo floor. These seats are not removable from the vehicle. The GL-Class comes out of a Mercedes factory in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Chrysler's Aspen Debuts as Full-Size SUV
Chrysler got its first SUV in 2007, and it's a big one. Based on the Dodge Durango, the 2007 Aspen is the first Chrysler-branded vehicle with seating for up to eight.
Two V8s are offered. The base 4.7-liter V8 provides 235 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque at 3600 rpm, while the up-level engine is a 335-horsepower 5.7-liter HEMI V8 that produces 370 lb-ft of torque at 4200 rpm. The smaller V8 is compatible with ethanol-containing E85 gasoline, while, as mentioned above, the bigger HEMI V8 has Chrysler's fuel-saving Multi-Displacement System. Both V8s in the Aspen are mated to a 5-speed automatic transmission.
Among the features of the Aspen is a maximum 8,950-pound towing capacity and unique, light-emitting diode interior lighting that gives off a clean, white illumination. The Aspen also has standard Trailer Sway Control, which monitors the SUV's movements and the driver's steering direction and "senses" if trailer sway is starting to develop. If so, the system can selectively activate brakes at the proper wheels and reduce engine speed until the trailer is stabilized. It's all done automatically.
Other standard safety items on the Aspen are electronic stability control, and electronic roll mitigation, tire-pressure-monitoring system, Brake Assist for faster panic braking, traction control and curtain airbags. The starting retail price for the Aspen at introduction was less than $31,000.
Jeep's Commander Carries More People
Jeep has been in the sport-utility segment for 60 years. But it wasn't until just a couple years ago that the brand sold an SUV with seven seats.
The Jeep Commander features exterior styling that's reminiscent of the old Jeep Wagoneers. But the top Commander engine—a 330-horsepower 5.7-liter HEMI V8—provides the grunt of modern powertrains.
Underneath all the sheet metal, the Commander rides on the same platform as the current Jeep Grand Cherokee. In fact, the Commander is only 2 inches longer than the Grand Cherokee. But the Grand Cherokee has only two rows of seats for a maximum of five passengers.
If you want a Commander, don't wait too long. Auto industry analysts and auto worker officials at the assembly plant have said that the vehicle isn't likely to remain in production by the time the 2009 model year starts.
Other Large SUVs
Audi introduced the 7-passenger performance-oriented Q7 SUV for the 2007 model year. Built on the same platform as the Volkswagen Touareg SUV, the Q7 is 13 inches longer to accommodate a third-row seat while the wheelbase gets stretched nearly 6 inches and the width increases by more than 2 inches.
But Ford retains its full-size Expedition, which has earned the highest federal government front crash test rating for five years in a row. Power comes from a 300-horsepower 5.4-liter Triton V8.
Meantime, Lincoln's Navigator is restyled for 2007 with a bolder look. There's also a first-ever long-wheelbase Navigator L model that's 14.7 inches longer than the regular Navigator. It adds 25 cubic feet of storage space behind the third-row seats. The Navigator's 300-horsepower 5.4-liter V8 is a carryover.
Some Names Date Back Decades
The Suburban, which has been around for more than 65 years, is only one of the longstanding nameplates in this segment.
Toyota's Land Cruiser also has a lengthy history, dating back to the early 1950s when it was the first motor vehicle to reach the sixth station of Mt. Fuji in Japan. Since 1958, the Land Cruiser has been offered in the U.S.
Another full-size SUV, the Land Rover Range Rover ranks as the world's first dual-purpose luxury off-road vehicle. Now in its third generation, the Range Rover keeps on adding more luxury and convenience features. For example, current Range Rovers can be had with a 14-way power driver seat, leather seat trim with piping, and two-level heated front and rear seats.
Hummer Uses Military Style
The original Hummer for consumers, the H1, is gone. But the full-size Hummer H2 remains with its boxy, military styling. Power comes from a 325-horsepower 6.0-liter Vortec 6000 V8 that produces a healthy 365 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm.
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