SUVs Go Upscale
An alternative to the luxury car?
Consumers in the market for a luxury car are often looking for more capability or simply a larger presence than typically provided by a high-end sedan. The luxury SUV market meets that demand and continues to grow.
Originally conceived as rugged workhorses, sport-utility vehicles have evolved into the preferred choice of many drivers for everyday transportation. Commuting, running errands and shuttling kids around are the most common activities of the typical SUV.
As sport-utility vehicles continue to grow in popularity, some have become more and more civilized, culminating in upscale vehicles that deliver sport-utility versatility coupled with interior appointments befitting a luxury sedan.
There are two types of luxury SUVs. The more traditional truck-based models provide the greatest towing capacity, while car-based "crossover" SUVs combine a taller seating position with a more car-like ride. Both segments are growing substantially.
According to J.D. Power and Associates, in 2007 sales of premium crossover SUVs such as the Acura RDX and Land Rover LR2 increased almost 70 percent over 2006. And while fuel prices have kept sales of larger SUVs flat, the only sales increases in the full-size SUV segment are via the luxury models.
Comfort, capability and presence are what these plush cruisers are all about, and whether you're headed home from work or up the mountain to ski, you'll be sure to arrive in luxury and style.
Built on Firm Foundations
Many premium SUVs are built on existing sport-utility platforms while boasting added creature comforts such as leather seating, wood trim, full-time all-wheel drive and premium sound/navigation systems. For example, the Cadillac Escalade and Lincoln Navigator are luxury variants of the Chevrolet Tahoe and Ford Expedition. The Lexus GX 470 shares a platform with the Toyota FJ Cruiser, while the Infiniti QX56 is based on the Nissan Armada.
Not all are derivatives — a number of entries into the luxury sport-utility segment were designed from the outset as luxury SUVs. The Mercedes-Benz M-Class, Lexus RX, BMW X5 and Land Rover LR3 are examples.
Several luxury SUVs started their lives as military vehicles. They are the Mercedes-Benz G-Class and the Hummer H1 (no longer sold), which has since spawned the smaller H2. These vehicles match rugged capability with a certain panache.
Luxury Sport-Utility News
Early in 2007 Land Rover launched the LR2. This compact 5-passenger SUV has an all-new architecture designed to deliver impressive on-road handling and ride comfort while still retaining Land Rover's legendary off-road capability. Equipped with a permanent and "intelligent" all-wheel-drive system, the LR2 uses an electronically controlled center differential to vary the torque split between the front and rear axles as needed. The LR2 also features Terrain Response (which first debuted on the LR3), and Land Rover's first use of Roll Stability Control.
Joining the luxe-crossover market for 2008 is Buick's new Enclave. Sharing a platform with the GMC Acadia and the Saturn Outlook, the Enclave features Buick's QuietTuning to help create one of the most serene cabins on the road. Powered by a 275-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 engine, and mated to Buick's first six-speed automatic transmission, the Enclave offers standard seating for seven, with second-row Smart Slide captain's chairs that offer easy access to the third-row seat. Luxury equipment includes a powered rear liftgate with remote, a Mahogany and leather-wrapped steering wheel, and available heated leather seats.
Good Fuel Economy in a Luxury SUV?
The Lexus RX 400h was the first hybrid luxury SUV when it was introduced in 2006. The 5-passenger SUV combines a 3.3-liter V6 engine with two electric motors to produce 268 horsepower while delivering an impressive 26 mpg in the city and 24 on the highway with full-time all-wheel drive.
Next summer Cadillac will be coming to market with a hybrid version of its full-size Escalade. Utilizing GM's new dual-mode hybrid system, the Escalade Hybrid is expected to see a 50 percent increase in city fuel economy while retaining its powerful 6.0-liter V8 and its ability to tow 6,000 pounds.
Mercedes-Benz went a different route for fuel savings, offering diesel versions of both the ML and GL SUVs. The GL320 CDI and ML320 CDI are rated at 18 mpg city and 24 mpg hwy with no loss of performance. In fact, the 398 lb-ft of torque at just 1600 rpm is better than provided by Mercedes' 5.5-liter V8. And the diesel can still tow 7,500 pounds in the GL and 7,200 pounds in the ML.
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