3-Row Luxury SUVs Still a Sizable Force
With the 2013 Mercedes-Benz GL revealed in New York, we look at 4 more V8 barges on sale.
Whatever downsizing and efficiency breakthroughs have done to most new cars, the full-size luxury SUV segment hasn’t changed its core business. The 2013 Mercedes-Benz GL, unveiled today at the 2012 New York International Auto Show, continues the winning streak of 3-row, V8-powered trucks that cost well over $60,000. How is this still happening, with gas likely to top an average of $4 per gallon by the summer?
Luxury buyers don’t scale back like most people, and the drawbacks of hulking size, massive curb weights and thirsty engines aren’t drawbacks to those making upward of $150,000 per year. Of course, trucks like the GL can tow thousands of pounds while moving seven people in comfort -- not to mention featuring the latest gee-whiz technology. Somehow, the prestige of bruising the boulevard in a 13-mpg ship can still be cool.
Let’s try to grasp this phenomenon with a quick look at the five top-selling 3-row luxury SUVs in the U.S. (While the Range Rover remains the ultimate full-size SUV, we excluded it because it seats only five. Nearly 10,000 were sold in 2011, which would place it fourth on this list.)
1. Cadillac Escalade
The “Jersey Shore” TV series isn’t the only reason the Cadillac Escalade continues to lead the segment, with 25,503 sales in 2011. Whether in regular, extended or pickup-truck form, the Escalade is so popular that it regularly tops an insurance list of most-stolen vehicles each year. The design, from the rigid body-on-frame construction to the column-mounted shifter, may seem old-school, but the magnetic shocks, LED headlamps and power running boards pass modern tests. Livery drivers love them, and where else besides a Fisker Karma can you buy 22-inch chrome rims from the factory?
2. Mercedes-Benz GL
Coming in a close second, with 25,139 sold last year, is the big Benz. The GL originally was slated to replace the ancient G-Wagen, but after everybody in Los Angeles complained, Mercedes kept both. The GL’s calling card, besides the giant 3-pointed star on its grille, is an available diesel engine that achieves respectable mileage in this segment (17 mpg city/21 mpg highway). The new GL features now-requisite LED running lamps and a new Crosswind Stabilization system to mitigate the natural wobbling effects of driving a massive box. Judging by this model’s success, a GL63 AMG is probably in the works.
3. Infiniti QX56
Infiniti redesigned the QX56 last year and for some reason didn’t show one in New York. Its styling – especially along the rear, which the GL seems to copy – is an aggressive mash of curves and edges. More than 13,000 went off dealer lots in 2011. Like the Escalade, the QX56 is a body-on-frame design, but inside it’s far more elegant than the Cadillac. With 400 horsepower and tech-laden features such as an AroundView system, which puts front-, side- and rear-facing camera views on one screen and makes driving far more bearable in the city, Infiniti has a serious GL contender on its hands.
4. Lincoln Navigator
Lincoln hasn’t touched the Navigator much in the past few years, but it’s still selling considerably at just over 8,000 units moved last year. As it looks very aged – the MyFord Touch system isn’t an option, and the square gauges hark back to the 1960s – Lincoln wisely booted it off the show floor this year. Still, long-running SUVs such as the Navigator, which essentially created the 3-row luxury SUV segment in 1998, are cash cows. Considering the Infiniti's success, Lincoln should seriously consider a new Navigator to compete better.
5. Lexus LX 570
By far the most forgotten luxury SUV, the Lexus LX 570 sold just 3,167 in 2011. The one at the auto show stickered at almost $90,000 (it starts at $80,000), a blink of an eye to most Range Rover customers but far pricier than any of its actual competition. The Lexus spindle grille was added for 2013, the airy interior is plush, and the four toggle switches are reminders that this is a serious off-road vehicle. But Lexus doesn’t carry the SUV prestige of the similarly equipped Range Rover, and the automaker needs to drop the price by about $15,000 if it wants to get noticed.
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