In this guide, we’re going to discuss the very best luxury SUVs on the market and some of the new models coming to dealerships that are worthy of your attention.
History of SUVs
The first SUVs – or Sports Utility Vehicles – were designed with military use in mind. Dating back to World War II, companies like Jeep and Land Rover began to offer these rugged all-terrain vehicles to the Army for use on the battlefield.
Initially, the first SUVs which were created by Chevrolet in 1935 focused on a vehicle with a longer wheelbase. The first SUV to hit the market was the Carryall Suburban, which featured real wheel drive. Following suit, a 4×4 GAZ-61 was released in 1938 followed by the Willys Jeep Station Wagon in 1948 and then the Pobeda M-72 which was also called the GAZ-M20 in 1955 just a few short years after the war. The Pobeda was the first of the modern SUVs which used a unitary body rather than the previous examples which were built as body-on-frame. By the early 1960s, civilians began to adopt the utilization of the SUV as a method of transporting the American family. The Jeep Wagoneer, which was introduced in 1963 soon came to be one of the most popular vehicles for the suburban family. Fast forward a couple more years and Ford would introduce the famous Bronco, which made headlines when alleged murderer and NFL star O.J. Simpson led police on a televised chase.
What’s interesting, is that although we now refer to these vehicles as SUVs, the term wasn’t coined until the 1980s and models sold previous to that were simply marketed as station wagons.
The first vehicle to be given the title of Sports Utility Vehicle was the Jeep Cherokee XJ, according to the Henry Ford Museum. It was designed specifically for, and marketed to the active American family. The Cherokee was smaller than the Wagoneer, but it featured four-wheel drive which Jeep’s previous model didn’t come with. It was also marketed as a luxury vehicle with a plush interior that was ideal for wealthier families as it could accommodate the children on the weekends but still look presentable when showing up to an important meeting. Pretty soon, everyone from the corporate executive to the suburban soccer mom was falling in love with the SUV and Jeep’s competitors quickly took notice.
As the years passed, the SUV overshadowed the previously-popular truck market. Almost every major car manufacturer began to launch their own models, and soon companies began to compete by adding modern features and premium seating such as leather over cloth. The profit margins were far greater for the manufacturer, and many companies started focusing on selling SUVs over cars, trucks and minivans. As an example, Ford was able to make a profit of $18,000 by the sale of a single Ford Excursion, yet they took a loss for every Ford Focus sold through the dealership.
Noticing these margins, the luxury brands owned by various manufacturers began to create their own SUVs. Despite Chevy and GMC offering the Suburban, the Tahoe, and the Yukon, companies like Lincoln, Cadillac, Lexus, Acura, Infiniti and others started to focus on various sized sport utility vehicles. Even HUMMER introduced the civilian version to the public after actor Arnold Schwarzenegger purchased the first military HUMVEE for public use. However, the real luxury automakers stood their ground and continued to focus on the smaller motorcars.
These manufacturers felt that the SUV market was designed for men and women who prized adventure and outdoor spirit over a comfortable drive. During the 80s and 90s, most of the commercials for SUVs featured various scenes where mothers would save their children from armed robbers by driving the trucks off-road. Father’s would take their children camping and escape disaster. The SUV market – despite having some ‘luxury’ models – was focused primarily on the vehicle’s strength and security.
As the economy began to crumble in recent years, SUV and truck factories were shut down, and the cost of these SUVs began to rise. Soon, the SUV was for the man who could afford to spend $100 on a gas of tank and subsequently, it became a niche vehicle that was a mark of stature. Moguls who could afford a luxury car began focusing on purchasing SUVs instead because it was more favorable than a CEO driving a Ferrari when half his workforce was applying for social aid after being laid off due to the economy. It was during this time that the leading luxury automakers like Bentley began to take notice and started to draw plans for the launch of their first SUV.
Call it a coincidence or prudent planning, but 2016 is proving to be a new year for the SUV where some of the world’s top luxury automakers will launch their very first sport utility vehicles catering to the 1% that can afford them.
What is a Luxury SUV?
SUVs used to be a family car made by affordable car brands, but with the entry of ultra-high-end car brands to the market, the definition of a “luxury SUV” has changed from the Lincoln Navigator or Cadillac Escalade to a Porsche or a Maserati. In fact, many of the previous “luxury” SUVs don’t use real leather.
Our definition of a luxury SUV is first and foremost that it is a luxury vehicle with off-road capabilities. Here are our requirements:
- Must come from a heritage automaker that only produces luxury vehicles and has developed a reputation as a leading manufacturer.
- The interior must contain authentic, high-quality natural materials such as wood and leather
- The exterior must be made from the leading, state-of-the-art materials that are the same or superior to the most luxurious sedans and sports cars on the road today.
- Any SUV that shares its design, materials or adopts technology from non-luxury trucks or SUVs does not qualify as a luxury sports utility vehicle.
Who SUVs are Good For/Bad For
A luxury SUV isn’t for everyone. Just as a two-seater sports car wouldn’t work as a family vehicle, the luxury SUV is designed and marketed to a niche clientele. Affordability aside, here is a list of who a luxury SUV is good for:
- Men who want to make a statement about their success
- A customer who wants a car that balances the luxury and sporting features he wants with their family needs.
- Those who simply like the masculine look and elevated ride of an SUV but don’t want to compromise on the brand and materials
- Image conscious men
- Those looking to transport/tow items such as boats and recreational vehicles in style
- As a primary daily drive vehicle that is as appropriate for the workplace as it is for the cabin on your private island.
- The customer who prizes adventure and luxury equally.
The luxury SUVs are not suited for:
- Men who prefer understated cars
- Individuals who don’t require the space an SUV affords.
- Those who prize speed and agility over practicality.
- Drivers who are wanting the smoothest and most luxurious drive.
- Those who plan to use the SUV for actual work such as transporting supplies or driving through terrain which could damage the vehicle. Luxury SUVs are often more about the looks than the functionality.
- Drivers seeking an eco-friendly vehicle. The SUV leaves a much larger ecological footprint, requires more gas and releases more toxins into the air.
Types of SUVS (Sizes, Seating, Etc)
There are numerous sizes of SUVs on the market. Most are defined as a medium to large SUV with smaller ones often called Crossover Utility Vehicles (CUV) which blends a more economical wagon with the benefits and design of a small SUV.
Most SUVs will start at five passengers and can move upwards of eight by adding a third row of seating in the rear. For the vast majority of SUVs, the ability to modify the seating arrangements is one feature many customers praise. The various layouts can allow the owner to fold seats down which allow more room for cargo and can even offer the ability to remove every row of passenger seating which provides similar space to an enclosed truck bed or utility van. However, some of the new luxury SUVs do not offer such versatile seating as they are designed with comfort in mind rather than storage or the transport of materials.
Luxury SUV Options
Here is a full list of our favorite luxury SUVs on the market today.
Mercedes-Benz G-Class – Starting at $120,825
Rugged and hard to miss, the G-Class SUV is popular amongst celebrities and those seeking a vehicle that stands out. With its rugged design, the G-Class is built by hand to conquer the bustling metropolis of Los Angeles as well as the rugged terrain of the middle east. It is designed with the world in mind which makes it a vehicle that is also popular for transporting delegates overseas as well as for security patrols in conflict zones. For the consumer, the rugged and boxy exterior plays home to a refined and open cabin that sports some of Mercedes best technology. Its 416-hp 4.0-liter bi-turbo V8 outputs 450 lb-ft of peak torque, can propel the SUV to 100km/h in 5.9 seconds which also makes it an ideal SUV for those seeking speed. And while you’re navigating the roughest terrain at high speeds, the interior will keep you feeling right at home with ambient lighting, a state-of-the-art command center, and multi-contour seating.
Mercedes-Benz GLS – Starting at $82,900
The top-of-the-line Mercedes SUV, the GLS is a seven passenger vehicle that combines the elegance of the S-Class with the power of the G-Class SUV and the space of a minivan. It is large, but it feels small and drives beautifully on paved roads. It’s less expensive than the G-Class, but it’s also far more elegant and has more passenger space.
Audi Q7 – Starting at $54,800
The Q7 is a seven-passenger SUV from Audi that is designed for driving and made for paved highways and rough terrain. A popular SUV for families and one of the most commonly seen SUVs at soccer practice, the Q7, is a great entry-level luxury SUV if the most expensive models aren’t in your budget. The big benefit is you’re getting an SUV that is arguably far more luxurious than the Navigator or Escalade. Audi may not be making the same margins as some of the other brands, but they know that long term customers will make vehicles like this worth building, just like the relationship.
BMW X6 M – Starting at $103,050
BMW designs their cars for speed and agility, and their SUVs are no exception. The company tends to target a customer that appreciates the sporty sound of the engine and a vehicle that can smoothly escort you to the opera or whip past some teenager trying to show off his augmented Honda. The X6 M is a beautifully designed SUV, which takes many of its features from the 6 and 7-series lines. The one drawback is that for those seeking the thrill BMW tends to offer; you won’t be hearing the twin-turbocharged DOHC 32-valve V-8 roar despite its jarring and unsophisticated ride. In that sense, the speed-demon won’t get the sound he craves and the gentleman driving to the opera will have to adjust his bow tie upon arrival. BMWs tend to have fiercely loyal customers so if you are a fan of BMW; this is the SUV you should consider.
Porsche Cayenne and Porsche Macan – Starting at $68,900 and $52,700
Another vehicle manufacturer known for their sports cars, the Porsche Cayenne and Macan offer a touch of elegance not typically found in the other lineups at Porsche. While the 911 and the Boxster are designed for the drive, Porsche elevated their game when they launched the most recent Cayenne and the more compact Macan. For a smooth and sophisticated experience, the Macan especially stands out in comparison. Although not ideal for a growing family, the Macan is perfect for a couple or those with one or two children. It sits beautifully in the office parking lot and looks poised in the pickup lane at the elementary school. Overall, it’s a great SUV with tons of power and a multitude of features. At the price, it’s also one of the most reasonable SUVs in its category with a resplendent design. For a touch more sportiness, the Cayenne is a nice upgrade for those who want the drive of a sports sedan in a larger size.
Range Rover – Starting at $84,950
Arguably one of the most popular luxury SUVs for celebrities, corporate tycoons, and professional athletes, the Range Rover is like no other. Granted, there are less expensive versions such as the Sport and the Evoque, but for those wanting the pinnacle of the series, the classic series is as good as it gets.
Designed like the Mercedes G-Class, it has a rugged exterior that’s far boxier than most of the other luxury SUVs. However, the interior features a sophisticated cabin that can rival most luxury sedans. The sports performance of the vehicle gives it more maneuverability in off-road conditions than most SUVs and the ride on paved streets is comparable for the most luxurious saloons. If you want a luxury SUV that offers the best features of all types of vehicles, the Range Rover is worth considering.
The SUV market is a niche that is so profitable; everyone seems to want in. Some attribute 2016 to coincidence while others spread tales of conspiracy and corporate espionage. Somehow, this year it seems most of the top luxury automakers have decided to release their inaugural SUVs and CUVs. Designed with the 1% in mind, these SUVs are poised to seriously challenge the current prima donnas in the SUV market. No longer will the Range Rover be considered the quintessential luxury SUV. There is a new category of SUVs hitting the road, and it’s reshaping our definition of the word “luxury”.
Maserati Levante – Starting at $76,000
Capable of towing your boat or paving your own path, the newly announced Levante is Maserati’s first introduction to the world of off-road vehicles. A mid-size luxury crossover, the Levante was based on the Kubang concept car that debuted at the 2011 Frankfurt Auto Show. It is being handbuilt at the renowned Mirafiori factory in Italy this year and was first released to the public in March at the Geneva Auto Show. Available for sale this month in Europe, North America will have access to the SUV in the fall of 2016 with a new model already slated for release in 2018. The current design features Maserati’s 3.0L V6 engine, in two states of tune with the upcoming 2018 model using a 560 horsepower V8. The transmission is borrowed from the 6th generation Quattroporte and will come exclusively in four-wheel drive. With an interior that showcases Maserati’s reputation for sophistication, the Levante has the Maserati Touch Control with an 8.1-inch TFT touchscreen display and a reconfigurable TFT gauge cluster with full color. It is destined to be one of the least expensive luxury SUVs released this year, but will most likely compete quite well against the more expensive vehicles from brands like BMW, Range Rover, Mercedes-Benz, and Porsche.
Bentley Bentayga – Starting at $231,825
Possibly the most anticipated SUV release this year, the Bentley Bentayga has received more acclaim than any other luxury SUV. Although it is based on the Volkswagen MLB platform that is also used in the second-generation Audi Q7 and the future third-generation Porsche Cayenne and Volkswagen Touareg, the reason it qualifies for our list is because 80% of the parts are unique, and the craftsmanship of the vehicle is far superior to anything currently on the market. Handbuilt at the Crewe factory, the Bentayga is based on the Bentley EXP 9 F concept car first announced in 2012. Using a brand new twin-turbo W12 engine, it can bypass a cylinder row if necessary and boast an estimated 600hp that will push the SUV from 0-100km/h in less than five seconds.
Realizing that many new car buyers are seeking more eco-friendly alternatives, Bentley will be releasing a plug-in hybrid version of the SUV as well as a diesel model with a V8 option in the works for 2018. The interior of the vehicle seats four or five depending on the model chosen and is comparable to Bentley’s finest motorcars utilizing only the finest leather and materials for its cabin. In a world where each car tries to outsell the next, and companies like Lincoln are offering entire closet systems built into their hatch, Bentley has decided to cater to a more casual and elegant feature it believes its customers are more likely to use; and will be offering a built-in picnic hamper from Mulliner designed for a champagne brunch.
Not only will Bentley likely outperform other SUVs in its opulence and ironically understated grace, but it also plans to take records for its off-road capabilities as well as its speed. This is one SUV that is destined to make Range Rover look like a Prius.
Aston Martin DBX – Starting at Approx. £150,000
The SUV for James Bond, the new DBX from Aston Martin is still just a concept vehicle, but one that’s expected to reach dealerships following the success of the British automaker’s competitors. Not quite an SUV, the DBX is the brand’s most family-friendly crossover that will break barriers to allow the freedom to drive in less-than-ideal terrain. The 4×4 crossover is slated for production and will be manufactured at three old Royal Air Force super hangers in Wales that Aston Martin has spent £200m transforming into the new factory that will produce the DBX. The concept is one that was requested personally by Andy Palmer, the CEO of Aston Martin after he left Nissan to join the luxury automaker. He wanted a crossover that would perform well in North America and Asia. The DBX was the result. Although initial designs have been released, don’t expect to be able to buy the crossover until at least 2020. Production will kick off next year, and it’s likely this will be a new vehicle featured in future James Bond films.
Lamborghini URUS – Starting at Approx. $150,000
Announced for production in 2013 and first released as a concept in 2012, the Lamborghini URUS is a crossover concept that is built on the same platform as the Bentley Bentayga and other SUVs but designed for speed and performance. Not the most elegant SUV on the market, it will fit a niche market of young tycoons and heirs looking for a modern thrill-ride that fits their friends as well. This is the first SUV that Lamborghini has released since the 1980’s LM002 which looked like it was designed for the zombie apocalypse. The new URUS, however, is a modern tech-inspired crossover that resembles something you might see in a sci-fi film. Its futuristic look and appeal will certainly earmark it as the top SUV for those who enjoy the brand’s sleek supercars but actually want to be able to fit their golf clubs in the trunk.
Rolls-Royce All Terrain Motorcar – Price TBA
A prototype SUV nicknamed Project Cullinan by Rolls-Royce Motorcars, this high-sided all-terrain beast of a motorcar looks like something Batman would drive. From its rear wing to the bold lines of the Phantom II, it’s shorter and more robust with an all-wheel drive transmission designed to work flawlessly on all international roads. Looking more like a muscle car than a luxury car, it’s when you step inside that you see it really showcases the very best design elements that Rolls-Royce is known for. Slated for distribution in late 2017 as a 2018 model, the Rolls-Royce is one SUV announced this year that will likely take on the Bentayga for the top prize in its category. Although, our team still thinks the Bentayga is the clear winner in this year’s race to compete for the most luxurious SUV.
The Future of Luxury SUVs
The future of luxury SUVs is looking bright for the industry, but possibly poor for those who revere a more sophisticated and elegant automobile. The hope for dandies is that these brands will continue to focus on the sedans that make our heads turn rather than put all their chips into the SUV basket like so many brands did just a few decades ago. The sky seems to be the limit these days, and there is no telling how many more luxury brands will release concepts in the coming months. One thing is certain, though: traditional “old-money” consumers are no longer influencing the decisions of automakers. There is a new breed of customers, and they seem to prize speed and capability over timeless luxury and graceful elegance.
There is a certain idea of what an SUV should be and one doesn’t typically associate off-roading with luxury automobiles. However, one could also argue that it’s nice to see true luxury automakers step in and relieve us of the over-priced, meretricious “luxury” SUVs produced by companies crafting their interiors out of plastic and pleather with the platform of their entry-level SUVs for the sole purpose of higher profit margins. What’s your favorite SUV? Will you be purchasing one of the new luxury models being released this year?