Luxury in the Rough: SUV Roundup

With Bentley, and even Rolls-Royce, developing luxury, go-anywhere SUVs, 4x4s are moving even more upmarket. We look at 10 of the most capable, most luxurious sport-utes money can buy.


2016 Maserati Levante
Go-anywhere Italian Stallion

2016 Maserati Levante - Luxury SUV review

In 2012, Maserati execs raised plenty of eyebrows when they announced the upcoming Maserati sport-utility would be based on—wait for it—a Jeep Grand Cherokee.

   Thankfully, they came to their senses, and now the ready-for-production Maserati Levante SUV will ride on a modified version of the automaker’s lovely Ghibli sedan platform.

   Another bit of good news: Instead of a rude-and-crude Jeep V-8 doing the powering, there’ll be a choice of turbocharged 350- or 425-horse turbo V-6s from the Ghibli and Quattroporte sedans.

   What’s unlikely to change too much, however, are the lovely, flowing lines of Maserati’s original Kubang concept from 2012. This design was the first inkling the Italian automaker and Fiat-Chrysler group member would build an SUV.

   The plan, if you can ever nail down Maserati to a firm timeline, is the all-wheel drive Levante will go into production sometime this year and go on sale in the United States in late 2015 or early 2016.

   Size-wise, it’s up there with BMW’s X5 and the Mercedes ML and will likely sticker in the $70,000 to $80,000 range. Right now, an all-wheel drive Ghibli sells for around $77,000.

   And if the latest Ghibli is anything to go by, expect an interior slathered in handcrafted leather and fine woods and an engine soundtrack that will make grown men weep.

  • PBI Verdict: Una bella machina sportivo utilità indeed.


Mercedes-Benz 6×6 G63 AMG

The Colossus of Roads

Mercedes-Benz 6x6 G63 AMG - Luxury SUV Review

When four-wheel drive just isn’t enough to extract you from that muddy polo field parking lot, behold the mighty Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG 6×6. That’s right, six-wheel drive.

   To create this $600,000 goliath, Mercedes’ AMG division stretched the regular G-Class by a whopping 43 inches, providing enough space to add another axle and turn it into a six-wheel drive.

   As expected, its off-road ability—whether sploshing through mud or punching across sand dunes—is otherworldy. Rolling on 37-inch wheels shod with tires the size of blimps, the Merc has 18 inches of ground clearance and can wade through water 39 inches deep.

   Power comes from a 5.5-liter, 536-hp, AMG-built V-8 delivering 560 pound-feet of torque. Despite weighing four and a half tons, it can sprint from standstill to 60 in 7.8 seconds.

   Inside, it’s all quilted diamond-stitched leather and AMG hip-hugging sports seats front and rear. Even the pick-up bed is lined with handcrafted bamboo.

   Mercedes plans to build just 30 G63 6x6s a year, each costing €456,000, which converts to around $590,000. While the 6×6 isn’t sold in the United States yet, word is it could be available by 2016.

  • PBI Verdict: No other luxury SUV has this much six appeal.


Range Rover Autobiography Black LWB

The $200,000 Range Rover

Range Rover Autobiography Black LWB - Luxury SUV reviews

Luxuriating in the back of Range Rover’s Autobiography Black edition feels like you’re stretching out in a Gulfstream G450. Caviar and Cristal, anyone?

   Over the years, Land Rover has been inching the Range Rover lineup further upmarket, pitching it as an alternative to a Bentley Flying Spur or top-end Mercedes-Benz S-Class. This long-wheelbase Autobiography Black edition—at $186,000 base or $199,500 for one of the first 25 editions to come to America—is designed to see how far that upward movement can go.

   In keeping with the elevated sticker, the craftsmanship and quality is simply remarkable. Rear passengers kick back in individual Barcalounger-style leather armchairs that can recline, massage, cool and calm their occupants.

   The right-rear passenger seat—the place where the owner will chill while being chauffeured—also has a levitating footrest. Need to work? Each rear-seat rider gets an iPad-sized leather and polished aluminum table.

   To distinguish this Autobiography Black, there’s a unique front grille and 21-inch wheels. Like all Autobiography models, the Black features a potent 510-horsepower supercharged 5-liter V-8 coupled to an 8-speed automatic. Performance is nothing short of breathtaking.

  • PBI Verdict: Savile Row on wheels.


2015 Cadillac Escalade ESV Platinum

The New King of Bling

2015 Cadillac Escalade ESV Platinum - Luxury American SUV

Rappers and rock stars, rejoice: Cadillac has refreshed the mighty Escalade for 2015, and it’s as big, bad and blingy as ever.

   The new range includes a super-luxury line, called the Platinum Collection, sporting more black leather than the crowd at a Guns N’ Roses concert.

   If anything, the design is even squarer and boxier than before; the edges are so sharp you’ll risk flesh wounds every time you give it a wash.

   Powering this 2015 ’Slade is GM’s stump-pulling 6.2-liter V-8, cranking out 420 horses and 460 pound-feet of torque. That’s enough power to haul 8,200 pounds. If you could get the QE2 on a trailer, this puppy would pull it.

   The real advancements, however, are heightened luxury details. The interior, for example, features cut-and-sewn trim like those on Bentleys and Rolls-Royces.

   This Escalade also offers cool features like Bose Active Noise Cancellation technology and Magnetic Ride Control suspension that smooths out lumps and bumps and tames body roll. In-car Wi-Fi is available, too.

   While prices start at around $73,000 for the standard wheelbase model, a stretched wheelbase, all-wheel-drive ESV Platinum will set you back more than $90,000.

  • PBI Verdict: Think of it as the Jay-Z of luxury SUVs.


2015 Infiniti QX80 Limited

When XL Feels Like XXXL

2015 Infiniti QX80 Limited - Luxury SUV review with Howard Walker

You’ve got to love a vehicle that offers a Plasmacluster air purifier.

   It’s just one of the seemingly never-ending features shoehorned into the significant bulk of the 2015 Infiniti QX80.

   What the Infiniti lacks in technical sophistication—its chassis sticks with a crude, body-on-frame layout—it makes up for in sheer, hedonistic luxury. Just about the entire interior is lined with glove-soft leather. If you want to see leather-wrapped speaker grilles, look no further.

   But perhaps the biggest feature of the latest QX80, which boasts a price tag starting at $62,000, is literally its size. This truck is huge, in not only its dimensions but its physical presence as well. Its front end is so vast you could park a Smart car underneath its hood.

   Inside, there’s stretch-out comfort for eight over three rows and, with the back two rows folded flat, there’s a staggering 95 cubic feet of space. There are New York City apartments that measure less.

   Powering this brute is Infiniti’s silky-smooth, 400-horse, 5.6-liter V-8 capable of towing an impressive 8,500 pounds without breaking a sweat.   

   And if you do happen to sweat, that Plasmacluster purifier will be there to make everything smell sweeter.

  • PBI Verdict: Call it The Incredible Bulk.


Continue to page two for more Luxe SUVs.

Range Rover Sport SVR

As in Supremely Versatile Rocketship

Range ROver Sport SVR -

Zero to 60 in 4.5 seconds. A top speed of 162 mph. Max power: an impressive 550 hp. Base Camp to the top of Everest? Probably in less than a couple of minutes.

   You’re looking at Land Rover’s insanely rapid 2015 Range Rover Sport SVR.

   For a while now, the folks at Land Rover have been salivating at the huge profits Porsche and Mercedes have made with their high-performance SUVs.

   So Land Rover’s parent, Jaguar Land Rover in England, has just created its own high-performance division called SVO—short for Special Vehicle Operations. Think of it as a mini AMG.

   Its first serious production model is this Range Rover Sport SVR, which lands in showrooms this year with prices starting at $110,475.

   Powering comes from the same 5-liter supercharged V-8 that motivates Jaguar’s latest F-Type R Coupe. All that power is channeled to the four wheels through a ZF eight-speed automatic with shift times reduced by 50 percent.

   Design-wise, it looks like a track star. There are gorgeous 21-inch alloys at each corner, an aggressive-looking front-end treatment, a high-mounted rear spoiler and a rear bumper with diffuser.

   And even though it can wade through water 33 inches deep, don’t even think of getting something this cool splattered with mud.

  • PBI Verdict: One very wild Rover.


2016 Bentley Bentayga SUV

The 200-mph Off-Roader

2016 Bentley SUV - luxury SUV reviews with Howard Walker

SUV makers talk about injecting luxury into their sport-utes. A little diamond-quilted leather here, a few trims of glossy walnut there. But if you’re on the hunt for the ultimate in 4×4 luxury, hang on—there’s a Bentley off-roader coming: the Bentayga.

   Thankfully, we’re told it will look considerably different from the garish, chrome-laden EXP 9 F concept model Bentley unveiled to universal smirks back in 2012. The thinly disguised development cars clocking up miles around Bentley’s Crewe, England headquarters are akin to a raised-up five-door wagon version of a Continental GT coupe.

   Word is it will ride on the same advanced all-wheel drive chassis that will underpin the next-generation Audi Q7, Porsche Cayenne and upcoming Lamborghini Urus SUV.

   With Bentley execs openly talking about a 200 mph top speed for the yet-unnamed Bentley 4×4, it’s going to require quite a powertrain—most likely the current 6-liter twin-turbo W-2 or maybe a plug-in hybrid version with electric assist.

   What’s certain is this new sport-ute is set to become Bentley’s best-selling model ever. As for the price, with a top Range Rover now costing $200,000, don’t be surprised if this new Bentley SUV starts at $240,000-plus.

  • PBI Verdict: Driving golf buddies to the course doesn’t get more decadent.


2015 Porsche Cayenne Turbo

The Speeding Bullet of SUVs

2015 Porsche Cayenne Turbo - luxury Euopean SUV

In 1986, Porsche’s mighty 911 Turbo coupe was one of the ultimate supercars of its time. It could explode from standstill to 60 mph in just 4.9 seconds. Kids pinned posters of it on their bedroom walls.

   Fast-forward to the present, and Porsche’s latest off-roading, mud-plugging Cayenne Turbo sport-ute can reach 60 in 4.2 seconds. Talk about progress.

   Until the souped-up Cayenne Turbo S lands, this resculpted 2015 Turbo is one of the world’s fastest SUVs, with a top speed of 173 mph.

   That power comes from Porsche’s 4.8-liter twin-turbo V-8, which delivers a potent 520 hp and 553 pound-feet of torque. Mack trucks make less.

   There is something otherworldly in the way this 4,800-pound leviathan launches itself towards the horizon. An F-16 on takeoff isn’t as exhilarating.

   For 2015, the designers have been tinkering with the lines to convince current owners they need to upgrade. There’s a reshaped hood and front fenders, plus front intakes with new air blades to guide air more efficiently to the intercoolers.

   The Cayenne Turbo stickers for $113,600 but by the time you’ve added the must-have Chrono Package and simple things like floor mats, you’ll be closer to $130,000.

  • PBI Verdict: One hot, peppery Cayenne.


2016 Volvo XC90

How Swede It Is

2016 Volvo XC90 - Luxury Electric SUV

The good news is there’s a terrific new Volvo XC90 sport-ute landing at U.S. dealerships this spring. The bad news is the 1,927 fully loaded first-edition models, priced at $65,900, were all sold. Within 47 hours. And only online.

   Why 1,927? That’s the year the trusty Volvo Car Corp. was founded.

   This new XC90 is a huge deal for Volvo’s new parent company, China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group. It’s actually the first product totally developed by Volvo since Ford sold the automaker in 2010.

   Design-wise, it’s not a radical departure from the previous and much-loved three-row, seven-passenger XC90. But the front grille—the new “face” of Volvo—is more upright and dramatic, the lines softer and curvier.

   Inside is where the real innovation takes place. The most head-turning feature is the 12-inch vertical touchscreen display, the industry’s second largest, just behind the 17-inch whopper in the Tesla.

   Under the hood, driving all four wheels, is a supercharged and turbocharged four-cylinder-packing 316 hp. Down the road, there’ll be a plug-in hybrid version with an 80-horse electric motor taking the tally up to around 400 hp.

   Being a Volvo, it’s expected to be supersafe. Innovations include two firsts: a system to keep you safe if you run off the road and auto-brake-at-intersection capability.

  • PBI Verdict: The world’s safest people-carrier gets a stylish new look.


2015 Lincoln Navigator

Throwing a Six

2015 Lincoln Navigator - Luxury AMerican SUV

Contrary to popular opinion, Lincoln has not abandoned its flagship Navigator.

   Its updated 2015 Navigator has just gone on sale. And while it doesn’t look too different from the outgoing version, it comes with one fairly major surprise: The wheezy, gas-guzzling V-8 is history. The only motor on offer is Ford’s twin-turbo 3.5-liter V-6 EcoBoost packing 380-hp. That’s a bold move by Lincoln.

   This refresh to the Navigator is more an interim face-lift than a full-blown new model—that’s due in 2016. This latest ’Gator is still very much a gussied-up Ford Expedition.

   Yet there are plenty of changes, the most visual of which is the redesigned front featuring Lincoln’s new signature split-wing grille.

   Open the doors and discover a major step up in the quality of materials as well as fit and finish. The hand-wrapped leather instrument panel with contrast stitching is just gorgeous.
   While this latest Navigator is no Caddy Escalade, it’s a great value at $62,475. Even the high-zoot Reserve package model will only set you back less than $73,000.

  • PBI Verdict: A truck dressed in a tux.

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