Nissan has nothing to do with it. Big, brave and body-on-frame, these are the ultimate incarnations of the original sport-utility vehicle. No car-based crossovers here, these luxury SUVs have truck-chassis toughness overlaid with opulence, power and prestige. Names like Escalade, G-Class, and Land Cruiser signal entry to this rarified realm, where just one model starts under $60,000 and the most expensive begins at $138,075. Arranged alphabetically, this buying guide describes them all. Key changes and attributes are called out. And please note that fuel-economy numbers cited represent EPA combined city-highway ratings. Base prices include the manufacturer’s delivery fees, usually around $950.
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Redesigned for model-year 2015, the largest Cadillac is more luxurious and refined than before but remains a “King of Bling” with flashy new styling and a high-fashion interior. This is a gilded version of the big boys from Chevy and GMC and like the Tahoe/Suburban and Yukon/XL, it comes in two body lengths: standard length and 14-inch-longer ESV. The ESV provides vitally needed extra legroom for third-row riders, plus a larger cargo hold behind the seats and with them folded. All models use a 420-horsepower V-8 and a six speed automatic transmission.
Rear-wheel drive is standard, four-wheel-drive optional. Zero-60 mph takes just six seconds or so — reasonably brisk for a family sedan let alone a three-ton automobile. Escalade can tow up to 8,300 pounds of boat or trailer and, frankly, a fuel-economy rating of 17 mpg combined isn’t too depressing, all things considered. Cadillac’s excellent Magnetic Ride Control is standard and adjusts suspension stiffness in real time according to road and driving conditions to help maintain well-balanced ride and handling.
Make no mistake, however, this seriously large vehicle is more at home on the open road than maneuvering tight urban areas and can be a handful to parallel park. As befits a glamour wagon, a full assortment of convenience features and safety gear is standard, though the Cadillac User Experience (CUE) touchscreen infotainment system isn’t as intuitive to use as similar systems included with other GM vehicles. Base-price range is $73,965-$95,870.
Nissan’s luxury division gives its largest offering a minor refresh for 2015 that includes modest revisions to front- and rear-end styling. As before, beneath the QX80’s rounded hood resides a 400-horsepower V-8 linked with a seven speed automatic transmission. With either rear- or four-wheel drive it’s rated 16 mpg combined. Maximum towing capacity is a sturdy 8,500 pounds when properly equipped.
Though it’s a tall climb up, the cabin is spacious and richly trimmed and can seat as many as eight, with plenty of second-row legroom and headroom to accommodate taller riders. The third row is fairly roomy, too, thanks to foot space cleared by the independent rear suspension. Steering is tuned on the light side, with a smooth ride that tends to get bouncy over extended stretches of potholed pavement.
Available high-tech features include blind spot and lane-departure warning systems, a 360-degree-view backup camera and a dual-screen rear entertainment array. With prices starting at a reasonable-for-the-class $64,245 and plenty of luxury features standard, this often-overlooked SUV is worth considering.
Lexus GX 460
Following a 2014 refresh last year that amped up the exterior styling by adding Lexus’ signature spindle-shaped grille, this midsize SUV continues with only minor changes. In dimensions and underbody design it remains essentially the premium cousin to the 4Runner from parent company Toyota, though it’s more luxurious and comes with a V-8 engine instead of a V-6. The ’15 updates include addition of the Siri Eyes Free interface that allows Apple iPhone users to access data and features from their devices via voice commands.
Best suited for affluent adventurous families, the seven-passenger GX460 doubles as a posh commuter car during the week and a capable off-roader on the weekend, thanks to its truck-based chassis and standard rear-biased full-time four-wheel-drive system. An optional Crawl Control feature automatically modulates the brakes and throttle to operate like low-speed cruise control over rocks or loose surfaces.
A standard Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System benefits both the GX’s handling abilities and its off-road stability. The 301-horsepower V-8 mates with a six-speed automatic transmission and, if not exactly fast, is the kind of muscle a vehicle like this requires. Towing capacity is a relatively modest 6,500 pounds, fuel economy just 17 mpg combined. The base edition starts at $50,010, the Luxury version at $61,100. Both seat five in comfort, with a tiny third-row seat for kid use. A long list of available comfort, convenience and high-tech safety features includes the Driver Attention Monitor. It uses a camera to observe the driver’s face and signals an alarm if he or she is not paying sufficient attention to the road.
Lexus LX 570
This is the posher version of the already luxurious Toyota Land Cruiser and even though it costs more (base price $84,105, versus $81,080) it outsells the parent-brand’s edition. People who spend this much evidently believe the Lexus badge – and Lexus red-carpet dealer service — is the more appropriate fit. Both stem from a tough-as-nails designed for work around the globe. That helps explain their businesslike upright bearing and also their comparatively compact dimensions.
Like the Land Cruiser, the LX seats up to eight on three seating rows, though the third is for occasion use by small, flexible youngsters. The sole notable change for 2015 is addition of the Siri Eyes Free interface for Apple iPhone users). The LX is comfortable on the road and neigh unstoppable off. The sole engine is a V-8 with 383 horsepower and 403 pound-feet of torque, the only transmission a six-speed automatic.
Four-wheel-drive is standard and comes with a multi-terrain system with selectable modes to optimize its performance over rocks, rocks and dirt, moguls, loose rocks or mud and sand; also on hand is a feature called Crawl Control, which is like a low-speed cruise control for extreme off-roading. The LX is opulently equipped and includes standard navigation and infotainment systems, with heated/cooled front seats, heated second-row seats, a heated steering wheel, and an audiophile-grade Mark Levinson stereo system among its few options. Redesigns are not frequent, but the next-generation Land Cruiser is due for model-year 2017, so an all-new LX won’t be far behind.
Lincoln refreshes its full-size SUV for 2015 with more refined styling that features the brand’s split-wing grille, an upgraded interior, and added features. Big news, however, is introduction of a twin-turbocharged V-6 in place of a thirsty V-8. Navigator is the upscale cousin of the Ford Expedition and likewise comes in regular- and extended-length models. Both versions can accommodate eight passengers, but the “L” version uses its 15 additional inches to increase cargo volume to a class-leading maximum of 128.2 cubic feet, with 42.6 cubic feet available behind the third seating row alone.
The new engine is from Ford’s EcoBoost family and is rated 380 horsepower with 460 pound-feet of torque, notably more than the same engine in the Expedition. It can tow up to 9,000 pounds and rates 18 mpg with rear-wheel drive and 17 with four-wheel drive; that’s a gain of 2 mpg on both counts. A six-speed automatic remains the sole transmission. While Navigator remains large and ungainly around town, a new electric power steering system and the Lincoln Drive Control continuously controlled damping suspension promise improved ride and handling qualities.
A blind-spot warning system is newly standard for 2015, as is a rearview backup camera for added safety. Unfortunately, Navigator is still saddled with the unnecessarily difficult-to-use MyLincoln Touch operating system that’s eschews conventional controls for a menu-driven touchscreen and fussy dashboard “touchpoints;” fortunately many functions can also be voice-activated or operated via steering wheel-mounted buttons. Regular-length Navigators start at $62,950, Ls at $65,280.
This boxy five-seater is based on a German military truck and is also known as the G-Wagen, short for Geländewagen, or cross-country vehicle. First offered for civilian use in 1979, brought to the U.S. in 2001, and incrementally freshened, it still looks like a warhorse haphazardly dressed to the nines, given a plush leather-clad interior, and fitted with a full assortment of modern conveniences. It has strong appeal among affluent individualists, though to the uninitiated the B-Wagen probably looks a lot like a commercial vehicle.
Two models are offered, both with a V-8 engine, seven-speed automatic, permanent four-wheel drive, and identical ratings of 13 mpg combined. The G550 has 382 horsepower, does 0-60 mph in a credible 6 seconds, and starts at $116,325. The G63 AMG defies logic with 536 horses and assorted performance- enhancing suspension, brake, and tire tweaks. It does 0-60 in 5.3 seconds and starts at $138,075.
Relatively compact and with great outward visibility, G-Wagens are surprisingly easy to maneuver through traffic and more refined than any military-based vehicle has a right to be. They’re also among the world’s most off-road-capable SUVs, though the G63 sacrifices some ground clearance for a lower center of gravity and boulevardier styling. Options run to things like Porcelain two-tone Nappa leather ($4,950) and an AMG Carbon with Black Leather Steering Wheel ($2,950).
Toyota Land Cruiser
Toyota’s longest-running model in the U.S. turns 50 this year, though it’s far removed from its roots as an unadorned Jeep-like 4×4 truck. Instead, it’s evolved into a full-size luxury SUV that delivers sufficient comfort and a reasonably smooth ride with above-average off-road capabilities, thanks to its durable truck-based underpinnings and standard four-wheel-drive system with an array of high-tech chassis control systems.
It continues for 2015 with only minor updates in one well-equipped version. It’s boldly styled with a quiet and luxurious interior that can seat as many as eight riders, though the cramped third-row is best left to the kids. A 381-horsepower V-8 is mated to a six-speed automatic and delivers smooth and capable power, though it’s a gas-guzzler at 15 mpg combined. It can tow a maximum of 8,500 pounds, which is adequate for pulling a large boat or trailer.
While it’s smooth and stable on the highway, Land Cruiser feels a bit stiff and heavy around town. Base price is $81,080 and includes a long list of luxury amenities, such as heated and ventilated seats and Toyota’s Entune multimedia infotainment system with full smartphone connectivity. The current-generation Land Cruiser bowed for model-year 2008 and is scheduled for a full redesigned for 2017.