SUVs have usurped traditional car formats at every level. Now they’re even challenging the four-door limousine’s traditional role as brand flagship. Soon Mercedes will reveal a Maybach-badged version of its giant SUV, the GLS, while next year BMW will advance its luxury agenda with the new X7. And the Germans must contend with a wave of elite brand SUVs, including an Aston Martin by the end of 2019 and, eventually, a Ferrari.
In the meantime, the six SUVs profiled here raise the bar on luxury and technology. They include Lamborghini’s Urus, which will be on sale in a few months, the next-generation Porsche Cayenne and a superluxe Range Rover two-door. SUVs from Bentley and Audi will debut driveline innovations while Rolls-Royce, the last word in prestige, hopes its Cullinan will outshine them all.
Lamborghini says its Urus is a game-changer that will double its sales to about 8000 a year, with about 70 per cent of buyers new to the brand. The reason: it claims that it drives like a supercar, with a 478kW 4.0-litre V8 capable of flinging this 2.2 tonne, 5m-long leviathan to 100km/h in a mere 3.6 seconds and to a top speed of 305km/h. Built on a platform shared with other Volkswagen brands, the engine is a development of an Audi unit tuned to rev faster, and marks Lamborghini’s first foray into turbocharging after sticking resolutely to naturally aspirated engines for its supercars. The turbo delivers low-down torque – essential in an SUV. The Urus also features air suspension with an active anti-roll system, torque-vectoring and rear-wheel steering so it handles like a low-slung car. Thanks to carbon-ceramic brakes, it stops quickly, too. There’s all-wheel drive, of course, with three offroad modes. Prices start at $390,000 and deliveries begin in the third quarter of 2018.
Car-makers routinely camouflage prototypes during testing to conceal the final design. In the past, it was done to confound any motoring press photographers who might be hiding in the bushes with telephoto lenses. These days, brands can’t resist the publicity potential of a disguised car – and that’s especially true when a rival has beaten them to the punch. So it was at the recent Geneva motor show, where Jaguar rolled out its I-Pace SUV – the first all-electric model from established players that takes the game up to Tesla. For years, Audi has planned a similar car – its E-tron. About 250 prototypes are now being tested in extreme climates ahead of its arrival at the end of the year. And a small fleet, in a special body wrap “disguise” (left), took to the streets of Geneva to a make sure Jaguar didn’t hog the limelight. Audi says the E-tron has a range “suitable for longer journeys” with recharging possible in 30 minutes. “Space and comfort are similar to that of a typical Audi luxury class model,” it says. In other words: whatever you do, don’t race out to buy the Jag.
The main event for Porsche this year is the third-generation Cayenne, its large SUV, which arrives mid-year. It’s built off the same platform as the Audi Q7, Bentley Bentayga and Lamborghini Urus, but moves the Cayenne closer to Porsche’s sportscars in terms of dynamics, it says. The new model is lighter, by up to 65kg, and much of the engineering is new, including its chassis systems and eight-speed gearbox. It also introduces rear-axle steering and claims to be the first SUV available with adaptive aerodynamics. The three-model line-up starts with the base Cayenne with a 250kW turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 ($116,300). The Cayenne S (from $155,100) gets a 324kW twin-turbo 2.9-litre V6 plus active suspension and bigger brakes. With its 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8, the Cayenne Turbo (from $239,400) can reach 100km/h in as little as 3.9 seconds.
Range Rover SV Coupe
Range Rover is only too aware that the new wave of SUVs could steal its thunder, and the SV Coupe is its pre-emptive shot across their bows. The very first Rangie in 1970 was a two-door so it’s a celebration of heritage, in a sense. More than that, though, it’s a superluxury coupe for the SUV era, leaning on the tradition of large two-doors to make an especially extravagant statement. Built on the same wheelbase as a regular Range Rover, it features different body panels and longer doors with frameless glass within the familiar tapered silhouette. Special paint finishes combine with unique interior treatments to raise the bar on luxury, with extensive personalisation available. Under the bonnet is a 416kW supercharged 5.0-litre V8 petrol engine that flings the SV Coupe to 100km/h in just 5.3 seconds, making it the fastest full-size Rangie you can buy. Its suspension has been retuned and ride height lowered for enhanced dynamics but Range Rover says its off-road and towing abilities remain undiluted. The SV Coupe will be hand-built by Jaguar Land Rover’s Special Vehicle Operation and limited to 999 examples. Australian buyers can expect delivery early next year, with prices starting above $500,000.
“Effortless, everywhere” is the mantra of Rolls-Royce’s debut SUV, which last month formally adopted its project name, Cullinan, as its badge. It’s a reference to the Cullinan Diamond, the largest gem-quality diamond ever found, and Rolls engineers have been testing the car in a range of environments worldwide to ensure it’s as polished and brilliant as the gem. The Cullinan shares its aluminium spaceframe with the second-generation Phantom limousine and pictures of the car (during testing in body-wrap disguise) suggest it shares its stately bearing, too. The engine will almost certainly be a version of that car’s 420kW turbocharged 6.8-litre V12 and it’s likely to adopt some of the Phantom’s innovations, such as self-levelling air suspension and rear-wheel steering. Unique features will include all-wheel drive and special seats that slide out from the rear cargo area for viewing events. Due to be unveiled this year, it’s unlikely to be more affordable than the Phantom, which starts at $950,000.
Bentley Bentayga Hybrid
Bentley’s revival has been a success under Volkswagen ownership despite – or perhaps because of – its parts sharing strategy with other group brands such as Audi and Porsche. The Bentayga, launched in 2016 as its first SUV, has fundamentals from the Audi Q7 hidden under fragrant leather and weighty metal trim. It was Bentley’s best-seller in Europe and the US last year and is reinforcing its position with a wider range of drivelines. In particular, it has just revealed its first electrified car in the Bentley Hybrid, a plug-in that can travel up to 50km on battery power alone. To ease the chore of recharging, the home wall box – designed by Philippe Starck – is a “functional piece of art that will enhance any home”. It takes 7.5 hours to recharge the Bentayga. On the open road, the motor works in conjunction with a 3.0-litre turbocharged petrol V6 and the satnav calculates the most efficient strategy – for example, preserving electric energy for use when arriving in a city. Bentley starts taking orders in the second half of 2018.