by Brian Sy
Consumer preferences in the car world have been shifting — most notably, away from cars. While sedans, coupes, and wagons are on the wane, SUVs continue their upward climb — as do the limits people are willing to spend on them. Coupled with a handful of redesigned models at the high-end and a fresh round of entrants eager to challenge them, anyone in search of an upper-crust sport-utility has a wealth of choice.
To shine a spotlight on more recent examples, here are ten of the more notable luxury SUVs that launched for 2020 or 2021, and are readily available to enliven your fall or winter travels.
As the original sport-utility coupe, the BMW X6 is now in its third generation. Still essentially a sloped-roof version of the latest X5, the X6 embodies BMW’s blend of capable handling and a dignified ride into an unconventional shape. Coming standard with a smooth six-cylinder engine that can rocket this machine to 60 MPH in 4.7 seconds (while still scoring an admirable 23 MPG), it’s hard to imagine anyone wanting more performance, and yet two step-up options exist: a 523-horsepower V8 (in the X6 M50i) and a 617-horsepower V8 (in the X6 M), both paired with all-wheel drive. For anyone who doesn’t mind the X6’s complicated controls and compromised rear seat and cargo space, this bodaciously bodied Bimmer is worth a drive.
The full-size luxury SUV segment has expanded since the Escalade helped pioneer it near the turn of the century, but this Cadillac still stands apart with its all-American approach. Thanks to heavy-duty body-on-frame construction and a muscular, rumbling V8, the Escalade’s sound and feel over the road are satisfyingly classic. The 2021 redesign brings some key modern touches like an independent rear suspension, further refining the ride while also making the third-row seat more hospitable for adults, and a stylish interior whose dashboard is a showcase of crisp OLED displays. A newly optional diesel engine can boost average fuel economy from roughly 16 MPG to 23, and Cadillac’s available Super Cruise technology arguably comes closer than any other at providing true hands-free driving.
If you’ve grown bored with the same old names in the midsize luxury segment, well, why not take a chance on a new entry from a new brand (not to mention a new nationality)? Actually, the GV80 seems like a pretty safe bet, as Genesis has been around for a few years now, just as parent company Hyundai has been for decades. Past Genesis offerings were usually aimed at sedate tastes of Lexus shoppers, but the GV80 seems to have been created with BMW in its sights, judging by the rear-wheel drive chassis (all-wheel drive is optional), tight suspension, firm steering, and an available 375-horsepower twin-turbo V6. The GV80 has also drawn praise for the ambience and quietness of its cabin, surpassing some veteran luxury brands on day one.
Jeep Grand Cherokee L
Though the traditional styling may not advertise it, Jeep rolled out a brand new Grand Cherokee for 2021. Its origins are wholly different now, tracing its engineering to Italy rather than Germany, and it’s available in a new extended-length, seven-seat body style dubbed the Grand Cherokee L. At its core, however, it maintains the course set by the previous generation with a focus on driving comfort, quietness, and luxury. Three optional four-wheel drive systems still endow it with considerable off-road prowess, however, and its familiar V6 and V8 engines, while thirsty, pack enough punch to get the job done. Take note that for the 2021 model year, only the longer Grand Cherokee L adapts the new design, while the standard-length model makes the conversion for 2022.
Land Rover Defender
Land Rover’s most purposefully rugged model returned to America’s shores for 2020, ending a 23-year hiatus. Long seen as England’s classier answer to the Jeep Wrangler, rugged terrain remains a Defender specialty, as evidenced by the standard complement of four-wheel drive, locking differentials, and 11.5 inches of ground clearance, plus available features like a height-adjustable air suspension and Land Rover’s customizable Terrain Response system. Its hefty weight and towering 6’6″ height mean agility is not the Defender’s forte, but the switch to unibody construction and fully independent suspension mean it now has a quiet and civil ride, along with an interior that blends rugged styling with feature-laden luxury.
Land Rover Range Rover Evoque
For decades, the Range Rover name had been reserved for Land Rover’s most rarefied offering, but that club became a lot more accessible with the creation of the Evoque, due to its tidier size and a price that’s $50,000 friendlier. Against other subcompact SUVs like the Volvo XC40, BMW X1, and Lexus UX, the Evoque doesn’t measure up in interior space or driving refinement, but it’s known to be one of the more agile of the bunch, and its elevated seating position provides a more authentic SUV feel that many drivers may prefer. Finally, one glance at its rakish lines leave little doubt that the Evoque stands at the top when it comes to style — and exclusivity as well.
As Lincoln’s other big SUV, the Aviator can be thought of as the more car-like companion to the long-running Navigator. It shares underpinnings with the Ford Explorer, benefitting from the same 2020 overhaul that brought far cooler proportions and a rear-wheel drive chassis (all-wheel drive is optional), along with the naturally agile handling that goes with it. The Aviator, however, stands apart with more amenities, richer interior materials, and a 400-horsepower turbocharged V6 that moves it with verve. There’s even a plug-in hybrid version (dubbed Grand Touring) that boosts horsepower all the way to 494, enabling five-second zero to 60 sprints while also allowing for 21 miles of all-electric driving. Some take issue with the Aviator’s fuel consumption, ergonomic quirks, and small third-row seats, but this is easily the most capable and compelling Lincoln SUV to date.
Lincolns have long been about living large, but the Corsair represents a faithful application of the brand’s traditional qualities into a tidier package. Though related to the Ford Escape, Lincoln went its own way, most notably with the Corsair’s richer interior materials, stronger and more refined engines (a choice of two turbocharged four-cylinders, plus a plug-in hybrid version), and overall driving character. Perhaps more than any other entry in its class, the Corsair was emphatically tuned to emphasize a comforting and quiet ride. If your idea of luxury is letting the miles fly by in total tranquility, this Lincoln should be easy to like.
Formerly known as the GL, the GLS is for people who like their Mercedes large, luxurious, and imposing. Now in its third generation, the GLS upholds its hallmarks of a silent, buttery ride, a palace-like interior (with notably complex controls), and comfortable seating for seven — and unlike with the BMW X7, that means seven adults. The turbo engine in the standard GLS 450 model has been upgraded from a V6 to a smoother inline six (with hybrid assist), and provides such effortless power that the GLS 580 and its 483-horsepower turbo V8 seem like overkill. Premium features like all-wheel drive, adaptive shocks, and air suspension are standard, while a much-hyped option called E-Active Body Control enables the GLS to bounce its body up and down at a standstill, to the amusement of both occupants and onlookers. But whether you seek to be seen or to drive, Mercedes-Benz’s biggest barge is a first-class ticket.
Tesla Model Y
Given its combination of an SUV profile, accessible pricing, and the brand on its back end, it’s easy to see why the Model Y has become not only the best-selling Tesla, but America’s most popular EV. While it doesn’t ride or handle as well as the Model 3 sedan, the Model Y features a similar interior, the same Autopilot technology, and boasts a back seat that’s far more comfortable. The Model Y’s variations differ quite a bit in driving range (spanning roughly 240 to 330 miles) and performance, but one thing they all have in common is packing the performance punch of a sports car (zero to 60 in under five seconds, or under four in the Performance version) while also achieving the equivalent of over 100 MPG in everyday driving. The Model Y may be eco-friendly, but its achievements should be turning other drivers green.