Mercedes-Benz GLS Review
Some Mercedes cars are the epitome of on-road luxury. Others are almost unrivalled for off-road prowess. And then there's one which claims to offer the best of both: this GLS model, essentially an update of the brand's previous GL-Class top rated luxury SUV. This is one of the very few SUVs that can seat seven fully-sized adults. And it's the only one that can do so whilst offering a properly dynamic drive on road as well as extreme capability off it. Got a family? This is the car you'd like.
Not everyone is going to feel comfortable piloting something of the size of a luxury SUV, but provided you do, then Mercedes GLS motoring is a pretty fabulous way to view your everyday world. Engines are the same as they were in the old GL-Class range. The GLS 350d variant that most will buy uses a 3.0-litre V6 diesel power plant, which produces 258bhp and 620Nm of torque. The 9G-TRONIC automatic gearbox now has 9 speeds rather than 7, making for greater efficiency and smoother shifts, and it offer DYNAMIC SELECT driving modes if you feel like pushing on a bit.
We can't imagine many GLS customers are going to risk taking this top luxury 4x4 off road, but for the few that might, there's an optional off-road package for the 350d adds a centre differential lock, a low-range gearbox, extra modes for the DYNAMIC SELECT system and three additional heights for the suspension that increase ground clearance to 306mm and wading depth to up to 600mm. Also included are underbody protection panels and an off-road function for the headlights.
For those who don't care about running costs, a V8 petrol AMG option continues on at the top of the range. With a peak output of 585bhp and peak torque of 760Nm, the 5.5-litre bi-turbo V8 in the GLS 63 offers 28bhp more power than its GL-Class predecessor, plus more dynamism and higher equipment levels than before. Standard features include a revised AMG SPEEDSHIFT PLUS 7G-TRONIC transmission with AMG DYNAMIC SELECT transmission modes which provide optimum flexibility, and rear-biased AMG Performance all-wheel drive.
So, it's big - of course it is, it's one of the best luxury SUVs on the market. It's large enough maybe to make your neighbours question their right-to-light restrictions. This MK2 SUV is long, wide and tall, with more than three metres between its wheels and a total length of nearly 5.2m. So, you'll need a very large garage. The styling now incorporates the latest Mercedes-Benz look. The smarter front end includes distinctive power domes on the bonnet, while among changes at the rear are more prominent tailpipes. Interior highlights include a classier instrument panel, a redesigned three-spoke multifunction steering wheel and a modified centre console with touchpad.
The AMG Line pack includes distinctive front and rear bumpers, illuminated side running boards, and 21-inch AMG light-alloy wheels. The optional Night package makes for an even more exclusive look, with high-gloss black details including the louvres in the radiator grille, door mirrors and roof rails, all what you'd want, and more, from one of the top 10 best luxury SUVs.
Right, onto the interior. The fact that it offers three seating rows at all is fairly unusual in the luxury 4x4 sector and the fact that in that third row, two fully sized adults can be properly accommodated is even more unusual. Find yourself in the middle row and, as at the very back, there's reasonable head and elbow room, with decent space for three people who can adjust their seats to suit their needs. There's a boot volume of 295-litres (with all seats in place), 680-litres (with the third-row seats folded) or 2300-litres (with all rear seats folded), in a load compartment that is up to 2124mm long and with a payload capacity of up to 815kg.
If you're in the unusual position of wanting a huge 7-seat luxury SUV that can climb the lower slopes of Snowdon, then stop by Sainsbury's on the way to an evening at the Ritz, then you won't be disappointed with this one.
But then, that much we already knew about this Mercedes. The thing that's changed with this GLS luxury SUV is a broadening of its appeal. Now it reaches out below its price point to an Audi Q7-class customer. And above its asking figure to lower-order Range Rover buyers. These people may not necessarily need this luxury SUV's huge size or ultimate off-road prowess but hey, they didn't really need a big SUV in the first place, so why not buy one that really ticks all the boxes?
This GLS does and manages to do so with a more dynamic personality than its GL-Class predecessor. True, it's not quite the all-round proposition a Range Rover can be but in many respects, it offers far more car for much less money. Which means that in your search for one of the 10 best luxury SUVs, you shouldn't overlook it.Click here to find out more about our Mercedes-Benz GLS Review range
Audi Q7 Review
The Audi Q7 used to be a bit of a whale, but the latest version loses the blubber, delivers some pin-sharp engines, yet somehow manages to offer more space inside. It's a car that now works smarter rather than harder and puts it right back into contention as a top-rated luxury SUV.
Ever wondered why there was no S or RS version of the old Q7? Because it would have been like trying to turbocharge a continental plate. The thing was so big and lumbering that encouraging drivers to make it go faster would have been a recipe for disaster. The latest car doesn't go down that road either, but with all that weight excised from the chassis, it's a far nimbler luxury SUV. That tells in Audi's engine selection too. There's no hulking great V8 installed at launch. Instead we get a pair of far more efficient turbocharged 3.0-litre units. One drinks diesel, and the other petrol.
The diesel's going to be the one getting the most play with UK buyers and it's a good 'un. With 270PS at its elbow and almost 600Nm of torque, it gives this lighter Q7 enough about it to be able to mix it with the luxury 4x4 best. In fact, 6.3 seconds to 62mph wouldn't be bad for a hot hatch. Alternatively, there's a supercharged 3.0-litre TFSI petrol unit which packs 330PS. This has seriously upped the ante over its predecessor. Where that car got to 62mph in 7.9 seconds, the sprint will now detain you for just 6.1 seconds. That'll be five point something to 60mph in old money. The Q7 rides on a steel springs as standard, although buyers can opt for air suspension. Another interesting option is a rear wheel steer function. At lower speeds, it counter steers the rear wheels for better manoeuvrability, while at higher speeds it steers them by up to five degrees in the same direction as the fronts to improve handling agility. All very Porsche 911 Turbo.
If you didn't have the two luxury SUVs parked side by side, you'd probably never guess that the latest Q7 is so much smaller. The styling theme is evolutionary, although the car seems to sit lower on its springs, almost like a beefed-up Audi super-estate than a typical luxury 4x4, an impression compounded by the aggressively raked windscreen. The chassis on which the Q7 sits will also form the basis for forthcoming Porsche Cayenne and Volkswagen Touareg variants, with proposed Lamborghini and Bentley luxury SUVs also using a version. An increased reliance on aluminium has shed weight, with 100kg coming out of the suspension, 71kg out of the body and a massive 24kg from the doors alone.
Despite being 370mm shorter, Audi has only reduced the wheelbase of their best luxury 4x4 by 10mm, so the amount of room available for passengers is still vast. In fact, Audi claims an extra 21mm of knee room in the second row. Even the third row gets more space, with 24mm more headroom and an additional 20mm of shoulder width. This third row of seats are now dubbed 'Group 3 child seats,' and are electrically operated, popping up from the boot floor at the flick of a switch. With all seven seats occupied, you get 295-litres of boot space. In five-seat mode there's even more space than in the old model; fully 890-litres to the tonneau cover. The instrument binnacle features Audi's clever 1440 x 550-pixel Virtual Cockpit where you can configure the fascia display as a giant screen in a number of modes.
Audi worked and worked on the old Q7, but all the polish in the world couldn't bring it up to being ranked in the top 10 best luxury 4x4s. Something radical was needed and something radical just happened. Significantly smaller, lighter and more agile but, thanks to smarter packaging, bigger in the passenger cell, the latest Q7 offers efficiency measures that are night and day compared to its Panzer-like predecessor. Even the shape subtly morphs into something more luxury SUV-like.
It'll be interesting to see whether the Q7's blend of talents can convince a market where many buyers choose according to predetermined brand loyalty. Can it bring customers back to a luxury SUV that was never a front-runner? We wouldn't bet against it. The Audi Q7 has turned from a blunt implement to one of the sharpest vehicles in its sector. Who knows, it might even have pioneered a new niche on the sly. We can't help but have a sneaking admiration for what Audi has done here.Click here to find out more about our Audi Q7 Review range
Lexus RX Review
Large, plush, luxury 4x4 motoring is personified by the Lexus RX. Since an original launch back in 1998, it's been finding a select but loyal band of buyers, usually with hybrid power - which is all that's been available here since the third-generation of this top, luxury SUV was launched in 2008. This MK4 model adds the option of a conventional 2.0-litre petrol turbo power plant to the range, but the vast majority of buyers will still opt for the hybrid version, even though it doesn't feature the clever Plug-in technology now being used by other rivals in the best luxury SUV segment. Either way, the car is longer, so more spacious inside than before. It's also more stylish and incorporates a great deal more technology. Let's check it out.
So, what's it like? Well assuming you're in the 450h hybrid version that most will choose, you get in, luxuriate in the beautiful leather seats and enjoy the commanding SUV-style driving position before pressing the starter button to be greeted by.... nothing. The engine's running, true enough. It's just that at this point, it's doing so silently under battery power alone and if you've a gentle right foot, that's all it will continue to use at speeds of up to 30mph before the 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine kicks in, controlled via a six-speed CVT auto gearbox.
This mechanical package is much as it was in previous versions of this top-rated luxury SUV, though this time round, power has risen from 295 to 308bhp and there's a useful 335Nm of torque for towing. It sounds better too, thanks to a sound generator system that creates a performance-style air intake roar. The E-Four 4WD system's functions have been tuned for better response when accelerating through bends: there's no mention of off piste ability. Lexus doesn't think potential buyers will be interested - and they're probably right. If you are interested in the conventionally-engined RX 200t variant, you'll get yourself 235bhp and Lexus' proactive AWD system, assuming you avoid the entry-level 'S' version, which is 2WD-only. Across the RX luxury 4x4 range, the steering and suspension have been uprated but other rivals still offer a more involving drive. The RX is still one of the most comfortable and refined SUVs - in fact one of the best luxury SUVs in its class.
This fourth-generation RX is completely new, its stiffened and extended all-steel platform a sizeable 120mm longer than the old version, with half of that extra length added within the wheelbase in order to deal with the previous luxury SUV model's major shortcomings: a lack of cabin space. It's sleeker-looking too, with stylish external creases and curves that capture the design language evident in the sheet metal treatment of other recent Lexus models, such as the IS, NX and RC.
At the front end, there's a fresh interpretation of Lexus's signature spindle grille, contained in a chrome-finished frame and flanked by LED headlights. The sharply tapering front and rear wing flares add muscle to the RX's appearance, while the main body section displays a diamond shape that flows out from the front spindle grille and back to the tailgate. Inside, there's a classier, more spacious cabin that sits its passengers 19mm lower for better headroom. Lexus has paid special attention to the comfort of rear seat passengers, and by lowering the rear floor section has produced a seating position that bears comparison with the LS limousine, how about that for top luxury SUV driving? Cargo capacity is much as before and remains slightly compromised in hybrid guise, though will be sufficient for most owners.
This isn't the most capable luxury SUV you can buy. It isn't the sportiest to drive. And it's not the most affordable to buy. But despite all of that, it will continue to attract a significant following in the luxury 4x4 segment. Once you've bought the thing, after all, its running costs can be usefully less than even the most frugal of its diesel competitors.
While other manufacturers dithered over hybrid technology, Toyota's Lexus division got on and developed it. Their first hybrid RX was an impressive achievement and this one has added a more stylish, spacious cabin and extra technology to existing strengths of comfort, refinement and a high specification. Overall though, the reasons you'll want to buy this top-rated luxury SUV really haven't changed very much. Comfort, efficiency and class. As ever with Lexus.Click here to find out more about our Lexus RX Review range