2008 Luxury SUVs

DriverSide takes a look into the feature-rich class of stylish and sporty people movers.
By Alison Lakin

2009 Infiniti FX

“Luxury SUV". Less than a decade ago this classification could have rivaled “jumbo shrimp" for the clichéd epitome of an oxymoron. Now, premium interiors and technologically advanced features are being poured into SUV bodies to further encourage consumers to snatch up these coveted, gas-gulping vehicles.

2008 Porsche Cayenne GTS

2008 Audi Q7

The Premium SUV class is focused more on ride dynamics and extravagant interiors than on off-road capabilities and workingman utility. The sporty nature of this class means fuel consumption across the board is sky-high, with most of the car companies taking a ‘if you have to ask about fuel economy’ line towards the, well, frankly terrible MPG and emissions ratings.

The V-8 Audi Q7, while a good-looking SUV, is the biggest guzzler in this elite group, getting a brutal 12 mpg in the city and 17 on the highway, followed by the new all-wheel drive Infiniti FX50. Marginally better is the rear-wheel drive Infiniti FX35, which gets 16 mpg city and 23 mpg highway.

They may not be very Earth-friendly, but these cars tend to feel more comfortable than most living room sofas and are brimming with more technology than a top-of-the-line home theater system. For a few years, the German manufactures have inundated the class with a surfeit amount of high-end SUVs, most recently the brand new BMW X6 and the newly announced Audi Q5, but don’t count out the America and Japan OEMs as worthy competitors for best in show. While there are quite a number of similarities between them, each of these SUVs has its own personality. If you have the money and don’t mind the gas mileage, we’re sure one just might fit your needs.

The Beast
The Porsche Cayenne debuted in 2003, bringing with it Porsche’s awesome V-8 powered engine, the company's first, and exposing the public to previously unknown SUV capabilities. Five years on, Porsche offers four 2008 models – Cayenne, S, GTS and Turbo.

A 6-cylinder engine sits in the $43,400 base model and produces a respectable 290 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque. The S’s V-8 might suit the driving enthusiasts more though, with its 385 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque, while still remaining in the competitive price range at $57,900. The GTS ups the ante (and price), with its upgraded 4.8-liter V-8 that produces 405 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque.

However, these numbers pale in comparison to the Turbo’s demonic 500 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque. The scorching 4.9-second 0-60 time might convince buyers to re-consider the Turbo’s $93,700 price tag.

With Porsche pushing everything from arm rests embroidered with the Porsche logo for $420 to a rear camera with park assist for $2,670, the extensive array of options and packages means the already high base price will rise quickly. But, that said, what better to go with the GT3 in your driveway than a matching Cayenne GTS?

The Techie
Debuting the same year as the Porsche was the Infiniti FX available in two models, a V-6 powered FX35 and a V-8 powered FX45. The FX provided consumers with a lighter weight and sporty-looking alternative to the truck-based SUVs on the market The FX was in instant sales winner and pretty much helped to create the Crossover market.

Completely redesigned for 2009, this FX is available in three trims: a rear-wheel or all-wheel drive FX35 featuring Infiniti’s tried and true 3.5-liter V-6 engine and an all-wheel drive FX50, sporting an all new 5.0-liter V-8 engine with 390 horsepower.

Both the V-6 and the throaty V-8 produce a light, sporty drive that belies the typical SUVs performance. Starting at an estimated $41,000 for the V-6 and $56,000 for the V-8, this car offers not only an exciting ride and door-to-door luxury, but also cutting-edge technology, all at a reasonable price.

As the first manufacturer to introduce Lane Departure Warning, a system that produces an audible alert when the car starts to drift over the lane, Infiniti has continued its tradition of technology-loaded vehicles. The 2009 FX also features Intelligent Cruise Control, which can maintain speeds up to 90 or slow the car down to zero without any input needed on the driver’s part. Safety technology is also abundant, with systems like the Intelligent Brake Assist that automatically applies emergency brakes if lasers sense a collision is imminent.

Add on what we think is a ‘best in class’ navigation and audiophile level sound system, the refreshed and updated FX will prove once again, despite high gas prices, to be a sales leader.

The Utilitarian
The Audi Q7 is the baby of the bunch, released as a 2006 model. In its few short years on the market, the Q7 has proven itself a formidable contender in the luxury class. The 2008 model’s V-6 engine with 280 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque starts at $42,500 and accelerates quickly enough to please most drivers. While heavier than others in the segment - 5,000 pounds for the V-6 compared to the Infiniti’s 4,300 – its adjustable air suspension, available in five modes from comfort to dynamic, will make the ride easy for day-to-day use.

A 4.2-liter V-8 engine producing 350 horsepower and 325 lb-ft of torque gives the Q7 a much-needed shot in the arm. At $58,600, the extra horses will cut the 0-60 speed by over a second, from 8.2 seconds to a marginally better 7.1 seconds. It will give you quicker time off the line and help with the SUVs freeway passing power. As much as we liked the fully kitted-out V-8 powered Q7 S-line we recently drove, our miserly side prefers the (relatively) fuel-sipping V-6 model. We think it is a compelling shop in the category.

With five-star crash ratings and more than its fair share of safety features, this three-row SUV is perfect for carting the kids around town. With standard all-wheel drive, 144 cubic feet of cargo space and a 6,600-pound maximum towing capacity, the Q7 presents an elite option for family expeditions.

The Budget Choice
With its now signature angular body style, the Cadillac SRX will catch anybody’s eye. Released first in 2004, the 2008 Caddy is now available with two engines: the 3.6-liter V-6 and the 4.6-liter V-8. Starting at $37,615, the V-6 is a reasonably priced choice for those who want to join the premium luxury ranks. On paper, the numbers - 255 horsepower and 254 lb-ft of torque - may seem underpowered compared to others in its class, but the car is also the lightest of the group, at 4,100 pounds. The V-8 engine, starting at $44,615, produces 320 horsepower and 315 lb-ft of torque and provides a polished, responsive ride.

Options and standard features have been slightly compromised for the lower price; all-wheel drive is available as an extra, as are the additional rear seats. What is missing in the SRX’s standard features list can be found in option packages, which can ostensibly bump the cost of the SRX more in-line to its competitors.

If the luxury car segment has peaked your interest, some other models to cross shop are the BMW X5 and X6, Lincoln MKX, Lexus RX, Mercedes-Benz ML and GL-series, Volvo XC90 and Volkswagen Touareg 2.

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