Luxury SUV Sneak Preview: What’s Next from BMW, Benz, Tesla and More
Must every automaker have an SUV? Yes, almost. Ferrari recently stated that it will not build one, but pretty much every other automaker is. Porsche has paved the way for brands such as Lamborghini, Maserati, and Aston Martin, who all want in. And the recent success of Range Rover has inspired a new wave of ultra-luxury SUVs. It's not only U.S. buyers that are fueling demand—the high-riding body style is a favorite throughout the increasingly global luxury market, be it Russia, the Middle East, or China. Here is an early look at the newest big-buck luxo-trucks.
Tesla Model X
Why: It's a practical electric vehicle for the entire family.
Silicon Valley automaker Tesla likes to do everything differently from Detroit, so its Model X crossover concept from the January 2013 North American International Auto Show hides no production surprises. The model you will be able to buy more than two years after its reveal will look much like the concept.
Initially, production of the Tesla Model X was to begin in early 2014 at the company's Fremont, California, assembly plant. The car was then moved back to late 2014, and now the company says that the Tesla Model X will reach production in the second quarter of 2015, with "deliveries estimated for new reservations [in] summer 2015." The Fremont factory was set up for Tesla with help from Toyota, which used to build cars and trucks there with General Motors.
Green-thinking families highly anticipate the Tesla Model X. It's a three-row crossover-utility with two motors—one between each pair of wheels. The company calls this Dual Motor All-Wheel-Drive. Tesla says the second row slides forward toward the first row, even with child seats attached, for easy access to the third row. The fast, BMW X6-like roofline will, however, certainly cut into third-row headroom. Pricing will likely be somewhere north of the Model S, which starts at around $70,000 for the base model with the 60 kWh battery pack before tax credits, although it is possible the less powerful battery option won't be offered on the Model X given its higher weight and low take rate for it on the Model S. Expect 85-kWh versions to start in the low 80s and move up from there. An even higher spec battery pack has been rumored, but nothing has been made official thus far.
Tesla also promises that, since the weight of the battery pack will be low on the vehicle's floor, the Tesla Model X should provide best-in-class handling, with "nimble reflexes at every turn," and a 0-to-60-mph time of less than five seconds. (The Model S Performance makes it to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds, with a top speed of 135 mph.) The highlight of the Model X's generically handsome styling is its "falcon wing" doors, which are hinged from the top to open up like the doors on a private jet. From a practical standpoint, the doors can be fully opened in tight parking spaces, the better for kids to clamber aboard. They'll also provide a great deal of drama when you bring your Tesla Model X home and show it off to the neighbors for the first time.
BMW X7When: 2016 (2017 model year)
BMW Group chairman Norbert Reithofer recently confirmed the X7, the next step in the march of BMW off-roaders, which already includes the X1, X3, X4, X5, and X6. Like the latter four, the X7 will be built in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Three rows of seats are a given for the biggest-ever BMW, which will feature six-cylinder or V-8 power. We expect a 400-hp, 3.0-liter 45i and a 500-hp, 4.0-liter 55i. On the diesel front, the straight six acquires a fourth turbocharger to generate about 400 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque. Cylinder deactivation and a nine-speed automatic help the driveline eke out the best possible fuel economy. One wonders, though: Can an X7 M be far behind?
Mercedes-Benz G-ClassWhen: 2016
Though the Mercedes-Benz Geländewagen isn't new, this is the first redesign since the civilian version launched in 1979. Its frame goes aluminum to save 825 pounds, and its live front axle goes independent. The body is four inches wider and the roof is lower, and its three differentials are lockable. The G500 gets a 460-hp, 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8, while the G63 AMG engine is up to about 570 hp and fuel economy improves by almost 20 percent.
Audi Q8When: 2018
The next-generation Q7, due out next year, will spawn an even more expensive, higher-style Q8, the first Audi SUV "coupe." Ho-hum, you say? Well, word is that the Q8 was the only future product that received a standing ovation at Audi's annual management conference. The array of new models on display also included the new Q7 out next year, which is a big and boxy thing adorned with plenty of brightwork. Not so the Q8: it is lower and wider, more dynamic and more elegant, kind of a tall Sportback on big wheels rather than a low-roof truck. The Q8 features a new, three-dimensional grille that can be had with three different metal frames and insets. Also new are the Quattro-inspired, mildly flared wheel arches, a dynamic greenhouse, and 3D taillights that accentuate the deep horizontal indent in the rear lid. Possible plug-in hybrid powerplants pair a 109-hp e-motor with a 225-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder or a 3.0-liter V-6 diesel. Both hybrids work with an eight-speed automatic transmission and the classic Quattro hardware. The biggest-selling engines will likely be the 310-hp 3.0-liter TFSI and the 272-hp 3.0-liter TDI. One rung up the performance ladder, we should find the 435-hp 4.0-liter gas V-8 and the 394-hp 4.0-liter diesel V-8. An even more potent SQ8 flagship is rumored but not confirmed.
Lamborghini UrusWhen: 2017
Of course there's precedence for this, in the form of the LM002 introduced way back in 1986. Unlike that preternatural Italian Hummer, the Urus, as unveiled at the 2012 Beijing auto show, will be a sleek-roof, two-plus-two coupe-like crossover, potentially a close cousin to the Audi Q8 and sharing the platform that begins at the lower end with the VW Touareg. Power is likely to come from either the Aventador's 691-hp, 6.5-liter V-12 or the Huracan's 610-hp, 5.2-liter V-10.
Rolls-RoyceWhen: 2018 (2019 model year)
Rolls-Royce's interest in adding an SUV was recently publicly acknowledged by design chief Giles Taylor, who told a British magazine that the marque is considering "a proper SUV," which he characterized as "a shooting brake, not a crossover with a sloping roof." In fact, such a vehicle has progressed to the planning stages. Although Rolls can borrow some chassis bits from the BMW X7 (chiefly suspension and brakes), it must use a bespoke aluminum architecture to meet its weight target and to integrate the brand's trademark suicide doors. It also must package the 6.75-liter V-12 (although a V-8 paired with a potent electric power pack is also a possibility), and 4WD cannot be just a hollow promise. Rolls-Royce wants its SUV to be able to do 75 percent of what a Range Rover can do off-road. Most owners would perhaps not risk damaging their $300,000 SUV by indulging in mud-wrestling hijinks, but a sheik simply won't tolerate an SUV that gets stuck on the first dune it encounters, so a fair bit of off-road capability is a must.
Bentley FalconWhen: 2018
Bentley's SUV entry continues to move forward, and we hear that the real thing is relatively close to the ill-received concept car. What happened to the promised redesign? Apparently, a mildly modified version performed so well in clinics that the comprehensive redesign has been halted. While the Volkswagen Group's standard-wheelbase SUV platform will serve a new Touareg and Cayenne, plus the Urus for Lamborghini, Bentley's Falcon will share the long-wheelbase version with the Audi Q7. The extra inches create enough room for a third row of seats; alternatively, customers can opt for an even more upmarket four-seat configuration with vast legroom plus a huge luggage compartment. Bentley's 6.0-liter W-12 will be offered alongside a 540-hp V-8, but a plug-in hybrid version has been put on the back burner.