As more and more buyers choose SUVs over cars, automakers are ensuring all possible desires are met, regardless of price. The trend toward specialized SUV models that expand brands beyond their usual segments is on full display at this year's New York Auto Show. The sheer number of high-end SUVs in New York highlights the rapid expansion of the segment and the seemingly endless appetite for new and unique offerings at the highest price points.
"With gas prices at relative lows, the number of consumers flocking to SUVs continues to grow. In the first three months of 2017, over 40 percent of new vehicle purchases were SUVs for the first time ever. Growing sales give automakers the freedom to create exciting SUV derivatives that weren't possible from a business perspective just a few years ago," said Jessica Caldwell, Edmunds executive director of industry analysis.
Sitting in the center of the Venn diagram of performance and luxury at the show this year is the Mercedes-AMG GLC 63. It's a performance version of the brand's compact SUV that offers up to 503 horsepower thanks to the same twin-turbo 4.0-liter V8 found in the Mercedes C63 and GT performance cars. The GLC 63 not only offers outlanding horsepower, it also offers a choice of either the standard SUV or a low-roof "coupe" version.
Another performance-oriented SUV that borrows its engine from cars in its corporate family is the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk. In this instance, the cars are the Dodge Challenger and Dodge Charger Hellcat models, which feature a 707-hp supercharged 6.2-liter V8. With that kind of power on board, the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk can stake its claim as the quickest and most powerful SUV on the market.
Since all-out performance isn't always a top priority for high-end SUV buyers, some luxury brands aim for middle ground. The Land Rover Range Rover Velar does just that by filling the gap between the top-of-the-line Range Rover and the compact Range Rover Evoque. The emphasis on the design of the Range Rover Velar reflects the need to stand out in an increasingly competitive midsize luxury SUV market.
Although it will likely come in at a lower price point than the Land Rover, the Buick Enclave Avenir is another midsize SUV aimed at buyers who want a little more than just the average model. The Avenir subbrand is new for Buick and it's designed to offer buyers a more exclusive (and profitable) version of the standard Enclave through the use of upgraded exterior trim, wheels and interior materials. The show also marks the North American debut of the Volvo XC60, another midsize SUV that offers exceptional materials and craftsmanship for buyers seeking a different kind of SUV experience.
Full-size SUVs have roared back to life lately, and the new 2018 Lincoln Navigator aims to take advantage of the renewed interest. It combines the unmistakable size and styling of its predecessors with the latest entertainment and safety technology. More efficient engines also assure that it will deliver the kind of mileage that even full-size buyers expect these days.
It's impossible to know when the public's appetite for SUVs will begin to diminish. Higher gas prices will certainly put a pinch on sales, but it appears as though most manufacturers are willing to take the risk. For now, at least.