Why Everyone Loves the SUV

2016 Jeep® Grand Cherokee SRT

2016 Jeep® Grand Cherokee SRT Photo Credit: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles

There is one type of vehicle I seem to see more frequently than any other on the road and that is the Sport Utility Vehicle.  Everywhere you go people are driving them.  Whether they are small, midsize or gigantic, consumers seem to be clamoring for this type of transportation.  So what makes the SUV such a desirable choice for consumers?

2016 CX-9

2016 Mazda CX-9 Interior Photo Credit: Mazda USA

The first reason that comes to mind is convenience.  Five doors, higher off the ground, and plenty of space all contribute to the convenience of driving a SUV.  These days even the more affordable models are packed with luxurious features including, but not limited to, leather seating, navigation, memory seats, heated seats, streaming bluetooth and music, and televisions neatly installed in the back of the front headrests.  Imagine being a kid now.  Those torturous road trips we suffered through in the 80’s and 90’s suddenly become quite bearable, if not fun in these new modern vehicles.

2016 Volve XC90

2016 Volvo XC90 Photo Credit: Volv0 Car Group

The second reason is versatility.  No matter what you’re looking for as a consumer, you can be assured at least one of the SUV models available will satisfy your needs.  Looking for something huge to transport your multiple kids and dogs?  Plenty of models come equipped with the sought after optional 3rd row, giving you choice as to how you would like your back seat and cargo area configured.  Is an environmentally responsible mode of transportation a must for you?  Several car companies make models with optional hybrid engines so you don’t have to feel as guilty about driving such a big, beasty car.

2016 Bentayga

Bentley Bentayga Photo Credit: Bentley Motors

The final obvious reason to own one of these is the cool factor.  Even if you have a ridiculously large family, you don’t have to sacrifice style and comfort to accommodate everyone.  You don’t even have to have a family to justify owning a SUV.  You can find purpose for your ride with rugged, outdoorsy activities or at least make it appear as if you enjoy that type of thing.  Once upon a time when I was in sales and had to schlep all over the greater Los Angeles area with sales materials and samples in my car, my SUV was my savior.  Yes it was bigger than it needed to be and got sub-par gas mileage, but it was so comfortable to drive, I didn’t mind stopping in to the gas station every two to three days.

With all this in mind, I will be dedicating the month of February on the blog to SUVs.  I will provide in-depth coverage of several different models and putting them to the test. Everything from the dream SUV (did someone say Bentley?!) to the more affordable models for those of us regular folk and everything in between.  Be sure to check back regularly for new posts, especially if you’re contemplating making the leap to SUV ownership.

LA Auto Show 2014

Los Angeles is a hot market for cars.  Ever heard the song “Walkin’ in LA”?  Nobody walks in LA, and nobody takes the non-existant public transportation either.  Pretty much everyone needs a car to exist in this hectic city.  Not only do us So Cal natives love to drive, we also love to make a statement.  Combine these attributes with our stellar weather, and LA is quite easily the best market in the US, if not the world, to debut the latest and greatest car companies have to offer. This past week I got a sneak peak of what consumers will see when the LA Auto show opens to the public.

Here’s a quick look at some of this year’s show highlights.

Bentley:

Bentley Grand Convertible Concept Car: Signature Mulsanne Grill

Bentley Grand Convertible Concept Car: Signature Mulsanne Grill

The Bentley Grand Convertible was easily one of this year’s best in show.  With it’s sleek, muscular styling, classic Mulsanne-inspired good looks, and standard beefy Bentley engine, this car is in a class of its own.  With the Grand Convertible, Bentley hopes to redefine the standard of luxury, open-air driving and they succeed.  The bonnet of this impressive vehicle is covered in a silver, liquid metal, while the rest of the car is painted a lovely Sequin Blue, a color created from the sequin of a customer’s couture gown.  Everything about the Grand Convertible from it’s elegantly designed exterior, to its rich, luxurious interior, makes me want to put the top down and get this bad boy out on the open road.  I can already feel the wind in my hair.

Mercedes:

The all-new Mercedes Maybach

The all-new Mercedes Maybach

The big buzz at the Mercedes booth this year was the all-new 2016 Mercedes-Maybach S600.  The new Maybach combines the style of the extremely popular S Class with the luxury of the Maybach. Launching stateside in April 2015, the car is touted to be the world’s quietest production sedan.

The exterior holds true to characteristic S Class design while featuring a bold new side line.  While the wheel base is 8.1 inches longer than the standard S, the rear door has been shortened 2.6 inches, allowing the door to effortlessly blend into the side line of the car.  The rear triangle window has been eliminated and moved to the C-Pillar, which places the rear seat solidly behind the window, allowing the occupants ultimate privacy from the road outside.  Although if I were in the back seat of this ride, I would want everyone to see.  But that’s just me.

The V-12 biturbo engine cranks out 523hp, hitting the maximum 612 lb.-ft of torque at 1900 rpm.  The Mayback will hit 0-62 in 5 seconds flat.  Sadly all that power has an electronic limit of 155 mph.  While most people wouldn’t really need to go that fast, I would be curious to see what the actual top speed is.

According to  Ola Källenius, member of the Divisional Board of Mercedes-Benz Cars responsible for sales, “As an addition to the portfolio of S-Class sedans, the Mercedes-Maybach S-Class sets new standards in the luxury segment. The vehicle satisfies the very highest requirements in terms of exclusivity appointments and comfort.”

Mercedes has obviously set the bar high for this new Maybach incarnation, and next April, we will see if consumers agree.

Audi:

Audi's latest concept: prologue

Audi’s latest concept: prologue Photo credit: Audi USA

Audi's latest concept: prologue

Audi’s latest concept: prologue Photo credit: Audi USA

Audi debuted its new large concept coupe, the Audi prologue.  Audi Head Designer Marc Lichte was on hand for the big reveal.  Lichte had this to say about the new concept: “Audi stands for sportiness, lightweight design and the quattro permanent all-wheel drive. In the Audi prologue, we are expressing this know-how in a new form – we have put the sportiest car in the luxury segment on wheels. Our team took new approaches in both exterior and interior design.”

Audi prologue interior

Audi prologue interior Photo credit: Audi USA

Audi prologue interior

Audi prologue interior Photo Credit: Audi USA

The prologue body shape combines elegance and tight, sporty lines.  While I found the exterior to be quite modern and beautiful, the interior unfortunately took me back in time to my grandmother’s Oldsmobile, and not in a good way.   To me, the dash configuration is a throwback to the Buicks and Cadillacs of the 1980’s and simply put, looks dated.  The only thing modern about the interior are the digital displays.  Even the gear shift and steering wheel look “vintage”.  I expect Audi to provide more luxury and innovation in a dash configuration than the prologue offers.  The seats do look quite comfortable and I love the bucket-seat styling in the back seat.

Audi prologue

I would be willing to live with the interior for what’s under the hood.  The 4.0 TFSI has 605 hp and 553.2 lb.-ft of torque.  All that power gets the prologue from 0-62 in 3.7 seconds.  The all-wheel steering allows each wheel to turn up to 5 degrees, providing a stable and responsive ride.  With all that giddy-up, you can get past the weird interior pretty quickly and enjoy the quick, graceful Audi handling.  Should this car make it to production, I seriously hope the interior gets a major overhaul.

Toyota:

2016 Toyota Mirai

2016 Toyota Mirai

Once again Toyota finds itself at the forefront of automotive ingenuity.  With the launch of the 2016 Mirai, the car company will be able to offer consumers a four-door, mid-size sedan that uses no gasoline and has zero emissions except for water vapor.  This fuel cell electric vehicle gets its power from hydrogen, refuels itself every five minutes, and will drive a whopping 300 miles on a full tank.  Instead of using a large battery to power the car, the fuel cell combines hydrogen from tanks with oxygen to generate electricity.  The car also has one of the world’s highest power outputs at 3.1 kW/L, providing 153hp and a 0-60 time of 9 seconds.

If it’s unique options you’re going for, look no further.  Some Mirai models will come equipped with a power take off (PTO) device that allows the vehicle to act as a mobile generator in case of emergency.  This means the Mirai is able to successfully power home essentials to the average house for up to a week during an emergency, all while emitting only water vapors. That’s a great feature for those of us in So Cal waiting for the “Big One” to hit.

Consumers looking to own the vehicle will find the technology incredibly wallet friendly.  When it hits dealerships in 2015, Toyota will be offering an initial $499/month/36 month lease option.  Add to the price the free hydrogren refills for up to three years from Toyota, and this could be a very competitive option for those looking for cutting edge technology at a more budget friendly price point.  Toyota will also offer a 24/7 concierge service by a dedicated fuel cell representative, 24/7 roadside assistance, 3 year maintenance up to 12k annual miles and complimentary hydrogen fuel for up to three years.  Saving the environment just got a little more exciting.

Kia:

2016 Kia Sorento Photo Credit: Kia Motors

2016 Kia Sorento Photo Credit: Kia Motors

2016 Kia Sorento Photo Credit: Kia Motors

2016 Kia Sorento Photo Credit: Kia Motors

The big headline was California Adventure at the Kia booth this year as the all-new 2016 Sorento made it’s North American debut in LA.  The redesigned model is now made with premium materials, comes equipped with many amenities, more head and leg room in all three rows, and three engine options, including the new 2.0 liter turbo charged, the 3.3 liter V-6, and an improved 2.4 liter normally aspirated engine.

2016 Kia Sorento Interior Photo credit: Kia Motors

2016 Kia Sorento Interior Photo credit: Kia Motors

Inspiration for the new design came primarily from the 2013 concept Cross GT and incorporates a much stronger body structure, providing CUV drivers the stability and confidence they demand in a vehicle.

“The core principles in the development of the all-new 2016 Sorento were simple:  Deliver class-up premium materials and features in a capable, confidence-inspiring CUV,” said Orth Hedrick, Vice President, Product Planning, KMA.  “During the development process, engineers started from the ground up by reinforcing an already stiff body structure.  This added rigidity pays dividends when conditions are less than perfect and helps deliver a premium driving experience.  By painstakingly crafting a vehicle with significant reductions in NVH and substantial gains in overall driving comfort and dynamics, the 2016 Sorento sets a new standard for Kia in the highly competitive mid-size CUV segment.”

Kia booth at the LA Auto Show 2014

Kia booth at the LA Auto Show 2014

Kia also delivered an all-encompassing experience to the press this year, focused on the California lifestyle.  Amongst the plethora of new Sorentos on display, Kia had California wine and cheese bars, professional rope climbers and a virtual ski experience press could try.

I continue to be impressed by Kia’s climb out of the average runaround car category. Year after year they step up not only their technology and design, but the quality of their cars.  With this step up comes a higher price tag, but should Kia establish themselves as a more aspirational brand, it’s a price tag consumers may be more willing to consider.  At the very least, I give them style points for their booth, which was by far the most interactive and interesting at the show.

Bentley Unveils Grand Convertible Concept Car

Photo Credit: Bentley Motors, Inc.

Photo Credit: Bentley Motors, Inc.

Bentley revealed its new concept car, the Grand Convertible, last night in Los Angeles at the Bentley Studio and what a revelation it was.  Touted to “redefine the luxury of open-air driving”, this latest convertible Bentley does not disappoint.

During the unveiling ceremony, Bentley Chairman and CEO Wolfgang Durheimer commented, “This concept demonstrates Bentley’s ability to create a pinnacle convertible Grand Tourer, while embodying elegance beyond compare. With this car we combine the opulent Mulsanne experience with the full sensory indulgence of open-air touring, continuing to unite luxury and performance in new ways.  We are eagerly awaiting the response of our customers to this car. We will ensure that this car – if it reaches the roads – will be a highly exclusive, extremely limited collector’s piece.”

Photo Credit: Bentley Motors, Inc.

Photo Credit: Bentley Motors, Inc.

After the car was unveiled, I had a chance to chat with its visionary designer, Bentley Senior Exterior Designer, Crispin Marshfield.  We discussed everything from his process as a designer, to the materials used on the vehicle, to styling choices, finally ending on seeing his vision come to life just ahead of the 2014 LA Auto Show, opening to the public on November 19th.

Photo Credit: Bentley Motors, Inc.

Photo Credit: Bentley Motors, Inc.

The project took 2-3 years to complete from inception to final product.  The front of the vehicle is very much inspired by the Mulsanne, staying true to the signature Bentley headlight configuration.  However, that’s where the Mulsanne comparison ends.  The mid-rear section of the car is all new.  The back is wider and boasts muscular, sleek lines and a beefy tail end.  From top to bottom, this car oozes luxury.  From the self-closing doors, to the diamond quilted seats created from 14 naturally tanned leather hides, it is worth every penny of its hand-built, $300,000+ price tag.

This particular car was only finished 12 days before its unveiling and Marshfield felt a sense of pride seeing it completed.  The car went through a traditional design process, beginning with sketches, graduating to scaled and full size clay models, before being handed over to engineers and computer design programs.  As the exterior designer, Marshfield followed the process at every step, ensuring the integrity of his design.  Typically engineers strive to find the most efficient way to build a car.  However, a Bentley is not your typical runaround car.  There is something very special and unique about a Bentley.  It commands the attention of everyone who crosses its path, lending itself to much higher production costs.

Photo Credit: Bentley Motors, Inc.

Photo Credit: Bentley Motors, Inc.

While the exterior is breathtaking to behold, what’s found underneath the hood is equally impressive.  The 6¾-litre twin-turbo V8 Mulsanne engine boasts 537 PS (530 bhp / 395 kW) and 1,100 Nm (811 lb.ft) of torque.  The car’s performance can certainly match its style.  

Once again, Bentley has proven itself to be the premiere luxury car brand.  There is nothing quite like a Bentley on the road, and the elegant new Grand Convertible takes it one step further.