AutoPacific, as a well-respected automotive research firm, uses the voice of real consumers like you, the VehicleVoice panel member, to help automakers make the best possible cars and trucks. The data that we collect also helps identify what vehicles are most satisfying to their owners, as well as being the closest to their owners’ ideals. Hence, each year we publish our annual list of AutoPacific Vehicle Satisfaction Award (VSA) winners (most satisfying vehicles in their segments, as rated by owners) and AutoPacific Ideal Vehicle Award (IVA) winners (closest to their owners’ ideals). These awards highlight what the best vehicles are doing right as reported by their owners, and can serve as a tool to you as the consumer in finding a vehicle that you will be extremely happy with for many years. Despite the vitriolic rants of the angry and ill-informed, we simply report on what you as the consumer tell us.
The Cadillac Escalade dominates the Luxury Sport Utility segment with top-of-the-segment scores in no fewer than 30 of 48 attributes. The Escalade, also a 2008 winner, comes out on top despite tough domestic and import brand competition. Leading Escalade attributes include:
• Brand reputation, vehicle reputation and image
• Exterior and interior appearance
• Dynamic characteristics including ride, handing and braking
• Quality, reliability and dependability
• Safety features (and large size) give Escalade owners a strong feeling of safety while driving
The reigning king of the Luxury SUV hill is probably the Range Rover. High priced at $77,175. Features most couldn’t conceive of in an off-road environment. Extremely competent off road. The top of the Land Rover line has established a tremendous reputation and following as THE aspirational Luxury SUV. Range Rover is not the best selling Luxury SUV, but it casts a wide shadow. And has since the early 1970s. VehicleVoice was on hand at The Grand Del Mar Hotel for the media preview of the Lexus LX570. Priced at $73,800, LX570 undercuts the Rangie, but is no less competent.
LX570 – 3rd Generation Lexus LX
Lexus entered the upper end of the Luxury SUV market in 1996 with a facelifted and upgraded Toyota Land Cruiser – the Lexus LX450. The 1st Gen LX was replaced in 1999 by the LX470 which was freshened in 2002 and 2005. So, after a ten year run, it is time for Lexus to bring its latest LX to the market – the LX570.
The first two LX generations did not set the world on fire from a sales standpoint. They were functional-looking SUVs loaded with features. Not head-turners. Not something to make your blood rush. They did, however, bring a very interesting clientele to Lexus. Younger, highly affluent, not wanting to make a strong statement with their vehicle. Confident, not having to show off their wealth. The 3rd Gen LX follows the same formula and hopes to attract the same type of buyer for slightly under 10,000 units per year or 3.5 LX570s per month for each of Lexus’ 223 dealers.
Cadillac is hoping the 2007 Escalade is act two in the sales success the first Escalade enjoyed. We had a chance to take a brand-spanking-new GM Bling-Box up the coast and back down again to see how close to hitting the mark they might be.
At first glance, the new Escalade is indeed an improvement upon the previous iteration. The interior is gorgeous and the exterior stance is powerful, masculine, and very street-hip. There is no way to avoid noticing this SUV, on the road, in a parking space, wherever. It is a moving personality statement – and whereas the H2 is about brawn, the Cadillac seems to add “class” to the equation.
New York Show is Backdrop for Reveal
Volvo‘s current XC90 was introduced for the 2003 model year, and is due for a bit of a refresh. As the U.S. accounts for about 50 percent of all XC90s sold, it is no surprise that the minor change for 2007 model year was introduced at the 2006 New York auto show. Brought to you by AutoPacific and VehicleVoice, below is a first review of the changes, complete with before and after photos.
Among the most significant aspects of the update, which include some new safety features as well, is an all-new 232HP 3.2L in-line six-cylinder engine to slot between the 208HP 2.5L turbocharged I5 and the 315HP V8. The new six launches in the S80, though quickly followed by installation in the XC90, and is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. The new engine will figure prominently in Volvo’s range over the next several years.
With Ford and GM easily dominating the full-size SUV segment and both companies offering heavily revised and improved entries for the 2007 model year, it is a good time to be a large-SUV buyer. Beyond the updates to Expedition and the GM lineup (GMC Yukon/Yukon XL, Cadillac Escalade and Escalade ESV, Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban), Chrysler joins the fray with the Aspen and change is in the wind for the Toyota Sequoia soon as well. Though the sheer number of people buying full-size SUVs is shrinking in the current climate of fuel-cost concerns and an uncertain economy, there are still customers whose lives demand the level of utility that can only be found in a vehicle this large, and these buyers have lots of new toys to pick from this fall.
Ford has released much of the information on the new Expedition, which reaches showrooms in fall 2006 in two lengths. With the 2007MY, Ford buyers can go from Escape to Edge to Explorer to Expedition to Expedition XL in their search for their own “just right” sized SUV.
contributor and AutoPacific
president George Peterson has had considerable experience with the Ford Expedition, having leased four in a row until he decided he was in a rut. Will the new Expedition be enough of a change to get him out of his CAR and back into an SUV? Time will tell.
Crossover SUVs will outsell Traditional truck-based SUVs beginning in 2006. This forecast comes from George Pipas, Ford’s Manager of Sales Analysis and Reporting in a presentation in Long Beach, CA on December 12, 2005. Refer to the VehicleVoice Blog on December 8 citing a USA Today article on similar observations.
A Few Comments on What a Crossover SUV Is
Pipas’ analysis charts the meteoric rise of Traditional SUVs during the 1990s and the similarly meteoric rise of Crossover SUVs since 1996 when the first crossovers – the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 – were introduced. Of course, defining SUV categories is getting murkier and murkier. VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) and AutoPacific (http://www.autopacific.com) have used the “at-a-glance” rule to define SUVs. If you can, at-a-glance, tell that a vehicle is an SUV, then by golly it is an SUV. In this way you are not confused about whether it is car-based or truck-based. (Pipas contends that only about 70% of Crossover SUVs meet this at-a-glance requirement with 30% easily confused as cars, hatchbacks, or wagons.)
Traditional SUV 2007 Cadillac Escalade – Category Expected to Decline as a Percentage of Overall SUV Universe
The auto industry thinks differently and often gets caught up in definition problems. They have variously called car-based SUVs “hybrids” (a term since adopted by gasoline-electric ‘hybrid’ powerplants) or “crossovers”. In our research, we have found that folks really have not yet adopted the crossover term and still like to refer to SUVs as SUVs. But enough about splitting hairs about what is a crossover and what is not.
General Motors is getting ready to launch its new GMT900 SUVs. This lineup includes the Chevrolet Tahoe, Chevrolet Suburban, GMC Yukon, GMC Yukon XL, Cadillac Escalade and Cadillac Escalade ESV. The shorter versions will be launched in the 1st Quarter 2006 as 2007 model year vehicles. The long wheelbase Suburban, et. al. will be launched in March or April.
Early reviews of the GMT900 provided in Burbank, California (GM’s California Design Studio) and Warren, Michigan (GM’s Design HQ) prove that the GMT900s are an excellent piece of work. While they do not look too much different from their predecessors, they have wider front and rear track and larger tires and wheels. This gives the GM SUVs a very purposeful stance avoiding the undertired appearance some past GM vehicles have had. At the same time, the more prominent tires and wheels actually make the vehicles look slightly smaller even though they aren’t.
Lack of Fold Flat 3rd Row a Major Omission
To keep these comments focused on what we want to observe, lets change the order a bit.
The most glaring omission in the GMT900 SUVs is the lack of a 3rd row seat that folds flat into the floor like the Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator and now the Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer. The key to the Ford system is the use of an independent rear suspension that allows the rear floor to be dropped several inches providing space for the seat to fold flat. GM’s GMT900 management said they “couldn’t break Ford’s code” and it appeared that they were thinking Ford adopted IRS more for ride and handling than for interior package. WRONG. The key all along was the rear seat package.
The resulting seating package is very similar to the GMT800 SUVs. The seats, when folded, rest on top of the floor obstructing the load area of the vehicle.
GM also claimed their research showed that SUV buyers wanted a power folding 2nd row seat more than they wanted a flat folding, power operated 3rd row seat. According to ex-GM researchers who shall remain anonymous, GM’s research actually showed a strong preference for “a seat like in the Expedition in a body like the Suburban”. The real reason, of course, is investment. The expenditures for the combination of IRS and fold flat 3rd row seat has variously been quoted as $165 million or $300 million. Either number would cause a product planner to pause and clearly these very important features were pipped – not easily.