Life’s a journey – enjoy the ride
John Kennedy looks at three new arrivals at the top end of the SUV market, specifically targeting high-achievers who know exactly what they want from a car and the lifestyle statement that it makes.
The last ten years have seen car technology advance faster than any like-for-like period since the demise of the horse. This era has seen South African business mogul Elon Musk launch a cherry-red Tesla convertible into space, complete with a fake spaceman at the wheel, an unconventional but nonetheless tangible tribute to these giant leaps.
If you’re still driving a ten-year-old vehicle today, it will be nothing like the present generation of motors rolling off the forecourts under a 2019 year badge or those already announced for 2020. Your car is certainly out of date.
Today, cars think for themselves and on behalf of their drivers too, they make split second decisions faster, more safely and more rationally than any human brain can. Recent groundbreaking innovation has been predominantly technical, but the market still demands style on top of substance. What can be seen and felt matters just as much as what is whirring away under the bonnet.
All cars make a statement and they always have, image still sells. A set of wheels is only in part about getting from A to B. Cars are a portent of status; the owner, the brand and the badge belong together and confirm a certain profile.
With the premium SUV market still red hot and growing, here are three contenders packed with their own unique DNA, horses for courses and which satisfy very different demands. All three choices are near the top end of the market, these very different cars are tailored to specific lifestyles and to a customer base that knows what it wants and why it wants it.
Land Rover Discovery
Available now OTR, £43,495
The Discovery, from the Series 1 through to the Series 4, has been the first choice of many from the 1990’s to date. This is the most versatile and capable premium off-road vehicle in a sector that it invented and was the first of its kind to provide real ability in the rough, combined with road car propensity on the smooth.
While demand for the Discovery has traditionally been with the home market, the latest all-new offering, the fifth generation, will still sit square with more than 1.2 million customers who, for over 27 years, have grown used to off-road knowhow combined with luxury and flexibility. This fifth generation heir to the first solid off-roader to ever double up as a family premium SUV has now caught up with those nipping at it’s heels, competitors who have invaded its space to lay claim to hearts and minds in the hottest sector of the motor trade.
For all its heritage and status, the new Discovery isn’t going to beat its peers in a beauty contest; it’s unlikely that looks will seal the deal and it lacks the imposing presence of Series 4 predecessor. Evolution has given it an acceptable square-jawed family front end but a less fortunate hunchback of Notre Dame rear.
When compared to the Audi and Maserati offerings in these pages, the new Discovery is of a different pedigree, it’s the tweed-clad aristocrat, to the manor born, dependable yet full of stamina. It’s all about the blue-blood that lies beneath an old-school, self-confident surface.
The Discovery may not win on looks but it dominates on its home turf and is a serious contender in the luxury stakes with a highly competitive entry price.
This latest incarnation from Land Rover has a Tardis like interior with proper full-sized, three-row, seven-seats; the stadium seating configuration has each row positioned higher than the one in front and can accommodate seven full-sized adults. Seat fold technology allows the second and third-row seats to be reconfigured using controls at the rear of the vehicle, central touchscreen or remotely via a smartphone app.
This fifth-generation model is consciously broadening its appeal with the introduction of a new 2.0 litre engine, the option is targeted at the benefit-in-kind tax-conscious business and fleet user. A price tag starting at just £43,495 is a juicy carrot dangling in front of the noses of a whole new customer base.
The Discovery has cutting edge navigation and entertainment technologies; up to four 12V charging points and as many as nine USB sockets while an Activity Key wristband allows a waterproof alternative to the ordinary key for days on the beach or by the river.
The Discovery’s off-road driving capabilities have been upgraded to benefit inexperienced drivers and on-road performance profits from a 480kg weight saving, meaning less velocity and roll to contend with. Towing loads, a hallmark of every generation since the late 1980’s, will see the car pull a class-leading 3,500kg. Tow Assist now allows drivers to complete potentially difficult reversing manoeuvres when hauling trailers with counter steering happening almost by itself, helped by rear-facing cameras on the central touchscreen.
All-electric Audi e-tron SUV
Available from early 2019, with RRP of £70,805
It’s more than 40 years since Audi changed conventional thinking with the introduction of the now legendary Quattro. Priding itself on innovation and technology, it’s no surprise that the Company wants to nudge its way to the front of the crowd with the roll-out and development of its own electric vehicles.
Ambitious plans see targets of 800,000 fully electric cars and plug-in hybrids sold under the four rings badge in the year 2025, which will mean a third of its customers opting for an e-model by then. To hit its targets Audi promise an electrified variant in each model series, with a smaller proportion as plug-in hybrids.
September of this year saw the launch, in San Francisco, of the all-electric Audi e-tron SUV. The zero emission electric motored vehicle delivers head turning design, muscular scallop shell looks and just 5.7 seconds for 0-62mph acceleration. Electric motors positioned on each axle delivers power to the brand’s first ever zero local emissions model, built around its high-voltage 36-cell battery. All this comes with a driving range of at least 248 miles and without the need for a drop of fossil fuel.
Dr Frankenstein would have been envious of charge absorbing options which include a high-performance bolt of 150kw in half an hour.
Spearhead owners of all-electric vehicles are by definition adventurous, others will wait for better recharging infrastructure, particularly in the UK.
High pricing compared to traditional fossil fuelled alternatives may put some buyers off, but for others and the environmentally dedicated in particular, Audi offers a vehicle that comes with all the quality expected of the brand and a near silent drive.
Eliminating the transmission tunnel gives acres of extra room in the cabin and more than 60 litres of additional storage is gained under the bonnet where an engine would normally sit. With the absence of traditional mechanical components there is an added bonus of reduced kerb weight. Contemporary but understated indulgence is Audi’s hallmark and it’s also the signature of the e-tron, a technologically advanced, luxurious and all-electric SUV.
Maserati Levante GTS V8
Available from early 2020 with RRP circa £80,000 (tbc)
The first premium SUV this iconic brand has ever made saw a turning point in Maserati’s history when it introduced the Levante, in 2016. Now a new GTS model will see the Trident badge affixed to a V8 SUV, firmly placing the manufacturer in the largest luxury segment and giving it a more comprehensive product line-up.
If you prefer Latin curves and a lowest-in-class centre of gravity, agility and luxury, over chiselled Germanic definition or upstanding British virtue, this charmer (100% made in Italy) has plenty to offer.
This year’s 25th Annual Goodwood Festival of Speed, deep in the Sussex Countryside, was the venue for the World Premiere of the new GTS. The V8 Maserati SUV with a Twin-Turbo charged 3.8-litre, engine, currently used in the Quattroporte GTS, has been re-engineered to produce more horsepower and to work with the Q4 Intelligent All-Wheel Drive System. It delivers 550hp and is assembled by Ferrari in Maranello, giving the GTS proper thoroughbred pedigree.
Pretty and dangerous to know, the V8 Levante will take only 4.2 seconds to reach 62mph. Flat out, it will do 181mph, so you need never be late for a meeting again. Maserati boast that the GTS will have the performance figures of a modern supercar disguised in a high-end SUV body.
The name Levante was inspired by a warm Mediterranean wind that can change from mild to gale-force in an instant, mirroring, they tell us, the character of this first Maserati SUV. The V8 GTS is not available before early 2020, so there will be a bit of a wait before the fun can begin!
Inside the cabin both driver and passenger will be treated to a ride that talks money. Premium leather is standard with full-grain Pieno Fiore natural leather as an option; sport pedals and a Harman Kardon Audio system with 14 speakers set the tone. This cross-breeding of rocket cockpit and high-end man cave will leave you in no doubt that you have arrived, even if you have no intention of settling down any time soon.
Life’s a journey – enjoy the ride!