European SUVs Dominate the Luxury SUV Market in America

Luxury level SUVs by Europe’s automakers showcase diversity and innovation. Whether you define luxury as “living large,” or something in between, European SUVs offer options. And they cater to a wide range of preferences and needs. And at the luxury level, these vehicles represent the cat’s meow in special options.

Mercedes GLS Is the Executive’s Choice For a Large, Luxury, 3-Row SUV

European SUVs
The Mercedes GLS got a refresh for 2024, including a redesigned front bumper, grille and taillights. But most of the upgrades were made to the tech features inside.

The GLS provides a quiet and comfortable ride for six or seven passengers in its three rows. Even if all passengers are adults, they won’t feel claustrophobic thanks to the large windows.  And the GLS has a great amount of cargo space behind the third row.

GLS is road-trip ready! All passengers are supported for work or entertainment with USB-C ports in all three rows. And the front consolegets a standard wireless charging pad. The driver will appreciate the adaptive cruise contro. And the nav system’s augmented video guidance provides turn-by-turn directions in the instrument cluster and head-up display.  With the 2024 update, Mercedes also added several new drivers aids including a surround-view camera system and Mercedes’ latest infotainment system.

Our tester was the GLS 450 with a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine

It delivered more than ample performance (375 horsepower, 369 lb-ft).  Paired to a nine-speed automatic drive and 4MATIC all-wheel drive, it is EPA-rated at 21 mpg in combined city/highway driving.  That’s great for a vehicle this big and capable!

The starting MSRP on our GLS 450 4MATIC was $87,000 and total price was $95,720 full loaded with the added options. These included black leather upholstery and some dash and door trim accessories, plus a heated steering wheel, massaging front seats and heated front and rear seats.  A Night Package added the exterior Sport Package, 20-inch black AMG 5-spoke wheels and gloss black exterior accents. The Acoustic Comfort Package added acoustic glass and additional insulation.  The AMG Line Package gave it an upgraded suspension and brakes along with AMG alloy wheels, deeper bumpers and side skirts, chrome accents, diamond grille, and AMG Line badges outside.  Inside the AMG Package added sport seats, sport steering wheel, aluminum pedals, AMG floor mats, man-made leather seats, and upholstery stitching.

There are Those that Enjoy Off-Roading but Aren’t Keen on Rouging It, and That’s Where Land Rover Comes In 

European SUVs
The Land Rover Defender’s 3.0-liter turbo six-cylinder delivers 395 hp and gets an EPA-estimated 20 mpg combined. That’s higher than most off-road-oriented vehicles, and more than most vehicles its size and weight. 

While any type of off-roader typically comes at the expense of on-road handling and steering precision, that isn’t the case here. The Defender drives like other large, luxury SUVs, with plenty of acceleration power, too, even at 5,571 pounds. 

Our Defender drive was a 2024 model 130 Outboard four-door with long-wheelbase.

The 130 model would ordinarily make it a three-row. But with the new Outbound trim, the third row is removed for significantly larger cargo capacity.   

The height-adjusting air suspension, numerous grab handles and large doors made access easy. Headroom, legroom and shoulder room were plentiful inside. And the cabin was surprisingly quiet. It includes all the comforts and conveniences you’d expect in a luxury SUV—11.4” infotainment screen, wireless charging and multiple USB ports, a surround-view camera system, adaptive cruise control, and a nice assortment of other drivers’ aids.

Its starting MSRP was $84,500. Options included a head-up display, electronic active differential with torque vectoring, premium upgrade interior package and a tow package equipping it to tow 8,200 pounds.  These, and a few other mainly appearance options, put its total price tag at $101,093.

Luxury and Capability + Great Looks and Heritage Sell the Mid-Size Range Rover Velar
Range Rover Velar
Buyers of the Velar relish the Range Rover name and its unquestionably handsome looks.

Indeed, the midsize 5-seat Land Rover Range Rover Velar delivers many of the same attributes of the full-size Range Rover and some of its cousins in the Jaguar Land Rover lineup. This includes its on-road comfort and off-road capability as well as many of the same design ques and similar infotainment system and driver’s aids.

The MSRP on our mid-tier Dynamic SE trim was $70,600

Velar’s price starts where most of its competitors in the small luxury SUV segment top out– at $62,775. The step up from the well-equipped entry level S model included a sportier-looking front bumper with fog lights, 19-inch wheels and a contrasting black roof.  Also included in the MSRP of our tester was the optional P400 powertrain, a turbocharged mild hybrid inline six-cylinder engine paired to an eight-speed automatic with standard all-wheel drive, delivering 395 hp and 405 lb-ft of torque.

Added options included ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, heated rear seats and the head-up display.  Others were mainly cosmetic including $2,600 for 21” dark grey wheels. Altogether that pushed the price to just shy of $80,000.  While our Velar tester did not have the Advanced Off-Road Capability Pack with the Air Suspension which would put its price tag at $85,000.  Just in case you’re really buying it for more than just its great looks, that would make your Velar able to boast a respectable 9.9 inches of ground clearance and a wading depth of 25.6 inches.

Performance-Seekers Will Pay Six Figures for BMW’s Midsize X6

The Velar is often criticized for its high cost, but consider that our BMW X6 M80i, another player in the 5-seat midsize luxury SUV arena, started at an MSRP of $93,800. That’s because you’re paying for performance with the BMW.

M60i xDrive with a turbocharged 4.4-liter V8 puts out 523 hp and 553 lb-ft of torque

Like the Velar, the X6 is known for its sporty style with coupe-like sloping roofline.  And like the Velar, there are two engine choices, both paired to an eight-speed automatic with standard all-wheel drive. Sure enough, our tester got the upgraded choice. Its performance makes the X6 M80i’s chief rival the performance-oriented Mercedes-Benz GLE/AMG Coupe, which is similarly powerful and similarly priced.

Our X6 test vehicle was already equipped nicely as one would expect of the brand.  But it spared no options, starting with a Dynamic Handling package with Active M Suspension Pro and active roll stabilization. An Executive Package added remote engine start, soft-close automatic doors, panoramic sunroof, window shades, glass controls, adaptive LED lights, and Live Cockpit Pro gesture control. Its Climate Control package provided the four-zone climate control with heated front and rear seats and ventilated front seats.  The Driving Assistant Professional package added adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assistance, lane centering, front cross-traffic warning, and Highway Assistant (allowing for low-speed hands-free driving in certain situations).  Parking Assistance added the 360-degree camera system and automated parking. Then there were add-ons for leather seats and dashboard, special 22” wheels, carbon fiber trim and a Bowers & Wilkins audio system.  All included, this put the price tag at $111,995.

European SUVs
The 2024 BMW X6 refresh revised exterior styling and added new interior tech

THE BOTTOM LINE: The combination of luxury, advanced technology, safety, engineering excellence, customization, market positioning, import costs, resale value and brand loyalty all contribute to the high price of European-made SUVs. But buyers prove to be willing to pay the premium price for the prestige of ownership.

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