The first BMW X5 (www.bmwusa.com) introduced drivers to the concept of an SUV that behaved like a sports sedan. (BMW calls the X5 an SAV—for Sport Activity Vehicle.) Redesigned for 2007, the X5 remains true to BMW’s driver-oriented ethos. It offers ample power, precise handling, and a controlled ride. The $54,500 X5 4.8i, fitted with a 350 hp V-8 engine and 6-speed automatic transmission, reaches 60 mph in 6.4 seconds. Although BMW has not compromised the X5’s performance, it has made some concessions to popular SUV trends: Options include a panoramic sunroof, four-zone climate control system, third-row seating, and 20-inch rims.
With all of its chrome trim and other accoutrements, the Lincoln Navigator (www.lincoln.com) embodies an exuberant design sensibility. The interior, which seats as many as eight, is lavishly appointed, with leather, wood, and more chrome trim. Extra insulation makes the cabin a prime venue for the available THX-certified sound system and DVD entertainment center. A 5.4-liter V-8 delivers 300 hp via a 6-speed automatic transmission. In the unlikely event that a standard Navigator ($46,575) seems short on space, the stretched L variant adds 15 inches to the length of the vehicle and 25 more cubic feet to the cargo bay.
In the early years after its 1999 acquisition by Mercedes-Benz, AMG worked its performance-enhancing magic on only select models. Today, however, even Mercedes’ SUVs often include an AMG variant. The redesigned M-Class recently added the $86,275 Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG (www.mbusa.com) to the fold. A 6.3-liter V-8 provides the power. With 503 hp—achieved without turbo or supercharger—the ML63 screams to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds. A 7-speed transmission and 20-inch wheels are standard. While the ML63’s performance places this family-mover in the company of sports cars, the vehicle requires no sacrifice on the part of occupants: The AMG-designed interior retains all the utility-oriented assets of a spacious SUV’s cabin.