While not as absolute as the extinction of the dinosaurs, sedans—especially luxury models—are rapidly becoming withered branches on the automotive evolutionary chart. Replacing them as the next class of vehicle to rule the earth is the SUV, a design more adaptable to a new set of challenges faced by today’s road warriors. Weekday or weekend, everyone, it seems, must deal with more of everything: labyrinthine traffic jams, crowded parking lots, errands and playdates, passengers and pets. These complexities—which leave even the most commodious sedan coming up short—are better met by bigger, taller, more versatile vehicles; thus, the age of the luxury SUV is well and truly upon us. What crawled out of the mud a half-century ago as a truck has evolved into a high-performance conveyance of the most opulent kind.
This metamorphosis was inevitable. Even Lamborghini, Rolls-Royce, and Ferrari will add an SUV to their respective lineups, fattening the companies’ bottom lines while satisfying customer demand for performance and luxury, whatever the terrain. Not that many of these vehicles will ever turn a wheel in off-road anger: It’s enough for most owners simply to know they can.
To test the mettle of seven of the most interesting SUVs for 2018, our editorial team and a group of readers convened in Las Vegas this fall. Our home base was Aria Resort & Casino—whose accommodations and restaurants are among the best in the country—with ample space for staging of our motorized stars. With the help of our Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department motorcycle escorts, who shepherded our seven SUVs and chase cars through traffic, we cruised the boulevard, hopped onto the highway, and rolled into Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Just 20 minutes—yet geologic periods—away from Sin City, the pristine vista of Red Rock encompasses nearly 200,000 acres in the Mojave Desert and features a 13-mile scenic drive on winding roads that snake through a fantastic, Technicolor landscape of sheer cliffs and plunging canyons. Thanks to our uniformed friends, the smooth and narrow road was all ours, allowing our 16 judges, colleague Viju Mathew (senior automotive editor), and me to better compare and contrast each SUV in our caravan. While most driving was done on the asphalt, we occasionally detoured into the dirt. And while none of our off-road excursions was particularly challenging, the grit and gravel gave a taste of the more authentic uses to which each of these capable machines might conceivably be put.
Our 16 guests from RR1 (Robb Report’s membership club) served as proverbial guinea pigs in this effort to effectively evaluate the high-end of this robust class of automobiles. We’ve historically included an SUV in each of our annual Car of the Year events, but in that context, even the most deserving SUV faced an uphill battle when competing against exotic supercars and elaborately appointed sedans. With a level playing field, we decided, we could more honestly assess each of these machines. And so, we earnestly set about selecting the very first Robb Report SUV of the Year.
What Happens in Vegas
Has a lot to do with food—a fact aptly demonstrated by our hosts at Aria, who feted us at chef Michael Mina’s Bardot Brasserie and Sage restaurants for two memorable evenings. Mina, who was one of our 16 SUV of the Year judges, turns out to be a bit of a car enthusiast himself, as well as one of the most talented and agreeable chefs on the planet.