Super Sport Utes
For a mainstream automotive brand, Ford has introduced a generous handful of ultra-desirable models in the recent past—including the F-150 Raptor, GT, and Mustang Shelby GT500. Now, they’ve come out swinging again with another iconic ride, the reimagined Ford Bronco. Not to be confused with the brand-new Bronco Sport, which looks similar but is mechanically different, the Bronco is a serious and stylish off-roader that’s capable of tackling the gnarliest of trails.
Built on a pickup truck platform, the Bronco features two different 4-wheel drive systems, one with hi-lo transfer case and the other with a 2-speed electromechanical transfer case, available locking front and rear differentials, generous suspension travel, and underbody cladding to protect from rocks and other obstacles. Power for the Bronco comes from either a turbocharged 2.3-liter 4-cylinder (270 hp; 310 ft lbs) or a twin-turbocharged 2.7-liter V6 (310 hp; 400 ft lbs). This badass ride also boasts no fewer than eight different drive modes and either a 7-speed manual or 10-speed automatic transmission.
Aside from the top-grade mechanical underpinnings, the coolest feature of the new-generation Bronco is the collection of various body configurations. This all-road SUV can be ordered in one of three hard-top or soft-top versions, is available with either two or four doors, and all of the doors are removable. To promote even better off-road readiness, the marine-grade upholstery and drain plugs set in the footwells make it easy to wash away dirt and grime. At launch, there were seven different trim levels offered, but one of them, the Ford Bronco First Edition, is already sold out. $28,500; ford.com
Aston Martin DBX
While it may be late arriving on the scene, the Aston Martin DBX has all the qualities needed to make up for lost time. First off, there’s the exterior design: Despite its size and proportions, the first SUV from the storied British manufacturer is a stunning work of mechanical art. Producing a sport utility that mirrors an existing design language is no simple matter, but the DBX incorporates taillights inspired by the latest Vantage, the iconic front grille, and other Aston design touches with expert style.
Inside, there’s no debating that the DBX is a premium ride: panoramic sunroof, perforated leather seats, metallic switchgear, and the familiar winged start button rule the roost. Also, there’s the infotainment system controller, adopted from Mercedes-Benz, which is the second-most important item on loan from the German carmaker. The first: the twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8 nestled under the hood.
This same engine powers a number of Benzes, as well as versions of the latest Aston Martin DB11 and Vantage. In this application, the V8 churns out 542 hp and 516 ft lbs of torque, enough to send the DBX hustling from a standing start to 60 mph in a shade over 4 seconds. Other highlights include an air suspension system, electronic anti-roll system for sharper cornering, and six driving modes covering every possible scenario from off-road trail to tarmac racetrack. $176,900; astonmartin.com
Land Rover Defender
Another icon reborn, the Land Rover Defender is the direct descendant of off-road vehicles that have powered a series of ambitious adventures over the past 70-plus years. The first Land Rover to be called a Defender was built from 1990 to 2016, and was offered in a variety of sizes and body styles, including a pickup truck version. While there’s no word yet on a pickup this time around, there will be plenty of choices to make when configuring your new Defender.
First off, there’s the choice between the smaller 90 and larger 110, both models harkening back to identically numbered Defenders of the past; the 90 can accommodate up to six passengers, while the 110 can handle up to seven. There are two engines available for North American models: a turbocharged 4-cylinder (296 hp; 295 ft lbs) and a turbocharged and supercharged 6-cylinder mild hybrid (395 hp; 406 ft lbs) with a 48-volt electrical system to help boost performance and efficiency.
There are four models available: the base Defender, X-Dynamic, X, and, if you act very quickly, the First Edition. All versions of the Defender come equipped with a full-time 4-wheel drive system, 2-speed transfer case, and the Terrain Response system, which allows drivers to select among various modes according to the road conditions. Bonus points: Choosing the “wade” program automatically prepares the Defender to tackle water crossings up to 35.4 inches deep. $46,100; landroverusa.com
If you’re not familiar with the Genesis GV80, get ready for the status quo to change. Reason being, the first sport utility from this relatively new brand has exactly what it takes to compete with the very best vehicles in its segment. Categorized as a mid-size SUV, the Genesis is built on a version of the brand’s rear-wheel drive architecture, which has enabled their G70 to become arguably one of the most engaging sports sedans on the market.
In this application, the platform can accommodate an available all-wheel drive system. The GV80 also comes with the choice of a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine (with 300 hp under foot) or a twin-turbo 3.5-liter V6 (with 375 hp and 390 ft lbs of torque); both engines are linked to an 8-speed automatic transmission that is operated via an elegant rotating dial in the center console. If this information seems a bit “standard-practice,” it’s important to highlight the relatively low starting price of the GV80 when compared to virtually any other mid-size luxury sport utility vehicle on the market.
The sleek exterior design of the GV80—overseen by Luc Donckerwolke, who once headed the design studios at Bentley and Lamborghini—represents a rolling work of art. The passenger cabin showcases a uniquely South Korean take on luxury that’s been influenced by European style: available genuine wood trim, quilted leather seats, and a host of high technology, including an electronically controlled suspension system that utilizes forward-facing cameras to anticipate road conditions. $48,900; genesis.com
Mercedes-AMG GLS 63
When you’ve got an in-house tuning division that cranks out some of the tastiest performance cars in the world, it’s a relatively simple task to turn any vehicle into a monster. Thus, we have the somewhat improbable Mercedes-AMG GLS 63, a seven-passenger SUV that accelerates like a supercar and has the luxury amenities of a limousine.
At the heart of the matter is the twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8, a fire-breathing engine that develops 603 hp and 627 ft lbs of torque. This tech-savvy work of engineering incorporates a 48-volt electric system and an integrated starter motor that helps offset turbo lag and promote increased efficiency. The result: a three-row SUV that can hit 60 mph in around 4 seconds flat and then top out at 174 mph. Improbable, right?
What’s perhaps less astonishing but equally pleasing is how comfortable the GLS 63 is to drive on all types of roads, from the cut-and-thrust of city traffic to the wide open expanse of the nearest two-lane blacktop. This particular AMG features six driving modes (ranging from the sedate to the sand-covered), fantastic sightlines in all directions, plenty of interior space, and a few well-sorted semi-autonomous driver aids.
While the Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 may not be the quickest of the German brand’s sport utility vehicles, nor the nimblest, it’s more than quick and capable enough. In fact, it’s the perfect ride for chauffeuring a starting five to the nearest basketball court—particularly if that court is just off the Autobahn. $132,100; mbusa.com