Mercedes-Benz GL-Class
Mercedes Benz
Mercedes' first full-size SUV is aimed at the Cadillac Escalade, offering seating for seven and such upscale features as an air suspension, adjustable ride height that lowers automatically at speed for more efficient driving.
updated 3/13/2007 3:11:10 PM ET 2007-03-13T19:11:10

Printing a story on the best sport utility vehicles two weeks after An Inconvenient Truth won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature is perhaps a bit politically incorrect.

On the other hand, the people at the Oscars who made such impassioned pleas for a greener world with lower carbon-dioxide emissions — folks such as Al Gore, Leonardo DiCaprio and Melissa Etheridge — would probably feel a bit smug if they saw SUV sales reports from 2006.

DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler Group saw passenger-car sales decline by 3%, while sales of trucks and SUVs declined 8%. At General Motors, car sales declined 7%, while truck and SUV sales declined by around 9% or 10%.

Among American automakers, Ford Motor produced the most dramatic discrepancy between car and truck/SUV sales last year.

The company's passenger-car sales increased 5%, while truck and SUV sales declined 14%. In a January statement announcing its 2006 sales figures, Ford said "higher gasoline prices and long-term demographic trends drove SUV sales lower, and a soft housing industry weighed on full-size truck sales."

But the sales picture is changing in the first two months of 2007.

Balancing act
The arrival of such new, car-like "crossover" SUVs as Ford's Edge, Lincoln's MKX, GMC's Acadia and Saturn's Outlook are helping even the scales a bit — even perhaps tipping them back toward good news for SUV manufacturers.

GM reported in a recent statement that the Acadia and Outlook "drove a 97% retail increase in the mid-crossover segment" for the company in February, compared with that time the year before. Such other new SUVs as Jeep's redesigned Wrangler have also been well received.

These new, car-like SUVs, as well as steadier gas prices, could make 2007 a better year for builders of the practical but socially maligned vehicles — but American automakers aren't placing their bets yet.

In that January statement in which Ford blamed declining truck and SUV sales on gas prices, demographic trends and the housing industry, it added, "Ford believes these factors will continue to weigh on these segments in 2007."

Still, the best new SUVs really are quite something.

Winning Wheels
Cadillac's overhauled Escalade, which the company introduced in 2006, has the nicest interior of any American automobile.

Mercedes-Benz was quick to follow with tough competition for the Escalade: the plush, full-size, $53,000 GL-Class SUV, which saw 19,000 sales in 2006 — a better performance than that of Mercedes' more-affordable R-Class SUV.

The GL and the Escalade are among the best SUVs, but 2007's fourth quarter will see the arrival of an SUV unlike any other: the Dutch-built, 12-cylinder, 500-horsepower Spyker D12 Peking-to-Paris: The world's only exotic SUV.

Post-Inconvenient Truth, is it gauche to be excited about a few SUVs? We know that plenty of people still love the vehicles for their cargo utility and commanding views of the road, so a guide to 10 great ones, we think, is perfectly acceptable.

Sorry, Mr. Gore.

© 2012


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