When BMW and Mercedes-Benz unleashed their first SUVs in the late 1990s it was big motoring news: luxury brands encroaching on the space traditionally occupied by cars originally designed to get down and dirty.
These days it’s difficult to imagine luxury brands surviving without multiple SUVs in their line-up. Even Bentley and Lamborghini have joined the high-riding club.
It’s created a diverse field, and for this exercise, we’re focusing on those classified as mid-sizers or above, the sort of vehicles that double as family transport but can equally push the luxury buttons. Small premium SUVs were included in our Luxury on a Budget category.
As well as petrol and diesel offerings there are various electric contenders and it’s a category that encompasses almost all luxury brands, from those with century-plus heritage to newcomers with big aspirations.
GOLD – Lexus NX300 Luxury
Toyota tech in luxury Lexus clothes makes for a premium SUV that stands above its peers for ownership credentials. And it’s the most affordable in the NX family – the NX300 Luxury – that takes out the top spot.
Based on the Toyota RAV4, the Lexus NX is a very different machine to look at – and one that also gets different drivetrains.
Under the bonnet is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo engine making a useful 175kW and 350Nm.
That torque figure in particular makes it a muscular accompaniment to the mid-sized NX body.
Whereas most rivals drive all four wheels, the NX300 drives only the fronts (an all-wheel-drive system is optional), something that helps keep the initial asking price down.
At $57,500 it’s one of the more affordable premium mid-sized SUVs on the market.
That also means there’s less money to lose in depreciation, contributing to a thoroughly respectable 59 per cent resale forecast after five years.
Despite the tempting sticker price it’s loaded with gear, including dual-zone climate control, smart key entry, 10.3-inch touchscreen, heated and power-operated front seats, powered tailgate and a decent 10-speaker sound system.
Elsewhere, trademark Lexus attention to detail is on display, from finishes and materials to the way everything melds together.
Active safety is on par with rivals as is connectivity.
The NX300 is also beautifully refined and gives the impression it will keep playing its luxury card many years into the future.
All of which adds up to a great value luxury SUV, albeit one without the dynamic polish of some rivals.
SILVER – Lexus NX300h Luxury
Key to the one-two success of the NX300h is its petrol-electric drivetrain, the $2500 price premium – for an SUV totalling $60,500 – more than paying itself off through fuel frugality over the first five years of ownership.
The hybrid NX300h doesn’t cost much more to keep running than the four pure electric SUVs we evaluated for these awards.
At less than $1000 of regular unleaded per year it’s a very efficient way to get around, the electric motors matched to a 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine also adding useful torque to get things moving. None of which is particularly exciting to drive...
The Lexus NX300h is more about getting the job done in a relaxed way than tingling any senses.
That goes for the way it tackles corners, too, which is solid rather than engaging, something that had our experts docking it a point.
The only reason it didn’t take the top step of the podium was that Redbook forecasts it will lose more of its value during those early years of ownership.
We’re talking around $1400 – which you could pay back in another year or two of fuel savings – but that’s enough to make the hybrid second to its petrol-only sibling.
BRONZE – Land Rover Discovery Sport P200S
With a third row of seats, the most affordable Land Rover can still carry up to seven, at least if those venturing to that back row are flexible and compact.
Priced from $60,500, it’s among most affordable seven-seaters from a premium brand.
And while Land Rover has been known for a skinny list of equipment for its price leaders, the Disco Sport is indicative of a new era where the sportier R-Dynamic design treatment is now standard.
There are also electric front seats, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on a 10.0-inch touchscreen and Land Rover’s clever activity key that is like a fitness band around your wrist.
Throw in solid safety credentials, a willing four-cylinder turbo engine and on-road manners that make suburban running a breeze and it adds up to a convincing package.
That there’s a modicum of off-road ability – adding to its “fit-for-purpose” credentials - reinforces its talents.