Buyers of exotic cars have historically faced one big problem: These vehicles are not a practical means of transportation. While owners love their Lamborghinis, they don’t take them to the cottage, and once the snow hits, they have to garage these wedge-shaped wonders.
Or, they did, until now. Enter the Urus, Lamborghini’s new 650-horsepower SUV. With all-wheel drive and high ground clearance, it pummels along dirt tracks with ease. Any other Lamborghini would be ruined by driving fast over such terrain, but here, finally, is an exotic car you can enjoy regardless of terrain or season.
Five years ago, these vehicles didn’t exist. Today, superluxury SUVs are driving growth at the very top of the car market. Lamborghini, Bentley and Rolls-Royce have all expanded their lineups with SUVs. Aston Martin and Ferrari are both developing their first SUVs.
“The feedback I’m getting from the showroom floor is that it’s an opportunity for customers to enjoy that brand they’ve bought into for 12 months of the year,” said Paul Cummings, chief executive officer of Grand Touring Automobiles in Toronto, which sells Aston Martin, Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Lamborghini and other brands.
“Nobody needs these cars,” Mr. Cummings said. “They’re rewarding themselves for whatever success they’ve had.” It’s easier to rationalize a superluxury car if you can drive it all year; buyers are using their Bentley SUVs as daily transportation, he explained.
Will SUVs eliminate sports cars or luxury sedans for these brands? No, said Robert Karwel, senior manager at the analytics firm J.D. Power. “They will remain, but volume and profit may increasingly be driven by these new [SUV] nameplates.”
New-vehicle sales in Canada are expected to decline slightly this year, according to a report from the Bank of Nova Scotia, but superluxury vehicles are bucking the trend. Grand Touring has seen double-digit-percentage sales growth in the past three years and the company forecasts 15-per-cent growth next year as well.
Superluxury customers own, on average, 4.3 vehicles, Mr. Cummings said, and an SUV has always been one of them. He is seeing customers trade up from Cadillac Escalades and Range Rovers into the Lamborghini Urus and Bentley Bentayga.
Other factors driving sales growth in this rarefied market are the ease of leasing and new wealth.
“The pocket of wealth in Canada, Toronto specifically, has been growing,” Mr. Cummings said. “You see that with real estate, private banking and with luxury goods as a whole – the car business has been following that trend.”
Here are the new SUVs reshaping the superluxury market.
Starting price: $370,500
Specifications: All-wheel drive; 563-horsepower twin-turbo V-12
Available: November, 2018
Seen in person, the Cullinan is gargantuan. The rear doors open backward, suicide style, to make egress more elegant. An optional glass partition separates rear-seat passengers from the driver. Two leather seats and a cocktail table pop out of the trunk should owners wish to tailgate at a local polo match. The starting price is $370,500, but the option list “is a book,” Mr. Cummings said. His dealership has already taken 20 orders for the Cullinan. It’s not unusual to see customers double the price of a Rolls-Royce by adding bespoke options.
Starting price: $232,000
Specifications: All-wheel drive; 650-horsepower twin-turbo V-8
Available: Released in October, 2018
Don’t let its wild, angular looks fool you; this is a practical Lamborghini. The rear seats are spacious, and the ride is reasonably comfortable. And although it’s no Toyota Prius, the twin-turbo V-8 engine is significantly more fuel efficient than the V-10 and V-12 engines in other Lamborghinis. The fact that SUVs will improve corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) ratings for these superluxury brands is another factor driving development – Lamborghini CEO Stefano Domenicali expects the Urus to roughly double the brand’s sales.
Starting price: $209,693 (V-8)
Specifications: All-wheel drive; 542-horsepower V-8
Available: W-12 and V-8 models available now
The Bentayga is Bentley’s first SUV. Like Lamborghini, Bentley is part of the Volkswagen Group, and it was able to build on the same basic automotive platform that underpins everything from the Porsche Cayenne to the new Audi A6. The Queen bought the first Bentayga, and sales have been strong ever since. At Grand Touring Automobiles in Toronto, the average transaction price for the new “entry-level” V-8 model is around $300,000, while customers spend an average of $380,000 on the 12-cylinder version.
Aston Martin DBX
Starting price: Unknown
Available: Early 2020
Little is known about Aston’s first SUV, except that production will start in late 2019 at its new factory in St Athan, Wales. Customer cars should start arriving in Canada in early 2020, Mr. Cummings said. The DBX concept, shown at the Geneva Motor Show in 2015 (pictured above), gives a rough idea of what Aston’s first SUV will look like. Expect the production version to have four doors and the same Mercedes-AMG twin-turbo V-8 found in Aston’s sports cars.
Starting price: Unknown
Available: Late 2021
Whatever you do, don’t call it an SUV. “I abhor hearing SUV in the same sentence as Ferrari,” said company CEO Louis Camilleri in a recent call to investors. He didn’t give details about the brand’s first 4x4 but did say it would be a hybrid and that it would be “unmistakably Ferrari with features that have never been seen before.”
Mercedes-Maybach G 650 Landaulet
Starting price: $700,000 (estimate)
Specifications: All-wheel drive; 621-horsepower twin-turbo V-12
On sale: A limited-edition run of 99 vehicles was released starting in 2017.
Since its introduction in 1979, Mercedes has made ever more extravagant versions of the boxy G-Class SUV, but the Landaulet is king of them all. The limo-like rear seats come from Mercedes’ flagship S-Class sedan. The fabric roof folds down to grant passengers a panoramic view. Demand for this limited edition was so strong that the 99th and final Landaulet was auctioned by Bonhams and fetched $1.8-million. Mercedes-Maybach will have another SUV in its lineup if the aptly named Ultimate Luxury concept, which was shown earlier this year, is put into production.
Matt Bubbers is a regular reviewer for The Globe and Mail’s Drive section.