Premium utility vehicles are all about excess and the five entries in this category range from the $47,000 Volkswagen Touareg to the $97,000 Lexus LX450. The vehicles are larger and more lavish with a focus on comfort, performance and quiet cabins.
BMW entered its X5 xDrive40e plug-in hybrid, which is a car I've spent a week with previously. It manages to get around 12 miles of all-electric range from my experience, if you charge it using a 120V or 240V outlet. I squeezed out an average 32 mpg out of it when I had it for a week, but saw fuel economy in the single digits after a few journalists romped it around the go-kart track.
The Lexus LX570 is one of my all-time favorite cars, because beneath the predator maw-shaped grille is a beastly off-road machine based off the legendary Toyota Land Cruiser. While most LX570 owners spend their days at the local Starbucks and mall parking lots, it doesn't make it any less capable. It was the only old fashion body-on-frame SUV with extreme off-road capabilities that can seat seven comfortably, and I enjoyed every minute driving it.
One neat trick in the Lexus LX570 is the front camera is located up high behind the windshield – the same place as the FCW camera is – so you can still see in front of the vehicle if its deep in water. The 360-degree camera view automatically enables itself in off-road crawl modes, which was very useful when I reached the top of the hill ascend portion and wanted extra assurance that no one was still descending.
Mercedes-Benz sent a GLE450 AMG Coupe, a vehicle that I find absolutely stupid in concept but absolutely adored as soon as I saw it. Luxury SUV buyers seem to find the squared rear hatch not as sleek or sexy, so Mercedes smoothed it out to give it a coupe-like roofline. You lose cargo space, but it's a striking vehicle up close and from afar.
The AMG sport exhaust note was music to my ears. It sang the glorious song of turbo V6 around the entire go-kart track, which made me love it even more.
Volvo's XC60 is similar to the V60 Cross Country, but its taller and has proper CUV proportions for more headroom and cargo space. The XC60's unique trait is the T6 Drive-E powertrain, which starts out as a 2.0-liter four-cylinder motor. At some point in the development cycle, someone thought it needed more power, so a turbocharger was added.
But that wasn't enough, so a supercharger was strapped on for more power. The Volvo T6 Drive-E powertrain is like an Ikea closet system, you start out with the barebones closet and keep adding things to your liking – or for Volvo, just keep adding more forced induction. However, I can't really fault the Swedish geniuses, because power delivery is extremely smooth with plenty of low-end torque.
The Touareg takes me back to my first NWAPA Mudfest, four years ago, where Volkswagen brought hybrid and diesel versions out to play. This time around, Volkswagen brought a Sport trim level with the VR6 motor to get dirty. Unfortunately, the Touareg hasn't changed much in those four years and it shows.
While the Touareg has a high-quality interior with plenty of soft touch materials and thick noise dampening materials, the infotainment system has not aged well. It wasn't cutting edge in 2013 and now it's one of two Volkswagens that don't support Android Auto or Apple CarPlay.