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TOP 5 SUVs OVER $60,000 

The top 5 SUVs Over $60,000: Safe, Luxurious, & Reliable Transportation for Families. Buick's Enclave wins with style, handling.
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BUICK ENCLAVE CXL AWD

It takes a bit of effort to get the top-line $53,145 Buick over the $60,000 mark, but loaded up with navigation and rear-seat DVD system, the stylish Enclave makes a compelling offering in the luxury-ute segment.

This seven-seater is all about languid, flowing lines and elegant detailing. The interior is high quality, featuring some chic details like a round analogue clock and a stylish shift lever that sprouts from a very art deco-looking centre console. Buick’s QuietTuning (damped engine mounts, triple-sealed doors, acoustic laminated windshield) keeps it tomb-like inside.

Power comes from a direct-injection 288 hp 3.6 L V6 coupled to a smooth six-speed auto.

On the road, the Enclave drives smaller than it is (which is saying something), showing the well-tuned dynamics of this Lambda platform that also underpins the Chevy Traverse and GMC Acadia. If you want big, the XXL Enclave delivers – as long and wide as a GMC Yukon, but with a larger and considerably more versatile interior. And yes, you can put actual-size adults in the third-row seats without guilt.

MERCEDES-BENZ ML320 BLUETEC

SUVs and the modern clean diesel engine go together like mac and cheese. The five-seat Mercedes-Benz ML320 BlueTec, which starts at $58,900, illustrates this to fine effect.

The star of the show is a terrific 3.0 L turbodiesel V6 that generates 210 hp and a hearty 400 lb.-ft. of torque from 1600-2400 r.p.m. You can hear a faint diesel clatter from the outside, but once in the cabin, the only real clue to its diesel-ness is the 4400 r.p.m. redline.

Coupled to a 7G-Tronic seven-speed transmission, the V6 provides smooth and effortless acceleration at any speed. Power gets to the ground via permanent 4Matic all-wheel-drive.

You’ll want the $4,500 Premium Package that adds heated rear seats, 10-way front seats with memory, powered steering column, park assist, powered tailgate, a four-gigabyte music register, and COMAND interface with navigation and Linguatronic voice control.

I like this SUV’s balance of luxury, on-road dynamics, manageable size, good visibility, tangible quality, and, oh yes, that 11.8/8.2 city/highway L/100 km (24/34 m.p.g.) fuel economy. Had I the resources, my wife would march me down to the local M-B store (without protest) to buy one.

PORSCHE CAYENNE TURBO S

Does the world need a premium fuel-sucking $152,200 550 hp SUV that can climb a mountain or fly around Mosport racetrack with astounding ease and control, all the while coddling its occupants in sybaritic luxury? Probably not, but the car-geek in me can’t help being somewhat gobsmacked by the sheer engineering acumen (and audacity) required to build such a rig.

The Cayenne’s twin-turbo 4.8 L V8 makes a seismic 567 lb.-ft. of torque, giving this porker some serious wings; yet in the day-to-day grind, the adaptive and adjustable air suspension in combo and the five-speed Tiptronic S transmission ensure the Turbo S never ruffles its occupants’ feathers. Exquisitely crafted, very desirable, ultimately nonsensical.

LAND ROVER LR4

Boasting a plethora of mechanical and cosmetic upgrades, the Land Rover LR3 becomes the LR4 for 2010 with a base price of $59,990. It gets a new 375 hp 5.0 L direct-injection V8 that is more fuel-efficient and torquier than the outgoing 300 hp 4.4 L unit. There is a new six-speed auto as well. Upgrades to the chassis are aimed at improving on-road ability.

Of course, this being a Landie, its off-road prowess is not questioned, yet the multi-setting Terrain Response system is retuned for even greater boonie-bashing ability.

The LR3’s interior never came up to the gentleman’s club standard set by top dog Range Rover, but that has been fixed in the LR4. Fine wood and supple leather swath a beautifully redesigned cabin with simplified controls and elegant ambient lighting. Oh so British.

LEXUS RX 450H

This second-generation Lexus hybrid sport-ute, with a starting price of $58,900, took top honours in the Best New SUV/CUV over $60K at this year’s AJAC TestFest.

New body panels and an ever richer interior are pushed down the road by Lexus’s Hybrid Drive system, made up of a 3.5 L Atkinson-cycle V6 mated to a continuously variable transmission and assisted by three electric motors (one that acts as a starter and captures braking energy; one assisting the front wheels; and another that drives the rear wheels when extra traction is needed).

With an available 295 hp, power is up by 10 per cent and overall fuel economy increases by 16 per cent. A new EV mode allows the RX 450h to travel short distances on electric power alone.

On the road, this revised hybrid module is an improvement over the first-gen system, offering more oomph, better braking feel and reduced electric motor whining on deceleration.

As would be expected of Lexus, the lavish interior and silken ride make for a rich, but not sporty, driving experience. Claimed fuel economy (premium required) is 6.6 L/100 km (43 m.p.g.) city and 7.2 L/100 km (39 m.p.g.) highway.

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