Bottom Line/Personal: What are the best entry luxury SUVs for 2015?

I’m Steven Kaye, Editorial Director at Bottom Line Publications, and today my guest is auto analyst Karl Brauer, Kelley Blue Book Senior Director. The entry luxury SUV segment is exploding with choices, so which one deserves your hard-earned money? Bottom Line is here to help. Karl?

Karl Brauer: Hey, how’s it going?

Bottom Line: The vehicles aren’t exploding; the choices are exploding.

Brauer: So far, yes.

Bottom Line: Before we start to talk about which vehicles you like in this segment, could you just define for us please, when you talk about “entry luxury” – and we’re talking about SUVs here – what exactly does that mean? Because there are many, many SUVs out there in all price ranges. So where do you place “entry luxury”?

Brauer: Entry luxury is the lowest priced vehicles that will get you into an SUV, similar to the entry luxury sedan category. This is your way to start driving an SUV that still has a premium badge on it. You’re going to have to pay more than the equivalent volume selling mainstream brands, but just like the mainstream brands, this category is exploding too in terms of popularity, as you said, and volume. And everyone’s jumping in. Jaguar is showing off a concept car already.

Bottom Line: Jaguar SUV?

Brauer: Jaguar SUV. Because they just see the money to be made here. Range Rover did the Evoque recently, Land Rover did the Range Rover Evoque.

Bottom Line: With the very low, swoopy roof? Right.

Brauer: Mm-hm. That’s a relatively new model. And of course, Porsche just came in with the Macan. So we’ve got all these vehicles jumping in, because just like in the mainstream volume brands, the non-premium brands, they see the sales potential.

Bottom Line: Okay, so these are luxurious – maybe not the most luxurious, but they’re luxurious cars. They’re from a premium brand. They have the SUV profile that people like. They’re not too big; we’re talking about entry, so we’re not going to get one of these in a large package in this kind of price range.

Brauer: Think CRV with a premium badge as far as interior space. They’re still pretty small.

Bottom Line: The Honda CRV, which is ubiquitous on the roads; it’s all over the place. That size, and just more luxurious. You mentioned the Porsche – I don’t know if it’s “Macahn,” “Macan,” maybe you can straighten me out on that.

Brauer: You know, I’ve heard it pronounced both ways, so I’m at a loss, and I’m probably getting it wrong no matter which way I say it.

Bottom Line: Their corporate cousin is Volkswagen, and they came out with the Touareg, which nobody could pronounce either.

Brauer: Nobody knew, and also the Tiguan. And even the Cayenne, the bigger Porsche, I’ve seen people butcher that name because it’s not the most obvious pronunciation if you just look at the word. You have to know what they’re talking about, a pepper.

I figure you call the Porsche dealer and you start saying something that starts with an “M” and ends with an “N”; they’ll figure out what you’re looking after.

Bottom Line: He’ll be there for you, won’t he? All right, so the Porsche Macan. Tell us about it.

Brauer: It’s new. It’s all new this year from Porsche. Again, their first jump into this small SUV category that they know will have money to be made. And they’re going to do so well with this car, Steve. I mean, they are going to just score, because the market’s on fire and the Cayenne has been such a success for them in the midsize to large sizing, and it’s more expensive. This is a less expensive version; everyone loves these Porsche SUVs.

So you can get into a Porsche SUV, you get Porsche badging, and actually quite good driving dynamics despite the SUV design. And you are paying starting in the forties, and you can get a nice one for in the fifties. People who want to buy a Porsche that’s functional and can carry their family around for fifty grand, roughly, there are going to be plenty of those.

Bottom Line: Okay, you mentioned Porsche badging, and that’s what I want to ask you about. Because badging, in car history, has a reputation for sometimes not being such a great thing. You take a lesser car, you put a better badge on it. Porsche is associated with Volkswagen. So is the Macan a real Porsche? I think that’s the question.

Brauer: Porsche is very aware of what you just said, and they certainly don’t want to ever be criticized for that. They’ve done a very good job, first with the Cayenne and now with the Macan, of making it feel like a different vehicle – even if the basic platform started out with another corporate cousin, like the Audi Q5 in this case.

The Macan drives extremely well, and it’s got a very Porsche interior. It’s funny; you get in the car and you see those white gauges and that pod cluster, those three pods with the tach right in the center, and you feel like you’re in a Porsche. It’s impressive. It’s impressive how well they’ve done that. They’ve translated the Porsche experience into a small SUV.

Bottom Line: And what about power-wise?

Brauer: The “cheapest” one still has a lot of power. You don’t get a base engine that’s not powerful in this vehicle. You start out with a powerful one, and then you go on up to the turbo, which is crazy power.

Bottom Line: Just like the turbo Cayenne is crazy power.

Brauer: Exactly. An unnecessarily fast SUV. Which of course, people who have that kind of money to spend, that’s what they’re looking for: an unnecessarily fast utility vehicle.

Bottom Line: Okay. And your second choice in this segment is very interesting, and that comes from Acura.

Brauer: Yeah, and this is where you really get value. The reason I picked the Porsche, because it’s a very fun to drive vehicle and it’s not overpriced, honestly.

But if you’re really looking for some solid value, the Acura RDX is just a great, great vehicle. Very refined, very luxurious, very powerful. I think it looks good, and that’s been an issue for Acura in the past. Some people called them the “chrome beak”; they had a little too aggressive styling in the grill area. But this car, I think, it puts it all together really well.

Very functional space, too. Again, this car springs from the same platform that the CRV comes from, and both of those cars can make a real claim to interior functionality and space despite a relatively small exterior. But I think even as much as the CRV sells well and is a well-done mainstream SUV, I think the Acura version is a better execution in terms of overall value and what you pay and what you get. They’re just a great vehicle.

Bottom Line: So when you walk up to an Acura, this Acura, versus walking up to a Honda CRV, with which it shares some attributes, do you just get that luxury feel? The way it looks, the way things are laid out, the quality, it definitely says luxury?

Brauer: Yeah. It’s refined, it’s quiet, it drives extremely well, and it’s got all the power you’d ever need. You put it all together and you’ve got this luxury experience. But price-wise, you’re going to get a lot of value, too.

Bottom Line: How much?

Brauer: I think you can get them in the mid to high thirties.

Bottom Line: Mid to high thirties. And Macan, again, into the fifties?

Brauer: You’ve got to get into the forties before you can get even the cheapest one. I think it’s like forty-eight base, because even the base one, it’s a Macan S, it’s called. There’s no non-S version of the Macan, which is typically their elevation in terms of hierarchy. There probably is in Europe, but in America the cheapest version still has a powerful 6-cylinder engine and it starts at like forty-eight.

Bottom Line: Okay, so two solid choices in this segment. Porsche Macan, Acura RDX.

Brauer: Yes.

Bottom Line: Thanks very much, Karl.

Brauer: Yeah, great talking to you.