Editor's Note: In the first annual CultureMap Auto Awards, automotive writers Nic Phillips and Kevin McCauley bestow honors in 10 categories for the top 2012 cars and trucks and explain why they're deserving of a good hard look. Now we're down to the final three starting with the SUV:
SUV of the Year: 2013 Range Rover
Land Rover first introduced us to their idea of a luxury utility vehicle in 1970 and while they didn't invent the category — those honors belong to the Jeep Wagoneer — they have remained the echelon of the segment for more than 40 years. After a decade with the third generation, the "All New" fourth generation 2013 Range Rover has been thoroughly modernized and we already awarded it "Runner-up Best New Design" for its sexy, Evoque inspired design.
That is what's expected of a Range Rover — style — what comes unexpected is under its glossy paint in the form of this being the first all aluminum SUV. This Range Rover is nearly 850 pounds lighter than the previous generation without loosing any of its legendary off-road prowess. In fact it gains more — the air suspension gives more ground clearance, towing capacity remains a stout 7,100 pounds, on-road driving manners are more nimble, more car-like than ever before.
While the 5.0L V-8's in supercharged and non-supercharged form carryover from the third generation models, they're now mated to the silky smooth ZF 8-speed automatic we love so much. With hundreds of pounds less to haul around, the same 375 or 510 horsepower ratings go a lot further in getting faster, well, faster.
The price ranges have increased, now starting from $82,650 and Supercharged models can close in on the $130,000 mark. The 2013 Range Rover decidedly reaffirms the marque's reserved spot at the very top of the mountain.
SUV of the Year Runner-Up: 2013 Mercedes-Benz GL350 BlueTEC
While the entire GL model line has been completely remade for 2013, its specifically the GL350 BlueTEC that gets our Runner-up Award. With Audi's Q7 TDI winning our Crossover Utility of the Year Award it's little secret our affinity for small diesels in big SUVs and the GL with its 3.0L V6 BlueTEC is another option in the full-size, three-row category.
What sets the GL apart from the Audi though are its more truck-like SUV features including a 7,500 pound maximum tow rating, optional AIRMATIC air suspension with crosswind stabilizing feature, 8.5" of ground clearance and full-time four-wheel drive.
It's a viable alternative to the Range Rover which doesn't yet have a third row option and while it weights more than 600 pound more than the Rover, the GL's BlueTEC diesel delivers more torque at 455 lb-ft and better fuel economy with its city 19 MPG rating nearly matching the Range Rover's highway figure. It gets 26 MPG highway and starts at only $62,400.