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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


2011 Mudfest (3): The Luxury Division out-pampers itself

What is luxury? Leather? Refinement? Things that are heated that don’t need to be? Crowning a winner in the luxury category of Mudfest is perhaps the most difficult division to decide; one man’s Land Rover is another man’s Infiniti QX56. The owner of a loaded BMW X3 might scoff at a Volvo XC90, yet lose sleep worrying his beamer might not stack up to the Swedish guardian angel in a horrific rollover accident in an LA Fitness parking lot. 

It was the Northwest Auto Press Association’s influential duty this year to not only determine which 2011 SUV should be deemed the most luxurious, but also to define once again just what luxury ought to mean. The following are three of the more notable coddlers I had the pleasure to review from the luxury bunch, the last of which is the winner. 


Infiniti made no attempt with the QX56 to feign interest in downsizing their rolling New York penthouse from the glory days of the V8 powered mammoth. Inside the belly of the beast, the living room-sized cabin is so opulent and spacious it feels as though Tom Wolfe died and was reincarnated as a tan leather interior.

Paint Scheme: Liquid Platinum

Fuel Economy: 14mpg city, 20mpg highway

Bidet Toilet: Standard

Despite its size, 400hp and 413lb/ft of torque accelerated the platinum whale to cruising speeds impressively on the straightaway of the road course with a throaty growl that discharged bejeweled $100 bills out the tailpipe. Cornering was also whale-like, but I doubt anyone expects it to be nimble.

For those who can afford it, the QX56 won’t disappoint in the way of luxury, comfort and status. But for $72,560, there’s a strong case to be made for: 

LAND ROVER RANGE ROVER SPORT (Defending NWAPA luxury champion)

Before we go any further, there’s no sense in waiting to mention the defining characteristic of the $78,245 Rover:

-510hp & 461lb/ft torque from a 5.0L supercharged V8.

It occurred to me that the prospect of blasting through a wet road course in a Land Rover with 510hp between the fenders was about as clever an idea as topping out a ’99 Ford Explorer outfitted with old Firestone tires on the autobahn. Luckily the Rangie beat out every other SUV in the luxury category in the way of: 

Refinement - Our press model was equipped with AWD controlled by a “Dynamic Response” suspension system that delivers flat cornering, tight body control and sharp steering response. In other words, it actually handles the power well; a quality that was beautifully illustrated when I mashed the throttle coming out of a button turn and noticed the ride-along PR lady was stuck to the passenger door with her buttock s hovering several inches above her seat. 

Add to the mix all the magical on and off road features that make a Land Rover the usual hands down choice for the best all-around SUV money can buy, and it probably would have brought home the Mudfest luxury crown again this year, if not for: 

VOLVO XC90 (Winner!)

In these uncertain times of natural disasters, staycations and $70,000 luxury SUV’s, one is left to wonder if for $48,475 they might be just as satisfied tucked safely behind the wheel of a well-appointed Volvo as a vehicle that’s $20,000 more expensive. 

Volvo might not be the first name that comes to mind when the term “luxury SUV” is mentioned, and XC90 doesn’t seem to be trying to fight that. It makes 240hp, 236lb/ft of torque, gets 16mpg city, 22mpg highway, and looks like a Volvo. But for just under fifty grand, the XC90 is just... Nice. 

It does everything an upper-end SUV should. The interior, handling, power, options, everything about it is better than it needs to be without going off the deep end in any one direction, except for safety. 

Thanks to Volvo’s never-ending push to make their vehicles virtually death-proof, the XC90 separates itself from the rest of the pack with safety features including, but not limited to:

-Roll Stability Control (RSC)
-Rollover Protection System (ROPS) with Boron steel reinforced roof structure
-Dynamic Stability Traction Control (DSTC)
-Integral High Strength Steel (HSS) passenger safety cage
-Volvo Whiplash Protection System (WHPS)
-Seven 3-point safety belts with auto height adjustment & force limiters on front seats
-743 Airbags, several of which are airbags within airbags. 

By awarding top honors in the luxury class to the Volvo XC90 the NWAPA made a statement this year that luxury is about balance, that a top of the line SUV shouldn’t be defined by excess, but by superior well-rounded intelligent design.

Volvo nailed this concept with the XC90. Being able to drive it off a cliff and survive is only one of its perks. 

Stay tuned for more winners!

Picture: Fred Joe / NWAPA


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