SUVs have been around for more than eight decades. Though most early SUVs were descendants from commercial and military vehicles such as the Willys MB (1941-1945) and the Land Rover Series I (1948-1958), longer-wheelbase, wagon-type SUVs were available as early as the mid-1930s, with the most iconic example being the second-generation Chevrolet Suburban (1935-1940).

However, the XJ-generation Jeep Cherokee, launched in 1984, is now considered to be the first true sport utility vehicle in the modern understanding of the term, as it was aimed at urban families as a substitute for traditional station wagons. The Cherokee had four-wheel drive, a more premium, station wagon-like interior, and a more manageable size compared to full-size utility vehicles.

Nowadays, SUVs are often sold with premium features, while some crossovers are built with lower ride heights for comfortable on-road driving. Though some brands still develop their SUVs with off-road capabilities, the focus has shifted toward luxury and performance. From the Jeep Wagoneer of the late 1980s, often regarded as the first luxury SUV, to the 2015 BMW X5 M and 2015 Porsche Cayenne, the SUV concept has evolved at an incredible pace, to the extent that modern SUVs have very little in common with their forerunners besides high-riding bodies.

As we approach 2016, the SUV is about to enter yet another era, one that will see the introduction of ultra-luxury utility vehicles built by manufacturers known for providing transportation for royalty the world over. A new niche is about to be created by brands such as Bentley and Rolls-Royce, which are working on some of the most luxurious and expensive SUVs mankind has yet seen. Let’s have a closer look at the most promising luxury SUVs set to hit the market by the end of the decade.

Continue reading for the full story.

2016 Bentley Bentayga

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Established nearly a century ago, Bentley quickly made a name for itself as one of the world’s leading manufacturers of luxury cars. Although at first the Brits focused on race cars and sports saloons, they switched to luxury automobiles under Rolls-Royce ownership. Nowadays, as the brand is part of the Volkswagen Group, Bentley builds both sedans and two-door coupes and convertibles, combining stylish designs, luxurious interiors and powerful engines. In 2015, Bentley will unleash its first SUV, described as "the most exclusive, most luxurious and most expensive SUV in the world."

While Bentley might not have enough experience to develop an SUV, the fact that it is part of the Volkswagen Group solved most of its problems, as the Germans provided it with the same underpinnings used by the new 2016 Audi Q7. Taking all the luxury you can find in the Mulsanne and moving it into the Bentayga won’t be an issue, but it will be interesting to see what add-ons will make the SUV’s level of luxury "extraordinary," as promised by Bentley boss Wolfgang Durheimer.

Styling-wise, the Bentayga will remain true to Bentley’s current design language, meaning it will receive a front fascia similar to the 2016 Bentley Continental GT and a rear end that, in many ways, resembles the 2015 Flying Spur’s. In other words, it will remain recognizable as a Bentley, but it will have a special place in the company’s lineup. It’s impact on the market will be massive, as Bentley already has more than 4,000 buyers lined up. And although it will cost more than $200,000, the Bentayga is likely to become one of the best-selling Bentleys in history and bring big profits to the company.

What’s more, it seems as if Bentley is also pondering diesel and hybrid versions of the Bentayga, yet another reason while this SUV will be a game-changer. To rich folks having up to $300,000 to spend on an SUV, the Bentayga promises to be the most attractive option on the market.

Read our full review of the 2016 Bentley Bentayga here.

2017 Lamborghini Urus

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It’s been nearly three decades since Lamborghini launched the 1986 Lamborghini LM002 SUV, and the Italians are working on a second one, dubbed the Urus. But unlike Bentley’s Bentayga, the Urus will be focused on performance rather than luxury. That’s not to say that the Italian SUV won’t be able to give the Bentayga a run for its money in terms of creature comforts, quality, and fit and finish, it’s just that a Lambo must perform as a Lambo, no matter its purpose. What’s more, where the Bentayga looks like a Continental station wagon on stilts, the Urus is expected to have a more aggressive design, with a sloping roof, muscular rear fenders and a front end that’s as menacing as the Huracan.

Since Lamborghini is also part of the Volkswagen Group, the Urus will aslp share underpinnings with the Audi Q7, Volkswagen Touareg, Porsche Cayenne, and, more importantly, the Bentayga. However, although the Bentley and the Lambo will compete in the same segment as far as pricing goes, they will serve different purposes and have different audiences. Unlike the Bentayga, which will most likely feature a sumptuous yet classy cabin, the Urus will be a sportier proposition, incorporating exotic upholstery colors, carbon-fiber inlays, and a behind-the-wheel experience prioritizing performance rather than day-to-day usability. Heck, Lambo might even promote the Urus as a track-oriented SUV and attempt to set a Nurburgring record for utility vehicles.

In fact, the Urus could create a niche of its own in this new segment of ultra-luxury SUVs. And unless the likes of Ferrari and McLaren decide to jump the SUV bandwagon (there’s plenty of time for that to happen before the Urus arrives in 2018), that’s what might happen.

Read our review of the 2017 Lamborghini Urus here.

Rolls-Royce "Cullinan"

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Set to arrive in 2015 for the 2016 model year, the Bentley Bentayga will indeed be the world’s most luxurious and expensive factory-built SUV. However, that’s not likely to last very long, as Rolls-Royce is working on its own SUV as well. There’s no doubt Rolls-Royce is currently offering the most luxurious rigs out there, along with infinite customizing options via the Bespoke division (something Bentley doesn’t provide yet), so it’s natural to assume that this upcoming SUV, currently known as project Cullinan, will become the Phantom of the crossover market.

Very little is known about it at this stage, but if the rest of Rolls-Royce’s lineup is any indication, the Cullinan will be larger and more impressive to look at than the Bentayga. It probably won’t be as powerful as the Bentley and it won’t be a match for the Urus performance-wise, but I doubt those sheikhs in the Middle-East will mind. A Rolls-Royce is the kind of car you usually have a driver for, so rear-seat amenities will matter more than anything else. And knowing Rolls-Royce, the Cullinan will get plenty of creature comforts, the finest leathers, and a fully customizable interior theme. Need a small ice box for the finest champagne and a massage chair to enjoy on your way to a meeting with your advisers, you got it! All you need to do is ask and give your credit card to the willing folks at Goodwood.

Granted, Rolls-Royce’s past heritage might not suggest an SUV, but it’s the kind of vehicle that will reshape the segment, much like the Jeep Cherokee did in the 1980s. For that, the Cullinan is a luxury SUV worth waiting for.

Read our full review on the Cullinan here.

Ciprian Florea
Ciprian Florea
Senior Editor and Supercar Expert -
Ciprian's passion for everything with four wheels (and more) started back when he was just a little boy, and the Lamborghini Countach was still the coolest car poster you could hang on your wall. Ciprian's career as a journalist began long before earning a Bachelor's degree, but it was only after graduating that his love for cars became a profession.  Read full bio
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