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Picking the Best Luxury SUV (for us)

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So a couple of days ago, I dropped the news that I'm going to be a father again. I went through a few of the financial changes that I could easily anticipate. One of the most obvious ones was that we're going to need a bigger boat car. Two growing boys, a 75 pound dog, wife, and strollers is pushing the limits on the Subaru Forester. In fact we recently went on a trip with just the one child and putting luggage in with the dog was a stretch.

Regular readers will note that I bought the Forester at the end of last year. It's only 8 months later (I'm a mathematical whiz, I know). Perhaps a little more forward thinking or some more efficient family planning would have lead to some different decision making there. Perhaps not, as it is still a very good mix of price, fuel economy, size, and snow-busting ability. We're a two car family and the Forester can do about 90% of what we throw at it.

It's just that other 10% that isn't going to work.

Fortunately, my wife's car has 120,000+ miles on it and she's looking for a new one. Her whole life she's had to take whatever car was available. There was the bargain junker that got her to her pharmacy residencies in college. My wife got the car she has now after an accident just days before we met. (I still remember calling her when she was on her medication. Explains why she'd go with me, right?) That car was another situation of, "Gotta have a car now!"

This time it's different. We've got a few months to prepare. My wife has also expressed the desire to have a lifestyle inflation luxury brand car. And while I'd rather buy businesses and assets that appreciate, she's earned a luxury car and then some. She's always liked Audis but their focus on iPhone connections on our last test drive soured her a lot. We looked at the BMW X5, but the third seat seemed too small (and I thought the price was a little large). We looked at the Volvo XC90 and were impressed. If the dealership wasn't inexplicably closed on a Saturday at noon, we might have test driven it.

I have to admit that when we first started looking at cars, I let my wife lead me from one place to the next. After all, it's her car and it's going to have to fit her luxury standards. However, as we started to look at these cars, I realized that this was for real and I should put in a little time researching what's out there. Truth be told, I didn't know anything about SUVs with third rows. I really just knew that my wife didn't want a mini-van, and I wasn't going that.

So with a couple of cars to help guide me (BMW X5, Volvo XC90), I was able to figure out what class of car she was looking at. (You might be able to tell, I don't stay up with all the car companies and models). My research lead me to this this list of luxury SUVs with 3 rows by US News and World Report. US News isn't your typical car authority, but they crunched the reviews from other car authorities and made things much simpler for me.

The list was eye-opening. The Volvo was the 2nd to last car on the 14 car list. The BMW was right in the middle at #17. In between were a bunch of other cars. I systematically went through them with my wife:

  1. Mercedes-Benz GL-Class - Starting at $60,000, we'd have to look at a used one to fit the budget. My wife isn't a fan of Mercedes anyway.
  2. Two Infinitis - My wife's former fiancee in college got killed in a Nissan. That whole family of cars is blackballed
  3. Two Lincolns - My wife: "I am not 75 years old!"
  4. Two Cadillacs - Out of the price range that we are looking for.
  5. Land Rover - MPG: 12 City and 17 Highway. No thanks!
  6. Land Cruiser - $75,000 and 13/17 mpg? Worst of both worlds!
  7. Lexus GX - My wife simply didn't like the feel of the last Lexus she test drove.
  8. Audi Q7 - Nixed from the aforementioned iPhone issue. Perhaps petty, but I think it's reasonable to be petty when spending $45,000 or more.

There's one car that stands out on the list, the one at the top... the Acura MDX. My wife didn't really have an opinion about Acuras. In some ways that was a blessing as it gave the car a chance unlike the Lincolns.

I was able to convince my wife to give the Acura MDX a look. We took a test drive of a 2010 and a 2014 and loved them both. The newer model was better in just about every way. It was a smoother ride, had better technology, and the kicker... a spot to put your purse. (Car makers should just focus on this and cup holders.) All joking aside, it actually seems like a new Acura MDX is the way to go.

The 2010 had 42,000 miles on it and it was $27,000. If you think of a car as having a 12 year lifespan, it's already used up a third of that. So let's pencil in 8 more years or $3,375 a year. A new MDX is $45,000 or $3,750 a year (again presuming the same 12 year lifespan). You are getting the best years with the new car and the better technology. The biggest difference though comes in the gas. The 2010 Acura MDX requires premium gas and gets 18mpg combined. The 2014 doesn't require premium gas (though it's recommended) and gets 21mpg. The plan is that this car would get mostly highway driving and there's a 6mpg difference there. It seems like a no-brainer to go with the new one, right? Maybe there would be more room to negotiate the used car, but I'm not convinced a used car is what she had in mind when looking for luxury.

I think we'll be going forward with the Acura MDX, but we've got a little time. I've been looking into the TrueCar buying service and it seems promising in getting a good deal. Anyone use that? Let me know in the comments.

Last updated on November 6, 2013.

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9 Responses to “Picking the Best Luxury SUV (for us)”

  1. Big-D says:

    As I read this I wondered out loud what exactly you are trying to accomplish. It looked like you were forcibly trying to get a new car into a specific range due to preference versus writing a list of things you want and then going from there. It also looks like you are trying to pay for a nameplate and not looking at the functionality (where is honda and toyota?)

    Cost: How much do you want/willing to spend
    Seating: What are your seating requirements (with two kids in seats that necessitates the entire rear seat, but do you need a third row? How often does the dog come with you? etc.)
    Gas Mileage: No matter what, the bigger, more luxurious, the worse the gas mileage unless you get a hybrid
    Required features: Leather? NavSat? Sat Radio? etc.

    When you sit down and look at this, then you can make your list. I don’t see on your list a Chevy Tahoe or Traverse for example? Ford Explorer/Expedition? You said range rover, but what about the Evoque? Also don’t see Honda Pilot? Or (my favorite if price was not object which it is looking that way on your list) Toyota Higlander Hybrid?

    One final thing, when looking at cars, look at the cost, and the MPG, and expected travel mileage per year. Sometimes the car that is $5k cheaper and gets a few mpg worse is the better deal when you only drive a $10k miles a year.

  2. Lazy Man says:

    Acura is Honda’s premium brand like how Lexus is Toyota’s premium brand. Some of those brands make the list of U.S. News’ affordable SUV with 3 rows. The Toyota Highlander is one example of that. We test drove it when we got the Forester. I was interested in the hybrid version due to the gas mileage. My wife felt it was way too big. I thought about the Buick Enclave that was at the top of the list, but the wife pulled, the “what I am 100 years old?” argument. The Tahoe, Traverse, Explorer, Expedition, and Pilot are all in that affordable list as well.

    I think you are right, I might have approached this article backwards… coming from the nameplate point of view first. I never try to pay for a nameplate and don’t recommend that others do. However, if it were up to me no one would buy Coach pocketbooks and Tiffany diamonds. It’s always wise to know what battles to pick in a relationship, and if we can get the nameplate on the consensus best value of a car… well that’s a win, right? This is the wife’s chance to splurge and get a luxury item. If someone is looking for BMW it’s a big switch to give them Ford.

    In the list, you might have noticed that I nixed some items because they were out of the price range. I should have established that the range is around $45,000. If we are to look at a car that is typically outside that range, we’ll have to look towards used. As for seating, the dog coming with us is probably only going to be a 10% scenario, but it’s one that has to be covered. Having talked with friends who are parents of 5 and 6 year olds, there’s always a need for more seating to fit the children’s friends in. If we didn’t have a need for the third row, we’d just stick with the Forester for the family car and the wife could get something completely different.

    As for the MPG, I complete agree with you. However, when I’ve tossed out all the non-premium brands and the premium brands that don’t fit (as I did in the article), I don’t see a lot to choose from. The Acura MDX does surprisingly well in gas mileage for its size (in my opinion).

  3. Fred Lee says:

    I know your wife is looking for a ‘luxury SUV’, but after reading your blog for years, you seem like a rational couple. As you mention in your comment above, it’s probably a better idea to look at features, not nameplate.

    My wife too wanted a luxurious large vehicle. We ended up with a very nicely equipped Subaru Outback (on our third now). Cost is in the low $30Ks, the car is easily spacious enough for a 4-person family + dog + luggage and if not, you can always put on a roof rack (for the luggage, not the dog!), power with the 3.6L is ample if not amazing, and mileage comes in around 25MPG.

    Admittedly I’m a huge Subaru fan (we’ve had six, ranging from the Outbacks, to STIs, to my current BRZ). They’ve all been reliable, fun, and had /great/ resale value. Mine have been spartan, my wife’s have been luxurious.

    Unless you /need/ ground clearance, I’d personally steer clear of SUVs (and the Outback has plenty of clearance anyway). They may look great (or not, in the case of the Infinitis), but in day to day driving they are a lot less enjoyable to drive than a wagon.

  4. Lazy Man says:

    We already have the Outback’s cousin, the Forester. Big fan and it has served us well. The double strollers are quite big and I think would crunch the dog a bit. That means that almost anything else you’d bring gets strapped to the roof. Sounds possible, and not to play the Lazy card, but kind of a big ordeal when you’ve got a dog and two kids who will likely want to wander off. Maybe it’s worth revisiting or trying the Forester for a bit and seeing how it works in practice.

    However, the problem is that my wife will still need another car. She’ll still want something of a luxury. It’s not like the Acura MDX is paying for a nameplate instead of features. It definitely had a lot more features and comfort than 2013 Forester we have and gets similar gas mileage.

    The wife is also dead-set against the wagon look.

    We would never put a dog on the roof in Massachusetts ;-).

  5. tom says:

    Are you a Costco member? I’ve heard great things about their car buying service. I’d also look through USAA.

  6. Lazy Man says:

    The USAA car buying service is a white labeled version of TrueCar. The same is true of PenFed. We are members of each. We are also Costco members, but we are giving it up as BJ Warehouse is more accessible in New England.

  7. MJS says:


    Hit me up offline if you want. I joined the family business. I’m not in sales and wouldn’t want to try to sell you anyway. I work as an analyst now. My main role is to help companies pick the right cars using a cost per mile formula. Considering your love of numbers you might like me showing you what three comparable vehicles look like. I can run numbers on any car in existence.

  8. […] Man @ Lazy Man and Money writes Picking the Best Luxury SUV (for us) – So a couple of days ago, I dropped the news that I’m going to be a father again. I […]

  9. Zachary X. Butler says:

    The first-generation Acura MDX arrived at a time when most luxury SUVs still featured body-on-frame construction and the term “crossover” was but a glimmer in some marketer’s eye. At the same time, the midsize MDX bettered other car-based luxury SUVs by offering a standard third row of seats that folded neatly into the cargo floor. It also made no qualms about being a dedicated on-road SUV with a clever all-wheel-drive system. Though we thought it lacked a little in terms of personality and prestige, the original Acura MDX nonetheless became a favorite among families looking for a comfortable and upscale seven-passenger vehicle.

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