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Car Culture: Pricey nameplates enrich SUV trend

John McCormick
Special to The Detroit News

Consumers’ love affair with crossover vehicles has led two of the most unlikely automotive brands to join the party.

Elite British marques, Jaguar and Bentley, hardly known for “practical” models, now have sport utility vehicles coming to their U.S. showrooms next spring.

At the recent Frankfurt auto show, Jaguar staged a dramatic coming out event for its crossover, the F-Pace, by having it drive around the world’s biggest automotive loop-the-loop structure. And Bentley made its entry, the Bentayga, the centerpiece of its luxurious Frankfurt show stand.

While the F-Pace and Bentagya are the first-ever SUVs for their respective brands, they are hardly the first such vehicles to emerge from high-end nameplates. Porsche, previously known best for its sports cars, launched its first SUV over a decade ago in the shape of the Cayenne. Extremely successful in Porsche U.S. showrooms, the Cayenne has been joined recently by the smaller Macan SUV, itself a big hit with well-heeled American buyers.

For Jaguar, the Macan is a key target for the F-Pace, which sets out to emphasize its sporty, high performance credentials (like the Porsche), but with an added dose of practicality, in terms of relatively generous passenger and cargo space.

Jaguar executives refer to the F-Pace as the “ultimate practical sports car.” The focus on the vehicle’s sporty attributes is a deliberate effort to distance the F-Pace from the SUVs made by Jaguar’s sister brand, Land Rover (both brands are owned by Indian automaker, Tata Motors, which bought them from Ford in 2008). While Land Rover’s top-end Range Rover models are luxurious and expensive, they are engineered to have go-anywhere capabilities, even if their owners rarely venture off-road.

Compared to a Range Rover, the F-Pace has modest off-road ability and is also priced much more affordably, starting at $40,990 in the U.S. The F-Pace pricing strategy is part of a deliberate effort by Jaguar to re-position itself in the luxury market.

“Currently we are perceived as not affordable,” says Jaguar U.S. CEO Joe Eberhardt. “We are seen as a limited niche product and too expensive, so we need to position our cars in heart of market, not as the cheapest, but offering great value. We can’t sustain the company at our current sales volume.”

With the F-Pace and another new, affordable model, the XE compact sedan, coming next year, Eberhardt believes Jaguar can alter consumers’ view of the brand and grow U.S. sales from today’s low levels.

Price sensitivity is not a concern at Bentley, whose Bentayga is purposely designed to be the world’s fastest, most powerful, luxurious and exclusive SUV. As one of the crown jewels in the VW Group’s roster of brands, Bentley has successfully transformed itself from a dying British company into a well-respected global competitor among upper crust luxury marques.

But Bentley’s lineup of large sedans and coupes was not enough for its owners. “A lot of our customers had asked us to do an SUV because they have several cars in their portfolios and they wanted to add such a vehicle,” says Bentley’s Christophe Georges, director of product and marketing.

“We have teased the market for some time and many customers have placed orders for the Bentayga without even seeing the final product.”

Priced at $225,000, the Bentayga packs a mighty 6.0-liter 12-cylinder engine producing 600-hp, enough to whip the large, leather-lined SUV from 0-60 mph in four seconds and on to a top speed of 187 mph.

Georges expects U.S. consumers to account for the lion’s share of Bentayga global sales, as is the case for Bentley’s overall production.

John McCormick is a columnist for Autos Consumer and can be reached at