If you are a fan of Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park” series, you’ve probably seen them one or more times. In the second one, starring Jeff Goldblum, Julianne Moore and a cast of thousands, including all the computer-created dinosaurs, there’s a scene where a special “M-B articulated motorhome/bus” was fitted out for the trek to rescue the researcher sent to the island – which was chosen as an incubator island for the original “park.” If you noticed the smaller vehicles in the same shop, they were the original “M-Class” (today it would be called a crossover, although the M-Class strictly is not.
The M-class was built from the ground up to incorporate Mercedes-Benz latest all-wheel-drive technology. They used unibody construction for chassis strength and rollover protection. The closely spaced interior sparring also helped to cut down on intrusion accidents as did the side guard door beams.
Perhaps the best feature of the M-Class was intelligent all-wheel-drive system which shift power from wheel to wheel as traction needs change. Sensors at the wheels and on the transmission “see” the amount of traction available and after consulting with a multiprocessor, it moves power around so the wheels with best traction get the most power.
Equally as important, the M-Class was designed using opera or theater-style seating where the rear seats are slightly higher than the fronts so everyone has a sight line out. This makes passengers more comfortable as many need that line of sight to keep them from becoming ill.
The M-Class featured a number of firsts, including curtain-style airbags and full front and side protection. It also featured a nice leather interior, heated seats, climate control and was priced in the $40s, which was standard at this time.
Fast forward about a year and “BMW” leaps into the same market with its “X5”. Like the M-Class it used a car chassis as its base and then built from there. Like the M-Class, it featured a wide variety of safety features, including head and shoulder curtain airbags, as well as full airbag protection. It was equipped with allows and like the M-Class used leather, heated seats, climate control and more.
The “X3” joined the X5 soon after and this made a powerful marketing pair, although “Touareg”VW wouldn’t be denied and designed the Touareg which also competed with its own sister companies products, the “Q7”, most notably, although you could argue that any of the Audi all-wheel-drive wagon products including the All-Road series could be called competitive.
This is just from one side of the world, jumping to the other, you find a whole slew of good SUVs, starting with the high-end offerings from Lexus (RX450, also known as the Toyota Land Cruiser) and the Infiniti top-line offerings.
The luxury arms, respectively of Toyota and Nissan, both offered everything you could find on the European competition, but they also added items such as standard GPS/DVD/video-backup systems that had small cameras hidden in the rear hatch and they given you a panoramic view of the rear when you back up so you don’t have to move your head much to have a full view around he vehicle. Each one also had backup assist and warnings.
Moving over a tad, we find the Mazda CX-7 offering. The funny things is that if you look at the Ford Edge or the Mercury MKX, you will find that they are pretty much the same and the reason is because they all use the same chassis from the Mazda and then add their own divisional touches to it. Ford tends to be more utilitarian while Mercury tends to be a little more luxurious.
Not to be denied, Honda has its own offerings in the Pilot EX that offers, among other features, a standard six, intelligent all-wheel-drive, cruise control, climate control, power driver’s seat and heated front seats and full-time all-wheel-drive.
Honda, like Toyota, also offers a crossover, based on its car platform, called the CR-V. Primarily front-wheel-drive, at all times, its “real-time all-wheel-drive” kicks in when sensors at the wheel and transmission determine that a wheel is beginning to slip and if it is one of the driving wheel, the intelligent system moves power to a wheel with good traction and increases the power to the point where everything straightens out.
The Toyota RAV4, features a similar system, while the Highlander, features a more traditional all-wheel-drive system.
Again, here is a list that could go on and on through all of the SUVs available, however, we think we’ve captured the best of the last decade and have given them to you