Buying Used: Luxury SUVs

Written by Justin Pritchard | Photos by Justin Pritchard on .

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A look at how some of the market’s most popular luxury crossover models stack up as used buys, and some tips to shop smart for the one that interests you

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Luxury crossovers are awesome because they’re high-tech, comfortable, have room for your people and stuff, and are fantastic to drive in the winter. The sheer number of entries in the luxury crossover marketplace is a big indicator – this is a segment that’s thriving, growing and not going away.

Of course, should a brand-spankin’-new luxury family-ute not be in your budget, numerous few-year-old alternatives are becoming delightfully affordable in the used market. Here’s a look at some of the most popular used luxury crossovers on the scene, and some tips to shop smart for the one that most interests you.

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2007-2013 BMW X5

The Draw: This generation X5 hit the road for model-year 2007 packing a world-class list of feature content, including all of the luxury crossover must-haves. Look for two or three seating rows, standard xDrive AWD, an available M Sport package for fancy handling and a range of six- or eight-cylinder engines. Available horsepower peaked at 400, depending on the year.

Owners rated styling, confidence and performance highly, and complained most commonly about the lack of a spare tire and learning curve to the iDrive system.

The Test Drive: Confirm proper operation from all windows, locks and the power tailgate, if equipped. Ditto the sunroof. Ensure no warning lights or messages are present in the instrument cluster and triple-check the navigation, Bluetooth and climate control systems for functionality.

A battery and charging system check, as well as a ‘scan’ of the X5’s computer brain should be considered mandatory to ensure you’re not about to drop tens of thousands on a model full of electrical gremlins.

Have a mechanic scrutinize the cooling system for signs of leaks and dribbles, especially in the ‘valley’ between the cylinder banks on earlier V8 models. This leak is well documented and pricey to fix. Also, have a mechanic go over the X5’s suspension, especially if you notice any popping, clunking or other unwelcome sounds from beneath on a test-drive.

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2010-2012 Lexus RX

The Draw: The 2010 to 2012 iteration of this sensible Japanese best-seller offered an available hybrid drive system, an excellent reputation and proven residual values. All models got a 3.5-litre V6 making 275 horsepower, or 295 in the RX h Hybrid variant. Feature content in this five-seater included automatic or motorized everything, navigation, Mark Levinson audio, a Bluetooth interface, climate-controlled seats and plenty more.

All models got all-wheel-drive, and owners liked the RX’s sense of practical luxury, the well-appointed cabin, flexibility and all-around comfort.

The Test Drive: Double check for proper operation of the intelligent key system, all windows and the climate control system.

Ensure the RX you’re considering hasn’t been pre-warmed ahead of your test-drive. Insist on starting the engine cold and listening for any loud ticking or knocking sound as it idles after start up. Though inconclusive, some owners have reported this issue, which could indicate valvetrain problems.

Hesitation or ‘hunting’ during gear shifting on the automatic transmission may be remedied by reprogramming the transmission’s computer brain, which isn’t too serious.

Have the RX you’re considering inspected for standard signs of fluid leakage, rust, suspension wear, sporadic power delivery or warning lights as well. Shoppers are advised against purchase of a Lexus hybrid model without having all system components inspected and ‘scanned’ electronically by a Lexus technician at a dealer.

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2007-2013 Acura MDX

The Draw: The MDX earned a reputation for solid reliability, owner satisfaction, residual value and safety – all of which helped it become one of the most popular machines in its segment. All models got a 3.7-litre V6 with 300 horsepower, an automatic transmission and Super Handling All Wheel Drive (SH-AWD). Available feature content for this seven-passenger ute included adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring and an active damper system for push-button access to various suspension calibrations.

Owners loved a blend of comfort and fun-to-drive dynamics, as well as overall performance, refinement and confidence. Common gripes centre around wind noise and limited rearward visibility.

The Test Drive: Confirm proper operation of the power seats as well as the memory and heating function of said seats. The navigation and climate control systems should also be triple-checked for proper operation.

Other issues were reported infrequently, though they warrant mention. A chattering or binding sensation from the rear when cornering sharply at low speeds could indicate worn out clutches or contaminated fluid within the SH-AWD system. Have an Acura mechanic investigate if you notice any unwelcome sensations like these.

Some owners have reported consuming large amounts of oil between changes on newer models, which may be a result of thinner engine oil being specified as part of MDX’s fuel-saving powertrain updates. Be sure to check the condition and level of the engine oil in the model you’re considering.

Several owners have reported replacement of the transmission’s torque converter, usually under warranty. Symptoms of a bad torque converter could include very hard shifting or ‘slippage’ during shifting.

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2003-2010 Porsche Cayenne

The Draw: The first-gen Cayenne was available with anything from a 3.2-litre, 247-horsepower V6 to a 550-horsepower, twin-turbocharged V8. Automatic transmissions will be fitted to virtually all used models.

Look for Porsche’s five-seater hotrod-ute with goodies like navigation, a sunroof, premium audio, Bluetooth, heated leather seats and a full suite of safety features. With a low-range transfer case and air-adjustable suspension on most models, you can actually take this one off-roading if you’d like.

Owners typically rave about a blend of off-road capability and on-road comfort backed by plenty of performance. Brakes, handling and power output were highly rated on virtually all models, too. Complaints included a smaller-than-expected back seat, controversial styling and limited rearward visibility.

The Test Drive: Start your test-drive with an exhaustive check of every component and accessory that runs on electricity. Pay extra close attention to the stereo, power seats, navigation system, instrument cluster and all lights. Note any check engine lights, too.

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Poor, lumpy or hesitant acceleration on any model could be caused by faulty ignition coil packs, and the engine compartment and underside should be checked for signs of a fairly common coolant leak. If possible, avoid models with the air suspension, which many owners say will eventually wear out and do nasty things to your wallet. A turbocharged Cayenne model will be the fastest and most fun to drive, though it’ll also be the most expensive to fuel, insure and maintain.

Due to the numerous complicated systems and potentially pricey repair bills, buying a Cayenne without a pre-purchase inspection from a Porsche dealership is not advised.

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2006-2012 Range Rover Sport

The Draw: All hail its snorting, supercharged majesty! Smaller, shorter, less expensive and lighter than a typical Range Rover, the last-generation Range Rover Sport was introduced for 2006 to compete more directly with machines like the Porsche Cayenne and BMW X5. All models were powered by a V8, including an available supercharged unit on ‘Supercharged’ designated models.

The Range Rover Sport features a terrain mode selector and multi-mode 4x4 system with low-range provided above-average off-road capability. Owners liked the blend of luxury, confidence, exclusivity and great deal of presence. A driving experience rich with luxury and capability seems to be the big draw here. Complaints typically centre around smaller-than-expected rear seat and cargo dimensions.

The Test Drive: Have the air suspension checked out by a Land Rover mechanic after you toggle it through its various settings to confirm it operates without any warning lights illuminating. This is an expensive-to-repair system if any problems surface, possibly related to the ‘valve-block’ that controls airflow to the shocks.

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Toggle the 4x4 system between its various modes as well, checking for signs of trouble along the way. Some owners have reported unusual, unwelcome sounds as possible signs of issues with driveshafts, joints, axles or differentials. Use your ears at a variety of speeds while making moderate to sharp turns on a variety of surfaces. If anything sounds out of the ordinary, be sure to have it investigated.

A hesitation, misfire sensation or power loss at heavy to full throttle could be the effect of a fail-safe engaged in response to low coolant flow through the supercharger, caused by an improperly-wired electric coolant pump.

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2007-2014 Cadillac Escalade

The Draw: Driven primarily by ballers, business execs and big-dollar shot-callers, the last-generation Escalade got a standard 6.2-litre, 400-horsepower V8, plenty of room and a real truck-frame chassis for hard-to-beat toughness. The most recognizable posh-ute on the road, owners loved Escalade’s big-time presence, abundant space and upscale feature content. Look for climate-controlled seats, Bose audio, retractable side steps, navigation, rear-seat entertainment consoles and more.

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The Test Drive: Open the front doors and ‘feel’ the carpeting under the front floor mats for signs of moisture, which could be caused by a leaky windshield seal and/or plugged sunroof vent tubes. Check the rear seating floor area for moisture, too.

Ensure proper operation of the cruise control, as some owners have reported issues with cruise control failure caused by a fairly simple-to-fix brake-light switch. Other items to triple check for proper operation include the heated and chilled seats, heated steering wheel (if equipped) and powered tailgate. None of these will be cheap to fix if they aren’t working.

Finally, note that many Escalade models in the used market will have modifications like air intakes and exhaust kits, which are typically considered safe, if they use high-quality parts and installation. However, the average shopper is advised to avoid models with extensive modifications to the engine, suspension or drivetrain. Lifted Escalades, models with modified engine management or extremely large tires and wheels could cause issues.

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General Used Crossover Shopping Tips
No matter which used luxury crossover you decide to make your own, be sure to bear these tips in mind 

Recalls: Recalls are issued by automakers to address a latent safety defect that wasn’t caught in development. Recall work is important – and anyone buying a used vehicle should ensure the recalls affecting their ride have all been carried out. Just provide the VIN number of the model you’re considering to the vehicle’s dealer. They can advise which, if any, recall work is outstanding. Recall-related work is free.

Trickle Charge It: Newer rides – especially gadget-rich luxury models with their numerous high-draw systems and thirst for delicious electrons – can be hard on their batteries. That’s especially true if the vehicle will be used for frequent short-distance driving, which may not allow the battery time to recharge fully. If you’ll only drive your new-to-you luxury crossover occasionally, budget for a so-called trickle-charger and hook it up to the battery while the machine is parked. You can get one at Canadian Tire for about $30.

Fluids: Not sure the service history of the used ride you’re considering? Budget for a full fluid change, replacing engine oil, coolant, transmission fluid, transfer case and differential fluids. The owner’s manual lists fluid maintenance requirements; and, if it’s missing, a quick call to the appropriate dealer’s parts counter will set you straight. Fresh, quality fluids are absolutely vital to prolonged driveline component life and reliability.

mechanical inspection CopyChecks for Safety’s Sake: Safety is of the utmost importance in any new vehicle – though the family-oriented nature of a luxury crossover makes it that much more vital. To ensure the model you’re considering is ready to tackle family travel safely, ask your favourite mechanic to give the brakes, steering, tires and suspension a once-over on his hoist. In about 30 minutes, he can assess and scrutinize the condition of all of the parts that ensure your ride steers and stops – adding confidence to your purchase.

Computer Scan: Consider a scan of the brain of the luxury crossover you’re considering to be absolutely mandatory. Numerous networked computer systems run and control your potential ride’s powertrain – and any of these could be storing a trouble code waiting to be revealed with a peek inside the computer. Since not all trouble relating to engine sensors and control units will cause a warning message or CHECK ENGINE light, a computer system scan can provide maximum peace of mind that your new ride isn’t in need of a few thousand bucks worth of sensors and modules.

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