The SUV world used to be consist of big, V8-powered behemoths that could tow a boat or trailer without batting an eye. In those days, SUVs were primarily Truck-based, and they used the rear-wheel drive and four-wheel drive powertrains that were native to their forefathers.
These days, things have changed markedly. For example, Ford Motor Company, once one of the most prolific suppliers of V8-powered SUVs, currently doesn’t offer a V8-equipped Ford Explorer, Ford Expedition, or Lincoln Navigator. It chooses to approach that market with turbocharged V6 and even four-cylinder powerplants.
But if you are in the market for a traditional SUV with a V8 under the hood, you won’t be disappointed. They offer power aplenty, but that isn’t all — they are also reasonably fuel-efficient for their size and offer superior ride quality. In some ways, today’s V8-powered SUV has become the defacto limousine of choice. For this roundup, we gathered what we believe are the best V8-powered SUVs under $100,000, chosen for their quality, dependability, features, and value per dollar spent.
2020 Chevrolet Tahoe
The Chevrolet Tahoe has been a sales leader among V8-powered SUVs for decades now, and now that Ford has abandoned its V8s in the class, you might say its position is even stronger. Ford has gone to turbocharging of small-displacement four- and six-cylinder engines to improve fuel economy, while Chevrolet’s approach has been to use traditional V8 engines but then equip them with active fuel management that deactivates unneeded cylinders. In base form, the Tahoe offers a 5.3-liter V8 delivering 355 horsepower, while an optional 6.2-liter V8 makes 420 horsepower. Fuel economy in the base model is acceptable at 15 miles per gallon city and 22 mpg highway. Inside, the Tahoe can be equipped like a luxury Sedan with a comfortable leather-trimmed cabin, and it features a top-notch infotainment system that is easy to use.
2020 Cadillac Escalade
The Cadillac Escalade has always been “big dog” in the full-size luxury SUV segment, and one big reason is its reliable V8 powertrain. A fully loaded Escalade with all the bells and whistles is today’s version of a limousine, which is why so many Escalades are used for upscale airport transport. Like the Tahoe and Yukon, the Escalade is a full-sized SUV based on the full-sized GM pickup Truck platform. At the same time, its distinctive “love-it-or-don’t” styling and standard creature comforts set it apart. Compared with the Chevrolet Tahoe, it offers a much higher level of standard equipment, plenty of exterior and interior flash, and an ownership experience designed to coddle the luxury buyer. While the other GM full-size SUVs offer a choice of a 5.3-liter or 6.2-liter V8, the Escalade is equipped with a special 420-horsepower version of the 6.2-liter engine.
2020 Jeep Grand Cherokee
The Jeep Grand Cherokee is rare among mid-size SUVs because it can be fitted with a powerful V8 engine. Virtually all the competitors in the size class now use four- or six-cylinder engines, and many of the vehicles are on front-wheel drive platforms. In contrast, the Grand Cherokee offers the availability of a 360-horsepower 5.7-liter Hemi V8, and the hot-rod SRT version has a 475-horsepower 6.4-liter Hemi V8. Needless to say, the Grand Cherokee does not lack for power. In even better news, the fabled off-roader doesn’t lack for style either. The Grand Cherokee offers a variety of interior treatments that rival those of European luxury cars.
2020 Lexus LX 570
The Lexus LX 570 is the successor in a long line of premium SUVs from the Japanese luxury brand. The LX was introduced in an era in which luxury brands didn’t offer “trucks,” so it has always been a trailblazer. At the heart of the big SUV is a 5.7-liter 383 horsepower V8 engine backed by a sophisticated eight-speed automatic transmission. With standard four-wheel drive, the LX can make short work of off-road obstacles and shrug off inclement weather, including deep snow. It is available in two- and three-row configurations, and it is luxuriously equipped. It uses separate body-on-frame construction that assures that the interior is well-isolated from the bumps and potholes of the outside world, and it is equipped with standard 20-inch alloy wheels. The LX’s innovative “Crawl Control” system includes turn assist, hill-start assist control, and variable gear ratio steering to ease rock climbing.
2020 GMC Yukon
The GMC Yukon is in many ways the equivalent of the Chevrolet Tahoe, but GMC executives probably cringe when they hear that. One big differentiator is the fact the GMC offers the luxury-oriented Denali trim level that is available on both Yukon and Yukon XL (a longer wheelbase version very similar to the Chevrolet Suburban). The Denali level is an all-in top-of-the-line model, and for those who want some bling, it offers some unique features like special wheels and added chrome trim. The Yukon offers the same V8 engine and transmission choices as the Tahoe, and it, too, is offered in rear-drive and four-wheel drive versions. And while we have played up the swanky Denali trim, the Yukon interior is nicely finished and very accommodating even in lesser trim levels. Those seeking the largest interior accommodations should choose the XL version.
2020 Infiniti QX80
The Infiniti QX80 is essentially the luxury version of the Nissan Armada full-size SUV, but the QX80 does have distinct exterior and interior styling to set it apart from the more “popularly priced” Armada. The two vehicles have very similar profiles, but the QX80 has revised details, some alterations in the overall exterior design, and more chrome trim. It is powered by a re-tuned version of the Armada’s 5.6-liter V8 that delivers 400 horsepower, and that engine is backed by a seven-speed automatic transmission. As you would assume, the QX80 includes more equipment as standard than the Nissan, and the interior, in particular, has been given a makeover that is very appealing. Since we already like the Armada’s interior, this amounts to the whipped cream on the hot fudge sundae.
2020 Chevrolet Suburban
One of the longest-running nameplates in America, the Chevrolet Suburban has become an icon in the transitory world of the auto industry. Part of its admirable staying power is its unmatched usefulness. At some 20 inches longer than the Chevrolet Tahoe, the Suburban offers a plethora of interior space for both passengers and cargo. Its longer length is especially beneficial in the third row of seating, which is comfortable for three adults. On the powertrain side of the equation, the Tahoe and Suburban are identical. Both can be equipped with 5.3-liter or 6.2-liter V8 engines that offer plenty of power and admirable amounts of torque. Like the Tahoe, the Suburban is based on the full-size Silverado pickup truck chassis, but its ride is not “truck-like.” Instead it delivers superior ride quality and exceptional quietness.
2020 Toyota Sequoia
We frankly didn’t know where to put the Toyota Sequoia on this list. Its quality and dependability scores are very high. At the same time, it has remained largely unchanged for years now — and in terms of amenities and features, many competitors have passed it by. Finally we decided the eighth spot was the right place. The Sequoia is a full-size, truck-based SUV, but not quite as bulky as the Suburban when maneuvering in traffic. There is no doubt it is a high-quality vehicle with the famous Toyota reputation for reliability. While the infotainment system is sorely in need of an update, Toyota has added modern technology like adaptive cruise control as standard equipment. The Sequoia offers three-row seating capacity and significant utility, but its interior style might leave you wanting a little more. The Sequoia is powered by a naturally aspirated 381-horsepower 5.7-liter V8 backed by a six-speed automatic transmission.
2020 Nissan Armada
Based on the Nissan Titan truck chassis, the three-row Nissan Armada full-size SUV is powered by a 5.6-liter V8 engine delivering its 390-horsepower through a seven-speed automatic transmission. In other words, it is an old-school full-size SUV. Yet it does offer modern features like adaptive cruise control as standard equipment, while that tech is only optional on many of the others in the V8 SUV segment. One of the Armada’s best features is its upscale interior. The dashboard is well-designed, and the seating comfort surpasses many others in the segment. The Armada is available in only one length, equivalent to the Ford Expedition or Chevrolet Tahoe, so third-row seating, while more than adequate, is not as large as in the Chevy Suburban or GMC Yukon XL.
2020 Dodge Durango
The Dodge Durango is a conventional SUV that now co-exists with a number of similar-sized crossovers. In addition to the truly over-the-top Durango SRT version that offers amazing performance, the Durango features a 5.7-liter Hemi V8 engine produces 360 horsepower resulting in a tow rating of 7,400 pounds. Cylinder-deactivation technology is along for the ride to improve fuel economy, as is the standard eight-speed automatic transmission with electronic selection and available steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters. The Durango is based on a rear-drive platform and offers optional all-wheel-drive. Seven-passenger seating is standard on most models, and the seats can be configured 50 different ways. A 60/40 split-folding second-row seat conveniently folds and tumbles, while the third row features a 50/50 split and is easily folded from the rear of the vehicle to provide a flat load floor.