► The best SUVs you can buy
► According to CAR
► We'll update this list frequently
Fear not, American readers, you’ll find no undernourished, Euro-sized SUVs here. In case you missed it, our guide to small SUVs and crossovers – from the Dacia Duster to the Porsche Macan – is a separate article. This round-up is strictly for full-bodied 4x4s: bulky, brawny and ready for adventure. Even if that adventure is ferrying the kids to hockey practice.
It’s easy to mock SUVs, of course. Most never go beyond paved roads, while their inherent dynamic deficiencies don’t sit easily with those who enjoy driving. But the public gets what the public wants, as Paul Weller pointed out, and it turns out we mostly want SUVs. Sample any of the best-in-class examples here and you’ll probably want one, too.
Further SUV reading
The large SUV has to cover a lot of bases. The Volkswagen Touareg is a modern answer to the full-size family estate car. The Range Rover is a credible alternative to a luxury saloon that can strap on a pair of green wellies at the weekend. And the Lamborghini Urus is a supercar with five seats: ferociously fast and unashamedly extrovert.
Whichever of these SUVs you choose, you’ll enjoy space, safety and sure-footed traction, plus a higher-than-thou driving position that, once experienced, is hard to relinquish. Read on for our top choices – and use the quick links below to learn more about each car.
An SUV buying guide
A large SUV isn’t necessarily a rational purchase, so think carefully about your priorities. Do you value comfort over scalpel-sharp handling? Is fuel economy a concern? Do you need to tow a caravan or trailer? Do you plan to drive off-road? Your answers will help shape your shopping list.
All SUVs strike a balance between ride and responsiveness, but air suspension – optional on several, standard on others – may offer the best compromise between both. Many also come loaded with semi-autonomous tech, which can improve safety and take the stress out of long-distance drives. Other options worth considering include four-wheel drive (even in this sector, not all SUVs have it) and parking assistance systems. Simply squeezing into a standard-size space may be enough of a challenge.
Despite its decline, diesel remains the most popular fuel in this sector – and for good reason. Not only does it deliver more miles per gallon, its muscular low-down torque suits a large SUV well. That said, nothing beats a big petrol engine for decadent luxury and performance. There are also some hybrid options, which can offer the benefits of both, although they may be limited when it comes to towing ability.
As for going off-road, fitting the right tyres will outweigh every electronic acronym you can muster. Yet any of these cars could surprise you with how capable they really are. A shame few ever get chance to prove it.
Best SUVs in 2020
There’s something reassuringly ‘old money’ about the Range Rover. While its Sport sibling appeals to the spray-tanned and sockless, the original SUV favours a Barbour jacket and brogues. The current model has been around since 2012, but a 2018 facelift brought dual-touchscreen infotainment and a P400e plug-in hybrid. With 296bhp and a theoretical 101mpg, it’s now the default choice for most buyers. At the more rarified end of the range, the SVAutobiography V8 – built by JLR’s SVO skunkworks – is luxurious enough to trouble a Bentley Bentayga.
Equally at ease in Snowdonia as Sloane Street, the Range Rover makes light work of going off-piste. Simply select a Terrain Response setting and let electronics do the rest, all while cocooned in leather-lined luxury (Heated footrest and armrest? Don’t mind if I do). On the road, it lacks the dynamic nous of a Cayenne, but that scarcely seems to matter. With its hushed powertrains, pillowy ride and imperious driving position, piloting a Range Rover always feels like an occasion.
Read our Range Rover reviews
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Now the Phaeton has died, the Touareg is the most upwardly-mobile Volkswagen on sale. Its MLB platform also underpins the Audi Q7 and Porsche Cayenne, but prices are usefully cheaper than both. A grinning chrome grille gives it the presence of ‘premium’ rivals, too. The Touareg’s party piece is found inside: two huge screens that merge in the middle to create what VW calls the Innovision Cockpit. Its futuristic look is matched by decent functionality, plus a plethora of electronic driver aids – including infra-red night vision.
There’s a range of 3.0-litre V6 diesel and petrol engines, all employing an eight-speed auto ’box and four-wheel drive. A plug-in hybrid and V8 diesel are due soon. The Touareg has an agility that belies its bulk – particularly with optional rear-wheel steering – yet it remains a comfortable cruiser at heart. The massaging front seats are blissful on long journeys, while rear legroom is limo-like. The 810-litre boot could swallow an Up GTI whole, although there’s no seven-seat option. You’ll need the smaller Tiguan Allspace (or a Q7) for that.
Read our Volkswagen Touareg review
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The vehicle formerly known as the G-Wagen debuted in 1979 as a no-frills military workhorse. Four decades later, it’s as ubiquitous on the Kings Road as teenage supercar spotters – a peerless feat of social mountaineering. The G-Class range is also a story of two halves: a yin-and-yang split between semi-sensible G350d and Gatling-gun G63. The former packs a 282bhp diesel inline-six, the latter a 577bhp petrol V8. The difference in economy isn’t as stark as you’d imagine (29.4mpg plays 21.4mpg), but the G350d costs a whopping £50,000 less to buy.
The second-gen G-Class, launched in 2018, looks almost identical to the Tonka toy original; Mercedes even re-engineered the whipcrack clunk of the door locks. Its interior, however, saw a much-needed makeover, with widescreen infotainment, trackpad controllers and 64-colour ambient lighting. The latest G has more cultivated road manners, too – the old recirculating ball steering is ditched for a rack-and-pinion setup – yet it can’t entirely hide its down-and-dirty roots. Nor would its well-heeled fans want it to.
Read our Mercedes-Benz G-Class review
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Say ciao to the Lamborghini of SUVs: loud, lairy and preposterously quick. A 614bhp twin-turbo petrol V8 blasts it to 62mph in 3.6 seconds and 191mph, all while looking like a prop from a Judge Dredd film. Thankfully, the Urus doesn’t only do straight-line speed; four-wheel steering, adaptive suspension, rear torque vectoring, active anti-roll bars and carbon-ceramic brakes all help to manage and mitigate its 2,197kg heft. An SUV with a track (Corsa) mode evidently defies logic, yet the Urus makes a valiant attempt at defying physics, too.
Monstrous grip and that bellowing V8 mean startling cross-country pace, while only a Cayenne comes close for cornering prowess. With air springs at full height, the Urus can also venture off-tarmac, be it the dunes of Dubai or muddy car parks in the Home Counties. Its OTT, aircraft-inspired interior accommodates five adults, or four if you option individual rear seats. There’s only one model available, however – at least until Lamborghini rolls out an SV version.
Read our Lamborghini Urus review
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Audi’s flagship SUV is either the level-headed alternative to a Lamborghini (its MLBevo architecture is shared with the Urus) or a Q7 that sacrifices space for style. Either way, it pulls off the coupé-on-creatine look better than the brash BMW X6 or bloated Mercedes GLE Coupé. It even has blisters over the rear wheelarches like an ur-Quattro. Inside the Q8 is built like a bank vault (other German car clichés are available), with Virtual Cockpit upfront and two huge touchscreens for infotainment. No less than 39 driver assistance systems are split between three option packs: Parking, City and Tour.
That’s the Technik, now the Vorsprung. The Q8 comes in 282bhp 3.0-litre diesel (50 TDI) or 335bhp 3.0 petrol (55 TFSI) guises, both with eight-speed auto transmissions and Quattro four-wheel drive. Claimed 41.5mpg economy and a walloping 442lb ft of torque make the diesel our preferred option – or wait for the entry-level 45 TDI, due soon. If you hoped for a dialled-down Urus, you’ll be disappointed: the air-sprung Q8 majors on calm composure. But that makes most sense in an SUV, after all.
Read our Audi Q8 review
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Range Rover Velar
The Velar is like a Discovery that has removed its milk-bottle specs and seductively shaken its hair loose. A wedgy profile, smooth surfacing and a floating roof all obscure its inherent SUV-ness. Land Rover has used its aluminium expertise to trim weight, too – although 2029kg only looks laudable in the context of excess-all-areas luxury 4x4s. Its plush cabin is as impeccably tailored as its exterior, with surprise-and-delight details such as the pop-up gear selector and tilting touchscreen. Pity there’s no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto connectivity.
Like any Range Rover, the Velar comes with a full arsenal of Terrain Response tech. Its electronic air suspension can elevated to clear most obstacles, but we’d be loath to get the carpets grubby. On-road, it’s less sporty than its styling suggests: looser and more ponderous than a Q8 or Cayenne. Nonetheless, a strong range of diesel and petrol engines (no PHEV yet) and sheer feelgood factor make for an SUV to be reckoned with.
Read our Range Rover Velar reviews
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The Cayenne is easier to admire than to love (the exact opposite of a classic 911, in fact), but its role in bolstering Stuttgart’s bank balance can’t be underestimated. No wonder even Lotus and Ferrari are following its lead. This third-generation model is tolerably handsome, particularly in Coupe format, while its interior oozes sci-fi style: all gloss-black panels, haptic buttons and techy textures. Quality feels second-to-none and a huge 770-litre boot makes for easily the most practical Porsche. By comparison, the Coupe holds 640 litres and the Panamera Sport Turismo just 520 litres.
Aside from the Urus, nothing puts the ‘S’ into SUV quite like the Cayenne. Switch into one of the sportier drive modes and it tenses like an athlete’s muscle, laughing in the face of inertia. Its steering – via a lovely, 918-style wheel – is millimetrically precise, its brakes fade-free and mighty. On the minus side, the ride can be restless and you can’t escape its sheer size on country lanes. The new 670bhp Turbo S E-Hybrid is ludicrously rapid, but you’re better off at the opposite end of the range: either the entry-level 335bhp 3.0 V6 or 434bhp 2.9 V6 S. That less-is-more appeal is something the Cayenne and 911 do have in common.
Read our Porsche Cayenne reviews
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The template established by the XC90 – confident Scandinavian design, easygoing dynamics, class-leading safety tech – has been replicated across the Volvo range. It’s easy to forget, then, just how ground-breaking this SUV seemed back in 2015. After 12 years of the original XC90, it was the marque’s first step into a bold new future. The engine lineup stretches from 232bhp B5 diesel to 400bhp T8 hybrid – the latter capable of 0-62mph in 5.6sec and 134.5mpg (although not at the same time).
Steel-sprung XC90s don’t ride with the decorum you’d expect, so budget for optional air suspension and enjoy the most comfortable seats this side of a Rolls-Royce, Body control is good for a large SUV, but finely-wrought feedback is off the menu. The ability to seat Dad, Mum and little Freddy’s five-a-side team is a real boon for families, and even the third row doesn’t feel third class. In terms of both safety and wellbeing, the XC90 is a car that looks after you.
Read our Volvo XC90 reviews
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Audi passed the ‘best interiors’ baton to Mercedes some time ago and the GLE is a case in point. Not only will it seat seven, a feat matched only by the XC90 in our league table of leviathans, it’s awash with bleeding-edge tech. Unfortunately, the MBUX media system’s crisp graphics are paired with fiddly touchpad and/or touchscreen controls. You can yell ‘Hey Mercedes’ to summon the voice assistant, yet that’s also far from foolproof. Another gripe: most of the driver-assistance systems – including Distronic adaptive cruise control, Active Blind Spot Assist and Active Lane-Change Assist – cost extra.
There’s much to enjoy about the GLE, though, not least relaxed road manners and a refined ride. Inevitably, AMG 53 and 63 versions are in the pipeline, but do yourself a favour and buy one of the 3.0 straight-six diesels, plus an E63 S for weekends. Wafting is what this SUV does best. That said, the GLE isn’t scared to get its tyres dirty; choose the Off-Road Pack and it comes with a pukka low-range transmission.
Read our Mercedes-Benz GLE review
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We’ll be updating this page regularly, so keep checking back for our latest thoughts on the best SUVs.