Best large SUVs
These big cars make a big impression – but which off-road star is the class of our Championship field?
Entering this heavyweight title bout are some regular SUV road test winners, but our contest is about much more than just brute force. The very best large SUVs have to be talented all-rounders, proving just as comfortable on the road as off it – so which cars can rise to the top of the podium?
Price range: £37,995-£51,195
The Discovery 4’s grip on the off-road sector continues – and long may it reign. At this price, no rival blends space, practicality, refinement and off-road excellence so well. The big Land Rover is cheaper than the Range Rover but just as stylish, and has the added practicality of two extra seats. Updates for this year include a cleaner and more powerful diesel, a new steering rack and the addition of a smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic gearbox.
These changes only serve to widen the gap between the Disco and the rest of the field, as it’s now sharper to drive, more efficient and more effortlessly refined than before. It remains hugely versatile, whether as a farmyard workhorse or a big load carrier – fold the rear seats and the tall roof means the car has a vast 2,558-litre luggage capacity. But the classy cabin and improved touchscreen control system give it the feel of a luxury limousine at the same time.
No other car offers such a commanding view of the road ahead, and none can match the Discovery 4 off-road, either. The brilliantly simple Terrain Response system allows even inexperienced drivers to conquer rough terrain, so the Land Rover remains the undisputed 4x4 champion.
Price range: £45,055-£59,600
The Discovery is unbeatable for tackling off-road obstacles – but if you want to redefine what’s possible in an SUV on the road, look no further than the BMW X5. With its powerful engine line-up, beefy styling and talented chassis, the car is more than a match for most saloons, let alone heavy SUVs, and its ability to hustle along a bumpy country road at speed
is really impressive.
Well weighted and direct steering and a slick automatic gearbox combine to ensure plenty of entertainment for the driver, yet the X5 is also one of the cleanest SUVs on the market – the 3.0-litre diesel has claimed economy of over 40mpg and emits only 195g/km of CO2. A lack of proper seven-seat practicality and an overly firm ride are the only things holding it back.
But as a driver-oriented off-roader, the BMW is peerless and it comes a deserved second in this class.
Price range: £69,485-£86,345
The Range Rover is ultimately too expensive to challenge for top honours, and finishes in the bronze medal position. It’s now more than 40 years since the original two-door classic created a new market, and the current car continues to deliver on the Range Rover brand’s two key strengths: luxury and off-road ability. The vast five-seat interior has the kind of quality and attention to detail that wouldn’t look out of place in cars costing twice as much, and the revised V8 petrol and diesel engines blend power and refinement. Yet the 4.4-litre TDV8 returns over 30mpg.
It’s getting long in the tooth now, but an all-new Range Rover, due this year, will be 500kg lighter – and this should set the standard in the class once again.
Price range: £46,338-£86,896
The fact that the Porsche can only finish as a runner-up simply highlights the depth of the talent in this market. The Cayenne is more expensive than its rivals but no less capable, while its sporty interior – which takes cues from the 911 – is superb. Few SUVs can match the performance of the monstrous 493bhp Cayenne Turbo, while the chassis means all models strike a good balance between comfort and agility, with body roll well suppressed. And even when fitted with the optional 20-inch alloys, the car’s ride is more forgiving ride than a BMW X5’s. It doesn’t come cheap, though, and while there’s more space inside the latest Cayenne, practicality could still be better.
Price range: £38,170-£59,595
The VW Touareg shares the runner-up places with its Porsche Cayenne sister car. Although the models use the same platform and mechanicals, the VW majors on comfort and efficiency, and isn’t as sharp to drive. Bland styling means it struggles to stand out, too. The other letdown is the interior. While it’s solidly built, it lacks the wow factor of other cars in this class – something that will have to change if VW wants to steal sales from rivals.
Price range: £29,749-£41,799
Although the Shogun can still cut it off-road, it feels hopelessly off the pace compared to our large SUV medallists. Numb and slow steering and a bone-jarring ride make it tiresome to drive over any great distance on the road, while its fate is sealed by the thirsty engines and cheap interior plastics.
In this review
- 1IntroductionWe name the best new cars of 2012, with 72 contenders for Gold, Silver and Bronze
- 2Best city carsThis is one of the most hotly contested classes out there, and the fierce competition has produced some extremely capable cars...
- 3Best superminisPracticality, affordability, efficiency, style and fun – these best-selling cars have to offer it all. So which ones do the best job?
- 4Best small family carsHard-fought class has a vast range of new hopefuls – but an all-time classic takes gold
- 5Best large family carsLots of space, low running costs and a dash of style are needed to win this category
- 6Best estate carsBig is beautiful for estate buyers – but big has to be clever, too, in a category where all-round practicality is essential
- 7Best executivesAll of our contenders gain points for style, but class is permanent – and BMW is the big winner with updates to its timeless 3 Series
- 8Best crossoversThey’re the gymnasts of the car market – flexible, muscular and versatile. That’s why this is one of the hardest gold medals to win
- 9Best compact SUVsGenuine mud-plugging ability meets comfort, refinement and efficiency in this fast-growing and increasingly competitive class
- 10Best large SUVs - currently readingThese big cars make a big impression – but which off-road star is the class of our Championship field?
- 11Best roadstersFeel the wind in your hair and wear a smile on your face with these great-handling, stylish and quick drop-top sports cars
- 12Best MPVsExcellent carrying ability alone isn’t enough for the latest people movers. The best buys do it in style
- 13Best hot hatchesOn your marks, get set, go... These small cars all have pace, but it will take something special to outsprint VW’s reigning champ