Best SUVs to buy 2021
We name the top 10 best SUVs and 4x4s you can buy on the new car market today
If you’re in the market for an SUV you’re spoilt for choice these days. Almost every manufacturer makes an SUV, many make a whole range of them and the variety of models on offer is huge. The SUV options are growing all the time to accommodate demand, making choosing the best SUV for your needs all the more difficult.
Even if we limit the search to SUVs that are big enough to serve as family cars, with space for at least four adults and large boots for luggage or dogs, you’ve still got to consider whether to choose mainstream or premium SUV, decide if you need 5 or 7 seats and make your selection between petrol, diesel, hybrid or electric powertrains. That's before all the different SUV manufacturers, models and trim levels even come into it.
Thanks to the growing popularity of this class of car, the SUV segment can be hugely lucrative if manufacturers get it right. Many SUVs come in standard or ‘coupe SUV’ bodystyles, in economy-focused, luxury or sporty guises and you’ll need to think about what level of off-road ability you want. Are you looking for a hardcore mud-plugging 4x4 vehicle or do you just want to traverse the occassional speed bump or raised kerb without scraping your alloy wheels?
All things considered, finding a new SUV that perfectly suits your family’s needs, and getting a great deal on it, has never been tougher but we’re here to help. The Auto Express team has tested every SUV model on the market exhaustively and to save you from getting lost in a labyrinth of boot and towing capacities, legroom measurements and infotainment specs, we’ve created a list of the top 10 best SUVs on sale. We’ve focused on family-sized models here but if you’re after something smaller, our top 10 best small SUVs list has those more compact models covered…
Top 10 best SUVs on sale
- Land Rover Discovery
- Kia e-Niro
- Jaguar I-Pace
- SEAT Tarraco
- BMW X3
- Skoda Karoq
- Peugeot 3008
- Skoda Kodiaq
- Volvo XC60
- Peugeot 5008
Scroll down to find out more about the 10 best SUVs on sale at the moment...
1. Land Rover Discovery
The Land Rover Discovery has made a name for itself as one of the best family cars you can buy, and it's even better in its latest guise. With a smoother look and just as much upmarket appeal as its more expensive Range Rover cousins, the Discovery delivers the kind of upmarket motoring that you'd expect from an executive saloon, combined with the seven-seat practicality of an MPV and the off-road ability of a dedicated 4x4.
There's plenty of space inside, and the rearmost seats are roomy enough for adults to use, while the quality and fit and finish of the cabin gives it a classy feel. There's plenty of tech on board, from the latest infotainment to advanced electronics that keep the Discovery on the straight and narrow, whether on tarmac or in the rough.
Aluminium construction means that while the Discovery is big, it's not as heavy as you would expect, so running costs are reasonable, especially with 2.0 Ingenium diesel power.
With such a combination of talents, it's no surprise that the Discovery walked away with the Car of the Year title back at the 2017 Auto Express New Car Awards. Oh, and we made it our 2018 and 2019 Large Premium SUV of the Year for the same reasons.
2. Kia e-Niro
The Kia e-Niro won our prestigious Affordable Electric Car of the Year at the 2019 New Car Awards thanks to its impressive range and practicality
The rise of the electric vehicle is accelerating and the e-Niro shows how far car manufacturers have come. The e-Niro’s range of 282 miles is good enough to suit most lifestyles, while the 201bhp 64kWh single electric motor helps the e-Niro accelerate from 0-60mph in 7.3 seconds. This is fast for a family car, and the e-Niro gets up to speed in a typically quiet and undramatic EV style.
The e-Niro excels as a family car, with a 451-litre boot and plenty of headroom thanks to the SUV-style body. It’s also comfortable on the move with wind and road noise kept at bay. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are available as standard and the eight-inch screen is simple to use. The interior is also of a better quality than what you’ll find in a Leaf.
Efficiency is also a strong point of the e-Niro. We recorded a figure of 4.6 miles/kWh at a range of 294 miles on our test, which is better the the WLTP-claimed figure from Kia.
3. Jaguar I-Pace
The Jaguar I-Pace is an all-electric premium SUV that arrived to define a new segment in the market, claiming the Auto Express 2018 Car of the Year award in the process. The I-Pace is a hugely important car for Jaguar, showcasing new technology, both in terms of the pure-electric powertrain itself and the new platform that houses it.
The I-Pace uses a 90kWh battery with an 8-year/100,000-mile warranty, which drives an electric motor on each axle to give four-wheel drive. This is a 2.2-tonne car but the 396bhp and 696Nm of torque are enough for 0-62mph in 4.8 seconds and you get a range of 298 miles on the WLTP tests.
Impressive though they are, the numbers don’t do the Jaguar I-Pace justice because this is a big SUV with a real sense of occasion. From the bold exterior styling to the leather-lined cabin with its dual-screen Touch Pro Duo infotainment system, it feels special. With plenty of rear legroom and a 656-litre boot, its ticks the practicality boxes too. If your lifestyle can fit with an electric SUV, the I-Pace is still the one to have.
4. SEAT Tarraco
The SEAT Tarraco might share a platform (and a lot more besides) with the Skoda Kodiaq, but it’s the best car in its class and an extremely well-rounded SUV. It’s hard to fault the SEAT Tarraco. It won our triple test against the Skoda Kodiaq and Peugeot 5008 by being better equipped, more fun to drive and only slightly more expensive in 2.0 TDI 150 SE Technology spec.
The SUV segment is a fiercely-fought one right now as it’s such a popular class. A third of SEAT’s sales are now SUVs, highlighting the importance of getting the formula right for cars like the Tarraco.
Practicality is the most important factor and this is where the Tarraco impresses. With seven seats, the Tarraco will happily ferry kids around (just make sure it will be kids in the third row as legroom is tight) and the boot comes in at 700 litres with the third row folded.
We found the Tarraco to be the best equipped when compared with the similarly-priced Kodiaq and 5008. The interior is of a simple design, but it’s a clean look and the infotainment will be familiar to those coming from other VW-group models.
Utilising a widely-used VW-group MQB platform, the Tarraco has a surprising amount of composure in the bends, keeping body roll to a minimum. The 148bhp 2.0-litre diesel engine is the one to go for as it returned an impressive 44.7mpg on our test run, not bad for a car of this size. It’s a punchy motor and although it’s the same unit found in the Kodiaq the Tarraco is marginally quicker.
The Tarraco’s ride comfort is among the best in its class, coping with bumps and holes in the road with ease. Engine, road and wind noise is also well suppressed within the cabin.
All the factors combined make the SEAT Tarraco a worthy winner of our 2019 Large SUV of the Year.
5. BMW X3
The BMW X3 offers a lot of potential for motorists looking into the hotly contested SUV class. Originally, back in 2003, BMW claimed that the mk1 X3 was the world’s first mid-size premium SUV, but since then the market has erupted. Now facing direct competition from the Mercedes GLC and Audi Q5 the X3 does enough to trump all of the competition.
Inside, drivers are greeted by a cabin that is top quality, encasing them with a fine blend of comfort and practicality. Underneath the bonnet there is a choice of 2- and 3-litre petrol and diesels in various power outputs. We found the BMW X3 impressive enough to award it the Mid-size Premium SUV of the year, fighting off the Porsche Macan and Volvo XC60.
Prices for the X3 start from around £40k, which gets you an X3 in xDrive 20i SE guise, if you want the M40i spec car, prices can rise to over £51k. While the X3 is by no means the cheapest SUV here, it does offer a great mix of luxury, practicality, and performance.
6. Skoda Karoq
Skoda’s Karoq is identical to the SEAT Ateca underneath, but it’s the Czech car that is slightly better balanced as a small SUV.
20 years ago the small SUV sector was a relatively niche market, but the success of cars like the Skoda Karoq shows us how tastes have changed. The Nissan Qashqai usually gets a customary mention as to why small SUVs are now so popular, yet the Skoda Karoq is our current favourite within this competitive crop.
In standard guise the Karoq offers a 521-litre boot or 1,810 litres when the rear seats are folded. This should provide more than enough space for most families and headroom in the rear seats is even slightly better than the larger Skoda Kodiaq.
The Karoq’s interior is a nice place to spend an extended period of time if a long journey is on the cards. The cabin space is cleverly packaged with lots of cubby-holes and pockets and there’s an air of quality you’d associate with more expensive VW-group products. The infotainment is among the best in the business and there’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, too.
To really stand out in the small SUV sector, performance and general driving dynamics are also important. The Karoq’s ride is more compliant and refined than you’ll find in the SEAT Ateca, but there's responsiveness to the steering and body roll is kept at bay. Avoid speccing the 19-inch alloys however as these can upset the ride quality and add unwanted road noise.
The Karoq might seem bland on the outside, but it’s a practical and refined family car and looks good value in comparison to its sister cars from VW-group.
7. Ford Kuga
The latest Ford Kuga is available as a diesel, petrol and as a plug-in hybrid, so it’s fair to say there’s a decent amount of choice when it comes to choosing your Kuga’s powertrain.
The ‘EcoBlue Hybrid’ models incorporate battery regeneration to charge the battery while the car is decelerating to eek out as many miles from the electric motor as possible.
Many of the suvs featured on this list are available as a hybrid or even a full EV, so the Kuga will have to stand out in other areas to keep this sort of company - thankfully the dynamic prowess which was severely lacking in the second-generation model is back with this new Kuga.
When we tested the latest Kuga against the Toyota RAV4 and Skoda Karoq, we found the Ford to be the most fun to drive with a slick six-speed manual gearbox and enough torque to beat its rivals in the in-gear tests. A Focus-based platform means the Kuga is composed once you get in on a twisting B-road.
Kuga is refined at cruising speed and the interior has a quality feel to it, but the flat seats could get uncomfortable on a long journey. The list of standard kit is impressive even if you go for the base-spec Zetec model.
8. Peugeot 3008
Although other cars have now overtaken the Peugeot 3008 in its class, we gave it an initial five-star review and it still proves to be an appealing small SUV
Visually, the current 3008 is a huge departure from the tame looks of the first one and the bold design has clearly influenced the larger 5008 and upcoming 208 hatchback. Whether you like the looks or not, Peugeot should at least be commended for not playing it safe and by trying to make its family SUV stand out.
To really succeed in the family car market, a focus on practicality is a must and the 3008’s 591-litre boot dwarfs the Nissan Qashqai’s 430-litre load area and comfortably beats the SEAT Ateca’s 510 litres. A flat floor will be a blessing for those sat in the back and there’s plenty of headroom. Up front there’s a curved dash to give a cosseting feel for the driver.
Peugeot’s i-Cockpit display features behind the wheel - allowing you to change the layout of dials and sat nav. The infotainment isn’t the best in its class, but it’s easy to use and there’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. The buttons give greater feedback than using the screen so it’s nice to have a more physical option when you’re on the move.
On the road the 3008 has been set up for comfort rather than sportiness - a sensible move for a family car. While the quiet 129BHP 1.2 PureTech turbo petrol engine suits the composed ride, you’ll not be left wanting for more performance as it offers enough power at low rpm and has the edge at higher speeds over an equivalent SEAT Ateca. MPG stands at 55.4mpg for this model, but if you’re doing lots of miles the 1.5 BlueHDi diesel’s 67.3mpg will be more appealing.
9. Skoda Kodiaq
Skoda has strong form when it comes to 4x4s and SUVs. The Yeti blazed a trail for the company and proved to be a hit for the firm, while Skoda's second SUV model, the Kodiaq, offers space, luxury and practicality in a great value package.
Under the skin, the advanced lightweight platform delivers decent handling for such a large SUV, while the performance from the range of turbocharged petrol and diesel engines makes the Kodiaq ideal for towing.
Inside, the cabin looks smart, taking inspiration from the Superb family car, while there's space inside for a third row of seats in the back. Wherever you're sitting, you can revel in the Kodiaq's comfortable ride, and there's plenty of advanced kit available to keep occupants entertained on the move.
10. Volvo XC60
Most buyers will be happy with the generous safety tally and upmarket kit you get on entry-level Momentum cars, although Inscription or the sportier R-Design trims will tempt you with even more clever stuff. There's a whole heap of standard kit too, with climate control, leather, sat-nav and LED headlamps all thrown in.
However, key to the XC60’s appeal is its spacious, upmarket interior and the comfort and refinement on offer – this is a relaxing car to drive due to the plush ride and near silence. Being a Volvo, the seats are incredibly comfortable with a great level of adjustment and support.
On top of a range of traditional diesel and petrol models, there is a T8 Twin Engine hybrid. It uses the T5 petrol engine, but the addition of an electric motor and battery pack pushes power to 385bhp and brings the 0-62mph time down to a ridiculous 4.9 seconds – the T8 is so impressive in fact, it won Best Premium Hybrid Car of the Year at the 2018 Auto Express New Car Awards.
How to choose the best SUV for you
The good news for SUV buyers is that because there are so many options, irrespective of whether you want to buy or lease your SUV, you need not settle for anything less than perfect. The growth in this sector has largely been fuelled by motorists desiring a commanding driving position, chunky looks and extra grip from 4x4 systems. But there’s more to the SUV package.
The large body of a 4x4 means there's potential for great practicality, so much so that some SUVs can rival MPVs for family-friendly space and versatility. If you're looking for a 7-seater car then a large SUV could be a perfect fit, they tend to be more desirable than MPVs as well as matching them for space. With their huge boot space, roof racks and towing capacity they make great cars for going on holiday, too.
Towing a caravan or trailer is a common use for these cars – and if that's your plan, the high torque of a large diesel engine is the best choice for load-lugging. Check out our top 10 best tow cars to find out more.
As more and more people are opting for an SUV, carmakers have become embroiled in a fierce competition to offer the best ride, refinement, and comfort. What is perhaps most impressive, is that a select few of these new SUVs even exceed the performance and driving dynamics of the more conventional family cars with a genuinely engaging experience.
Some will have concerns about the ethics of driving a big and potentially inefficient SUV of course, but even those concerns can often be put to rest as many of the models on offer are not much thirstier or more polluting than similarly-sized saloons or family hatchbacks. Efficient hybrid models are becoming increasingly popular too, with great mpg figures from their high-tech drivetrains. Just be warned that you may struggle to replicate official figures in the real world.
Despite being known as 4x4s, many SUVs cars are only two-wheel-drive. So, while in the past choosing an SUV probably meant you needed an off-road capable workhorse or wanted to go trail bashing for fun, the picture is very different now.
Four-wheel drive boosts their capability when the weather turns, too, although models with 2WD will deliver the kind of running costs you'd get with a conventional car if you're looking at the financial bottom line. At the other end of the spectrum, the latest range of powerful performance models mean you can get an SUV that can put a smile on your face on twisty roads.
Style is an important factor with many new SUVs and 4x4s, and plenty of models are available with a range of personalisation options to make the car you choose stand out. And at the top end of the SUV spectrum, the most luxurious SUVs have the quality and refinement to match the best limousines for comfort.
Tell us your favourite current SUV in the comments section below...