It’s a hotly contested and strategically important segment where style, safety and space rank at the top of the agenda for buyers and, often, room for seven occupants is required. That importance is underestimated by manufacturers at their peril, given that the segment is slowly obliterating the MPV market. And, despite a lack of variety in the styling and approach taken by many, it’s a fairly diverse segment that has attracted many brands into the fold of SUV make.
1. Audi Q5
It’s hard to pick faults with such a classy and consummate all-rounder as the Audi Q5, although slightly anodyne handling is what will prevent the car from really appealing to keener drivers. This shortcoming should be nowhere near serious enough to prevent the Q5 from emulating the sales success of its predecessor, though, which became the bestseller in its segment in nearly every country in which it was offered.
Although a pricey option with a long options list, the Q5 is quiet, practical and desirable, with outstanding driving refinement and material finish. Keeping in step with the times, there’s now plug-in hybrid versions available as well. The 55 TFSIe is a particularly smooth operator, with its electric motor and 2.0-litre turbo petrol four-pot combining to produce a compelling 362bhp and 369lb ft. Keep its battery topped up, and you’ll be able to make the most of its potential 26-mile range – and see your fuel bills drop in the process.
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2. BMW X3
What’s this: a decent-handling mid-range SUV? Before BMW set about making SUVs, the idea would have been borderline laughable – but the BMW X3 has handling appeal down, and then some.
The X3 has powertrains with top-drawer driver appeal, even if it is slightly unrefined when being pushed. But in all other areas, the X3 is a winner, and a close-run second to the Audi Q5. Standard equipment is a touch under-provided on some trim levels, but the car’s perceived quality is above that of almost all others and its on-road manners are hard to fault, even on run-flat tyres.
3. Jaguar F-Pace
Jaguar’s first SUV is a doozy, with remarkable handling, plenty of cabin space and looks that rocketed it to the top of Jag’s range as its best-selling model until it was overtaken by the smaller E-Pace.
There are one or two details that detract a little from the overall driving experience: among them some undistinguished four-cylinder diesel engines, a hesitant automatic gearbox and a slightly jittery, noisy ride in certain specifications. There’s room for improvement, too, in the car’s steering. But for a first-generation Jaguar SUV, the F-Pace is a fine-handling car and a very creditable achievement, and that nestles it impressively into third place, above even its Land Rover Discovery Sport cousin.
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4. Land Rover Discovery Sport
The Discovery Sport might be the entry-level Land Rover in the showroom range, but it isn’t short on trademark Land Rover capability, comfort or charm.
Face-lifted for 2019, the Discovery Sport now sits on the same PTA platform as the Range Rover Evoque but hasn’t lost out on any of the characteristics we liked about the original. It’s still higher-riding than many of its opponents, affords better visibility and 4×4 capability than many, and feels more like a traditional SUV to drive than some while still handling in an impressively tidy fashion. It has a practical interior – a huge selling point in this segment – that has now been given a much needed lift in premium appeal.
Its petrol and diesel engines are now supplemented by 48V mild-hybrid architecture in a bid to improve fuel economy and a plug-in hybrid version is in-bound, too. Those engines might still want slightly for refinement and outright performance, but if you want a family SUV with more offroad ruggedness than the class average, the Discovery Sport delivers that with very few associated compromises.
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5. Skoda Kodiaq
The Kodiaq is our top family SUV not to come from a premium manufacturer and it undercuts even the cheapest of the plusher offerings on this list by more than £9000.
So what are you sacrificing? A chunk of premium-feel materials for a start, although everything feels well screwed together. The top four SUVs in this list all have better-balanced handling and ride quality than the Kodiaq, but not all of them offer a third row of seats.
Aside from the slightly over-firm and remote way in which the Kodiaq drives, though, there’s little room for improvement. An oily-bits facelift could easily rectify its main problems.
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6. Mercedes-Benz GLC
The second half of our top 10 is where the handling element sorts the class leaders from the also-rans.
The updated Mercedes GLC, with its well-appointed and luxurious-feeling interior, deserves its place in the top 10, but its numb steering means it’s far from the first choice for keen drivers. It’s more car-like to drive than many of the full-blown SUVs on this list, but it also rides less serenely than a Mercedes-Benz should on standard steel coil suspension, making it harder to recommend in base spec. On optional air suspension, thuough, it’s among the most laid-back, effectively comfort-oriented cars in the class – and well worth considering.
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Alfa Romeo took the platform and engines that made the Giulia, added some ride height and four-wheel drive technology and created a fine-handling SUV in the shape of the Stelvio.
Remarkable handling and typical Alfa Romeo film-star looks come as standard, with a strong if gruff diesel engine to boot. Unfortunately, Alfa’s focus on decent handling has resulted in a slightly restless ride on poorer UK roads, and some of the cabin materials feel plain and cheap – just as they do on the Giulia. It’s priced super-competitively, though, undercutting key rivals considerably. One for the keener driver, without question.
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8. Volvo XC60
Being the safest car yet tested by Euro NCAP is quite an accolade, and on top of this, the XC60 has plenty of design appeal and a very pleasant interior.
It’s not the last word in driver appeal, performance or diesel engine refinement and the car’s hesitant automatic gearbox is a particular low point. But as a safe, comfortable, easy-to-use family SUV, it’s likely to attract an equally impressive number of buyers as its predecessor, which was the best-selling SUV in Europe in its pomp despite being priced to compete at the more expensive end of the market.
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9. Seat Tarraco
The Tarraco is Seat’s first attempt at a full-sized SUV and it’s a pretty good looking one, too. Being a Volkswagen Group product, it comes as little surprise that this Spanish SUV shares practically everything with the Skoda Kodiaq although, unlike its sibling, the Tarraco comes equipped with seven seats as standard across the range.
It feels a touch more incisive and agile than other SUVs of its size, but this sharper handling does seem to come at the expense of rolling refinement and outright comfort. In a car such as this, it’s arguably comfort and refinement that should be of greater focus. Still, the interior is well finished, and the petrol and diesel motors are impressively refined. It’s priced fairly competitively, too.
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If you’re a family SUV driver looking for an easy way to cut your company car tax bills, you’ll probably have heard about this car in the office canteen. If you haven’t, get wise: because compared with a diesel family SUV, the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV might save you as much as £4000 a year on benefit-in-kind tax alone, and another £1500 on fuel, depending on your usage. That’s probably why it’s the UK’s best-selling plug-in hybrid car to date.
The model had its biggest facelift since its launch in 2018, getting a new 2.4-litre petrol engine, refined styling and tweaked ride and handling. Performance is strong enough and handling dynamism is passable, although the car is never better than when cruising along in comfortable, economical mode. The electric-only range is about 25 miles.
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