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The modern SUV now spans the whole car market and blends a varied mix of qualities. These are Autocar's top 10 'best for' picks.

So many factors have fuelled the commercial rise of the Sports Utility Vehicle across Europe over the past 25 years that it’s small wonder it’s become such a popular vehicle type. The best SUVs provide comfort and convenience, space and versatility, chunky-cornered design appeal, and boosted occupant safety and visibility.

But does anyone now care, you may wonder, that higher-riding SUVs are inherently heavier, less aerodynamic and less efficient than those saloons and estates they might be supplanting? Or that so many of us are now riding around in cars significantly over-engineered for our daily motoring requirements, and burning through resources quicker than we really need to - often only for the sake of convenience or, worse still, simply ‘because fashion’?

The way so many SUV segments have mushroomed in popularity, and continue to grow, we can only assume not.

So what are the very best SUVs on the road right now? Since the term encompasses everything between a Suzuki Jimny and a Rolls-Royce Cullinan, it’s a little hard to narrow the field down and to rank 10 cars that can all be considered true rivals.

But if, instead, you want an SUV to do a particular job, or meet a specific need in your life, these 10 ‘best for’ suggestions should tell you were you might start looking.

The best SUVs

1. Citroen C5 Aircross

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Best for: ride comfort

A great many of us just expect top-level ride comfort from a high-riding SUV. Given the natural advantages that these cars have, by virtue of their weight and long-travel suspension, it’s perhaps surprising how few make a real selling point of an isolated, comfortable ride. But there are a few – and not all of them are expensive, luxury-market pariahs.

The Citroën C5 Aircross, for example, stands out among its rivals for supple ride comfort - just as you’d hope a Citroën family car would. Fairly gently rated suspension naturally soaks up bigger inputs from an uneven road surface without the need for more expensive technologies, although the car does use Citroën’s comfort-boosting hydraulic suspension bump-stops as guard for the extremes of wheel travel.

The C5 Aircross is at its most supple and comfortable in its simpler-, lighter-engined forms; think a conventional petrol or a Hybrid 136, rather than a PHEV.

However, if you have a bigger budget to splash and would prefer an electric SUV, both the BMW iX and Lexus RZ also stand out as plush-riding SUVs of different sizes.

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2. Dacia Duster

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Best for: value

It’ll surprise very few to find Dacia, the Renault Group’s Romanian budget brand, featuring here. The Duster was the car with which Dacia launched in the UK market back in 2013, and today it remains a cornerstone of its business and one of the very best reasons for customers to get to know the Dacia brand.

The Duster is about to enter its third model generation, but for now remains on sale in its second, and in quite a broad span of derivatives. There are two- and three-pedal turbo petrol engines; there’s a bi-fuel petrol-cum-LPG model, if you like the idea of having an SUV with boosted range and two fuel tanks; and there’s also still a workhorse four-cylinder diesel, which can be had with clutch-based four-wheel drive, for those who feel they need it.

Duster prices aren’t quite as low as they once were, but you can still pick one up for a little over £17,000 - which is considerably less than most brands ask for a supermini shopping car. For that you get a roomy four-seat cabin, a good-sized boot, good driving and cruising manners, and a pretty healthy equipment specification - even in entry-level form.

3. Fisker Ocean

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Best for: electric range

One thing that the body profile of an SUV allows for, in the case of all electric cars at least, is the packaging of a large under-floor battery. As we’ve mentioned, SUVs bring challenges for car makers – specifically on weight and aerodynamic drag. But there are still SUV EVs that go further than the average electric car on a charge - and the Fisker Ocean is one of them.

With a nickel-manganese-cobalt battery pack of 113kWh of total installed capacity on board, the Ocean’s rated for up to 439 miles of range on the WLTP combined cycle - which beats the longest-range Tesla Model Y by more than 100 miles. In the real world, and in mixed driving, expect that claimed range to translate to between 350 and 400 miles of actual range autonomy, which is still outstanding at a £50k-£60k price point.

Otherwise, this is a mid-sized SUV roughly the size of a Land Rover Discovery Sport that’s refined and comfortable to drive, looks fairly stylish and has impressive multimedia features. It’s competitively priced too.

Commendations for electric range also go to the forthcoming 97kWh Peugeot e-3008, and the 383-mile BMW iX.

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4. Kia EV9

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Best for: design appeal

Big, square cars have a lot of car-park presence. That’s why people notice and are attracted to SUVs in the first place – and you’ll certainly notice the Kia EV9.

Roughly the size of a Range Rover Sport or Mercedes-Benz GLE, the EV9 takes Kia into the full-sized premium SUV segment for the first time - and with some impact. Chunky, square-cornered, sharply drawn and sternly detailed, it’s got a boldness about its appearance of the kind that inspired the smaller EV6, and that makes passers-by double-take and say things like: “That’s a Kia? Really? Wow!”

Available with both six- and seven-seat cabin layouts, it’s also as spacious as any other three-row SUV on the market, even if its interior perhaps lacks some of the material appeal you might expect for a £70k asking price. The car’s 99.8kWh drive battery endows a real-world electric range of between 260 and 320 miles depending on how and where you’re driving. Performance is strong from the twin-motor version, and ride and handling a little soft, but contained.

5. Land Rover Defender

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Best for: off-road capability

For most SUV owners, off-road capability is a ‘just in case’ type of quality, a reassurance in bad weather, or a card to play on the handful of occasions when you really need it. Nonetheless, brands like Land Rover realise that it’s a key part of the mystique of the ‘4x4’; and the success of the Land Rover Defender is proof that, while few of us may need a go-anywhere type of family car, there are plenty who like the idea of owning one.

The genius of the Defender is to cater to those buyers with just enough capability and accessibility. Despite its size and its off-road potential, this is an easy SUV to drive wherever you happen to point it. Height-adjustable air suspension and some suitably tough axle and drivetrain hardware are partnered with very effective off-road drive modes with sophisticated electronic traction controls - while a fine driving position and some clever camera technology shows you right where you are, where the wheels are pointing, and how much room you’ve got at all times.

There are tougher and more durable off-roaders than the Defender, and there are much smaller and nimbler ones. But nothing else makes dealing with mud, ruts, wet grass and sand so absurdly easy.

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6. Mazda CX-60 3.3d

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Best for: real-world efficiency

You probably wouldn’t expect to find an SUV with a six-cylinder diesel combustion engine being praised for outstanding real-world efficiency in 2024; and yet, while many manufacturers have already given up on diesel altogether and plenty will soon rule out combustion engines of any kind, Mazda continues to innovate with its diesel tech - and to great effect.

The CX-60 is a mid-sized SUV about the size and price of a BMW X3, but it can be had with a 3.3-litre turbo diesel engine that, in entry-level form, earns the car a 56.5mpg WLTP combined efficiency rating. In practice, the lean-burn, low-combustion-temperature technology on the engine allows it to return more like 60mpg when cruising – and this, remember, from a big family holdall that also has 332lb ft of torque.

If you want to cut down on the number of times you visit a petrol pump in 2024 and can’t charge an EV or PHEV at home, this may well be the family SUV you should investigate. If, on the other hand, you can accommodate an electrified SUV as an efficiency measure, consider the Honda CR-V e:PHEV and the Hyundai Tucson Hybrid.

7. Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV

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Best for: luxury appeal

The ranks of electric SUVs that target outstanding refinement and luxury appeal are growing - and many are really beginning to deliver on their aims. There are still combustion-engined luxury SUVs to rival them, of course.

The Range Rover Sport is a recommendable for its all-round refinement and interior richness. But if you want cocooning luxury appeal in a big SUV, it’s becoming increasingly plain that electric power is the way to get it.

And, for now, nothing has more of it than Mercedes’ biggest EV: the EQS SUV. Although Mercedes’ current approach to cabin design (over-deliver on touchscreen tech, but undershoot slightly on old-fashioned tactile material allure) won’t please luxury car traditionalists, this car really does feel like a bubble of isolation. It rides supremely quietly and comfortably, soaking up and massaging away ride inputs as if they weren’t there, and keeping road and wind noise at bay like little else.

UK buyers get a choice between 450- and -580-badged versions, both with more than 100kWh of drive battery, both good for a real-world range of around 300 miles and both with prices starting well above £100,000.

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8. Porsche Macan

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Best for: driver appeal

If any SUV is going to earn grudging respect from the dyed-in-the-wool sports car fan, then it's the Porsche Macan. Despite nearing its 10th birthday (and essentially being based on the original Audi Q5, which made its debut in 2008), Porsche’s entry-level off-roader continues to set the bar in this closely fought class, with a blend of pace, space and dynamic grace that makes even the greatest naysayers nod in approval.

With a new, electric Porsche Macan coming later in 2024, Porsche both spruced up and pared back the current Macan line-up with an end-of-life facelift in 2023. The flagship Turbo has gone - but the GTS that effectively replaces it packs the same 434bhp turbocharged 2.9-litre V6, so there’s no loss in performance (you’ll be at 62mph from a standstill in just 4.5 sec while the top speed is a biscuit under 170mph).

Crucially, its subtly lowered and uprated suspension delivers the sort of involving and agile driving experience that has you convinced you’re in something smaller and more hot hatch-shaped. Its physics-defying antics beggar belief. The steering also has a similar weighting and response to the brand’s low-slung road-burners, while the expensively tuned dampers are cast iron in control but cushioned in operation.

Yet with its standard air suspension and cosseting, lavishly appointed interior, the Macan is as relaxed and easygoing as an executive saloon when you just want to cruise. It’s not quite as roomy as some of the younger entries here, but there’s enough space that you’ll get few complaints. If you only ever drive one SUV, make it this one.

9. Skoda Karoq

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Best for: everyday versatility

When buying an SUV, plenty of people just want a more practical, versatile and convenient family car for their money – and, now that SUVs come in so many different shapes and sizes, they needn’t pay a premium for it either.

The Skoda Karoq shows as much. Since its introduction in 2017, it’s been one of the compact SUV class’s better-kept secrets, offering a level of cabin configurability and simple passenger functionality thar its rivals stop well short of.

Did you know, for example, that you can get removable rear seats in this car, turning it from a decently roomy five-seat passenger car into something with the carrying capacity of a medium-sized van? Did you know that items such as back-seat picnic tables are standard fit, along with so many other Skoda-typical practicality touches? 

The car’s engine range isn’t as broad as it used to be, but four-wheel-drive models and diesels remain within it, as does the economical and refined 1.0-litre TSI petrol, which would be our pick.

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10. Toyota Land Cruiser

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Best for: toughness and reliability

The Toyota Land Cruiser has historically been the workhorse of choice in the Australian Outback, a place where breaking down simply won't do. This is an old-school off-roader with a body-on-frame construction and big numbers in all departments. For towing, wading and low-ratio, grind-it-out driving across truly inhospitable ground, the Land Cruiser scores very highly.

Basic-spec Utility versions, identifiable by their steel wheels, are surprisingly affordable, three-door passenger versions aren't much pricier and five-door Invincible-spec cars offer packed-out equipment rosters and seating for up to seven.

But while you can specify the Toyota with air suspension and leather seats, don't expect it to ride and handle like a monocoque SUV from Audi or Mercedes-Benz. It's a different beast - less sophisticated on the motorway but in another league in places where you might actually need a car like this, with a reputation for mechanical dependability and unbreakable toughness that's jealously regarded by every one of its competitors.

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

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