There was a time not so long ago when even the best large SUVs (Sport Utility Vehicles) were clunky, bouncy, woolly handling behemoths that sucked fuel at a frightening rate. Now, though, thanks to significant developments made by manufacturers, drivers enjoy the high-riding driving position, imposing road presence, and enormous practicality of a large SUV, but in a far more comfortable and affordable way.
Why the big changes? It didn’t take car companies long to realise that most of their large 4×4 buyers weren’t at all interested in the off-road capabilities of their chosen transport, and never strayed farther off tarmac than an occasional muddy car park.
With this realisation came a trend for the current class of large SUVs, which sometimes nowadays don’t even bother with the added complication of four-wheel drive. Instead, modern trends mean the best large SUVs – or at least the most popular ones – focus very much on the ease of driving, good road handling, comfort and practicality, with less regard for the requirement to go off-road.
That means it’s rare to find a big SUV these days with a rugged separate chassis; a feature that was once the hallmark of a serious 4×4 is now largely limited to commercial off-roaders and double-cab pick-ups. Even those large SUVs that do retain significant off-road ability have benefited from the need to appeal to parents on the school run. So you’ll no longer find clunky low-ratio gear selector levers or manual locking differentials, as advances in electronic chassis control systems mean everything is taken care of automatically.
With all this in mind, read on for our guide to the 10 best large SUVs on sale in 2021, and if you want to find out more you can click through to the full review for each of the models we’ve included in our list of favourites.
Top 10 best large SUVs
- SEAT Tarraco
- Skoda Kodiaq
- Kia Sorento
- BMW X5
- Land Rover Discovery
- BMW iX
- Peugeot 5008
- Audi Q7
- Volvo XC90
- Land Rover Discovery Sport
1. SEAT Tarraco
The SEAT Tarraco is a close relative of the Skoda Kodiaq, which means it’s a large seven-seat SUV engineered primarily for road use. That makes it a more fashionable alternative to a traditional MPV such as the SEAT Alhambra, although the Tarraco’s somewhat confined rear row of seats means it’s not ultimately as practical.
While it shares much of its hardware with its Skoda stablemate (that’s the VW Group ‘stable’ to which SEAT and Skoda both belong), the Tarraco rides a couple of centimetres closer to the ground than the Kodiaq, part of an engineering package that makes its handling responses just that little bit sharper. It’s arguably more sharply styled too, and generally a bit nicer to drive, although the 1.5-litre petrol engine can feel a bit strained compared with the 2.0-litre petrol and diesel.
You won’t be wanting the Tarraco for serious off-roading, so the two-wheel-drive version will satisfy most owners. Those who want to tow trailers or live in areas where extreme weather is commonplace can choose four-wheel drive.
2. Skoda Kodiaq
Choosing between the Skoda Kodiaq or SEAT Tarraco is a matter of horses for courses. While the SEAT offers a more focused driving experience that reflects the Spanish company’s brand values, the Czech version is still great to drive while offering even more practicality and affordability.
The Skoda’s pragmatic brand values mean the smallest 1.5-litre engine suits the Kodiaq a little better than the SEAT Tarraco, although the entry-level 2.0-litre diesel is predictably stronger.
In spite of its competitive pricing the Kodiaq still retains a classy feel, with styling cues taken from the Superb saloon and features such as LED scrolling indicators and daytime running lights giving the car a premium feel.
It’s practical touches that really give the Skoda it’s unique appeal though, and the brand’s ‘simply clever’ marketing line is backed by useful touches including umbrellas in the doors, an ice-scraper behind the fuel filler cap, and underfloor storage in the boot. It all adds up to a superb choice for families.
3. Kia Sorento
The latest Kia Sorento is one of the best large SUVs you can buy right now. Like the old model, the latest Sorento is practical, comfortable and, importantly for a family car, exceedingly safe thanks to a raft of active safety systems. But it’s added more strings to its bow, with lots of high-end technology and styling that earns it the right to push on into the premium end of the sector.
Engine options include a 1.6-litre petrol-hybrid developing 226bhp, or a 2.2-litre diesel that generates 199bhp. A self-charging hybrid version is also available. The diesel is smooth and quiet, and nowhere near as coarse as you’ll find in other large diesel SUVs. The 0-60mph sprint takes 9.1 seconds, which isn’t bad for a car that weighs more than two tonnes. There is some body roll in corners, but you can expect that in a car that’s set up for comfort.
The interior has been finished to a high standard, and Kia has bucked an annoying trend by retaining physical controls for the climate control. The infotainment system works very well, and the Sorento is the first car ever to project rear traffic on to the screen so you can monitor your blind spots. It can even park itself.
4. BMW X5
The BMW X5 majors in luxury, with passenger comfort first and foremost on its list of priorities. The optional third row of seats is geared more towards children than adults, but inside there’s a large amount of space with plenty of leg, head and shoulder room to go around. So, if you’ve got kids that are old enough not to want to be squished up against their brothers and sisters, the X5 will work well.
Something else you’ll never be short of is power: engine options include 3.0-litre, turbocharged diesel and petrol engines making 286bhp and 328bhp respectively, with the range topped off by the 4.4-litre V8 in the M50i. This delivers 523bhp and 0-62mph takes just 4.3 seconds. Don’t forget there’s a standalone X5 M Competition as well: that ups power to a bonkers 617mph, while 0-62mph takes just 3.8 seconds.
Technology is another strong point in the X5. There’s a 12.3-inch infotainment screen, and BMW’s iDrive system is one of the best in the business. There’s another 12.3-inch screen for the instrument cluster too, and the finish of the interior is really quite special.
5. Land Rover Discovery
The latest Land Rover Discovery marked a shift of emphasis for the model, away from the uncompromisingly rugged appeal of its boxy predecessors, and closer to the more softly styled mainstream of luxury SUVs.
That’s not to say the Disco is any less proficient off-road than its predecessors, because it’s still all-but-unbeatable when the going gets tough. But it does mean the Discovery is more car-like, more refined and more luxurious than ever before. This should make it an alluring choice for those buyers who value looks, image and seven-seat practicality above go-anywhere credentials.
In other words, the school-run drivers who were put off by the last Discovery’s macho style should find the current model less challenging. It’s also a bit more efficient thanks to an entry-level 3.0-litre diesel option offered next to the 300bhp+ top models, as well as the option of a mild-hybrid drivetrain.
All Discovery variants come with electronic air suspension, eight-speed automatic gearbox and Land Rover’s Terrain Response system that optimises the car for any surface it encounters. On tarmac, the Discovery is tuned for comfort rather than speed, but easy, relaxed manners and a cavernously practical, well-equipped cabin make it the ultimate family-hauler.
6. BMW iX
The BMW iX is an important car for the brand because it provides a debut for BMW’s latest- generation EV platform, motors, and technology. While the looks are admittedly divisive, there is no doubting the iX’s abilities.
Two variants are available; the xDrive40 with a 71kWh battery and a range of up to 257 miles, and the xDrive50 which ups the maximum range to an impressive 380 miles, thanks to its larger 105.2kWh unit. What’s more is that the xDrive50’s 516bhp makes it more powerful than an M3.
Along with battery ranges that make the iX easy to live with everyday, there’s plenty to like on the inside, too. The iX has up to 20 times more computing power than any previous BMW, and is the first to feature the new iDrive 8 infotainment system. It also brings new features such as 5G connectivity, mixed-reality satellite-navigation and Digital Key Plus, which uses your smartphone in place of a conventional key.
It’s practical, too, with plenty of head and legroom for all passengers, along with a 500-litre boot; this isn’t quite as big as the X5’s but should still prove plenty for most needs.
7. Peugeot 5008
The 5008 is a stylish, more luxurious alternative to rivals such as the SEAT Tarraco and Skoda Kodiaq. It’s a sharp, handsome SUV with a dramatic interior that feels special. It’s well equipped, too, with Peugeot’s digital i-Cockpit, dual-zone climate control, a reversing camera, and a safety pack that adds blind-spot detection and lane-keep assist to make motorway journeys a painless experience.
The Peugeot rides smoothly and is just as comfortable as its closest rivals. It doesn’t offer the last word in driving dynamics, but few SUVs of this size can; instead, the 5008 concentrates on comfort and practicality. There’s a range of diesel and petrol models to choose from, with the majority feeling a little underpowered; the 1.5 BlueHDi is cheaper to buy and run, but isn’t the most satisfying to use. Plump for the 2.0-litre version if you like a little extra oomph.
With the seats in the third row folded there’s a 702-litre boot, while the middle row slides back and forth as required to give passengers more space if needed. Getting into those rearmost seats isn’t the easiest job, but they’re still perfectly usable by adults. Elsewhere, the 5008 has 38 litres of cubby space dotted around the cabin, which is a nice family-friendly touch.
8. Audi Q7
The big Audi SUV shares its engineering platform with the Bentley Bentayga, Porsche Cayenne and VW Touareg, taking advantage of the very best of the VW Group’s technical know-how, yet retaining its own distinctive brand ‘DNA’ – from behind the wheel it feels very much an Audi.
In spite of its bulk, the Q7’s advanced chassis engineering (with optional four-wheel steering and adaptive air suspension) means it’s a rewarding and fun car to drive. It’s manoeuvrable around town yet has bags of grip and stability when you’re out on the open road and handles with surprising agility thanks in part to its relatively low weight. It’s comfortable too, but the relatively sporty feel means it’s not quite as luxuriant over bumps as a Range Rover.
A pair of smooth, powerful and efficient diesel engines and a standard eight-speed Tiptronic automatic gearbox all help to make the Q7 a compelling choice for luxury SUV buyers.
9. Volvo XC90
Classy styling, a luxurious interior and varied engine range all make the Volvo XC90 a great alternative to the Land Rover Discovery, especially if you want a plug-in hybrid SUV.
While the XC90 falls a little short of the Discovery in terms of interior space, it’s a very practical car. There’s loads of room for five people plus luggage, but the rearmost seats are only really suitable for occasional use. Elsewhere, the XC90 gets a great infotainment system, lots of safety equipment and some of the best seats available in a production car.
Key to the XC90’s appeal is its engines. The best choice for most is likely to be the mild-hybrid B5 diesel with its good combination of performance and economy; at the other end of the price range, the T8 Twin Engine plug-in hybrid is a fast yet frugal choice if you keep its batteries topped up.
10. Land Rover Discovery Sport
The Land Rover Discovery Sport is pitched as a more practical alternative to the Range Rover Evoque, combining style with excellent refinement, off-road ability and crucially, seven seats. This is a rarity in the compact SUV market, although the rear seats are more suited to kids than adults. With the rear seats folded down you get 981 litres of space in the boot, but be warned that this is measured to the roofline rather than the load cover (which most other manufacturers do), so don’t let the figure mislead you.
Updates to the range in 2019 made the chassis stronger, and changes to the suspension made the Discovery Sport one of the quietest cars on the road in terms of tyre roar. Overall the ride is very composed, although it’s a little firmer than we’d like at low speeds. Most potholes will pass unnoticed.
The Discovery Sport can be had with a 2.0-litre diesel engine with either 163bhp or 204bhp, a 2.0-litre petrol with 249bhp or 290bhp, or with a 1.5-litre PHEV set-up. The plug-in offers the most power at 309bhp and should prove the most economical model, too, but it also commands the highest prices of the range.