There was a time, not so long ago, when large SUVs (Sport Utility Vehicles) were clunky, woolly-handling behemoths that sucked fuel at a frightening rate, wallowed through corners, and bounced occupants uncomfortably over pot-holes while assailing them with engine noise, wind and tyre roar. Then some bright spark invented the road-biased or crossover SUV concept, which kept all the attributes that large SUV owners loved – the high-riding driving position with commanding views over the bonnet, imposing road presence, and cavernous estate-car style bodies – while removing the compromises inflicted by the need to traverse sand dunes or rocky trails.
Why? Because 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 further off tarmac than an occasional muddy car park.
With this realisation came a trend for the current class of large seven-seater 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 by the on-board computers.
As a result, imposing 4x4s from the Audi Q7 to the Volvo XC90 have had tremendous sales success among owners who appreciate the car-like driving characteristics, luxurious appointments and advanced technology that’s lavished on these expensive range flagships. Yet in spite of their chunky looks, neither would get you very far when the tarmac runs out, and the same can be said for many of the other large SUVs on sale today too.
It’s not exclusively the case though, as one of the most successful brands in the large SUV sector is the Jaguar Land Rover group, which has very commendably managed to combine its legendary off-road credentials with the modern trend for excellent on-road manners and luxurious comfort – in fact the Range Rover and Land Rover models have never had such a broad appeal.
While the large SUV concept originated in the wide-open spaces of the US in the days before we cared about the planet, the fact that the high-riding luxury SUV experience has taken-off worldwide has proved challenging from an environmental perspective. It means there’s been a big focus on smaller, more efficient engines, and lighter build technology among mainstream manufacturers, while hybrid and electric tech is increasingly on buyers’ wish lists too.
With all this in mind, read on for our guide to the 10 best large SUVs on sale in 2019, 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
- 1. Land Rover Discovery
- 2. SEAT Tarraco
- 3. Skoda Kodiaq
- 4. Hyundai Santa Fe
- 5. Volvo XC90
- 6. Peugeot 5008
- 7. Land Rover Discovery Sport
- 8. BMW X7
- 9. Audi Q7
- 10. Tesla Model X
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 the less proficient off-road than its forebears, 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, making 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 mums and dads who were put off by the last Discovery’s macho style, should find the current model less challenging. It’s also more efficient thanks to an entry-level 2.0-litre diesel option offered next to the 300bhp+ top models.
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.
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 the SEAT Alhambra people carrier, 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 and the 2.0-litre petrol and diesels are more pleasingly punchy.
You won’t be looking to 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 4D four-wheel drive.
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 like 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 like 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.
Hyundai Santa Fe
The Santa Fe is a handsome, fine driving and well-equipped large SUV that is loaded with standard features that more prestigious brands charge extra for. Adaptive cruise control and smartphone connectivity are included on all models, but while affordability has long been a Hyundai strength, the arrival of competitively priced rivals like the Skoda Kodiaq has put the Santa Fe under pressure.
There may be a lot of standard kit but there’s only one choice under the bonnet. You must go for the 2.2-litre turbodiesel or shop elsewhere, so it’s fortunate that this is an engine that performs its role with aplomb. You can pick two- or four-wheel drive, and automatic or manual gearboxes, but where the Santa Fe really performs is in the amount of space provided for passengers and luggage – although here again the Skoda Kodiaq performs better.
No other car quite does luxury like the latest Volvos, and the XC90’s distinctive exterior styling is backed up by a Scandinavian-inspired interior and a technology package that makes it a truly appealing choice.
You get three rows of full-size seats in the cavernous interior, and a very large boot, but it’s the tranquil nature of riding in the Volvo that really gets our vote. The interior designers have ‘decluttered’ the cabin by moving most of the ancillary controls to the touchscreen, while superbly comfortable seats and a distinctive leather and brushed metal decor give the car a genuinely luxurious ambience. The effect is amplified by an impressive technology package including digital instruments, and the lavish level of standard equipment.
Although it offers standard four-wheel drive, the XC90 is another SUV designed with road use in mind, and it offers a smooth drive with more than enough performance. The four-cylinder only powertrains offer reasonable economy, and there’s a hybrid model for the efficiency-conscious owner too.
Blessed with the eye-catching style of Peugeot’s latest line-up, the 5008 seven-seater has plenty of kerbside appeal. The attraction is more than skin-deep too, as the biggest Peugeot SUV is practical, comfortable and great to drive.
It shares its engineering platform with the Citroen Grand C4 SpaceTourer MPV, but can’t quite match its PSA Group stablemate for roominess. The third row of seats in the 5008 are really child-focused, but you can slide the middle row forward to make knee-room for grown-ups. They also fold flat into the boot floor or can be removed altogether when you need more space.
The interior is a definite 5008 highlight, with a stylish wrap-around dashboard and large infotainment touchscreen, as well as a digital instrument display that gives the car a very contemporary feel.
The driving experience is very comfort-focused, with a beautifully compliant ride, but the trade-off is more body roll in corners than rivals like the Skoda Kodiaq or SEAT Tarraco. The engines are highly efficient and provide adequate performance too.
Land Rover Discovery Sport
The Discovery Sport replaced the Freelander in Land Rover’s line-up, and quickly proved just as much of a hit. It has a handsome exterior that’s unmistakeably a Land Rover, yet looks modern and cool, while the practical interior with seven seats make it ideal for active families. As you’d expect from a Land Rover product, it goes off-road better than anything in its class, but the advanced chassis technology means it’s a very comfortable and easy-driving on-road experience too.
The Discovery Sport’s 2.0 Ingenium diesel is impressively refined, and especially so when matched to the optional nine-speed auto gearbox. With pleasingly compliant suspension it adds up to a very luxurious driving experience, that leaves occupants well isolated from road noise and tarmac imperfections. The permanent four-wheel drive system is confidence inspiring in bad weather, and knocks most rivals into a cocked hat if you need to drive off-road thanks to Land Rover’s advance Terrain Response system that adapts to different conditions.
The X7 more imposing than the majority of its rivals, because BMW’s product planners had an eye on markets like China where owners are not shy of flaunting their success. As a result the X7 is a chunky, squared-off giant with an arresting chrome grille that other drivers will not fail to miss in their rear view mirrors.
The X7 features vast accommodation, including a third row of seats which fold to reveal a 750-litre boot. It’s laden with all the latest technology from the 7 Series too, and the cabin is naturally up to BMW’s exacting standards of design, fit and finish.
The engine line-up is powerful too, with even the smallest 3.0d offering 261bhp and the range extending all the way up to the mighty M50d performance model with 395bhp. A six-cylinder 225bhp petrol completes the line-up, and all powertrains combine with a well-sorted chassis to provide excellent on-road handling too.
The latest Audi SUV flagship shares its engineering platform with the Porsche Cayenne, Bentley Bentayga 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.
Tesla Model X
Tesla’s all-electric contender in the large SUV sector generated a lot of headlines when it first appeared, but while the Model X offers much of the practicality and luxury of large 4×4 rivals, there’s no pretence about being able to adventure off the beaten track. Still, although the first flush of publicity has faded the original appeal remains – the Model X is a large, luxurious and practical people mover, with strong performance, a low carbon footprint (at least in terms of its day-to-day usage), and a high-tech contemporary feel.
If your transport needs fit the national charging infrastructure, and you need more space than the Model S luxury saloon provides, the Model X has a lot to offer with a versatile and roomy body that features eye-catching, but not always entirely practical, gullwing-style rear doors.
Underneath the Model X shares all its electric running gear with the Model S saloon, and also shares tech such as the autonomous ‘Autopilot’ technology, which continues to make headlines if not always for the right reasons.
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