The sport utility vehicle is, basically, the standard of modern transportation. Ousting the sedan from so many families’ lives, the SUV used to lean a little more unto “utility,” but today, it does it all. These vehicles quickly worked their way into the fabric of daily life. That means there’s a lot of choice, but it also means picking the right SUV for you can be daunting.
That’s where we come in. We’ve driven just about every SUV and crossover on the market, from small to big, from inexpensive to opulent. These are our recommendations for the categories that most buyers will find themselves in, and we’ve even made sure to include hybrids and electrics for folks looking ahead even further.
Folks on the tiny-house bandwagon are sure to love the Hyundai Venue, which is basically the tiny house of SUVs for sale today.
The 2021 Hyundai Venue may have a small footprint, but it’s big on value. Its 1.6-liter inline-4 produces 121 horsepower and 113 pound-feet of torque, which is enough to make this little guy feel quite zippy, and the standard continuously variable transmission keeps things nice and smooth. It’s efficient as heck, too, achieving up to 30 miles per gallon city and 33 mpg highway, according to EPA estimates.
Style is a high priority in the Venue, whether it’s the funky-fresh exterior or the sensible-yet-interesting interior. The Denim trim leans on a surprisingly cool blue interior motif, if you want to spend a bit more change. Tech takes center stage here, too, thanks to an 8-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, in addition to safety systems like automatic emergency braking and lane-keeping assist.
2020 Hyundai Venue Denim is what more small cars should be like
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If you want something a little bigger than the Venue, Mazda’s sharp CX-30 is a newcomer to the compact SUV space, but it builds on Mazda’s recent SUV excellence.
The CX-30’s coupe-like roofline gives this small SUV some major character. That quasi-luxurious angle is best exemplified inside, where higher trims feel positively posh, with soft touch points and a surprising amount of soft leather. Combine that with a no-nonsense layout that keeps distraction to a minimum, and you’ve got quite the comfortable place to spend a commute.
There’s some bite to match the CX-30’s bark, as well. Standard equipment includes an 8.8-inch infotainment screen and a whole host of safety systems, including adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking and lane-keeping assist. Under the hood is a 2.5-liter I4 producing an ample 186 hp and 186 lb-ft, with front-wheel drive standard and all-wheel drive available for a bit more money. The FWD models are efficient, too, with a rating of 33 mpg highway and 25 mpg city.
The Kia Telluride blew us away when it first launched. More than a year later, it still stands as a seriously impressive midsize SUV that isn’t afraid to get fancy.
Despite a low starting price of around $32,000, the Telluride can be kitted out with luxury trimmings including Nappa leather, ventilated seats and power-folding rear rows. The Telluride offers three rows of seating, so big families don’t need to opt for a car that won’t fit in the garage. An 8-inch infotainment system is standard, but higher trims get a more impressive 10.3-inch display with both touch and physical controls. It’s a darned comfortable ride, too.
It’s not the most fuel-efficient SUV out there, with its 291-hp V6 offering up 20 mpg city and 26 mpg highway with front-wheel drive, although adding AWD only lowers those figures by 1 or 2. But for a vehicle that’ll carry the whole family and tow 5,000 pounds, it’s still a solid value in the midsize SUV space.
Read our 2021 Kia Telluride review.
Body-on-frame SUVs still exist, they’re just harder to find, and these truck-based utes are generally quite large. But if you need to haul a whole lot of stuff, whether it’s people or cargo, the new-for-2021 Chevy Tahoe is ready to stand and deliver.
The Tahoe was massively refined for 2021, thanks to a new independent rear suspension that takes the ride from truck-ish to plush. That revised rear end also helped maximize space in the redesign, with 66% more cargo space behind the third row (now 25.5 cubic feet) and third-row seats that get an extra 10 inches of legroom. It’s practically a Brooklyn studio apartment in here, and for a lot less than you’d pay for real estate in NYC, with prices starting around $50,000.
Families will appreciate… well, just about everything the Tahoe offers. There are a thousand places to store things, there are USB ports available in every row and up to nine cameras can provide a detailed view around the vehicle for pitch-perfect parking. Proper safety systems have finally reached this segment, as well, with the Tahoe packing standard stuff like automatic emergency braking, parking sensors and blind-spot monitoring.
Read our 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe preview.
Whether or not you agree that Mercedes-Benz needed a compact luxury SUV to slot between the tiny GLA-Class and the slightly larger GLC-Class, one thing is for certain: The car that landed in that position is good, and it might be better than either of the others.
The 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLB250 is a plucky little compact luxury SUV that takes the boxier shape of the hulking three-row GLS-Class and adapts it to a smaller build. Not only is it an attractive shape, there’s function behind that form, with its taller roof providing an airier experience for those inside. Heck, Mercedes-Benz even offers a third row in here — not that you can fit anything larger than a child back there.
The GLB250’s 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 produces an ample 221 hp and 258 lb-ft, with both FWD and AWD variants achieving 30-plus mpg on the highway. There’s a great amount of standard tech inside, with two 7-inch screens hanging out even on the base model, although you can option a pair of 10.3-inchers for a little extra flash. The displays run Mercedes-Benz’s MBUX infotainment software, which is among our favorites for its natural-language processing and straightforward (but not feature-light) layout.
2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB250 brings big style to a small package
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The first luxury SUV from Hyundai’s Genesis offshoot is a stunner that prioritizes luxury over sporting pretension in a way that few vehicles do in 2021.
The 2021 Genesis GV80 looks like nothing else on the road, thanks to Genesis’ sharp brand style that features split headlights and taillights with a big ol’ shiny grille up front. Its fastback-style roofline doesn’t impugn on second-row space, and there’s still a commendable amount of storage space on offer, with the option to convert some of it to a fold-down third row.
Luxury is the name of the game in the GV80, with an available 3.5-liter V6 that scoots to the tune of 375 hp and 391 lb-ft. It doesn’t have air suspension, but the ride quality is still soft and comfortable for long stretches of time on the highway. The interior is old-school fancy, with a focus on soft edges and high-quality leather surfaces. Genesis’ tech is impressive, too, especially its 14.5-inch infotainment display, which looks posher than what the Germans are currently offering up.
Read our 2021 Genesis GV80 review.
If you thought the Cadillac Escalade was just a tarted-up Tahoe with some extra leather, you’d be wrong. Well, you’d have been right up until 2021, but now, Cadillac’s large-and-in-charge hauler stands on its own as a seriously impressive tech showcase on wheels.
Cadillac absolutely nailed the 2021 Escalade. A new independent rear suspension has vastly improved the ride while also enhancing interior capacities for both people and parcels. Its new face is imposing in the best kind of way, while the inside has dramatically ramped up in quality, sporting a unique layout that feels whatever the opposite of corporate is.
The dashboard is sure to wow you the most, thanks to its three OLED panels that combine to offer 38 inches of screen, stretching from the driver’s eyes practically to the passenger. GM’s infotainment system is a peach, too, and the hands-off Super Cruise system should help relieve the strain of hours-long road trips. V8 engines typically live under the hood, but a 3.0-liter diesel I6 will be available for those wanting a little extra efficiency.
Read our 2021 Cadillac Escalade review.
When it comes to performance SUVs, it’s hard to top Porsche, and its compact Macan makes for quite the engaging experience.
The 2021 Porsche Macan’s GTS trim best exemplifies Porsche’s on-road mantra. The chassis is balanced, it steers like a sports car and it will make some of the most glorious noise you’ll hear in a sport ute. It may not have the on-paper wow factor of the 434-hp Turbo variant, but the GTS’ 2.9-liter, twin-turbo V6 is no slouch with 375 hp and 383 lb-ft. It’ll hustle all day long and keep asking for more.
Traditional Porsche style exists throughout the interior, whether it’s the gauge cluster with its massive central tachometer or the panoply of controls that live on either side of the gear lever. Porsche’s Communication Management software resides on a 10.9-inch touchscreen, and it’s one of our favorite systems thanks to a no-nonsense layout with quick access to all the usual menus. Porsche’s love of optional packages means you can tailor the Macan GTS in ways that few other automakers can match.
See? I told you Porsche has a lock on sporty SUVs.
The 2021 Porsche Cayenne GTS is the Macan GTS’ bigger brother. Available in long-roof and “coupe” body styles, the Cayenne GTS is all about driving purity, and it shows. Its 453-hp, 4.0-liter V8 engine offers an impressive amount of motive force with the sound profile to match, and its suspension offers agility that few competitors can match. Throw in some add-ons like all-wheel steering and active anti-roll bars, and you’ve basically got a sports car on stilts, albeit mild ones, since the Cayenne GTS sits pretty low to the ground.
Even though Porsche loves to charge you for things that might come standard with other OEMs, the Cayenne GTS has an impressive amount of tech that comes baked into its $110,000-plus price tag. A 12.3-inch display runs the PCM infotainment system, with four USB-C ports on offer for juicing up, in addition to wireless Apple CarPlay and a Wi-Fi hotspot. But you might be having too much fun in the corners to even notice that stuff.
Read our 2021 Porsche Cayenne preview.
The 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLS63 is a three-row SUV with 600 hp. Yep.
If you want to take the entire family to a speed that might let you escape low Earth orbit, the GLS63 is happy to oblige. Its 4.0-liter, twin-turbo V8 puts out an impressive 603 hp and 627 lb-ft of torque, and with a 0-to-60 time almost in the 3-second range, it builds speed in a way that borders on supernatural. But comfort remains a top priority, and its ride quality is smooth enough to make the miles melt away on a longer road trip.
Mercedes always puts luxury at the forefront, and the GLS63 is no exception. Its interior is one of my favorites, with a simple layout that relies on lots of soft leather and warm wood-trim complements. All three rows are comfortable, but the front buckets get the most love with options like massaging ventilated seats and enough storage space for most, but probably not all of your Birkins.
Read our 2021 Mercedes-Benz AMG GLS review.
Our review of the Toyota Highlander Hybrid refers to it as “astonishingly efficient,” and it’s true.
Toyota knows hybrids, and it shows. In front-wheel-drive guise, the Highlander Hybrid’s powertrain offers 36 mpg city and 35 mpg highway, which is impressive for a three-row SUV with a starting price just under $40,000. Its 2.5-liter I4 gas engine pairs with a duo of electric motor-generators for a net 243 hp, which means it’s not exactly a slouch, either.
The Highlander is very much a utilitarian choice, but Toyota’s latest variant brings some style into the equation, too, with a clever dashboard layout that both looks futuristic and offers up some unique storage spaces for driver and passengers alike. Sure, the third row is a little small, but if you only ever transport pets or kids back there, it’s more than enough. Safety systems abound, too, with adaptive cruise control, traffic sign recognition and lane-keeping assist all coming standard.
How can the best electric SUV be a Ford Mustang? Because it’s really, really good, that’s how.
The 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E might lean heavy on marketing, but underneath the badges and Mustang-reminiscent taillights is a competent, capable electric crossover. It offers a variety of outputs with either two or four driven wheels, depending on trim, which means folks can opt for sportier versions or something more sedate. Range varies based on trim, as well, but Mach-E variants can offer up to an EPA-estimated 300 miles of range, which should more than suit the commute for most folks.
The Mach-E’s style is like no other, both inside and out. An uncluttered dashboard with fabric trim leaves the interior feeling both premium and spacious, while a 15.5-inch portrait display runs the best version of Ford’s Sync 4 software to date, impressing us with both its feature set and the visual punch of having a big ol’ screen smack dab in the middle of the dash. If this is a preview of things to come from Ford’s future electrified vehicles, consider us excited.
Read our 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E preview.
Land Rover has a long history of making SUVs that offer solid on-road comportment with off-road chops that are very hard to beat, and its latest entry exemplifies that mantra.
The 2021 Land Rover Defender brings the hallowed nameplate back to the US with great success. Its design is equal parts vintage and modern, turning the slab-sided Defenders of yore into slightly softer, yet still aggressive SUVs. Available in two- and four-door configurations, this unibody utility vehicle can traverse all sorts of terrains, with the larger variant offering 11.5 inches of ground clearance, a 38-degree approach angle and the ability to ford nearly 3 feet of standing water.
The base engine, a 2.0-liter turbocharged I4, offers up 296 hp and 295 lb-ft, but you can throw a bit more money at the dealer to get a 3.0-liter I6 with a mild-hybrid system that boosts output to 395 hp and 406 lb-ft, but both engines are capable of towing up to 8,200 pounds.
Read our 2021 Land Rover Defender review.
2020 Land Rover Defender 110: On-road luxury with off-road chops
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Sure, the Defender can be kitted out to send its price tag to the stratosphere, but if you want something truly over the top, it’s hard to beat a slab of German metal with roots in the military.
The 2021 Mercedes-Benz G550 is one of the most ridiculous, and ridiculously capable, SUVs on sale today. It’s positively huge, and thanks to major revisions for 2021, it’s actually pretty comfortable to drive for long stretches of time. In traditional Mercedes fashion, you can throw some obscenely colored leather all over the interior while slathering the outside in matte paint, yet all the peacocking in the world won’t stop this thing from looking like a purpose-built tool.
And speaking of purpose, its capability is hard to top. The G550 can crawl its way up a 45-degree incline and wade through more than 2 feet of standing water. If you want to do all that while trying to break the sound barrier, there’s an AMG version that will do precisely that. It’s everything you could ever want from an off-road SUV, but then again, it should be, given its starting price of about $131,000.
There’s no substitute for the 2021 Rolls-Royce Cullinan. If you want to spend house money on a car, there’s nothing finer available.
After finally bowing to public pressure, Rolls-Royce came out with a sport utility vehicle that possesses every luxury feature you could ever want. Do you want a headliner that contains a fiber-optic star map of the sky on the exact date of your birth? Rolls-Royce can do it. Do you want bright yellow leather to match some equally lemony sheep’s-wool floormats? Look no further. Feeling like some champagne from the back seat? Why, just pop open the compartment that holds your chilled crystal flutes.
With a starting price of $325,000 and an options list that might actually lack an endpoint, the Cullinan is a pipe dream for a hefty plurality of the world, but if decadence is what you crave, it’s hard to top the Roller.
Read our 2020 Rolls Royce Cullinan review.
2020 Rolls-Royce Cullinan Black Badge is the one to get
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Comparison of the best SUVs for 2021
|Category||Name||Base Engine||Output||Fuel Economy (mpg, city/hwy/combined)||Base Price|
|Best subcompact SUV||2021 Hyundai Venue||1.6L I4||121 hp / 113 lb-ft||30 / 33 / 31||$19,935|
|Best compact SUV||2021 Mazda CX-30||2.5L I4||186 hp / 186 lb-ft||25 / 33 / 28||$23,000|
|Best midsize SUV||2021 Kia Telluride||3.8L V6||291 hp / 262 lb-ft||20 / 26 / 23||$33,415|
|Best full-size SUV||2021 Chevrolet Tahoe||5.3L V8||355 hp / 383 lb-ft||16 / 20 / 18||$50,295|
|Best compact luxury SUV||2021 Mercedes-Benz GLB250||2.0L I4||221 hp / 258 lb-ft||23 / 31 / 26||$39,100|
|Best midsize luxury SUV||2021 Genesis GV80||2.5L I4||300 hp / 311 lb-ft||21 / 25 / 23||$49,925|
|Best full-size luxury SUV||2021 Cadillac Escalade||6.2L V8||420 hp / 460 lb-ft||15 / 20 / 17||$77,490|
|Best compact performance SUV||2021 Porsche Macan GTS||2.9L V6||375 hp / 383 lb-ft||17 / 22 / 19||$73,450|
|Best midsize performance SUV||2021 Porsche Cayenne GTS||4.0L V8||453 hp / 457 lb-ft||15 / 19 / 17||$108,650|
|Best full-size performance SUV||2021 Mercedes-AMG GLS63||4.0L V8||603 hp / 627 lb-ft||14 / 18 / 16||$133,150|
|Best hybrid SUV||2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid||2.5L I4 Hybrid||243 hp net||36 / 35 / 36||$39,585|
|Best electric SUV||2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E||Single electric motor||255 hp / 306 lb-ft||105 / 93 / 100 (MPGe)||$43,995|
|Best off-road SUV||2021 Land Rover Defender||2.0L I4||296 hp / 295 lb-ft||17 / 20 / 18||$50,925|
|Best off-road luxury SUV||2021 Mercedes-Benz G550||4.0L V8||416 hp / 450 lb-ft||17 / 19 / 18||$132,650|
|Best SUV if money is no object||2021 Rolls-Royce Cullinan||6.8L V12||563 hp / 627 lb-ft||12 / 20 / 14||$332,750|
How we made our list
Roadshow’s editors drive countless vehicles over the course of a year, and we all make sure to try and slide into as many different vehicle styles as possible. With combined decades of experience putting cars through their paces, the SUVs on this list represent the vehicles that we would want to own in each specific category.
Naturally you can take this list with a grain or two of salt. Most of the time, Roadshow’s editors get about a week with a vehicle, with the exception of long-term loans that last up to a year. Regardless, long-term reliability is not something we can measure, so you might want to talk to some owners to get a better feel for costs that may take a while to crop up. There’s also the matter of pricing; while the base prices (including destination charges) are plucked from each manufacturer’s website, they do not take discounts, haggling or demand-based price hikes into account, as final pricing is left to each individual dealership.
Read more: Best small SUVs for 2021