Best SUVs of 2012
Whether it's a compact SUV that's as easy to park and cheap to run as a supermini, or a seven-seat 4x4 with genuine off-road ability, there's something to suit everyone.
Here's our guide to the best SUVs and 4x4s on sale in the UK.
We named the BMW X3 overall winner in the 4x4 and SUV section of our Car of the Year 2012 awards, which tells you how highly we rate it.
It was an easy choice, because the X3 delivers all that buyers expect, and more. It's an outstanding family car, with a roomy, versatile cabin that uses top-quality materials.
The X3 is great to drive, too, and the engines are smooth, strong and remarkably efficient. Average fuel economy for our favourite version - the xDrive20d SE - is 50.4mpg, which means it's more efficient than not only its four-wheel-drive rivals, but most of the front-drive ones, too.
Land Rover Discovery
If you're after the best seven-seater SUV look no further than the Land Rover Discovery. It's a familiar sight, but a series of updates over the years mean it's now better than ever.
What we've always loved about the Discovery is the way it excels in so many areas. Thanks to its rugged construction and a clever four-wheel-drive system, it's a genuine go-anywhere 4x4. It has refinement and ride comfort to rival an executive saloon, too, while the interior matches many MPVs for practicality.
Ownership costs are on the high side, but the Discovery's breadth of talents makes it decent value for money.
Nissan was ahead of the curve when it launched the Qashqai in 2007. It blurred the boundary between small family car and SUV and since then an influx of new models have tried to do a similar thing.
None has been as successful as the Qashqai, though. It still looks great and although the interior is showing its age, it's well built and there's lots of legroom. Headroom isn't as generous, but the Qashqai's boot is massive.
There's a huge model range, but we'd recommend keeping it simple; our favourite model is the 1.6 dCi Acenta 2WD, which averages 62.8mpg and emits just 119g/km of CO2.
Mazda arrived late to the compact SUV party, but it made an impressive entrance. The Mazda CX-5 ticks all the important boxes, with good looks, excellent practicality and lots of standard kit.
The CX-5 is fun to drive, too. That's partly thanks to Mazda's 'Skyactiv' technology – a blend of lightweight construction and efficient and responsive engines. The same tech means the CX-5 is also incredibly efficient. Our pick of the range is the 2.2D Skyactiv-D 150 SE-L, which averages 52.3mpg. We named it the winner in the SUV category of our 2012 Green Awards.
Don't think that Audi's smallest SUV is a poor relation to its larger SUV models such as the Q5 and Q7. Inevitably, it's not as practical as those cars, but it's just as classy and better to drive.
The Q3's supple ride is one of its best traits, and it's available with Audi's latest diesel engines, which are impressively smooth and powerful. Stick to the front-wheel-drive models for the best fuel economy.
Although the interior is no roomier than a small family car's, there's enough space for four adults and the boot is a practical shape. The quality is something else, though, with the kind of plush materials and high-tech kit that you get in Audi's more expensive saloons.
Hyundai Santa Fe
The previous Hyundai Santa Fe was a great seven-seater SUV for a buyer on a budget, and the new one carries on where that left off.
It comes with five seats as standard, but we reckon it’s worth paying that bit extra for the third row of seats. You won’t lose out if you go for the entry-level Style model, as every Santa Fe comes with lots of kit, but the mid-level Premium trim adds heated leather seats, dual-zone climate control, a reversing camera and touch-screen sat-nav.
BMW’s X5 is one of the best large 4x4s to drive, but it still manages to provide great performance and an excellent official fuel economy.
The 30d SE is the one to go for if efficiency is your thing, thanks to official fuel economy of 38.2mpg, and it also happens to be our favourite model in the range. There is a seven-seat version as an option, but it's worth bearing in mind that the airbag doesn’t stretch all the way to the third row.
Range Rover Evoque
The Range Rover Evoque is a trendsetter first and a compact SUV second. If you want looks over all else then the three-door model may be to your taste, but the five-door version is the practical one of the two.
The 247bhp petrol engine is too thirsty to be recommended, but the 2.2-litre, 187bhp model is our pick of the range. Go for the 4WD Pure trim level for the best blend of affordability and performance.
Volvo’s XC60 is one of the best small SUVs available at the moment, and is a fantastic family car.
Passengers in the second row of seats sit higher up than those in the front, meaning you'll get a great view of the road ahead in the back regardless of how tall you are.
You can also get an XC60 with built in child seats, a central picnic table and DVD screens on the back of the front headrests – great for keeping younger occupants happy on longer journeys. The ability to fold seats 40/20/40 means it can be used as a more practical load carrier as well.
We’d look no further than the 2.0 D4 diesel in SE trim, as it has all the space and practicality of its pricier equivalents.
The Mercedes ML is refined, smooth and comfortable, and easily one of the best big 4x4s on sale in 2012.
It might not be as good to drive as the BMW X5 but the ML’s big selling point is luxury; the 3.0-litre diesel engine is fabulously smooth and quiet. The smaller engine in the 250CDI model is a little noisier, but it settles down to a gentle hum when you get up to cruising speeds.
The ML's cabin is simply huge, with both front and rear rows offering masses of head- and legroom. The boot is an impressive size and shape as well, although the downside to the big Mercedes is that there is no seven-seat option.
By Leo Wilkinson and Tom Webster