A large SUV often makes sense as a family car; the elevated driving position offers a feeling of security, and there’s a generous amount of interior space. Some SUVs have real off-road ability, too, as well as almost unequalled on-road presence.
Our top contenders should be well equipped and good to drive, with sensible running costs and decent fuel efficiency.
Range Rover Sport
The latest Sport is based on the regular Range Rover, so it’s no surprise it’s a fantastic car for covering long distances, with smooth engines and a relaxed ride. The luxurious and generously equipped cabin looks and feels classy, and there’s even the option of a seven-seat version.
In fact, the only problem Land Rover has with the Sport is that it’s so good it questions the point of buying the full-size, more expensive, Range Rover.
Our pick: SDV6 HSE
The best of the rest
The Mazda CX-5 has one of the most impressive engines of any car in this class. Its 2.2-litre Skyactiv diesel engine is strong, refined and impressively efficient, keeping CO2 emissions down to 119g/km. Inside, it’s well equipped and extremely practical, with plenty of space for passengers and a large, versatile boot. Even some noticeable road noise and dull interior plastics can’t detract from the CX-5’s overall desirability.
Our pick: 2.2 Skyactiv-D 150 SE-L
Before the Range Rover Sport came along to steal its crown, the BMW X3 was firmly established as our favourite large SUV. It’s classy, practical and great to drive. We’d pick the strong and economical 2.0-litre diesel engine, and combine it with BMW’s super-slick eight-speed automatic gearbox. It’s quiet on motorways and agile on the back roads, with a good chassis that blends impressive ride comfort with taut handling. The cabin is spacious for four.
Our pick: xDrive20d SE Auto
The Audi Q5 has been snapping at the heels of the X3 for years. It’s an impressive car, with generous passenger space and a good-sized boot. It’s well built, good to drive and, if you pick the strong 2.0-litre diesel engines, reasonably economical to run, too. Only a firm ride lets the car down dynamically.
Our pick: 2.0 TDI 177 quattro SE
The Santa Fe’s engine is punchy and the car rides well, but the handling and refinement could be better. The Hyundai is also quite pricey compared with some rivals. Nevertheless, Hyundai’s large SUV is practical, classy and well equipped. Our favourite version is the seven-seat model with the automatic gearbox, which makes a fine alternative to an MPV.
Our pick: 2.2 CRDi Style 4WD 7st
The XC60 has been around for some time now, but it’s still a fantastic family car. It scores highly on space and practicality, with a well-equipped and luxurious interior, and a flat-floored and capacious boot. It’s classy, good to drive and the new 2.0-litre D4 diesel engine is smooth and efficient.
Our pick: 2.0 D4 181 SE
The ones to avoid
The QX50 certainly has on-road presence, and even a hint of the sporty coupe about it, but unfortunately its driving experience is anything but special. The rear space is also surprisingly cramped and the boot’s small. However, it’s the QX50’s running costs that really mark it down - it costs far too much to buy, drinks too much fuel and costs too much in VED.
The Mitsubishi Shogun is handsome, solid as a rock, and great off road. Unfortunately, it’s pretty dreadful on road; it’s sluggish and noisy, cumbersome in the bends and the ride is positively agricultural. The interior is spacious, but it’s functional rather than classy. Add high running costs and even the generous 2013 price cuts can’t make the Shogun a viable proposition.
The Antara is now as old as the hills, and alas it feels it. It’s disappointing to drive, with noisy and inefficient engines, vague steering and an uncomfortable ride. Inside it’s roomy enough, but the cabin feels cheap. Add to that questionable build quality and high running costs, and the Antara doesn’t make any sense at all.