Best sports SUVs 2021

If you want thrills and performance as well as practicality and an elevated driving position, these are the SUVs that should be on your shortlist – and the models that are best avoided...


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What Car? team

Best sports SUVs

Who says an SUV can't plaster a big smile on your face? While most of these high-riding cars put practicality and comfort a long way before driving fun, a growing number of sports SUVs add big performance to the mix.

This class contains both large and small models, but what they all have in common is a powerful engine. And although thrills and agile handling are high on the agenda, the best still provide decent ride comfort and a spacious interior.

Here, we count down the top 10 sports SUVs you can currently buy – and reveal the models that are best to steer clear of. If any of them take your fancy, just click on the relevant links to find out more or see how much you could save by using our New Car Buying service.

10

BMW X3 M40i

If you want a sports SUV that still puts the family first, the X3 M40i is a fine choice. A pair of gangly teenagers will have room to stretch out in the back and can pick their own temperature thanks to three-zone climate control, yet you still get crisp handling and a tuneful powerhouse of a turbocharged six-cylinder engine. There are several more entertaining options, however.

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Pros

  • Fast yet approachable
  • Composed handling
  • Generous standard kit

Cons

  • Firm ride
  • Uninspiring exhaust note
  • Lots of road noise
9

Cupra Formentor

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£27,123

RRP from £27,395 to £43,840

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In its most powerful form, the Formentor has the firepower and handling prowess to keep pace with similarly priced rivals, plus it offers comparable practicality and a nicer interior. Unfortunately, like the M40i, it doesn't thrill in the way that the very best sports SUVs can.

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Pros

  • 2.0 TSI 310 4Drive is rapid
  • Surefooted and grippy handling
  • Smart interior

Cons

  • Not as much fun as the very best sports SUVs
  • Slightly hesitant automatic gearbox
  • Fiddly controls
8

Audi SQ8

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£78,282

RRP from £83,740 to £86,035

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Despite awesome acceleration and impressive agility, the SQ8 is almost as comfortable and relaxing as regular Q8s. It's easy to mistake for a regular Q8, though, and the infotainment system can be distracting.

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Pros

  • Effortless performance
  • Composed ride and handling
  • High quality interior

Cons

  • Cayenne Coupé is more involving
  • Distracting infotainment system
  • Cheaper SQ7 is even more spacious
7

Volkswagen T-Roc R

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£38,120

RRP from £40,735 to £40,735

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With nearly 300bhp and four-wheel drive as standard, the T-Roc R promises hot-hatch thrills in a more practical package. But here's the crucial thing: it actually delivers on that promise. It blends the regular T-Roc’s practicality with sharp handling and bombastic performance. So, the only thing that disappoints is the cheap-feeling interior.

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Pros

  • Thrilling handling
  • Strong and flexible engine
  • Well equipped

Cons

  • Cheap-feeling interior
  • Some road noise
  • Not the roomiest
6

Aston Martin DBX

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£160,230

RRP from £160,230 to £160,230

While we’re in no doubt that a Lamborghini Urus would be quicker point to point and a Bentley Bentayga more relaxing, the DBX provides a more immersive and interactive drive than either rival. The fact that it combines this with a luxurious and surprisingly spacious interior rounds off an altogether compelling package.

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Pros

  • Characterful engine
  • Luxurious and spacious interior
  • Playful handling

Cons

  • Lumpy ride around town
  • High running costs
  • Infotainment already feeling dated
5

Audi RS Q8

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£104,019

RRP from £105,300 to £123,100

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The RS Q8 is an outrageously fast sports SUV that corners with unbelievable composure, mostly rides well and betters its rivals for practicality. Just bear in mind that the closely related Porsche Cayenne Coupé is a bit more fun.

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Pros

  • Ballistic performance
  • Handles like a much smaller car
  • Great interior quality

Cons

  • Heavy fuel consumption
  • Distracting infotainment system
  • Gearbox can be sluggish
4

Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio

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£72,219

RRP from £73,995 to £73,995

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If you want to surge past the traffic, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio absolutely delivers, thanks to a 503bhp 2.9-litre V6 petrol engine that revs keenly and emits a truly soulful soundtrack. However, it’s not simply a boisterous toy like the Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 or Range Rover Sport SVR. Instead, the Stelvio feels light and responsive, thanks to steering that’s super-quick without making the car seem overly nervous.

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Pros

  • Entertaining handling
  • Razor-sharp accelerator responses
  • Generous standard kit

Cons

  • Engine only sounds good in Race mode
  • Interior feels cheap in places
  • Rear space is a bit tight
3

Porsche Macan S

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£48,965

RRP from £48,965 to £71,140

We recommend the mid-range S version of Porsche's smallest SUV rather than the range-topping Turbo, because it's still ferociously fast – dispatching the 0-62mph sprint in 5.1sec – yet also able to keep running costs reasonably sensible. And like all Macan's it pulls off the trick of mixing thrilling, confidence-inspiring handling with a ride that's compliant enough for everyday use, particularly when fitted with the optional Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM).

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Pros

  • Punchy performance
  • Superb handling for an SUV
  • High-quality interior

Cons

  • Some rivals are more spacious
  • Important safety kit optional
  • Thirsty petrol-only engines
2

Porsche Cayenne Coupé GTS

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£66,320

RRP from £66,320 to £129,445

The Cayenne Coupé GTS is insanely agile, especially if you tick the box for adaptive air suspension. Body lean is incredibly well contained, while the steering is precise and perfectly weighted. Yet once you’ve finished hooning around, the GTS is also remarkably comfortable for something so talented in the twisties.

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Pros

  • Powerful engines
  • Fantastic handling for a big SUV
  • Classy interior

Cons

  • Expensive to run
  • Stingy kit list
  • Pricey air suspension option is a must
1

Ford Puma ST

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£29,223

RRP from £30,415 to £31,365

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Until recently, buying a sports SUV required a sizeable outlay, but the Ford Puma ST changes that. And don’t think the fact that it costs far less than the competition means it’s far less fun. Even the mighty Porsche Cayenne has to bow to the Puma’s incredible agility, while its greater driver engagement and less extreme acceleration mean there’s far more chance to enjoy yourself on public roads.

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Pros

  • Immensely enjoyable to drive
  • Surprisingly big boot
  • Great driving position

Cons

  • Occasionally bouncy low-speed ride
  • Infotainment could be slicker
  • A VW T-Roc is bigger in the back

And the sports SUVs to avoid...

Maserati Levante V6 S
Maserati Levante 2019 RHD front tracking shot

This most powerful version of Maserati's SUV has 424bhp to play with, but stodgy handling and a bumpy ride keep it from placing among the class best. Read our review

Mini Countryman John Cooper Works
Mini Countryman JCW 2020 front cornering RHD

Endowing Mini's SUV with the same engine as its hot hatch sibling sounds promising, but it never feels as fast and refinement is poor. Read our review

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