Best sports SUVs 2023
If you want performance as well as practicality and an elevated driving position, the sports SUVs in our top 10 should be on your shortlist. We also reveal the models we'd avoid...
SUVs may be biased towards practicality and comfort rather than driving fun, but a growing number of sports SUVs are adding big performance into the mix too.
Here, we reveal the top 10 sports SUVs you can currently buy – and highlight the models you should steer clear of. This class features both large and small models, but one thing they all have in common is a powerful engine. And, while agile handling and thrills are on the agenda, the very best cars also offer good ride comfort and a spacious interior.
If any of these sports SUVs takes your fancy, just click on the relevant links to find out more or see how much you could save by using our free New Car Buying service. If you just want to find out which model is best, that’s no problem: the Ford Puma ST is the best sports SUV you can buy.
The brilliant Ford Puma ST is proof that you don’t need to break the bank to get your hands on an engaging and agile sports SUV.
Sure, it's not as fast in a straight line as the Hyundai Kona N, but the Puma ST's playful handling, swift accelerator response and short-shifting manual gearbox make it more fun to drive down a twisty B-road.
We’d recommend the optional Performance Pack, which adds Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres, launch control and a limited-slip differential (LSD). The LSD is a handy addition because it gives you more traction on the way out of corners.
The ST is practical too, with the boot capable of swallowing six carry-on suitcases.
- Immensely enjoyable to drive
- Surprisingly big boot
- Great driving position
- Occasionally bouncy low-speed ride
- Infotainment could be slicker
- A VW T-Roc R is bigger in the back
In fact, our preferred GTS model is far more fun to drive than anything this tall and heavy has any right to be, with great body control and steering that weights up beautifully through bends. Meanwhile, a thunderous 454bhp 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 petrol engine can thrust it from 0-62mph in just 4.5sec.
The Cayenne Coupé is firmer than the rival Range Rover Velar; we’d recommend adding air suspension, which improves ride comfort.
The interior has a premium feel, and room up front is good, although the coupé styling reduces head room in the rear.
- Powerful engines
- Fantastic handling for a big SUV
- Classy interior
- Expensive to run
- Stingy kit list
- Brilliant air suspension is optional
Offering an immersive and interactive driving experience, wrapped in a luxurious package, the Aston Martin DBX is a more appealing all-round choice than the blisteringly quick Lamborghini Urus and the stately Bentley Bentayga.
Powered by a mighty 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 petrol engine, the DBX 707 – our favourite version – can sprint from 0-62mph in a startling, supercar-rivalling 3.3sec. That's seriously impressive for a car that weighs 2.2 tonnes.
It may not be as comfortable as the Audi SQ8 and Bentley Bentayga, but the DBX is far more focused in terms of handling, with swift, accurate steering that provides lots of connection to the front wheels.
- The engine has character
- The handling is entertaining
- It's quick – especially the DBX707
- The ride is lumpy on rough roads
- Interior quality is disappointing
- The infotainment system is old
Above everything else, sports SUVs have to be fun – and the Porsche Macan delivers that in spades.
You can have a V6-engined version in S or GTS trim, but our pick, the Macan T, has more than enough power from its 261bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine.
Like the Cayenne, the Macan T’s handling really helps it shine. It’s the most agile model in its line-up, because it's lighter than the larger-engined S and GTS. There’s also minimal body lean and you get lots of feedback through the steering.
- Performance ranges from punchy to rapid
- More rewarding to drive than most other SUVs
- High-quality interior
- Some rivals are more spacious
- Important safety kit optional
- Thirsty petrol-only engines
If you want your SUV to come with an enlivening soundtrack, then the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio should be on your shortlist. Its 503bhp 2.9-litre V6 petrol engine delivers scorching acceleration and an engine note that will make you want to press on at every opportunity.
Ride comfort isn’t as good as in the Porsche Macan, but the firm suspension set-up is by no means harsh.
The steering is precise, albeit a bit light, and the rear-biased four-wheel drive system ensures you can have fun through corners.
Interior quality lags behind both the Macan and the rival Audi SQ5, but there is enough room for four average-sized adults. Six-footers might have a bit of trouble with rear head room, though.
- Entertaining handling
- Razor-sharp accelerator responses
- Generous standard kit
- Engine only sounds good in Race mode
- Interior feels cheap in places
- Rear space is a bit tight
The Audi RS Q8 is an outrageously fast SUV that can corner with incredible composure.
Like the SQ8, it has a 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 petrol engine with a bassy exhaust note. But this RS model pumps out 592bhp, making it even quicker than its sibling, with a 0-62mph time of just 3.8sec.
The eight-speed automatic gearbox can be a little slow to react if you step on the accelerator, but it works well if you’re a little gentler, and the engine has so much grunt that it thrusts you forwards anyway.
The RS Q8 is well finished inside, and you get a decent-sized boot, making it more practical than some rivals. And, although it may seem pricey, it's cheaper than both the BMW X6 M Competition and the Porsche Cayenne Turbo Coupé.
- Ballistic performance
- Handles like a much smaller car
- Great interior quality
- Heavy fuel consumption
- Distracting infotainment system
- Gearbox can be sluggish
Comfortable and offering plenty of performance from its 336bhp 3.0-litre V6 diesel engine, the Audi SQ5 is a great all-rounder.
The immense torque from the SQ5’s motor means you don’t need to thrash it to gain speed. The automatic gearbox can take a moment to select the right gear when you put your foot down, but the car doesn't take long to get up to motorway speeds.
Ride and handling are beautifully judged, but anyone seeking more thrills should consider the rival Porsche Macan.
In terms of practicality, the SQ5 doesn’t disappoint, and while its boot may be smaller on paper than the BMW X3 M Competition’s, it swallowed nine carry-on suitcases in our test.
- Classy and practical interior
- Comfortable ride
- Strong performance
- Strong diesel engine is effective, rather than exciting
- Some rivals are more fun
- Audi's so-so reliability record
Blending the regular T-Roc’s practicality with the performance of a hot hatch, the T-Roc R handles brilliantly, with quick steering, vice-like grip and a four-wheel drive system than can direct more power to the rear wheels to help the car turn in to corners more eagerly.
Ride comfort isn’t as good as some rivals, but overall it’s better than the BMW X2 M35i.
The interior is relatively spacious, with plenty of room for six-footers up front. Knee room is relatively tight in the rear seats, though, while the Cupra Ateca offers more head room for six-footers. Heavy use of cheap-feeling plastics lets the general feel of the T-Roc R down, too, although this has been improved in later cars.
- Thrilling handling
- Strong and flexible engine
- Well equipped
- Firm ride
- Some road noise
- Not the roomiest
When the Audi SQ8’s 500bhp 4.0-litre turbocharged V8 petrol engine rumbles into life, you immediately know you’re in for a treat. Not only does it sound good, it also offers some impressive performance – a matter proven by its impressive 4.1sec 0-62mph time.
Despite the straight-line performance, the ride is comfortable and the air suspension deals with potholes well. That performance does come at a cost, though, with the SQ8 managing just 20mpg even if you drive it gently.
At least there’s lots of space inside. Although it's not as spacious as its seven-seat sibling the Audi SQ7, it’ll fit three passengers in the rear pretty easily and they won't feel too hemmed in, even if they are tall.
- Effortless performance and a great V8 noise
- Composed ride and tidy handling
- High-quality interior
- Porsche Cayenne Coupé is more fun
- Distracting touchscreens
- Cheaper SQ7 is even more spacious
Under the bonnet sits a 310bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine that helps the car achieve a 0-62mph time of just 4.9sec.
Through corners, the Formentor is agile, albeit not as nimble as a hot hatch. There’s plenty of grip, too, due to the wider tyres that come with the most powerful version. Mind you, it doesn't thrill in the way that the very best sports SUVs can.
Inside, the Formentor is relatively well finished, featuring perforated leather and contrast stitching. Look further down the interior and you’ll find harder, cheaper plastics, though.
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- Very well equipped
- Surefooted and grippy handling
- Smart interior for the money
- Not as practical as some family SUVs
- Fiddly dashboard controls
- Not the quietest car at 70mph
And the sports SUVs to avoid...
This most powerful version of Maserati's SUV pumps out 424bhp and its engine makes an entertaining snarl when you push on. However, stodgy handling and a bumpy ride keep it out of the top 10. Read our review
Endowing Mini's SUV with the same engine as its hot hatch sibling sounds promising, but its additional weight and size mean it doesn’t feels as fast as the hatchback. And, although the interior looks smart, it’s not roomy or practical as that of the Cupra Ateca. Read our review
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