Best sports SUVs 2023

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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Will Nightingale
Updated01 January 2023

Best sports SUVs

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. 

This class features both large and small models, but these high-riding SUVs have one thing in common: 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. 

Here, we reveal the top 10 sports SUVs you can currently buy – and highlight which models you should 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 free New Car Buying service.


Cupra Formentor

In its most powerful form, the Cupra Formentor has the performance to keep pace with similar-priced rivals, such as the BMW X2 M35i.

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 the quietest car at 70mph
  • Not quite as practical as some family SUVs
  • Fiddly dashboard controls

Audi SQ8

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, but 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, however, with the SQ8 managing just 20mpg even if you drive it gently. 

At least there’s lots of space inside. Front passenger space is good, while those travelling in the back have decent head and leg room.

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  • Effortless performance and a great V8 noise
  • Composed ride and tidy handling
  • High-quality interior


  • Cayenne Coupé is more fun
  • Distracting touchscreens
  • Cheaper SQ7 is even more spacious

Volkswagen T-Roc R

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 was improved in later cars.

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  • Thrilling handling
  • Strong and flexible engine
  • Well equipped


  • Firm ride
  • Some road noise
  • Not the roomiest

Audi SQ5

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.

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  • Classy and practical interior
  • Comfortable ride
  • Strong performance


  • Strong diesel engine is effective, rather than exciting
  • Some rivals are more fun

Audi RS Q8

The Audi RS Q8 is an outrageously fast SUV that can corner with incredible composure.

As with the SQ8, you get a 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 petrol engine that gives off 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 when you step on the accelerator; you’re better off being a little gentler, because the engine has so much grunt that it thrusts you forwards anyway. 

The RS Q8 is well finished inside, with high-quality materials used throughout. Plus, you get a decent-sized boot, making it better than some of its rivals for practicality.

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


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

Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio

If you want your SUV to come with an enlivening soundtrack, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio should be on your shortlist. Its 503bhp 2.9-litre V6 petrol engine is a real highlight, delivering scorching acceleration and a soundtrack 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 in feel. And thanks to the rear-biased four-wheel drive system, you can have plenty of fun through corners.

Interior quality lags behind that of rivals from Audi and Porsche, but there is enough room for four average-sized adults. Six-footers might have a bit of trouble with rear head room, though.

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  • 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

Porsche Macan T

Sports SUVs, above all, have to be fun – and the Porsche Macan delivers that. 

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 its Cayenne sibling, the Macan T’s handling really helps it to 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.

The Macan falls short in terms of rear space, however, with both the Audi Q5 and BMW X3 offering more room. Safety provisions are disappointing, too, with most being optional extras.

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  • 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

Aston Martin DBX

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 the steering being immediate and providing lots of connection to the front wheels.

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  • Characterful engine
  • Playful handling
  • Extraordinary pace, especially in DBX707


  • Lumpy ride around town
  • Iffy fit and finish for the price
  • Dated infotainment system

Porsche Cayenne Coupé GTS

As with the regular Porsche Cayenne, one of the Cayenne Coupé's biggest strengths is its agile handling. 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 features soft Alcantara and supple leather, offering a premium feel. Front room is good, although the coupé styling reduces head room in the rear.

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


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

Ford Puma ST

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 doesn’t come with prodigious power and torque figures, but the less extreme acceleration from its 1.5-litre turbo three-cylinder engine, combined with the Puma ST’s playful handling, makes it a joy 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.

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  • 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

And the sports SUVs to avoid...

Maserati Levante V6 S

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

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