Over the last 10 to 20 years or so, SUVs have become more popular with families who prefer them to more traditional cars, such as saloons, estates or hatchbacks. But why?
Well, there are many reasons why the SUV has grown increasingly popular, but the most commonly cited justification is that the vehicle’s raised suspension and seating position provides multiple benefits – including increased visibility out of an SUV, a heightened sense of safety and imperious command when sitting in it, and also making it easier for putting child seats into the vehicle… and then children into said child seats afterwards.
The SUV is also often more practical and spacious than other car body styles, which makes it perfect for growing families.
What Does SUV Mean?
SUV is an initialism for Sports Utility Vehicle and refers to the type of car which has a high driving position (similar to a 4x4), but the body and design of the vehicle are sleeker and more stylish. Typically, an SUV will have a monocoque chassis, which means the body of the vehicle and the platform are all 1 piece, whereas your traditional rough-and-tumble 4x4 will have a ladder-frame chassis – this means the vehicle’s platform is separate to the body.
The crossover/SUV segment – any car that has the look of a 4x4, that is, albeit not necessarily with any off-road ability – has absolutely exploded in popularity over the last decade or so. And so today these vehicles come in all sizes and cover the entire breadth of price, performance and luxury, from compact crossovers like the Nissan Juke to supercar-themed exotica like the Lamborghini Urus.
What’s The Difference Between An SUV And A Crossover?
A crossover car is lighter, smaller and usually is only fitted with 2-wheel drive – which will normally be the front wheels. An SUV is bigger, heavier, more expensive and will frequently be fitted with 4-wheel drive, plus various in-car control systems to help it perform off-road.
Obviously, there is some crossover between the 2 classes, as you can get a few 4WD crossovers and there are a handful of SUVs that only have 2-wheel drive.
What’s The Difference Between An SUV And A 4x4?
We know that the SUV was built for rougher terrain, but what about a 4x4? In truth, 4x4 literally means 4-wheel drive, so any SUV (or indeed crossover, or even a car) with 4WD is also a 4x4. However, as SUVs are a newer, more road-focused breed of 4-wheel drive vehicles, the 2 terms are now deployed to mark distinctions between the vehicle types.
Best SUVs in 2022 By Class
Now that you’ve decided on an SUV as your next car, what type of SUV should you get? We’ve broken it down into types of SUVs and what cars you could get under each category.
Below you’ll find the most popular crossovers and SUVs you can lease today. There are loads, so we’ve separated them into categories that you can quickly jump to if you’re especially interested in a certain type.
The smallest type of crossover, designed to give you maximum space and a higher-than-average driving position, but on a footprint that’s very easy to manoeuvre and park. Usually based on a supermini-type car (like a Ford Fiesta or Nissan Micra) and very, very rarely has 4-wheel drive.
The car that started the compact crossover segment is now one of the best, but it’s taken Nissan 2 attempts to get there. The groundbreaking first Juke was design-led and not very practical at all, but today’s version, launched in 2019, is a lot more flexible and has much higher quality cabin.
Controversial when it was announced because it took the name of a 1997 Fiesta-based coupe that became a cult-classic. How could a crossover compete? It did, though, and then some. The Puma is genuinely brilliant to drive and hugely flexible. It even has a waterproof sink under the boot. Yep.
Like the look of these two SUVs but don’t know which to go for? Take a look at our Juke Vs Puma comparison.
Not the most exciting crossover on the market, but the T-Cross gives you everything you expect from a Volkswagen: a highly functional dashboard (if a little bland), a good range of efficient engines and plenty of space. Our advice: pick a bright colour to enhance the boxy design.
Probably the most spacious and flexible small crossover on the market, although that’s partly because it’s slightly bigger than most. It definitely feels the largest on the road. The Kamiq will actually pass as a family car, unlike most of its direct rivals, and the interior quality is better than that in the Volkswagen T-Cross. How did VW, Skoda’s parent company, let that happen?
Arguably a family crossover in pure dimensions terms, but very much priced as a compact one. In fact it’s cheaper than anything else here, although it does actually feel cheaper than everything else too. Very spacious, though. It’s possible to spec up a Duster nicely, but base model cars get wind-up rear windows. Remember those?
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Citroen C3 Aircross
These are 5-seat, 5-door SUV-shaped cars with space and flexibility enough for day-to-day family transport, but rarely any off-road ability. Think of them as raised family hatchbacks, with a similar footprint to a Ford Focus, say, but a lot more headroom and boot space.
The car that started this whole crossover thing morphed into its 3rd generation in 2021, and it has gone big on the technology and safety kit. Every model has some form of electrified drivetrain, and while a Qashqai is never going to set your pulse racing, it is going to do the family transportation thing remarkably well in all regards.
An interesting thing, the T-Roc. It doesn’t quite have the cabin quality you’d expect from a bigger Volkswagen car – not a soft-touch surface in sight – but it’s far more interestingly styled than the other SUV-shaped VWs. That, plus all the space it has, as well as the economical engine range, makes it a very appealing choice for family buyers.
Like the related Hyundai Tucson (see below), the current Kia Sportage has been dramatically improved for its latest fifth generation, which arrived in 2021. Sharp-suited, futuristic styling on the body clothes an interior that is genuinely one of the best things in this class, while a heavily hybridised drivetrain line-up – including a phenomenally capable plug-in hybrid variant at the top of the tree – makes sure the Sportage is as good to the planet as it is to look at.
The most fun-to-drive family crossover by some distance, the 3008 also pulls off the trick of being unique while getting all the basics right. It’s family-friendly in size, and thanks to its innovative (but terribly named) i-Cockpit, it has one of the most interesting cabins you’ll ever see. Brilliant in every way.
Formerly a good value but rather uninspiring crossover, the latest Hyundai Tucson demands your attention – as it is defined by its striking exterior styling. But it's not all about the show. Inside, you'll find a spacious, beautifully built and generously equipped cabin, and the Tucson also comes with a range of electrified turbo petrol engines. It's really refined to travel in and good on fuel too, with a plug-in hybrid option at the top of the line-up for those who want low benefit-in-kind rates and mega mpg.
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For our purposes, these are roughly the size of a family crossover but with an emphasis on prestige and cabin quality. In other words, good, high-riding family hatchbacks but with some of the cachet of a bigger luxury SUV.
The Q3 is a lesson in cabin solidity and high-tech feel. Some might not get on with just how much of the interior relies on a touchscreen – BMW is better at implementing shortcut buttons – but the Q3 has a ‘wow’ factor that few crossovers match. The ride is a little on the firm side though, especially with S line trim.
The GLA feels a little smaller than others on this list, but that might be a bonus if you’re after something compact. It follows that it’s not the most spacious family crossover, but it does have an awesome dashboard if you spec it with the twin widescreen displays.
The good thing about a Lexus (any Lexus) is that they rely on hybrid drivetrains which, on paper at least, equates to tax-friendly, low CO2 emissions and appealing fuel efficiency. The UX is a smart-looking thing too, inside and out. Sadly, its multimedia system is fiddly and the driving experience is nowhere near as sharp as the looks.
Range Rover Evoque
We don’t really need to say anything here, right? You’ll know already if you want an Evoque or not because, well, it’s the most cost-effective Range Rover there is. Nothing much further to add, except to say that while the Evoque has a lovely, tech-laden cabin worthy of the badge, it’s not the most spacious for rear-seat passengers.
A truly high-quality item, the XC40 blends luxury car manners on the road – it’s really quiet and comfortable, that is – with loads of clever storage and flexibility touches. Plus it looks great. A genuinely premium experience but for a very reasonable price.
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If you have more than 2 children or just want as much usable space as possible, then the large crossover is for you. An MPV would be even better, if we’re honest, but if you get your kicks in the shape of an SUV, look no further than these. Almost always 4-wheel drive and usually with the benefit of 7 seats.
Citroen C5 Aircross
Masses of cabin space including 3 proper rear seats in the back (a rarity), an enormous boot, keen pricing and the ride quality of a luxury SUV all combine to make the C5 Aircross hugely appealing. Assuming you can live with the interesting aesthetic. And the fact that it’s a bit clumsy to drive. Would be improved with 7 seats, too.
Think of this as a 7-seat version of the SEAT Ateca, and if you don’t know what an Ateca is, it’s yet another Volkswagen Group family crossover. The Tarraco, therefore, has exquisite build quality, a user-friendly cabin and, because it’s from VW’s ‘youth’ brand, slightly non-boring styling.
Land Rover Discovery Sport
The ‘Sport’ bit only means that this is a less massive Discovery than the full-sized one; the Discovery Sport is the car formerly known as the Freelander. It’s much improved as a family car now, though, with more focus on Range Rover-style comfort than Land Rover-style utilitarianism. It’s still great off-road, however, the front-wheel-drive version aside.
The best 7-seat crossover to drive by far, the 5008 has almost all of the dynamism of the 3008 but adds a boot so vast that they’ve folded a couple of extra seats into the floor. It also has 3 individual chairs in the middle row, another rarity. Of course, the upshot of all the extra space is that it’s much bulkier (read: less attractive) than the 3008. Hey ho.
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- Skoda Kodiaq
- Volvo XC60
- Kia Sorento
Electric crossovers make perfect sense because their bigger bodies and high seating positions lend well to having a big battery pack under the floor. That means they can have relatively long battery ranges from a single charge, and also that they appeal to a broad range of buyers. They tend to be on the pricier side, though.
Based on a dedicated electric chassis that will see Volkswagen Group electric cars come thick and fast, like the VW ID.5 and the Skoda Enyaq iV, the E-Tron’s best feature is how, well, normal it feels. Apart from the (optional) wing-mirror cameras. In every way it’s like a luxury Audi SUV, with the added bonus of a silent drivetrain.
Tesla Model Y
It might lack for the show-stopping ‘Falcon Doors’ of its big brother, the Tesla Model X, but the Model Y is still going to be the American EV firm’s biggest seller – and by some distance, too. This is because it’s a practical SUV at the more affordable end of Tesla’s product line-up, and yet it will still do up to 331 miles to a charge and can run 0-62mph in less than 4 seconds in its most powerful format. Truly, all things to all people, this.
Kia’s original e-Niro was a highly affordable family EV crossover, but it wasn’t massively exciting to look at, inside or out. The new one, however, remedies that, with concept-car-esque exterior styling, and a high-tech interior that’s both wonderful to look at and incredibly intuitive to operate. The icing on the cake? A 64.8kWh battery pack lets the Kia Niro EV do up to 285 miles to a single charge. Brilliant!
MG ZS EV
The best value EV on the market, pound-for-pound, offering all the cabin space of a family crossover and without the big price premium usually associated with an electric car. Even better than that, in 2020 a significant technical update got rid of the 1 Achilles’ heel of the MG ZS – whereas it previously had a 44.5kWh battery and a modest 163-mile maximum range, the 2020-on cars have a choice of either 51- or 72.6kWh units. Even the former goes further than the old ZS, managing up to 198 miles, but the bigger battery blesses the superb MG with a theoretical 273-mile single-charge range
Arguably the best electric SUV on the market today, the EQC is as refined as a luxury car and yet blindingly quick with it. Its 80kWh battery is huge, meaning you should comfortably exceed 200 miles per charge, while the twin-screen interior blends comfort and tech superbly.
Lexus UX 300e
Hyundai Kona Electric
For even more great options, take a look at our run down of the best electric SUVS.
Off-Road Cars And 4x4s
Now we’re taking ‘proper’ SUVs, as in cars that are built primarily as functional off-roaders rather than large family cars. That means they have extra measures including heavy-duty 4x4 systems, underbody protection and even low-range gearboxes, all for tackling the most treacherous of landscapes.
Land Rover Defender
Land Rover took a risk with the latest Defender by replacing a decades-old icon with a car that looked, ostensibly, like yet another luxury SUV. However, in off-road terms the new Defender trumps the old one by every measure,and yet it does actually feel like a luxury SUV day-to-day. An extremely hard thing to pull off. Hats off to Land Rover for this one.
The Wrangler epitomises a car that feels like it was made to go off-road, with day-to-day comfort a distant second. Some will love the chunky looks, the utilitarian vibe of the cabin and the bouncy, uncouth nature of the ride, but it’s a million miles from Land Rover’s stuff in refinement terms.
Toyota Land Cruiser
If Harry Redknapp drove a Toyota Land Cruiser, he’d describe it as a “top, top off-roader”. There are few 4x4s with this level of solidity, reliability and general terrain-conquering brilliance. Again, though, that means it’s not a patch on a Land Rover (or any other luxury SUV you care to name) at being a family car.
Nothing has the road presence of a Mercedes-Benz G-Class – aka ‘the G-Wagen’. Ridiculously expensive, yes, and saddled with a ‘low-budget hip-hop video’ vibe now, but actually the G-Class has a long history as a proper off-roader. Like the Defender, it also happens to be a phenomenal (and enormous) luxury car too.