Putting ‘fun to drive’ and ‘crossover-SUV’ in the same sentence feels weird, like a contradiction in terms. Crossover-SUVs aren’t supposed to be fun to drive. They’re supposed to be big family cars. Space is their vibe. For that reason alone, they’re innately unsuited to the business of dynamic driving; in pure physicality terms, tall bodies and excessive weight are anathema to good handling. And yet…
Yep, car engineers love a challenge, and what greater one than making a lardy hatchback drive with physics-defying enthusiasm? So, here are 10 crossover-SUV models that you should try if you value your car for more than just its ability to carry stuff.
*(P.S. We know that there are some specifically engineered and very fast versions of standard crossovers that are fun, like the Audi RS Q3 and the Hyundai Kona N, but we’ve kept this to models that are generally fun regardless of spec.) *
10. Peugeot 3008/5008
We’ve bundled the Peugeot 3008 and 5008 together because they’re basically the same car until you get to the rear pillars, which actually makes the 7-seat, vast-booted 5008 even more of a dynamic miracle. Either way, Peugeot’s family crossover absolutely defies its size and shape by serving up a driving experience that’s genuinely involving. It’s partly because the chassis is fundamentally good - it’s not woolly or spongy - but also because the cabin itself is really driver-focused, with its little steering wheel and excellent ergonomics.
9. Lamborghini Urus
A Lamborghini is the baseball bat in this particular pillow fight; you expect nothing less than fun from anything with a Lambo badge on it. Still, the potential for disappointment from the Urus, Lamborghini’s first SUV since the massive LM002 in 1986, was obviously sky high. Thankfully, the Urus is every bit the maniacal crossover it should be - albeit without the V12 engine that everyone wanted. It’s got a twin-turbo V8. Pff. Still, it’s a technical tour-de-force, stuffed with mechanical and electrical handling aids to ensure it feels a lot smaller and more agile than a 2.2-tonne, high-riding SUV has any right to. An event. Especially in yellow.
8. Alfa Romeo Stelvio
It’s fair to say that the Alfa Romeo Stelvio falls short in a couple of ways - namely basic comfort and visuals that shout ‘hey, I’m just another crossover’ rather than ‘hey, I'm a high-end Italian SUV’. Nonetheless, one of its strengths is that it steers with more sharpness and enthusiasm than most family crossovers do, which means it feels more engaging than it looks. In fairness, a lot of work has gone into making it feel that way - it has relatively complex suspension and a high proportion of lightweight parts. Oh, and there’s a 510hp version whose engine is vaguely related to a Ferrari one. That helps.
7. Jaguar I-Pace
We could have put the E-Pace in here because that’s one of the most fun-to-drive small crossovers on the market, but we’ve gone for the I-Pace because the odds are stacked more against it: it’s a big(gish) SUV that’s powered by electricity. It shouldn’t be fun. But somehow Jaguar has managed to imbue it with a real sense of dynamism, and actually, the EV drivetrain helps because it makes the I-Pace so very sharp under acceleration. Heck, even the fake engine sound that’s piped into the cabin is convincing. Add to that tight body control, sharp steering and pedals that feel ‘natural’, and you’ve got one fun-to-drive SUV.
6. Aston Martin DBX
As with Lamborghini, Aston Martin is expected to make anything it does feel like an event to drive, and as with the Urus, the DBX is therefore stuffed with high-end tech to make that happen. In this case it’s a 550hp 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 engine lifted from the Mercedes-AMG factory, a height-adjustable air suspension set-up with multiple driving modes (including a track-biased one), and a trick 4-wheel-drive system capable of sending all the power to the rear axle. Needless to say, the DBX feels as dynamic as a crossover-shaped thing could possibly feel.
5. Mazda MX-30
You could argue that the Mazda MX-30 EV is quite disappointing. Not because it’s bad - it’s not, at all - but because it’s so close to greatness, but falls just short. It’s a really quirky sort of crossover, with its odd rear-hinged back doors and its cork-swathed interior. And dynamically it’s brilliant, as most Mazdas are: tight body control, well-weighted steering, and the sharp turn of pace that an EV drivetrain brings. Sadly it’s quite poorly packaged - interior and boot space are tight - and the small battery means its official range is just 124 miles. Which almost certainly means less than 100 in actuality. Still, those miles… they’ll be a laugh.
4. Cupra Formentor
The Cupra Formentor was a bit of a surprise when it was announced: SEAT’s high-performance offshoot makes its first standalone model a crossover-SUV. Yikes. We needn’t have worried though. It’s proper brilliant. The best version is the most powerful one, of course, the 2.0-litre turbo petrol model with 310hp. With tricks including 15-stage adaptable damping, sound enhancement and 4-wheel drive, it’s a true dual-natured car, capable of feeling like a madcap hot hatch one moment and a refined, spacious family SUV the next. Thing is though, even the lesser powered ones are really good fun to drive… including the hybrid. Quite an achievement.
The Ford Puma is arguably the best pound-for-pound driving experience that any crossover serves up, because it’s just so fundamentally brilliant regardless of engine and spec. The easiest way of putting it is that it feels like the fat Fiesta that it technically is, the Fiesta being one of the most engaging small hatchbacks there ever was. As with that car, the Puma has a lovely balance of road-smothering ride comfort and good body control, so it doesn’t roll around the corners, and the steering has a real natural weight to it. Obviously the ST version is the most thrilling but, again, you don’t need that one to get your LOLs.
2. Jeep Wrangler
Yeah, we’ve put this one in for fun. In pure driving dynamic terms, the Wrangler falls dead centre into the ‘so bad it’s good’ category. It’s so rough and ready, so unrefined, that it’s an absolute hoot. Built for proper off-road duties above all else, the combination of super-slack steering, very loose body control and ostensibly a complete lack of soundproofing make the Wrangler a driving experience like no other. It makes going to Asda feel like an event. There’s every chance you’ll tire of the whole thing quite quickly, but if you’re invested in its charms then there’s not much else out there that’s this plain hilarious during an ordinary daily drive.
Yep, no surprise that the overall champion of the fun-to-drive crossover-SUV comes from Porsche. There are others on this list that do individual things just as well, or better even: no Macan can match the histrionics of a Lamborghini, and the Ford Puma is just as rewarding in pure steering feel terms. However, the Macan - any Macan - feels more tied down and dynamically engaging than any SUV has any right to. Get a GTS model for maximum pace and thrills, but the latest Macan T has a great balance of price and performance. What a thing.