SUVs certainly won’t win any fuel efficiency contests even with the latest hybrid technology, but they’re still hard to beat in terms of towing capacity and off-road prowess. And with gas prices lower than they’ve been in recent memory, their market share is increasing after years of slow but steady erosion. As of writing, it’s reasonably safe to take the SUV off the endangered species list, and to celebrate, we’ve compiled a list of the best SUVs you can buy.
With wagons all but out of the picture, crossovers are the most common alternatives to traditional SUVs regardless of which segment you’re browsing. They’re generally better to drive and a lot more efficient but they’re not as capable, especially for buyers who are planning to go off the beaten path and/or tow something excruciatingly heavy on a regular basis.
If you think a SUV is right for your family, read on to learn about the best ones on the market today. We’ve singled-out models that provide space, off-road capacity, and grunt in spades.
Why should you buy this: It’s the original go-anywhere off-roader.
Who’s it for: Those who want to explore the great outdoors.
How much will it cost: $26,995+
Why we picked the Jeep Wrangler:
The Jeep Wrangler traces its roots back to the original Willys that was developed to fight during World War II. It’s evolved considerably over the past few years and generations, and the brand-new 2018 model finally swallowed the tech pill its predecessors refused to get anywhere near, but its spirit is still the same. That means it’s simple, relatively affordable, and virtually unbeatable off-road.
The Wrangler line-up includes the standard two-door model and a more spacious four-door version called Unlimited. All variants leave the factory with either a soft or a hard top, and a power-operated soft top is offered at an extra cost, making the Wrangler one of the most affordable convertibles on the market. As a bonus, buyers looking to do some serious off-roading can customize the Wrangler by buying parts directly from Jeep or from a seemingly endless list of aftermarket suppliers.
While the entry-level Sport model remains relatively basic, the more upmarket trim levels are much nicer inside and comfortable even around town. If you’re the adventurous type, the Wrangler is your best choice in the SUV segment.
The best luxury SUV
Why should you buy this: It’s a Bentley that can hit the trail.
Who’s it for: The world’s most discerning off-roaders.
How much will it cost: $232,000+
Why we picked the Bentley Bentayga:
The Bentley Bentayga is one of the fastest, most expensive, and most powerful SUVs on the market. It stands out with an exquisitely-crafted interior, elegant Bentley styling, and a twin-turbocharged 6.0-liter W12 engine that pumps out 600 horsepower and an impressive 663 pound-feet of torque.
The Bentayga is manufactured using materials like aluminum in order to keep weight in check. The ultra-light body and the 600-horsepower 12 allow it to hit 60 mph from a stop in four seconds flat, which is about as fast as a Porsche 911. If that’s not speedy enough, we hear that a more powerful model is right around the corner.
Those who have cash to spare can personalize nearly every aspect of the Bentayga. It’s available with four, five, or seven seats, and the list of options includes a Breitling clock on the dashboard, picnic baskets with room for two bottles of champagne, and even a fly-fishing kit.
The best hybrid SUV
Porsche Cayenne S E-Hybrid
Why should you buy this: It’s the sportiest hybrid SUV you can buy.
Who’s it for: Those who don’t want to give up their souls to drive efficiently.
How much will it cost: $79,000+
Why we picked the Porsche Cayenne S E-Hybrid:
“Hybrid” and “SUV’” are nails in the coffin for a vehicle’s fun-to-drive character – at least that’s usually the case. A high center of gravity and a heavy powertrain should result in sloppy handling and sluggish acceleration, but Porsche has a habit of breaking the rules. The Cayenne S E-Hybrid is every bit as enjoyable to drive as the standard Cayenne, which is already the most dynamic luxury SUV.
The Cayenne S E-Hybrid’s powertrain consists of a 3.0-liter supercharged six-cylinder engine and an electric motor that combine to deliver 416 hp and 435 lb-ft. Thanks to a stellar eight-speed automatic transmission and permanent all-wheel drive system, 0 to 60 mph takes just 5.2 seconds and mid-corner grip is tremendous. Add one of the best electronically assisted steering racks on the market and the hybrid Cayenne leaves nothing to be desired from a performance perspective.
If you aren’t hammering the throttle, you’re enjoying the Cayenne S E-Hybrid’s plush seats, supple ride quality, and spectacular fit and finish. In terms of efficiency, the plug-in hybrid SUV manages 22 combined mpg, 46 mpge, and 14 miles of all-electric range. While not a massive improvement over the standard car, it’s enough to cut fuel costs at a marginal premium over the standard Cayenne S
The best family SUV
Why should you buy this: It’s at home climbing a mountain or taking kids to soccer.
Who’s it for: Those with passengers and gear to take off-road.
How much will it cost: $34,010+
Why we picked the Toyota 4Runner:
The 4Runner is old-fashioned in the best way possible. While many of its rivals have adopted unibody construction, it retains a truck-derived ladder frame that gives it the ability to climb over impressive obstacles. The trade-off is that it’s not quite as refined as a car-based crossover on the pavement.
The cabin is on par with softer rivals, however. The ‘Runner boasts a modern infotainment system, supportive seats, and materials that can almost be considered premium. The 4Runner isn’t the cheapest family hauler, but you get what you pay for.
We suggest going for the brawny TRD Pro model, which rolls off the assembly line ready to get muddy. It benefits from bigger tires wrapped around 17-inch wheels, a beefed-up suspension on both axles, and a TRD-specific look that pays tribute to classic Toyota off-roaders.
The best performance SUV
Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk
Why should you buy this: It’s the most powerful SUV you can buy. Period.
Who’s it for: The fast, the furious, and the thirsty.
How much will it cost: $85,900+
Why we picked the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk:
The Trackhawk is an evolution of our previous “best performance SUV,” the Grand Cherokee SRT. It sports significantly more muscle with the Trackhawk badge in the form of a 6.2-liter, 707-horsepower supercharged V8 previously seen in the Dodge Challenger and Dodge Charger Hellcat. While we haven’t had the chance to test the Trackhawk yet, we know it’ll be something special with that insane powerplant between the front fenders.
Thanks to the Hellcat V8, the Trackhawk has more horsepower than any SUV currently in production (the Mercedes-AMG G65 tops it in torque), and it puts that power to good use. Jeep claims the Trackhawk will do 0 to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds, run the quarter mile in 11.6 seconds at 116 mph, and reach a top speed of 180 mph. Not bad for a vehicle that weighs around 5,000 pounds.
Like the Grand Cherokee SRT, the Trackhawk benefits from stiffened suspension, which helps it deal with corners decently well. The Trackhawk’s Brembo brakes are the largest ever fitted to a production Jeep, and they can stop the SUV from 60 mph in just 114 feet. Aside from all the go-fast hardware, the Trackhawk is still a Grand Cherokee, so it features a comfortable, well-appointed interior, generous ground clearance, and Chrysler’s Uconnect infotainment system.
Performance SUVs are not that unusual anymore, but most of them come from luxury brands. The fact that Jeep tops them all with a hot rod Grand Cherokee is just plain cool.
How we test
The Digital Trends automotive team tests vehicles through a comprehensive scrutinizing process. We examine the qualities of the exterior and interior and judge them based on our expertise and experience in the context of the vehicle’s category and price range. Entertainment technology is thoroughly tested as well as most safety features that can be tested in controlled environments.
Test drivers spend extensive time behind the wheel of the vehicles, conducting real-world testing, driving them on highways, back roads, as well as off-road and race tracks when applicable.
SUV terms you should know
- Approach angle: The degree of slope a vehicle can drive up without scraping the bottom of the front bumper.
- Departure angle: The degree of slope a vehicle can drive down without scraping the bottom of the rear bumper.
- Hill descent control: An electronic driving aid that automatically keeps a vehicle at a crawl when going down a hill. Like cruise control, hill descent control needs to be manually engaged.
- Limited-slip differential: A type of differential that detects when a wheel is spinning and automatically transfers the engine’s torque to the opposite wheel.
- Part-time four-wheel drive: A four-wheel drive system that needs to be manually engaged. Part-time four-wheel drive systems are often only usable on slippery terrain or in inclement weather.
- Transfer case: Mounted behind the transmission, the transfer case is a component that splits the engine’s torque between the front and the rear axles. It usually offers high and low range settings.
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- 2018 Jeep Cherokee: Release date, prices, specs, and features