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The best SUVs for 2021

Jeep’s go-anywhere Wrangler remains the best SUV you can buy new in 2020. While its historic rivals have either gone soft, moved upmarket, or disappeared completely, the Wrangler remains a true off-roader that’s shockingly capable right out of the factory. It’s tamer to drive on the pavement than ever before, and the range is growing in unexpected ways. It remains in a class of one, though Ford resurrected the Bronco after a decades-long hiatus in a bid to end its reign over the segment.

While SUVs are quickly losing market share to more road-focused crossovers, there are still several great options for buyers who want something a little more rugged than a car-based people hauler. Digital Trends has traveled the world to drive every new SUV on the market, and we’ve singled out all the best ones: The best luxury SUV, the best hybrid SUV, and the best performance SUV, among other models. We’ve even picked an electric option.

At a glance

Product Category Rating
Jeep Wrangler Best SUV overall Not yet rated
Bentley Bentayga Best luxury SUV 4 out of 5
Porsche Cayenne S E-Hybrid Best hybrid SUV 4.5 out of 5
Toyota 4Runner Best family SUV Not yet rated
BMW X3 M Best performance SUV Not yet rated
Jeep Renegade Trailhawk Best compact SUV Not yet rated
Audi E-Tron Best electric SUV Not yet rated

The best: Jeep Wrangler

2018 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited review
Miles Branman/Digital Trends

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? $28,315+

Why we picked the Jeep Wrangler:

The Jeep Wrangler traces its roots to the original Willys developed to fight in World War II. It has evolved considerably over the past few years and generations, and the new model released in 2018 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. It’s backed by a huge aftermarket scene, too.

The Wrangler lineup 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. The 2021 model year will bring the first gasoline-electric plug-in hybrid Wrangler, and, at the other end of the spectrum, the first V8-powered model.

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 Jeep Wrangler is your best choice in the SUV segment.

Read our Jeep Wrangler review

The best luxury SUV: Bentley Bentayga

Bentley Bentayga

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? $156,900+

Why we picked the Bentley Bentayga:

Recently updated with a new look and more tech features, the Bentley Bentayga is one of the fastest, most expensive, and most powerful SUVs on the market. It stands apart with an exquisitely-crafted interior, elegant Bentley styling, and a twin-turbocharged 6.0-liter W12 engine. Buyers who don’t need that much power can order a less expensive variant powered by a twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8. Alternatively, Bentley offers it as a plug-in hybrid.

The Bentayga is made using materials like aluminum to keep weight in check. The relatively light body and the 600 horsepower 12 allow it to hit 60 mph from a stop in four seconds, which is about as fast as a Porsche 911, while the V8-powered model takes a few tenths of a second more. It’s lighter and sharper to drive, though.

Those who have cash to spare can also personalize nearly every aspect of the Bentley 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.

Read our Bentley Bentayga review

The best hybrid SUV: Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid

Stephen Edelstein/Digital Trends

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? $81,800+

Why we picked the Porsche Cayenne 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. The high center of gravity and the heavy powertrain should result in sloppy handling and sluggish acceleration, but Porsche has a decades-long habit of breaking the rules. The Cayenne E-Hybrid (which is actually a plug-in hybrid) is every bit as enjoyable to drive as the standard Cayenne, but it’s markedly more efficient on and off the pavement.

Porsche built the Cayenne E-Hybrid’s powertrain around a 3.0-liter V6 engine that uses a single turbocharger and that’s bolted to an eight-speed automatic transmission. It tossed an electric motor into the equation to build a gasoline-electric system good for 455 hp. The E-Hybrid handles better than a big, bulky SUV ought to. Driven less aggressively, the Cayenne can also operate on electric power alone for relatively short distances.

If you aren’t hammering the throttle, you’re enjoying the Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid’s plush seats, supple ride quality, and spectacular fit and finish. When we drove the E-Hybrid, we concluded it skillfully demonstrates an SUV that’s large, luxurious, and fast doesn’t always guzzle gas.

Read our Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid review

The best family SUV: Toyota 4Runner

Why should you buy this? It’s at home climbing a mountain or taking the kids to soccer.

Who’s it for? Those with passengers and gear to take off-road.

How much will it cost? $36,340+

Why we picked the Toyota 4Runner:

The 4Runner is old-fashioned in the best way possible. While many of its rivals (including the Nissan Pathfinder) 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 that’s finally compatible with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, supportive seats, and materials that can almost be considered premium. The 4Runner isn’t the cheapest family hauler, but in this case, you get exactly what you pay for.

We suggest going for the brawny Toyota 4Runner 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: BMW X3 M

2020 BMW X3 M Competition

Why should you buy this? It’s an SUV that drives like a sports car.

Who’s it for? People with lead feet and children.

How much will it cost? $69,900+

Why we picked the BMW X3 M:

The BMW X3 M isn’t the fastest SUV on sale, or the most powerful, but numbers don’t tell the whole story. The X3 M is a well-rounded performance vehicle packed with tech. It does BMW’s vaunted M badge proud.

The standard X3 is BMW’s bestselling model, so it was only a matter of time before the automaker released a performance version. To make the X3 M truly sporty, BMW gave it a special engine. The 3.0-liter, twin-turbocharged inline-six produces 503 hp in the X3 M Competition model. The Competition takes four seconds flat to reach 60mph from a stop, according to BMW. Its top speed is electronically limited to 155mph, or 177mph with the optional M Driver’s Package. That’s not bad at all for a family hauler that’s big and correspondingly heavy.

The X3 M isn’t just fun to drive in a straight line. The adaptive suspension is luxury-car smooth in Comfort mode, while Sport Plus mode makes the X3 M improbably nimble. The M-specific all-wheel drive system sends most of the power to the rear wheels for better handling, but it still provides enough traction to keep those 503 horses in check.

Like the standard X3, the X3 M gets BMW’s iDrive infotainment system with a 10.25-inch display screen. There are plenty of ways to use the system, including a dial on the center console, voice commands, and gesture control. BMW finally made Android Auto and Apple CarPlay available, so you can stay connected regardless of which system you’re loyal to.

Read our BMW X3 M review

The best compact SUV: Jeep Renegade Trailhawk

2020 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk

Why should you buy this? It’s compact and capable.

Who’s it for? City-dwelling adventurers.

How much will it cost? $28,215+

Why we picked the Jeep Renegade Trailhawk:

It should come as no surprise that our list of the best SUVs includes two models from Jeep. While many companies are relatively new to the segment, Jeep began dabbling in off-roaders well before they were cool, profitable, and at the top of the sales chart. That’s how the Renegade Trailhawk, which sits on a car-derived platform shared with the Fiat 500X, earned a spot on this list. It’s a crossover, meaning it doesn’t qualify as a true SUV, but the genes it shares with its bigger siblings make it surprisingly capable off the beaten path.

The Jeep Renegade Trailhawk treatment is more than skin-deep, too. As part of Jeep’s trail-rated lineup, it boasts a low-range function that lets it crawl over rough terrain or pull a small boat out of a lake with ease. Trailhawk-specific body sealing and a higher intake also allow the Renegade to drive through up to 19 inches of water, while its 8.7 inches of ground clearance allow it to venture further off the pavement than most other models in its segment. Hill descent control technology and upgraded tires further boost its off-road prowess. It’s no match for a Wrangler or 4Runner, but it remains a surprisingly tough trucklet.

The best electric SUV: Audi E-Tron

Why should you buy this? It’s a great SUV that happens to be electric.

Who’s it for? Those willing to expand their horizons and experience the future of transportation — today.

How much will it cost? $65,900

Why we picked the Audi E-Tron:

Recently updated with more range and a lower price, the E-Tron is a new type of Audi. It’s high-tech and built with excellent materials — we’d expect nothing less from the firm — but it’s also remarkably smooth and silent thanks to its electric powertrain. It’s built around a 95kWh lithium-ion battery pack that zaps a pair of electric motors into motion, and it takes 5.5 seconds to reach 60mph from a stop when its boost mode kicks in. Audi gave the E-Tron a through-the-road version of its Quattro system, meaning there is no mechanical connection between the axles.

Going electric also brings a slightly unexpected benefit to the table: Space. An electric motor takes up less space than a four- or a six-cylinder engine, so the E-Tron‘s cabin is far bigger than its exterior dimensions suggest. That means there’s more space for people and gear. Alternatively, if space isn’t a concern, Audi also offers the E-Tron as a Sportback, which swaps the standard model’s SUV-like proportions for a fastback-like roofline.

Read our Audi E-Tron review

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 and back roads, as well as off-road and on 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 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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