While SUVs are losing market share to car-based crossovers, there are still several great options for buyers who want something a little more rugged. Digital Trends has traveled the world to drive every new SUV on the market, and we’ve singled out all the best SUVs: The best luxury SUV, the best hybrid SUV, and the best performance SUV, among other models.
At a glance
|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|
|Jaguar I-Pace||Best electric SUV||4 out of 5|
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? $28,295+
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 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.
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. 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? $156,900+
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. Buyers who don’t need that much power can order a less expensive variant with a twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8. Alternatively, Bentley offers it as a plug-in hybrid.
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, while the V8-powered model takes a few tenths of a second more.
Those who have cash to spare can also 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.
Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid
The best hybrid SUV
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? $81,150+
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. 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 E-Hybrid (actually a plug-in hybrid) is every bit as enjoyable to drive as the standard Cayenne, which is already the most dynamic luxury SUV.
Porsche built the Cayenne E-Hybrid’s powertrain around a 3.0-liter V6 engine that uses a single turbocharger, and is coupled to an eight-speed automatic transmission. It tossed an electric motor into the equation to build a gasoline-electric system good for 455 hp between 5,250 and 6,500 rpm and 516 lb-ft. of torque from 1,000 to 3,750 rpm. The E-Hybrid takes 4.7 seconds to reach 60 mph from a stop and it handles better than a big, bulky SUV ought to. Driven less aggressively, the Cayenne can also operate on electric power alone for up to 13 miles.
If you aren’t hammering the throttle, you’re enjoying the 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.
The best family SUV
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? $36,120+
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 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 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.
BMW X3 M
The best performance SUV
Why should you buy this? It’s an SUV that drives like a sports car.
Who’s it for? People with both lead feet and children.
How much will it cost? $77,895+
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 did 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 503hp and 442 lb.-ft. of torque in the X3 M Competition model. The Competition will do zero to 60 mph in 4.0 seconds, according to BMW. Top speed is electronically limited to 155 mph, or 177 mph with the optional M Driver’s Package. Not bad for a family hauler.
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 still provides enough traction to keep those 503 horses in check.
Like the standard X3, the M model gets BMW’s iDrive infotainment system with a 10.25-inch central display screen. You get plenty of options for how to use the system, including a center-console knob, voice commands, and gesture control. The only downside is that BMW doesn’t offer Android Auto, although Apple CarPlay is available.
Jeep Renegade Trailhawk
The best compact SUV
Why should you buy this? It’s compact and capable.
Who’s it for? City-dwelling adventurers.
How much will it cost? $22,470+
Why we picked the Jeep Renegade Trailhawk:
It should come as no surprise that our list of the best SUVs includes three models from Jeep. While many companies are relatively new to the segment, Jeep began dabbling in off-roaders well before they were cool. 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 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
Why should you buy this? It is simply the best modern vehicle on sale.
Who’s it for? Those willing to expand their horizons and experience the future of transportation — today.
How much will it cost? $69,500
Why we picked the Jaguar I-Pace:
The most exciting vehicle on the market isn’t a million-dollar supercar, a broad-shouldered truck, or a seven-passenger SUV. No, the car the world can’t wait to drive is an all-electric crossover from British automaker Jaguar.
Contemporary EVs have several performance advantages over their gas-powered brethren, and Jaguar turns each of these into weapons. It starts with the platform, which stretches the I-Pace’s 90 kWh battery pack across the floor. This gives the vehicle an ultra-low center of gravity and disperses weight evenly front and rear (50:50). Without the burdens of an engine and transmission, Jaguar was also able to push the wheels to the absolute ends of the body, improving cornering stability.
While it does not have better range than a Tesla Model X, or the cargo capacity of the Mazda CX-5, the I-Pace stands out with overall dynamics, packaging, and driving experience. The car simply fades away from thought when you are commuting, but still takes center stage when hustling through tight turns. It is only really let down by its infotainment system, a small price to pay for this level of driving goodness.
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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