What’s the best SUV to buy?

2018 Range Rover Velar rear three quarter

“Which SUV should I buy? I want the best one.”

It’s something we get asked a lot. It’s a question that’s almost impossible to answer. Yet the simple response is “the one you can afford to purchase and maintain”.

But that’s not what people want to hear, of course.

Most of the time when we’re asked that question, folks would like us to somehow ascertain all of their needs, as if we’re aware of their own personal circumstances, their budget and their preferences. Yeah, good luck getting all of that covered in one SUV.

There are plenty of good SUVs, and there are also some very good machines as well. But determining which is the best is more difficult than most people realise. And that’s usually because there’s no perfect vehicle out there.

If there was, no-one would buy anything else. But opinion comes into it, meaning the term “best” is often skewed by preconceived ideas.

So let’s analyse what people mean by the best.

2018 Nissan X-Trail diesel

An SUV that sells well

Looking at the sales data only would lead you to believe that the Nissan X-Trail / Nissan Rogue twins are the probably the ones to go for on the market, since they outsell everything else.

And while these midsize crossover twins are good vehicles, we certainly wouldn’t classify them as the best out there.

You see, just looking at what is selling only gives you an indication of what people are willing to settle on. Sometimes they have to compromise and put up with certain flaws, because other vehicles are out of their price range, or they just don’t suit their needs.

The Rogue or X-Trail isn’t as good as the Kia Sorento in this writer’s opinion, but not everyone needs a three-row crossover, and other people just can’t abide being seen in a Kia (much to our disgust – it’s their loss).

Likewise, the Kia isn’t as good as an Audi Q7 in many respects (warranty excepted), but again, not everyone has the budget for a four-ringed vehicle.

You can see, then, that simply looking at what sells well isn’t going to give you a true indication of what the best SUV is.

2018 Range Rover Velar side view

An SUV that looks good

The Range Rover Velar is one of the best looking machines on sale, SUV or not. Its smooth, flowing lines, retractable door handles and overall proportions mean that its fluid and aerodynamic styling makes it stand apart from anything else on the road.

We’re also more than impressed with its luxurious interior and its off road ability. So there’s no argument that it’s a desirable machine. But does that mean it’s the best SUV to buy? Hardly.

While no-one would knock it back if they were simply handed the keys and told they’re now the proud owners of a Velar, many people are wary of Land Rover’s intermittent reliability.

It’s unfortunate, but if you were given the choice between a Toyota and a Land Rover to navigate through the Sahara, most people would pick the Toyota because of its enviable reputation for reliability.

Just having a beautifully styled vehicle is no guarantee that it’s the best. Think about the obsession with Alfa Romeo over the years. According to the Alfisti, you’re not a car person if you haven’t owned an Alfa. But the amount of money people have poured into these gorgeous machines is verging on criminal. Just being the best looking does not make it the best.

Rolls-Royce Cullinan front view

An SUV with brand cachet

Clearly, something like the Rolls-Royce Cullinan has a badge that lots of people desire, and if you’re talking build quality, well it definitely covers that requirement. There’s no argument that Rolls-Royce builds some of the most luxurious and decadent machines on the market.

Having the R-R on the wheel centres (which don’t rotate so you always see the logo) is a sign that you’ve made it. That you’re a successful person and that you’re someone who should be respected.

However, does that mean it’s the best SUV out there? In terms of luxury, then yes. In terms of bespoke craftsmanship, then certainly. But what about covering your needs?

See, the best SUV may cover your wants, but what about your needs? And this is where a super-luxury vehicle, though nice, may not fit the bill.

Need seven-seats? Then the Cullinan won’t do the job. Only want to spend $30K? Then, the Cullinan is going to be just a little bit over budget.

Brand cachet, as desirable as it may be, isn’t a criteria that you should base a purchase on, unless your only requirement from an SUV is that it has a certain badge. And if that’s the case, knock yourself out.

X-trail 2012 Boot

Let’s be objective

Now, this is the hard part. Stepping back and using your head and not your heart. Often we get wrapped up in looks, brand, wants and other factors that could influence our purchasing decision.

Here’s what we need to do: sit down and work out a pros and cons list for the SUV we want to buy. It’s the best method because it takes emotion out of it, which is important.

No, it’s not exciting, but since a vehicle is the second-biggest purchase that any of us will make in our lives, it deserves a lot of thought. We don’t buy a house on a whim, so why buy an SUV like that?

We want to buy an SUV with a clear head and not approach it like we’re buying a pair of shoes. Watching videos like the below may seem like it helps to whittle down the list, but let’s look at some of the questions you need to ask first.

Work out priorities

The budget will be the major overarching factor that will make the final determination on the SUV you buy, but the first thing is to work out what category you want.

Is it a compact, midsize or large SUV you’re after? Do you need five or seven seats?

Then you need to work out your driving conditions. This may sound funny, but if you’re not going anywhere near snow or in rainy conditions, then there are a heap of crossovers that are manufactured as front wheel drive only.

This will certainly save you money, as you’re not paying for the rear differential, driveshafts, CV joints, centre diff or Haldex system and all the electronics that go along with it.

Drivetrain type will be another decision to make – do you want petrol, diesel or hybrid? Is an EV a consideration? Are you after torque or power?

Then there’s towing ability. If you need it, what will you be towing? And how long will you be towing for, short distances or cross-country?

And what are your expectations for ride quality, ease of entry, width of the car, and length? You may be a competent parker, for example, so you may not need autonomous parking as a feature.

As you can see, there are a heap of questions to answer in the research phase. Sorry to bore you with what seems to be obvious, but it’s this slightly tedious questioning that sorts out the real SUV for you.

It’s important to be honest, rather than just to say “I WANT THIS ONE, NOW”. Be a little patient, and be a little circumspect. It pays off in the long run.

The best SUV may not be the one you thought

Having an open mind can be quite difficult, but diving straight into a 60 month lease for a vehicle that you thought you wanted, but realise isn’t quite right, would be a stress that we don’t need in this world. Things are hard enough as it is.

Clearly, there’s a lot to digest, and it’s worth going through the above information a couple of times. See, when people ask what is the best SUV to buy, it’s a bit of a loaded question. There are always preconceived ideas, and the answer we give may not be palatable.

So, rather than answering the question with a straight response, we’ve given you a few questions back, to help you wade through the thought process.

If you’ve got this far, you’ll want us to get to the point. So let’s list some of the best SUVs you can buy right now.

Compact SUV

Volvo XC40 front side view

Volvo XC40 – Its brilliant build and supreme safety, plus raft of excellent drivetrains means this is the pick of the compact SUV category

Midsize SUV

2017 Mazda CX-5 rolling shot

Mazda CX-5 – A perennial favourite here at SUV Authority, the CX-5’s build quality and driveability have made it an easy midsizer to recommend. We’ve spent a lot of time behind the wheel of various CX-5s over the years, and there isn’t one that we’ve disliked.

Large SUV

2015 Audi Q7 3.0 TDI quattro

Audi Q7 – Like the SUVs above, the Q7’s space, quality and driveability make it the best large SUV you can buy right now. Its brilliant suspension smothers the bumps in a way that no other machine in its price range does.


Deciding on the right SUV for your needs isn’t an easy task, so we offer a section called SUV Reviews, which looks at each machine objectively, and in the context of the market.

Check it out and have a read through the different makes and models. We’ve also outlined plenty of questions that people have asked when doing research, in a section called SUV Research.

Hopefully we’ve answered some of your questions, but feel free to let us know in the comments whether this has been helpful or not.

About Karl Peskett 435 Articles
A passionate writer, editor and driver, Karl is the go-to man when it comes to four wheels. With stints in television, radio, print and online, Karl has been writing about cars for more than a decade. He drives around 100 vehicles every year and has tested everything from Bugattis to Suzukis. Sometimes on track, sometimes off-road, his focus is on producing objective journalism without fear or favour.

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