Once the rough and rugged preserve of motoring across the pond, the popularity of SUVs in the UK has also been steadily rising over the years. Practical, safe and spacious, there is many a reason that this symbol of all-American exploration is now making in-roads into the British motoring market. With their elevated ride height, SUVs certainly have a commanding presence on the roads, but they're surprisingly efficient and practical too, making them a great choice for those with larger families to look after.
If you're thinking of switching from a saloon, hatchback or MPV, then we've created a guide to helping you choose the SUV that'll most suit your needs. From the features you should be weighing up to the different SUV models that are available right now, we hope you find this in-depth resource helpful when it comes to making the final decision.
While you'll have certainly heard the term, you might be a little iffy about what constitutes an SUV – especially since there are now so many shapes and sizes on the market.
For a start, it's an acronym for sport-utility vehicle, and refers to cars that feature high elevation and have a wagon-style roofline instead of a boot. In the past, they were basically trucks with extended cabins that had 4-wheel drive for off-roading. But things have developed since then, with hardcore off-road capabilities replaced by practicality and interior comfort.
So, while we can still use ‘SUV’ to refer to 4X4s, smaller cars without all-wheel drive also fall under the term nowadays. Nevertheless, a good rule of thumb in identifying an SUV would be: if it's higher than a normal car and features this extended roofline, then it's probably an SUV.
Although it's purely subjective, how an SUV looks is important. Do you like the conspicuous look of larger SUVs with their reinforced lower panels, chunky tyres and ride height that towers over every other car on the road? Or perhaps you prefer the sleeker, more elegant options that are better suited to the urban sprawl?
Something that's worth noting either way is the car’s height from the ground. Remember, you'll be getting in and out of it every day, so it has to be comfortable and practical to get in and out.
Historically, SUV engines weren’t the most economical, with lots of power needed to deal with tough terrain. Now, however, things are a bit different, with the engines of today's SUVs being smaller, turbo-charged varieties, with the turbo helping to generate low-end torque to limit fuel consumption. Even those with V8 engines use the turbo-charged option. With that said, these small engines are all sure to differ, so it's well worth taking your potential SUV(s) for a test drive before you go ahead with the purchase.
Fuel economy has become a major buying consideration over the past decade, with hikes in car tax making it an important factor from a budgeting point of view. Though they’re more fuel-efficient than ever, today's SUVs are still among the thirstiest cars on the road – so be prepared to pay more at the pumps and on your tax bill.
The most fuel-efficient SUVs are hybrids, but your options may be limited since only a handful of manufacturers make them. However, if you often find yourself in stop-and-go traffic, then a hybrid SUV may be the way to go, saving you a large amount on the fuel you'd otherwise be using to shuffle through a city on your commute.
Keep in mind: the number of seat belts doesn't mean everyone will be comfortably seated. With smaller SUVs, the rear legroom might be suitable for smaller children, but as they grow into teens, the complaints from the backseat could well mount up. A midsize SUV might be the way to go if you're concerned about backseat comfort.
Larger, more truck-like SUVs will adequately seat everyone who's on board, while extended-length models feature vast, first-class-style legroom. That said, 3-row SUVs are once again a bit of a gamble, with that third-row space varying drastically. What might be fine for children will surely have adults much too cramped. Be sure to visit your dealership to get a feel for things first.
When you think of SUVs, you think of their ability to hold plenty of cargo – but things can differ by model and manufacturer. Some SUVs are designed with utility in mind, making the best use of space so that nothing goes to waste. Others might scrimp on the space for aesthetic reasons, while others compromise on space in favour of a roomier cabin.
When you're weighing up space, it's good to check how easy it is to load cargo and how the rear seats fold into the floor, so that space is maximised. However, even compact and midsize SUVs feature plenty of space, so you should find something to comfortably house your luggage on the go.
If you've a family on board, then infotainment options should be factored in too. Touchscreen displays in the 7 or 8-inch range should suffice, but you can find large luxury SUVs with 10-inch displays should you so desire.
Many of today's SUVs feature Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity, while many also offer rear-seat USB charging ports as well as ports that can pass data like music files to the main entertainment system. Likewise, some models offer rear entertainment systems with overhead display or dual displays to the back of the front seats. Simply put, if infotainment is a factor, you're not short on options.
Because of their bulky builds, your side and rear visibility from the driver's seat can be restricted. That's why many SUVs feature a blind-spot monitor that alerts you when another car is in your blind spot. Elsewhere, look for rear-view cameras as well as rear cross-traffic alert, which can warn when a vehicle is approaching or crossing your reverse path.
A solid choice, the five-seater variety of Honda's 4x4 SUV has plentiful seat space, so it's great for growing families, while the nicely sized boot makes it well-equipped for road trip luggage. Its comfortable driving position also makes it a breeze to drive, even on long journeys.
It's a bit of a cop out, but we're recommending Mazda's entire SUV offering! From the adventurous, aggressive CX-5 and the versatile, multi-purpose CX-30 to the new, all-electric MX-30, there's something from the range to fit all needs.
As roomy as it is reliable, the Tucson's attractive, 5-year, unlimited-mileage warranty offers roadside assistance and complimentary vehicle health checks, making it a superb long-term buy. The spacious rear seats keep those in the back comfy on the go, too.
Seven seats as standard – all of which comfortably seat adults – as well as an enormous boot make this an excellent choice for the family. And with impressive features across all varieties, every Sorento is well-stocked with infotainment options that'll keep everyone happy, wherever you're driving to.
Remarkably affordable compared to its rivals, the HS ZS is an SUV built for those on a budget. A comfortable handler, its seven-year warranty, impressive interior, and spacious rear seats, certainly sweeten the deal.