10 of the UK best: SUVs
With bad weather and short daylight hours knocking on the door, the comfort, security and all-weather ability of an SUV could be just the ticket to ease your way into 2013. Matt Joy gives an overview of the Top 10 SUVs in the UK.
The idea that an SUV has to drive like a large pudding is thankfully long gone, and modern cars of this type can drive with all the vim and composure of a conventional hatchback. That’s good news for the Kuga, because Ford has managed to transfer the slick driving experience from the rest of the range into its compact SUV.
It’s certainly an attractive car in its own right, with a modern design that has enough of the typical SUV styling queues but is smart enough to look at home on a fashionable high street. Being a compact offering means it is big enough for a family to use but won’t feel like a supertanker to drive – in fact, a Kuga with one of the more powerful petrol or diesel engines is a bit like an SUV GTI, such is the way it grips and steers.
But with your sensible hat on you can have a two-wheel drive version that can manage 47.9 mpg combined, which is enough to suit any budget.
One of the biggest issues with SUVs is just that: size. The bigger the car the heavier it is and the more power you need to push it along. This is something Mazda has tackled head-on with the CX-5, the first car to use its Sky Activ technology. A focussed approach on efficiency from the vehicle design through to the powertrain and aerodynamics has produced some pretty impressive results – the most efficient 2.2 SE-L version with two-wheel drive is certainly quick enough with 150PS and 280lb.ft of torque, yet can manage 61.4 mpg combined and 119 g/km of CO2.
Despite the green approach, the CX-5 doesn’t lack anything as a proper SUV. You can have four-wheel-drive version and still get good economy, while the driving experience is comfortable and secure, helped by the attention paid to keeping the overall weight down. And there’s plenty of space on the inside too, as the CX-5 can manage to pack a whole family and its luggage without any trouble – truly having your cake and eating it.
Range Rover Westminster
You can’t talk about SUVs without mentioning the Range Rover. It kicked off the whole idea of a 4x4 being a luxury vehicle in 1970, and some would argue that no-one has come close to bettering it in the intervening 42 years.
Even though the current version is nearing its 10th birthday it still has the perfect recipe, and in many ways it is the automotive equivalent of the Hunter wellington boot. Its looks are a huge part of the appeal; classy, dignified and with presence, the Range Rover is equally at home on Park Lane or parked up to its axles in mud. That it is equally adept on the road as off it is why it has been so successful for so long – on-road it is effortless and supremely comfortable, while off-road it will keep going long after the driver’s bravery has run out, helped by the very clever Terrain Response system that adapts to the conditions.
Yet the one thing you can’t measure is the feel-good factor that the Range Rover has in spades. Slide behind the delightfully slim steering wheel, rest your elbows on the arm rests and sail along in comfort and quiet – there’s nothing quite like it.
Before the Yeti came along, Skoda had only dipped its toe into SUV waters with Scout versions of the Octavia and Roomster, which are toughened-up road cars. But the Yeti is billed as a crossover, with a ride height that is sufficient for more adventurous off-roading but that doesn’t go the whole hog: there are two-wheel-drive versions for smaller fuel bills and a choice of excellent engines.
The tinniest 1.2-litre TSI gets along fine despite having just 105 PS, while at the other end of the scale you can have the genuinely quick 1.8-litre TFSI turbocharged petrol or the 170 PS 2.0-litre diesel and pretty much everything in between.
But it’s the overall design that really wins the plaudits as the Yeti has a unique exterior that is both chunky and loveable, while inside it is immensely practical with stacks of space and plenty of clever storage ideas. It’s also very car-like to drive, but you get the bonus of a nice high driving position and good visibility – it does an excellent job of covering all the bases.
The G-Wagen (to give it its proper title) is something of an oddball in this company. For starters, it is not significantly different from the original car that appeared in the 1970s, which makes it very much the elder statesman of the 4x4 world. But there’s a good reason for this, chiefly that Mercedes-Benz originally created a military-style off-roader and then went and sold it to the public too.
So what you get is a large, very chunky vehicle that has quite clearly been designed with a set-square rather than the free flow of a pencil, serious ground clearance and a general sense of it being bulletproof – which it can be if you pay a bit extra. Unsurprisingly it is therefore spectacular off-road and will take some serious stopping. The flip side of this is that it is not as comfy as some of the cars here on-road, but frankly this is mostly irrelevant: the G-Wagen is a proper 4x4 icon, is super-cool in the way that only something military can be, and it will go on and on forever.
This is the second-generation Touareg, and it is a mark of the car’s success that the old one was pretty good in its own right. That didn’t stop Volkswagen effectively starting from scratch when it came to the new one, and the result is a highly appealing large SUV that can really do it all.
As before, the Touareg goes for a more subtle approach in terms of its appearance, but this is the Volkswagen way and it is all the better for it. It’s a clean and unfussy design that has a classy feel to it, which is reinforced by the quality of the cabin; this is effectively a luxury SUV, such is the attention to detail, excellent materials and sense of well-being.
There’s absolutely tons of space inside too, with a big boot that can handle a full family-sized amount of luggage.
There’s no letdown when you get to the driving part either. Comfort is the priority, which makes the Touareg a superb tool for covering long distances with ease.
As you would expect, the diesel engines are refined, powerful and frugal while there is also the option of a Hybrid model that combines a supercharged petrol engine with battery power with spectacular acceleration as a result.
Porsche Cayenne Turbo
When Porsche announced it was going to build an SUV there were gasps of shock and horror. How could a pure sports car brand like that go an build something big and spacious and comfortable? Easy really – because Porsche buyers wanted one. When you have three kids a 911 just won’t do the job, so rather than watching their customers disappear off to another dealership, the Cayenne was born.
This is the second-generation Cayenne and it is better than ever. It’s much sleeker and more handsome than the original car and manages to successfully transplant Porsche design details onto an SUV shape. And it certainly drives like a Porsche too, particularly with the fearsome V8 turbocharged engine. There’s not a quicker SUV on market, and despite being supremely comfortable and well specified the Cayenne Turbo will demolish sports cars in a straight line and leave them floundering through the corners – it is enormous fun simply because you don’t expect a car this size to be so capable.
But it sacrifices nothing for practicality, offering tons of space and a luxurious cabin. It’s also very handy off-road despite the outrageous performance. You can have a diesel or a hybrid version for better economy, but if it’s the ultimate Cayenne you want look no further than the Turbo.
Infiniti are relative newcomers to this sector with the brand first appearing in the UK in 2009, but that hasn’t held it back when it came to producing the luxury FX SUV. Freshened up for 2012, the FX aims to blend the traditional size and stature of an SUV with some sports car elements – hence the swooping bodywork and details inspired by the Essence concept car. There is a reprofiled bumper and a smarter grille, plus additional body colour choices. GT and GT Premium version get imposing 20-inch wheels as standard too, while S models have massive 21-inch versions as standard.
Under the bonnet there is a choice of petrol and diesel V6 engines, or for the real performance SUV approach the 5.0-litre V8 has truly spectacular acceleration. The higher performance S models also have active rear steering as standard, a high-tech solution that ensures sharper turn-in and greater stability. Yet the FX is a luxury vehicle first and foremost, and the very high specification and quality cabin make it a pleasure to drive on a long journey. Even in a field of relatively big budgets, the FX represents impressive value for money.
Coming late to the SUV game might seem like a way to give the opposition a head start, but the truth is Audi used it to its advantage when it created the Q7. For starters, it is a full-sized SUV, big enough for seven seats, which makes it as practical as it can possibly be. Fold all the seats down and you could move house in a couple of trips, yet with all the seats up you have a 7-a-side team bus without equal.
And like any Audi it has presence and style. There’s no denying this is a large car but the Q7 avoids looking ostentatious – unless you choose a lairy colour and massive wheels, of course – while on the inside you have exceptional build quality and fine materials; this is a luxury car in no uncertain terms.
It is also supremely comfortable. Air suspension on the higher specification models gives you control over the ride height as well as a cushioned ride, while in the engine room you have a choice of efficient diesels and quick petrols – as well as the truly bonkers V12 diesel that uses a Le Mans-derived powerplant. If you can find something the Q7 can’t do, award yourself a gold star.
Range Rover Evoque
Bringing some of the proper Range Rover’s class to a bigger audience was the task given to the Evoque, and although it seemed like a good idea in principle a cheaper Range Rover that was as classy and exclusive as the big daddy seemed impossible. But not a bit of it; the Evoque has already managed the seemingly-impossible and has queues forming at Land Rover dealers.
It has the looks, for starters – the Evoque is very much a 21st- century interpretation of what a Range Rover should look like, helped by the vast array of personalisation options.
The same goes for the cabin, which as well as offering decent space makes its occupants feel special.
But even better than all this is the way it drives. No car of this size should be capable of offering such impressive dynamics, but the Evoque manages it. It rides with composure and comfort, the steering is excellent and the handling is exceptional. It’s easy to forget you’re driving a car with genuine off-road ability such is its on-road capabilities.
And the best bit is it won’t break the bank. You can go mad with the options and choose a high-power petrol or diesel but you can get behind the wheel.