Best large SUVs and 4x4 cars for 2021
Large SUVs and 4x4 cars are one of the most popular types of car in the UK. Favoured for their rugged good looks and the confidence they inspire, thanks to their raised driving position and perceived safety.
The best large SUVs are also practical, with comfortable and spacious interiors. And – on most large models at least – you get four-wheel drive and the ability to venture off road. Few do, but beefy suspension and large tyres also do a good job of smoothing out rough roads and squashing speed bumps.
The large SUV and 4x4 car class includes luxury models, as well as more affordable mainstream offerings. If you want a high-riding model that puts opulence before off-roading, we've separated luxury SUVs, both new and used, into their own category. This will help you find the best model for your needs.
But whatever class you want, you need to choose carefully.
Our testing has found SUVs and 4x4 cars that are a nightmare to drive anywhere other than a muddy field. Long braking distances, wide turning circles and harsh suspension may be fine on a dirt track, but they become significant problems on a motorway or in town.
You'll find our top recommendations for the best new and used large SUVs and 4x4 cars in the tables below. Plus, we reveal some models that aren't worth your money. Only Which? members can view our expert reviews in the tables below.
Best new large SUVs and 4x4 cars
Below our experts reveal the very best SUVs and 4x4s available to buy new, which have excelled in our rigorous lab and road tests.
Best new luxury large SUVs and 4x4s
Luxury SUVs offer the premium interior and comfort traditionally associated with high-end saloon cars, but with greater ease of access, practicality and traction/off-road ability.
So if you're looking for something more premium, we've got you covered - here are the best high-end models on the market, as backed up by our independent lab and road tests.
Best used large SUVs and 4x4s
Based on the results of our annual Which? Car Survey, cars aged 3-8 years old in the medium/large SUV car class are the most likely to break down.
- Just over 6% of owners in our survey had to call out a recovery service in the year before the survey - this isn't great, even for older cars.
- By comparison, just over 3% of city cars aged 3-8 years old broke down.
This is partly because SUVs used to favour diesel engines - this is the least reliable fuel type, according to our survey.
However, you can be confident we only recommend cars that are reliable. In our survey, we not only ask motorists about breakdowns, but also how many issues they've had, what they were and how much time the car spent off the road, if at all. With the data we collect we can then determine how reliable a model of car is in its first three years and in years three to eight of its life.
Best used luxury large SUVs and 4x4s
Make a saving on a premium model by buying used - below, we reveal the very best models to choose.
Large SUVs and 4x4 cars to avoid
Beefy SUVs and 4x4s have a certain image to uphold. They look strong and durable - surely a car that can barrel across frozen tundra and rutted fields won’t break down?
Sadly not. Our survey has found high-profile 4x4 cars that regularly suffer from brake and electrical faults, leading to multiple breakdowns and garage visits – hardly expected of a rugged off-roader.
There’s also the matter of fuel consumption. No one is expecting a hulking SUV or 4x4 to be super efficient, but people’s expectations aren’t an excuse to produce cars that do less than 20 miles to the gallon. We’ve tested that achieve more than 40mpg, so it’s not as if it can’t be done.
Below, we’ve rounded up three unreliable or gas-guzzling 4x4s that you should avoid.
How to buy the best large SUV or 4x4 car
From whether to buy an electric, hybrid, diesel or petrol SUV, to how to check for enough boot space for your luggage and shopping. We tell you what you need to know in order to buy the best large SUV or 4x4 car for your needs.
But popularity is no guarantee that a large SUV will be good to drive on the road or the best SUV for your money.
Should you buy an SUV or a car?
If you live on a farm, the answer is probably SUV. A large off-roader with four-wheel drive and high ground clearance is recommended if you need to cross muddy fields, or regularly travel across difficult terrain or in particularly adverse weather.
However, if your driving life largely consists of commuting or school runs, and you simply want four-wheel drive for added security in slippery conditions, you can save money by opting for another car class.
Selected medium and large car models are available with four-wheel drive and muscular diesel engines for improved traction and towing ability, as well as mildly raised ground clearance. They retain the benefits of a regular car - namely being more fun to drive and easier to manoeuvre - but will go further off the beaten track, without eating parking spaces for breakfast.
Hybrid, diesel or petrol SUV?
Most large SUVs sold in the UK are diesel, as they normally offer more reasonable fuel economy over the big petrol engines needed to power these large cars.
There's also a trend towards large hybrid SUVs fitted with electric motors as well as conventional engines. These often claim to have better fuel consumption and emissions than diesels, although in reality this will depend largely on the type of driving you do.
In our tests, both conventional self-charging hybrids (which charge using energy recuperation, such as from the brakes, rather than needing to be plugged in) and plug-in hybrid SUVs often outperform comparable petrol or diesel models in stop-start city driving. This is where hybrid systems are at their most effective.
However, this advantage is often lost in higher-speed driving, such as on the motorway.
If you opt for a plug-in hybrid (PHEV), make sure you can regularly charge it. By not doing so, you risk being stung with expensive fuel bills. In our tests, we’ve seen a PHEV model’s fuel economy halve when it’s out of charge as its engine needs to work harder to keep the weight from the heavy battery and combustion engine rolling.
Some manufacturers are also adding mild hybrid technology to their existing petrol and diesel engines, and claiming improved fuel economy and emissions. However, we've seen in our tests that they don't always help. To make sure you'll get any benefit, you'll need to check our independent fuel consumption figures in our .
Electric large SUVs
While there's a potential for lower running costs if you buy an electric large SUV over petrol and diesel, the size of the car will still have an effect. Running costs for large SUVs could be up to 70% higher than with a smaller model, because of the SUVs greater electricity consumption.
The old rules generally apply: the heavier and more powerful a car, the more it's likely to cost to run, whatever fuel you're using.
Most electric large SUVs also sit in the luxury market, but we expect to see that change in the run-up to the 2030 ban on all new petrol/diesel cars, and the 2035 ban on hybrids.
Large SUVs boot space
Not all large SUVs are the practical workhorses you might imagine. Having lots of four-wheel-drive kit under the car's floor can lead to compromised interior space. Boot space, in particular, can be quite limited. And the fact SUVs sit so high off the ground can make them difficult to get in and out of.
Luxury SUVs as an alternative to premium saloons
The days of ultra-basic off-roaders that you could hose out after a day's work are all but over. Modern large SUVs are much more like conventional family cars, with premium models encroaching into the space of the traditional luxury limousine.
In this regard, choosing the right options is important. Large alloy wheels and styling upgrades are less useful than advanced driver aids, but will appeal to style-conscious buyers when the time comes to sell.
Off-road SUVs and 4x4 cars compared
If you’re serious about going where few cars have gone before, then there's no real substitute for a large SUV. However, while most talk the talk, you need to ensure it has the right off-road hardware.
The main thing to consider is a low-range gearbox, which allows the car to crawl very slowly, and minimises the risk of wheel-spin. Locking differentials (which force two wheels on the same axle to move in unison) are also useful for not getting stuck.
One of the easiest ways of improving a car’s off-road ability is to fit it with proper all-terrain tyres. The sporty road tyres fitted as standard to most models might benefit handling on tarmac, but are a serious limitation in the rough stuff.
Traditional 4x4s vs newer 4x2s
There's an increasing trend towards off-road-style cars that only have two-wheel drive. It's not only crossover models that can be bought with front-wheel drive; some more traditional-style 4x4s are available as 4x2s.
Of course, some benefits of a 4x4 remain in two-wheel-drive SUVs, including the high seating position and ground clearance. But you won't benefit from improved traction. On the other hand, the price is usually lower and fuel economy is often significantly better.
Four-wheel-drive vs all-wheel drive
There's also all-wheel drive (AWD) rather than 'permanent' four-wheel drive. This means power will only go to the second axle (either front or rear, depending on the model) when the car decides it's needed - when detecting a loss of grip, for instance. In normal operation, such cars are two-wheel drive.
An AWD model should provide greater traction over wet grass or gravel, but it's not properly for off-road. This is slightly complicated as the terms are used interchangeably, even by manufacturers, and with modern cars there's no hard and fast rule as to what sort of car would have what. Generally, however, AWD cars run in a two-wheel-drive configuration on the road to save fuel and for better handling. They then send power to the additional axle when required, so traction on slippery or loose surfaces is improved. This applies to the latest crossovers, too.
Increasingly, SUV models that aren’t specifically designed for off-road use will have AWD, as it has less of an impact on fuel consumption.
Four-wheel drive (or 4x4) is traditionally used in larger off roaders, and used to send power to all four wheels equally. They also can come with locking differentials and low-range gearboxes for great off-road prowess.
Best large SUVs and 4x4 cars for road travel
Since you'll probably be spending most of your time on tarmac, it's important to consider how your off-roader behaves on the road.
Some are wider than two metres, so it will be tricky parking at the supermarket and you won't be able to drive through a 6ft 6in width restriction. It's also important to remember that a large, heavy SUV is never going to handle amazingly well or be the most economical - but there’s a big difference between the best and worst.
Our comprehensive reviews cover important dynamic traits such as braking, suspension and how cars behave in emergency manoeuvres - particularly important in high-sided vehicles such as SUVs.
We test cars more thoroughly than anyone else
Our tests go further than those carried out by other organisations, and because Which? is independent, you can trust our reviews to give you the full, honest and impartial truth about every car we test.
Every car we review is subjected to more than 100 individual tests in a lab, on a test track and on real roads – and we really clock up the miles, driving around 500 miles in every car that we test.
Testing in controlled lab conditions means that the results we collect are directly comparable between different cars, helping us determine exactly which models are better and why, and helping you find the perfect car for your needs
And so you know which cars are likely to prove reliable for years to come, we also gather feedback from thousands of UK car owners through the annual Which? Car Survey, using it to generate detailed reliability ratings for the cars we test.