Numerous premium brands claim they make the best family SUV, we can now put that argument to rest with our definitive top ten list
26 January 2018

Dominated by premium offerings, the family SUV segment needs to be a good all-rounder: coping with the school run as well as tackling mildly rugged terrain, tip trips, towing and covering motorway miles.

It's a hotly contested segment with style, safety and space at the top of the agenda, and often, room for seven required. Underestimated by manufacturers at their peril, given the segment has obliterated the MPV market. Despite a lack of variety in the styling and approach taken by many, it's a fairly diverse segment, which has attracted many brands into the fold of SUV-making.

It's hard to pick faults with such a consummate all-rounder, although the anodyne handling is the one which sticks out the furthest. This is nowhere near enough to stop the Q5 from achieving the sales success of its predecessor, though, which became the best-seller in its segment in nearly every country in which it was offered.

Although a pricey option, with a long options list, it's quiet, practical, desirable and ergonomic on the inside. Being top of a class like this is no easy feat, especially with newer rivals in tow. 

What's this? A decent-handling SUV? Five years ago it would have been inconceivable, but the BMW X3 has it down, and then some.

It's got a class-leading powertrain too, even if it is slightly unrefined when being pushed, but in all other areas, the X3 is a winner, and a close-run second to the Audi Q5. Equipment is a touch under-provided, but the car's perceived quality is above almost all others, while its on-road manners are impossible to fault, even on run-flat tyres. Goodness.

Jaguar's first SUV is a doozy, with remarkable handling, oodles of cabin space and looks which have rocketed it to the top of Jag's range as its best-selling model.

It's only details which take away from the overall experience, with an undistinguished diesel engine, jittery ride and room for improvement in the steering at the top of our gripes. For a first-generation product, that's a remarkable achievement, and nestles it impressively into third place, even above its Land Rover Discovery Sport cousin.

For now, the most entry-level Land Rover is also one of its best.

As with the Jaguar F-Pace, it's got remarkably good handling for the traditionally unwieldy SUV segment, and it's got a practical interior - a huge selling point in this segment. Despite being one of the older cars in the class, it's far from long in the tooth. It could be improved with a slightly less fidgety ride and less expensive range-toppers.

The top family SUV not from a premium manufacturer, undercuts even the cheapest of the plusher offerings on this list by over £9000.

So what are you sacrificing? A chunk of premium-feel materials for a start, although everything is well screwed together. The top four all have better balanced handling and ride quality than the Kodiaq, but don't offer that all-important third row of seats. Aside from the way it drives, though, there's little room for improvement. An oily-bits facelift could easily rectify its main problems.

The bottom five of our top ten is where the handling element sorts the class leaders from the also-rans.

The GLC, with its well-appointed interior deserves its place in the top ten, but its numb steering means it's far from first choice for keen drivers. It's more car-like than many of the full-blown SUVs on this list, but it also rides less impressively than a Mercedes-Benz should on standard suspension, making it harder to recommend in base spec. Tweaks to the suspension and sharper manual mode gearshifts could easily transform the GLC.

Alfa takes everything that makes up the Giulia, and transfers it to a high-riding SUV.

That means remarkable handling and typical Alfa Romeo film-star looks, with a decent diesel to boot. Unfortunately, that decent handling comes at the expense of ride quality in the UK compared with smoother European roads, while some of the interior materials could use a little more budget next time around. It's priced super-competitively, though, undercutting key rivals considerably.

Being the safest car ever tested by Euro NCAP is quite an accolade, and on top of this, the XC60 is well-designed, with a sumptuous interior.

It's not the last word in driver appeal or performance, and the gearbox is a particular low point, but as a safe, comfortable family SUV, it's likely to attract an equally impressive number of buyers as its predecessor, which was the best-selling SUV in Europe, despite being priced to compete with the more expensive end of the market.

The Koreans are coming, and the Sorento is just one way they're assaulting the establishment with well-rounded if not quite class-leading products. What will attract customers most are the generous equipment list, low list price and headline-grabbing seven-year warranty.

What might put them off are steeply climbing prices as you go up the spec ladder, an average interior and a tendency to make a bit of noise around town, compared with the more refined offerings up the top ten. Prices start directly between more everyday models like the Kodiaq and the upmarket alternatives from German brands.

The Skoda Kodiaq's fiercest rival, blending seven-seat flexibility with a £23k price tag. The ride is comfortable and, being based on the Qashqai, it handles well, too.

It's a little too Qashqai-like for our liking, though, and borders on unimaginative, while the refinement is only average at best. A Qashqai it isn't, but it represents decent value for money as a three-row SUV at the very least.

Our Verdict

Audi Q5

Audi replaces the best-selling Q5 SUV with a model very much on the same theme, but does more sophistication make it a more compelling option than the BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLC or the Volvo XC60?

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