Land Rover may make several appearances in this list, but plenty of other brands have an offering in this premium segment
29 January 2018

Luxury SUVs are a staple of premium car makers' line-ups, with at least one from every major player.

It's a segment in great demand. Real off-road ability is common from cars within it, as is the upmost in luxury, space and refinement. And amongst the many factors motivating buyers, design appeal is becoming increasingly important. So who makes the best of 'em?

An increasing number of 'Range Rover'-branded derivates have turned what used to be one car into a family of Land Rover models, but the Range Rover Sport might be the most important car in that new family, as well as the most broadly talented and capable. It's one of the most versatile upmarket SUVs on the market, and lives up to the word 'luxury' like few others.

It's not quite as spacious as it could be and isn't the lightest car of its kind, but the Range Rover Sport more than makes up for it with its remarkable breadth of talent. That one car can offer such a complete catalogue of abilities is remarkable, and among them is outstanding offroad ability, and real on-road handling dynamism and driver appeal for car of this size. First-rate cabin richness, refinement and luxury ambience also come as standard. 

The car's roster of qualities is certainly one for which Land Rover charges a tidy premium, even over prices typical of this rarefied class. Meanwhile, the kerbweight necessary to provide the Range Rover Sport's offroad ability also dulls its performance and fuel-efficiency compared with rivals.

But to drive one of these cars is to quickly realise that some prices are worth paying. The Range Rover Sport really does it all, and may well be all the luxury SUV you'll ever want or need.

Our Verdict

Volvo XC90
The new Volvo XC90 costs from £45,750

It has big boots to fill and talented rivals to face. Is it up to the task?

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The second podium for Land Rover in the luxury SUV segment is delivered by a car whose character differs starkly from that of the car above, but may be all the more appealing to you for its relative lack of machismo: the fifth-generation Land Rover Discovery.

It's a car of controversial but rugged styling, with off-road ability that few in the class could beat, and with a brief to provide functional, understated, comfortable luxury and versatility on the road - and that succeeds at that task with likable ease. Seven usable seats are inside, and when you're driving you'll have a great time because this is as comfortable a cruiser as many traditional, saloon-shaped luxury cars.

With such size and weight, though, comes considerable thirst, so the Discovery is not a cheap car to run. Nor is it fast, or particularly dynamic in its handling. In our view, however, a big 4x4 needn't be, or do, much more than this in order to earn its place in your esteem and your affections - and the Discovery certainly does the latter.

The car that saved Porsche entered its third model generation in 2018 and, in doing so, eased out its VW Group platform buddy, the Audi Q7, for a place at the sharp end of this class ranking. 

The latest Cayenne isn't quite the driver's car we've all come to know, and that many of us came to begrudgingly respect after taking so powerfully against what the car seemed to represent in its first iteration back in 2002. Because Porsche is still Porsche; it still makes the very best sports cars in the world, thanks in no small part to a business that's now built on the commercial bedrock of luxury SUVs.

The Cayenne in its current form is plainly a car that's content to leave the sports car impressions to its little sibling the Macan, and instead to play the high-quality, luxury SUV with greater focus than any of its forebears have. It still delivering driver appeal that's distinguishing, if not quite outstanding.

The Cayenne's interior is one of breath-taking quality, its ride refinement gives away almost nothing to the most comfortable in the class, and its performance is as strong as ever, backed by a range of engines that may no longer include a diesel, but that does include an impressive band of plug-in hybrid, turbo V6 and turbo V8 petrols.

The Q7 is desirable, polished SUV with a real aura of accomplishment. Huge inside, with high-quality materials and a high level of refinement, it may be the embodiment of everything you want in a modern luxury family car.

The downsides? In typical Audi fashion, it feels remote to drive, handles in grippy and effective but uninvolving fashion, and is a little short on the charisma that other cars in this class have in abundance.

It's potent and efficieint, though, and improves over the previous model's standards in every way. With pricing that's quite competitive and on-road performance free of the usual SUV compromises, it's little wonder that sales are blooming.

Volvo's renaissance following Ford ownership started with the XC90 - a genuine seven-seater with comfort and handling on its side, a decent range of engines including a 401bhp plug-in hybrid, as well as an abundance of style.

It's another car that sits directly in the middle of the luxury SUV price spectrum. The interior features a mix of luxury touches and not-so-luxury plastics in places, while less-than-perfect engine refinement and infotainment usability niggles ensure the XC90 stops just short of greatness. But a spot so close to the top of a marquee class like this won't disappoint a company still in the early days of its latest ownership epoch. Volvo is a company on the up, and the XC90 is a refreshing, interesting car from the same mould.

The new kid on the block, the Range Rover Velar is Land Rover's most road-biased SUV yet, with looks taken straight from those of the concept car, and an interior that puts most others to shame with its richness in both materials and technology.

On the road it's every bit as good to drive as it is to simply admire, with ride, refinement, performance and handling precision every bit as good as any car in the class - provided you don't skimp on cylinder count when you specify your car (the four-cylinder engines being much poorer than the sixes).

Prices start fairly low but it's worth stretching to the better engines in the range, albeit perhaps not Range Rover's upper-echelon trim levels, to get the best car. At its worst, the Velar can be a fairly ordinary car to drive: but at its best, it's quite something.

An electric SUV from before electric SUVs were a thing, the Tesla Model X makes its presence known in the car park with its innovative top-hinged falcon doors.

The car's clever packaging keeps the seven-seat interior spacious, with the added bonus of a boot in the front. And then there's the performance - it may not match the top speed of many rivals, but on accelerative pace it's second to none in this segment. It's also super-responsive and refined, too.

The Model X's ride and handling isn't quite at the level you hope it might be, though, and doesn't quite turn this into the driver's car it might have been. The car's price is also prohibitive for many buyers, especially with quality issues recently grabbing headlines.

All in all, this isn't our favourite car from a company that's made a splash for so many reasons, and isn't the best electric car of its kind either - but if it meets your needs, it's got plenty to recommend it.

This is the car that reinvented the luxury SUV segment for the modern era. Would the luxury car market look quite like it does today, you wonder, if not for the original BMW X5 of 2000?

Two generations later, the X5 is still the practical, dynamic, premium-branded SUV it always was - although it's been a while since it was the class' pick for keen drivers. Strong engines put the car in contention on that front, but a rolling chassis that's too sensitive to optional specification (avoid runflat tyres at all costs) and fails to really involve the driver fails to seal the deal.

The car's styling won't appeal to everyone, but BMW's brand cachet certainly will - and school-run desirability counts for so much in this particular market. Priced bang in line with rivals (apart from the absurdly priced but impressive M50d model), the X5 is a stalwart and pioneer in the segment if not quite a class leader.

Volkswagen's modern flagship SUV is a car that perfectly illustrates what its maker does so well; but also what - even after decades of trying to make really convincing luxury cars - still eludes it.

The Touareg has all of the refinement, quality, capability and technological sophistication you could want from a big modern 4x4. It lacks the stylishness, the richness or the luxury aura, however, that may be necessary to tempt people out of its rivals, and generally fails to compensate for the headstart enjoyed by rivals from more desirable premium brands than Volkswagen. Progressive design has characterised VW's cars for decades, after all, keeping its more affordable offerings so classless, functional and easy-to-use. But when the philosophy is applied to a £50,000 SUV, it results in a car that's strangely short on design identity and - besides a chromed grille of close-to epic proportions - presents buyers with very little to simply lust after.

The VW has a roomy and well-finished interior with some very impressive digital technology integrated within it. Performance is strong if a little unresponsive at times. Ride and handling is very respectable but nothing special.

The artist formerly known as the Mercedes M-Class is now long in the tooth, and falls short of class standards on performance with its limited engine range. It's still commendabe for its comfort, space and luxury, however. Mercedes' offroad-biased derivatives are also fiercely capable over the roughest terrain.

They don't come much more expensive at the bottom end, but the lower-spec GLE 250d 4Matic provides all the practicality and economy you'll likely want. The car's not tip-top in driver engagement, mind, so keen drivers who can't do without a luxury SUV should look higher up the list here.

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Comments
1

7 October 2018

So a car with a poor navigation / entertainment system, fuel hungry engines, average road handling, and questionable reliability & build quality is autocar’s choice of best in class ?  

What nonsense.  How about a more objective evaluation rather than patriotic bias.  

The Porsche drives better, the Audi Q7 a better all round option, and the Volvo covering real world driving better than the RR sport.  

 

MJI

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