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September 21, 2021
John Goreham is a life-long car nut and recovering engineer. John’s focus areas are technology, safety, and green vehicles. In the 1990s, he was part of an academic team that built a solar-electric vehicle from scratch. His was the role of the battery thermal control designer. After earning his engineering degree, John also completed a marketing program at Northeastern University. For 20 years, he applied his engineering and sales talents in the worlds of semiconductor manufacturing, biopharmaceutical production, and automotive electronics supply chain. Always a writer, John has published numerous articles in technical journals such as Chemical Processing Magazine. In 2008 he retired from that career and dedicated himself to chasing his dream of being an auto writer. In addition to online publications such as Car Talk, John’s work has appeared in print in dozens of American newspapers, and he provides reviews to many vehicle shopping sites.
SUVs range in size, style, and type, from the diminutive Nissan Kicks to the leviathan Chevrolet Suburban. Within each of the size segments, some rise to the top of the class.
Each size segment may have buyer priorities that differ somewhat, but everyone wants certain things regardless of size. These include safety, reliability, and driving satisfaction.
Our list of the best SUVs by size may prove helpful for shoppers who think they know what size they want, and thus, which models to explore.
Check out our full list of the best SUVs here >>
Table of Contents
|Model||Size||IIHS Safety Rating||Consumer Reports Score (5 is best)||Driving Satisfaction|
The crossover SUV segment contains a lot of great vehicles. The Ford Bronco Sport, Toyota RAV4 Prime, and Acura MDX all have a strong case for making this list. However, as time passes and more data become available, we continue to rank the Mazda CX-30 higher and higher.
Driving satisfaction is so high in the CX-30 that it starts out as our favorite in the group. Its turbocharged engine option puts it squarely in the premium performance category. The style and interior amenities of the CX-30 also push it higher in our minds than what other mainstream brands offer. Mazda just seems to deliver more for the money than other brands.
Pair these subjective rankings with a perfect 5/5 in reliability and the best possible safety score, and you can see why the Mazda CX-30 is our pick as the best crossover SUV you can buy.
See all our picks for the best crossover SUVs »
The funny thing about “Sport Utility Vehicles” is that nobody can nail down a definition of what one is. Mazda tops our list in the compact or small SUV category for those who put on-road driving satisfaction first, and the Ford Bronco Sport is the best for those who value utility and all-road or off-road capability. Both earn the highest possible safety score, an important consideration in this very popular family vehicle segment.
The CX-5 is a lot like the slightly smaller CX-30 from Mazda, except a smidge bigger. Those who relish backcountry touring should start with Mazda. While we don’t think many owners of CX-5 are going to shovel compost into the back, we bet a lot will carry firewood in the cargo area. We’ve driven the CX-5 in some pretty severe winter weather to know it can get the job done and earn the title SUV. However, this is the style and sporty driving pick of our pair.
See all our picks for the best small SUVs »
The Kia Telluride can justifiably be called either a large SUV or a midsize, depending upon where you draw the line. With three rows and a large interior, the Telluride is a great people hauler. However, it is also still small enough to park in a normal garage or parking space. It’s just the right size for many families.
However, it is the Telluride’s pleasing ride and overall feeling of solidity and quality that have earned it the praise of many testers. The Telluride is good or great in every respect. With its top reliability score and great safety score, it is also an easy pick as best in the segment on objective measurements alone.
See all our picks for the best midsize SUVs »
When size matters, go big or go home. The Chevrolet Suburban doesn’t just seat seven like most three-row SUVs. Or eight like some. It can seat nine when shoppers choose three bench seats. The Suburban is also GM’s longest SUV model and has the power, torque, and chassis for heavy-duty towing and cargo hauling.
We’ve driven the Suburban, and two things always strike us when we have the chance. First, the Suburban drives smaller than you would think. No, you’re not going to back it into the garage, but you can maneuver it in normal traffic with ease. On the highway, you feel like the king of the road. Those looking for a great but very very large SUV know where to find it.
See all our picks for the best full-size SUVs »
In the premium segments, Lexus is the apparent choice for reliability. However, in the mainstream and high-volume segments, Mazda is our pick as the most reliable SUV brand based on the strength of the CX-30, CX-5, and CX-9’s Consumer Reports scores.
The CX-30 crossover SUV is nearly as fun as Mazda’s smaller Mazda3 hatchback on a lonely mountain road. The CX-5 is also a great handling crossover SUV. Both are also among the quickest in their segments when equipped with the optional 2.5-liter turbocharged engine. If you value driving satisfaction above all other considerations, choose the Mazda that fits your size needs.
The Jeep Wrangler is not on our list above due to its reliability ranking and safety score. But if you need to go places that no vehicle was ever expected to get to, pick the Jeep Wrangler.
The Ford Bronco Sport Badlands with the up-powered 2.0-liter turbocharged engine is surprising in its off-road abilities and also surprisingly great to drive on-road.
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