Best SUVs [Ranked for 2021]
Anthony Sophinos has been infatuated with cars for as long as he can remember, and that passion has fueled his journey from nerdy gearhead to professional writer and content creator who covers all things automotive. His byline has appeared at CarsDirect, New Car Test Drive, iSeeCars, and other online publications. To read more of his work, visit anthonysophinos.com. When he’s not penning articles, you can find Anthony outside biking, hiking, or exploring New England in his Miata (in the summer, of course).
Commuting or vacationing, moving or remodeling, off-roading or mall-crawling - an SUV can handle it all. And with the proliferation of models encompassing all sizes and price points, there’s certainly a model out there that’s right for you.
So how do we define an SUV? Traditionally, the term meant a full-frame, rear- or four-wheel drive, and proper off-road chops. Today, people often use it interchangeably with the word crossover, which typically connotes a vehicle that marries a unibody platform and car-like powertrain with a body that’s the size and shape of an SUV. One non-negotiable feature, however, is available all-wheel or four-wheel drive.
Our list features a mix of traditional SUVs as well as crossovers. To avoid any confusion, we’ll simply use the term SUV from here on out. And now, without any further ado, check out our definitive guide to the best SUVs on the market across every segment and price point.
Table of Contents
- Winners in Each Category
- Most Reliable SUVs
- Best SUVs by Size
- Most Fuel Efficient SUVs
- Best SUVs for Families
- Best SUVs by Price
- Best Used SUV
- Best Luxury SUVs
- Best SUVs for Towing
- Best SUVs for Off-Roading
- Best SUVs for Snow
- Best Four-Cylinder SUVs
- What Is the Best SUV Brand?
- What Is the Best All-Around SUV?
- Best SUVs by Type
- Frequently Asked Questions
Winners in Each Category
|Most Reliable SUV||Toyota Land Cruiser|
|Most Efficient SUV||Tesla Model Y|
|Best SUV for Families||Chevrolet Tahoe|
|Most Affordable SUV||Ford EcoSport|
|Best Used SUV||Toyota Highlander|
|Best Luxury SUV||Cadillac Escalade|
|Best SUV for Towing||Ford Expedition|
|Best SUV for Snow||Subaru Forester|
|Best Four-Cylinder SUV||Toyota RAV4|
|Best Overall SUV||Toyota Highlander|
Most Reliable SUVs
Want your new SUV to outlast you? You’ll want to get something with a sterling reputation and a penchant for longevity. These models earn their place on our list of most reliable SUVs thanks to years of proving themselves across countless owners and abuse. You can find such standout, dead-reliable SUVs among the subcompact, compact, midsize, and full-size segments.
See all our picks for the most reliable SUVs »
Best SUVs by Size
SUVs come in all shapes and sizes, but there are a precious few standout models that impress on account of their all-around excellence. These SUVs might not have the most cargo space or the most powerful engine, but what they do achieve can’t be quantified: they manage the rare feat of being greater than the sum of their parts.
We’ve found our favorites within each size class. Check out our favorite crossover SUVs, small SUVs, midsize SUVs, and full-size SUVs to see which models properly knocked our socks off.
See all our picks for the best SUVs by size »
Most Fuel Efficient SUVs
Fuel economy is getting more important by the day. Hybrid and electric SUVs are proliferating. Even gas-powered models are doing all they can to cut down on emissions, in turn saving you time and money spent at the pump. But there are a few SUVs that are doing this better than anybody else.
Not everybody is ready to ditch gas completely, so there are plenty of impressively efficient SUVs still quaffing Shell’s finest. Hybrid SUVs give the best of both worlds - gas when you need it and electricity when you don’t. And for the futurist crowd, feel free to celebrate: the dam has now broken on electric SUVs. Here are our favorites of the current moment.
See all our picks for the most fuel-efficient SUVs »
Best SUVs for Families
When you buckle your precious cargo into the back seat, you want to know you can trust your vehicle to protect and cater to your children. That means safety gear, entertainment options, car-seat-friendly back seats, and plenty of cargo space.
With that sort of criteria on your shopping list, consider our favorite 3-row SUVs or eight-passenger SUVs. And if your brood is small enough to merit a third-row unnecessary, check out our two-row picks regarding the best SUVs for families.
See all our picks for the best cars for families »
Best SUVs by Price
We get it - you have a budget. And sometimes the SUV you want doesn’t exactly line up with what’s in your bank account. So what’s a good fallback option that won’t drain the last of your funds?
We’ve taken a look at the best SUVs under $20,000 and the best SUVs under $30,000. Both serve up great features and ample room and comfort - all for prices that should work for even the tightest of new-car budgets.
Best Used SUV
Not feeling like buying new? The used market is an excellent alternative. With so many options coming off lease and hitting dealer lots, the selection of used SUVs has never been more varied.
Our favorites among pre-owned SUVs? We particularly like the Toyota Highlander and Subaru Crosstrek. The Highlander is the ultimate family SUV, with three rows and a high-quality interior that can stand up to the wrath of children on a road trip. Better yet, it offers a hybrid model - which posts some of the best fuel economy numbers in its segment.
The Crosstrek, on the other hand, is great for childless buyers who want something with ground clearance and proven reliability. And for those whose playground is the outdoors, rest easy knowing that Subaru is an expert at making all-season winners that seem tailored to active lifestyles. With used Crosstrek prices as affordable as they are, it’s hard to say no to this charismatic compact SUV.
See all our picks for the best used SUVs »
Best Luxury SUVs
There isn’t much that beats the feeling of climbing into a new luxury SUV loaded up with the bells and whistles. Does anyone really need 20 speakers in their cabin or 30-way seats? Probably not - but there’s real satisfaction in owning something that caters so lavishly to your comfort and experience. It’s a feeling that the best luxury SUVs deliver every time you get behind the wheel.
The BMW X5 might trigger this sort of dopamine response better than any other luxury SUV. It wears a cabin that’s elegantly appointed fine trim, soft leathers, and large, glossy screens. Under the hood, powertrain options range from a competent turbo-four to a brutally fast 600-plus horsepower twin-turbo V-8. It’s an excellent, versatile choice that is a noted segment leader.
Want the biggest, most glamorous SUV this side of a Bentley Bentagya? Check out the Cadillac Escalade. The current model was all-new for 2021; it features a host of updates and improvements that once again asserts the big Cadillac as the king of the SUV hill. A potent V-8 engine, up to 38 linear inches of screens, and sumptuous interior fittings make this new Escalade a standout.
See all our picks for the best luxury SUVs »
Best SUVs for Towing
Pickup trucks are the undisputed towing champions, but an SUV with a full-frame can tow plenty of weight in its own right. If you’re willing to budget a bit more in gas money, there are a few excellent options to choose from if you’re looking for the best SUVs for towing.
Our favorite is the Chevrolet Tahoe (or its long-wheelbase version, the Suburban). This big SUV was redesigned with the Escalade and features burly V-8 power that enables a maximum towing capacity of 8,400 pounds. It’s also extremely capable and comfortable, making it the perfect SUV for taking the camper cross-country.
Another great option is the Ford Expedition. It uses a twin-turbo V-6 that is rated to pull up to 9,300 pounds. It’s currently the leader among SUVs in terms of tow ratings and is probably the next best tow vehicle after a properly-equipped pickup truck.
See all our picks for the best SUVs for towing »
Best SUVs for Off-Roading
Sometimes the backcountry beckons - and when it does, you want the right rig to get out there. Most SUVs these days don’t have the chops to go much further than a forest road, but there are a few SUVs that remain the best for off-roading.
The choice that remains the unmatched favorite for consumers and critics alike is the Jeep Wrangler. Every nut and bolt on this iconic SUV was designed for mud bogs and rock crawling. It has available features like a winch, all-terrain tires, a lifted suspension, and more. If you bring the skills, the Wrangler brings the capability.
An alternative to the Jeep is the Toyota 4Runner. It’s also built itself an enviable reputation among off-road enthusiasts thanks to its tough bones and available off-road gear. A further benefit of the 4Runner is it's a bit more livable than the noisy, rough-riding Wrangler when it comes to daily driving.
See all our picks for the best SUVs for off-roading »
Best SUVs for Snow
Winter isn’t just a season for those of us north of the sunbelt; it’s a way of life. And if you live up here, you need a car that can handle the worst snow squalls Mother Nature might throw at you. And while nearly all SUVs now offer all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, only a few models stand out as the best SUVs for snow.
Our favorite winter ride is the Subaru Forester. This two-row favorite of New England bundles an affordable price, generous ground clearance, and a renowned full-time all-wheel drive system that comes standard with every model. Subaru remains the king of winter-ready vehicles, and the Forester exemplifies the qualities that earned the brand this reputation in the first place.
A smaller SUV that still wins our frostbitten hearts is the Ford Bronco Sport. A new face in the SUV space, the Bronco Sport has tough good looks coupled with great ground clearance for those snowy days. A few trims even add extra hardware to ensure sure-footed traction in snow, mud, or ice.
See all our picks for the best SUVs for snow »
Best Four-Cylinder SUVs
Sometimes four cylinders are just enough. This is especially true in the current era, as automakers begin to move away from bigger engines. So which models are the best four-cylinder SUVs?
The Toyota RAV4 is one of our favorites. Strictly available with four cylinders this modest two-row runabout features great gas mileage and reliable performance. In hybridized Prime trim, that four-cylinder pairs up with two electric motors to generate 0-60 mph times as fast as 5.5 seconds. Even without the hybrid gear, the RAV4 is a scrappy, efficient performer that erases old connotations regarding four-cylinder power.
Another excellent four-cylinder option is the Mazda CX-5. Mazda has been pushing upmarket lately, and the refined, powerful turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder in the CX-5 affirms this. It is fast, smooth, and powerful, and coupled with the stylish exterior and upscale cabin, the vibe is more luxurious than mainstream.
See all our picks for the best four-cylinder SUVs »
What Is the Best SUV Brand?
Almost all brands build at least one great SUV these days, but we’d say the best in this segment is Jeep - it practically birthed the SUV concept with the original Wagoneer in the 1960s, not to mention the 75 years of predecessors to the Wrangler. Today, their lineup delivers all the best qualities buyers look for in SUVs.
What Is the Best All-Around SUV?
The Toyota Highlander might be the best all-around SUV. Why? It hits on every point that a modern SUV buyer is looking for: cargo room, passenger space, lots of tech, an efficient hybrid, and even decent towing capability. It does all this at a price point in line with mainstream SUVs. It’s a winning combo that has proven very hard to beat.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best SUV to buy?
As we said, the Toyota Highlander is our recommendation. Unless you don’t like the styling, there’s nothing this SUV leaves out.
What is the most affordable SUV?
The Ford EcoSport and Chevrolet Trailblazer are the cheapest vehicles that fit our loose definition of SUVs, thanks to their available all-wheel drive. Both begin just shy of $20,000.
What is the most reliable SUV?
No question: the Toyota Land Cruiser. These SUVs last for hundreds of thousands of miles with surprisingly few repairs beyond basic maintenance.
What is the most fuel-efficient SUV?
Both the Ford Escape Hybrid or Toyota RAV4 can return over 40 mpg. There’s also the all-electric Tesla Model Y, which is the most efficient SUV of the current 2021 model year.
Which SUV has the most cargo and passenger space?
The GM full-size trio: The Cadillac Escalade ESV, GMC Yukon XL, and Chevrolet Suburban. These three SUVs offer over 140 cubic feet of cargo space with all seats folded and can seat up to eight in total comfort.
What is the best-used SUV?
We’d recommend a three-year-old Toyota Highlander, for the same reasons we named it the best new SUV you can buy.