Dominated by premium offerings, this chart is populated by some of the best family cars on the road: cars that can cope with the school run as well as tackling wintery conditions and mildly rugged terrain, as well as tip trips, regular towing and long-distance motorway miles.
It’s a hotly contested and strategically important segment where style, safety and space rank at the top of the customer’s agenda and, often, room for seven occupants is required. That importance is underestimated by manufacturers at their peril, given that the segment is slowly obliterating the MPV market. And, 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.
1. Audi Q5
It’s hard to pick faults with such a classy and consummate all-rounder as the Audi Q5, although slightly anodyne handling is what will prevents the car from really appealing to keener drivers. The shortcoming should be nowhere near serious enough to prevent the Q5 from emulating 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, the Q5 is quiet, practical and desirable, with outstanding driving refinement and material finish. Being top of a class like this is no easy feat, especially with newer rivals in tow – but the Q5 stands clear of its opposition.
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2. BMW X3
What’s this: a decent-handling mid-range SUV? Before BMW set about making SUVs the idea would have been borderline laughable – but the BMW X3 has handling appeal down, and then some.
The X3’s got both petrol and powertrains with top-drawer driver appeal, 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. Standard equipment is a touch under-provided on some trim levels, but the car’s perceived quality is above almost all others, while its on-road manners are hard to fault, even on run-flat tyres.
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3. Jaguar F-Pace
Jaguar’s first SUV is a doozy, with remarkable handling, plenty of cabin space and looks which have rocketed it to the top of Jag’s range as its best-selling model.
There are one or two details which detract a little from the overall driving experience: among them some undistinguished four-cylinder diesel engines, a hesitant automatic gearbox and a slightly jittery, noisy ride in certain specifications. There’s room for improvement, too, in the car’s steering. But for a first-generation Jaguar SUV, the F-Pace is a fine-handling car and a very creditable achievement, and nestles it impressively into third place, even above its Land Rover Discovery Sport cousin.
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4. Land Rover Discovery Sport
The Discovery Sport might be the entry-level Land Rover in the showroom range, but it isn’t short on trademark Land Rover capability, comfort or charm.
The Discovery Sport is higher-riding than many of its opponents, grants better visiblity and 4×4 capability than many, and feels more like a traditional SUV to drive than some; although, on that last point, Land Rover has done very well to make it handle so tidily. It’s got a practical interior – a huge selling point in this segment. And despite being one of the older cars in the class, it’s far from feeling long in the tooth.
The car could be improved with a slightly less fidgety ride and less expensive range-topping derivatives. But if you want a family SUV with more offroad ruggedness than the class average, the Discovery Sport delivers that with very few associated compromises.
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5. Skoda Kodiaq
The Kodiaq is our top family SUV not from a premium manufacturer, and it 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 feels well screwed together. The top four all have better balanced handling and ride quality than the Kodiaq, but not all of them offer a third row of seats.
Aside from the slightly over-firm and remote way in which the Kodiaq drives, though, there’s little room for improvement. An oily-bits facelift could easily rectify its main problems.
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6. Mercedes-Benz GLC
The bottom five of our top ten is where the handling element sorts the class leaders from the also-rans.
The Mercedes GLC, with its well-appointed and luxurious-feeling 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 to drive, but it also rides less serenely than a Mercedes-Benz should on standard steel coil suspension, making it harder to recommend in base spec. On optional air suspension, however, it’s among the most laid-back, effectively comfort-oriented cars in the class – and well worth considering.
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7. Alfa Romeo Stelvio
Alfa Romeo took the platform and engines that made the Giulia, added some ride height and four-wheel drive technology, and created a fine-handling SUV in the shape of the Stelvio.
Remarkable handling and typical Alfa Romeo film-star looks come as standard, with a strong if gruff diesel engine to boot. Unfortunately, that decent handling makes for a slightly restless ride on poorer UK roads, while some of the car’s cabin materials feel plain and cheap – just as they do on the Giulia. It’s priced super-competitively, though, undercutting key rivals considerably. One for the keener driver, without question.
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8. Volvo XC60
Being the safest car ever tested by Euro NCAP is quite an accolade, and on top of this, the XC60 has plenty of design appeal and a very pleasant interior.
It’s not the last word in driver appeal, performance or diesel engine refinement, and the car’s hesitant automatic gearbox is a particular low point. But as a safe, comfortable, easy-to-use family SUV, it’s likely to attract an equally impressive number of buyers as its predecessor, which was the best-selling SUV in Europe in its pomp despite being priced to compete at the more expensive end of the market.
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9. Seat Tarraco
The Tarraco is Seat’s first attempt at a full-size SUV, and it’s a pretty good looking one too. Being a Volkswagen Group product it comes as little surprise that this Spanish SUV shares practically everything with the Skoda Kodiaq, although unlike its sister car the Tarraco comes equipped with seven seats as standard across the range – a fact that will no doubt please the family buyers cars such as this cater to.
It feels a touch more incisive and agile than other SUVs of its size, but this sharper handling does seem to come at the expense of rolling refinement and outright comfort. In a car such as this, it’s arguably the latter that should be of greater focus. Still, the interior is well finished, and the petrol and diesel motors are impressively refined. It’s priced fairly competitively, too, all of which are good things.
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10. Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
If you’re a family SUV driver looking for an easy way to cut your company car tax bills, you’ll probably have heard about this car in the office canteen. If you haven’t, get wise: because, compared to a diesel family SUV, the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV might save you as much as £4000-a-year on benefit-in-kind tax alone, and another £1500 on fuel, depending on your usage. That’s probably why it’s the UK’s best-selling plug-in hybrid car to date.
The car had it’s biggest facelift since launch in 2018, getting a new 2.4-litre petrol engine, refined styling and tweaked ride and handling. Performance is strong enough and handling dynamism is passable, although the car’s never better than when cruising along in comfortable, economical mode. Electric-only range is about twenty-five miles.
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Read more Autocar top 10s:
Top 10 Best Small SUVs 2019
Top 10 Best Hybrid SUVs 2019
Top 10 Best Luxury SUVs 2019