It’s been quite some time since I’ve written a new post about cars, but it’s quite an exciting time for fans of SUVs like myself at the moment. Most of the big players in the class have been completely redesigned or updated in the past few months, making it harder than ever for well-wheeled buyers to choose between them.
With all these new launches I’ve seen lots of first drives, reviews and videos on these vehicles, so thought I’d do a quick comparo, for my own sake if nobody else’s…
The current Audi Q7 launched back in 2016, and a face-lifted model has recently been revealed to do battle with totally refreshed rivals. Tweaked grille, headlights and two-tone paint are the main changes on the outside of the car – it’ll be interesting to see it in a colour a little less polarising than the red used in the first press pictures, as I’m not sure it looks great. Inside things have changed a little more, with the pop-up infotainment screen and HVAC controls being replaced by two large touchscreens, similar to those in the new Q8.
The new interior certainly looks more modern, but only time will tell if it’s more usable, especially as the rotary MMI control controller has disappeared into history. The rest of the Q7 remains generally the same, with high quality materials and excellent technology. Highlights include a quite usable third row of seats (relative to most rivals), and powerful range of diesel engines – these are now endowed with 48V mild hybrid technology, which means a few more mpg essentially. I just wish it looked a little more aggressive, as otherwise it’s an impressive package.
This is the fourth generation of X5 and is totally new – the previous generation car was cut short, demonstrating how competitive this market segment it. Things are all change with the X5, with a softer exterior featuring large new ‘laser’ headlights, and a huge new grille, probably the main talking point with any new BMW. At the rear things are also softer, dropping the L-shaped tail lamps which have featured on all X5’s to date. Having seen several in person, the new model is actually quite attractive, but it hasn’t risen to the top of the lookers chart by any means.
Inside there has been an arguably bigger change, with the X5 sharing much of its interior with upper range BMWs like the 7 and 5 Series models. It looks nice enough, but its the technology that really sets the BMW apart from rivals, with iDrive remaining the best infotainment system, and a plethora of cameras and digital screens helping the sensory overload. Thankfully the X5 retains the split tailgate design (electrically operated of course) and is also powered by a range of inline six-cylinder and V8 engines, the diesels remaining the choice for UK buyers. Overall it’s an impressive car, but the reviews I have seen lead me to believe that the car has lost some of its BMW-ness in terms of the way it drives, and to my eyes the way it looks as well. It’s also disappointing that the third row seats remain optional and very small, considering that this is a very large and expensive vehicle.
Jaguar’s F-Pace is probably a car whose presence on this list is debatable – it’s the smallest car here and prices start about £10k lower than rivals, but it’s also a bit larger than those in the next class down, and for the moment anyway is the largest Jaguar SUV. Despite having been on sale since 2016 without any major changes, the F-Pace is still a good looking vehicle – it isn’t as futuristic as the similar Velar, but comes across as generally more sporting than most rivals.
Unfortunately the Jaguar’s interior has also missed out on changes too, though at least now the widescreen InTouch infotainment screen is standard across the range. Engine-wise the F-Pace has a range of four-cylinder options, plus a V6 diesel and V8 petrol engine, the latter being for the performance SVR, but the V6 being the best all-rounder, though expensive compared to the four cylinder versions. A face lifted version should be launched towards the end of this year, with the same dual-screen system found in most JLR products, though I doubt the exterior will change too much.
Jeep Grand Cherokee
There once was a time when Jeeps were fierce rivals for Range Rovers, and the Grand Cherokee was top dog at the private school gates. While that may not have been true for some years now, the current model is still impressive despite being long in the tooth. Externally it looks just great, not overdone but still very American in its appearance. That said it hasn’t had a redesign since 2013, and this is a model that debuted in 2011, a new one isn’t due until at least 2020.
That really shows on the inside, particularly in terms of interior quality. Lots of cheap looking plastics are used throughout the cabin, and the instrumentation looks dated compared to newer all-digital displays in rivals. Jeep still demands a high price for its current flagship, meaning that prices are over £40k, which seems a lot compared to newer rivals. For that money I’d be more inclined to look at the Wrangler, which is more basic but a lot more eye catching.
Land Rover Discovery
In Land Rover’s complicated model structure, the Discovery falls flatly in the middle of things, mixing luxury and utility in a large package. That pays dividends inside, where there is space for seven adults, all of whom have a high up seating position and even a bit of space for luggage. Technology isn’t as flashy as on JLR’s newer products, but the InTouch Pro system works well even if it lacks some of the cool stuff found in German rivals.
Outside the Discovery is overall an attractive car, and unmistakably a Land Rover. Unfortunately it looks very similar to other products, apart from at the rear, where the offset numberplate has become a controversial design aspect which has put some buyers off. For me it’s not an issue as long as the car is on large alloy wheels, but in general it is quite pricey if you start adding on options.
Land Rover Range Rover Sport
The Range Rover Sport has been on sale since 2013, but was face lifted last year to include more angular headlights and a tweaked interior with dual screens for infotainment and HVAC controls. I am actually a bigger fan of the pre facelift version overall, but this is still a very attractive vehicle that I think is one of the best looking on sale.
At the moment the Sport comes with wide choice of engines; a 2.0L four-cylinder diesel, 3.0L V6 diesel, 4.4L V8 diesel, 2.0L four-cylinder petrol, 3.0L inline six-cylinder petrol, 2.0L four-cylinder hybrid and a 5.0L V8 petrol. Unfortunately none of these are particularly economical, with the best compromise being the standard V6 diesel – this should return low to mid 30s mpg and also is pretty fast. The only fly in the ointment is the price, as even the cheapest versions cost £65k.
Land Rover Range Rover Velar
Jaguar Land Rover offer numerous vehicles in this segment of the market, and the Velar is probably the most style-led. Based on the same platform as the Jaguar F-Pace, it has less space inside than most cars here but is just as large. It looks very futuristic with its flush door handles and floating roof, but this is a car which is very spec sensitive – it needs larger wheels and dark colours to avoid looking like a bloated Evoque.
A high price is a running theme with Range Rover models, and its not at all tricky to spec a Velar with a V6 up to over £60k – this means that per month it will not be much cheaper to buy than the Sport, which is a much more substantial car. Still for those wanting to make a statement, it’s certainly a good looking car that stands out in a crowded marketplace.
The RX was one of the first SUVs to get a hybrid option, and in the UK at least it is only available as a hybrid. However, while many rival hybrids are plug-ins, and can run solely on electric power for a limited range, the RX retains a relatively old school set-up that means the hybrid motor generally only boosts the petrol engine, unless you intend to travel only at very low speeds. In reality this won’t make much difference to most people – driving for 10 miles on electricity sounds like a fun idea, but if you ever want to go on longer journeys then you quickly move over to a noisy petrol engine and get poor mpg; the RX offers diesel-like economy almost all the time.
The rest of the RX is quite impressive too – it certainly looks interesting thanks to the unusual grille and design, and the interior is of a very high quality, though infotainment is pretty poor compared to everything else on the market. Last year saw the introduction of a seven seat model which arguably looks better than the regular version, and its also very reliable with excellent customer service. Why isn’t it more popular? Well Lexus isn’t quite as posh as German/British rivals, and combined with high list prices this means that they are not that cost effective on finance.
As I write this, the Mercedes GLE is is newest car on this list, being launched in mid 2019 after a long build up. Mercedes were one of the first to launch a luxury SUV, in the form of the ML in 1997 – in 2015 the ML became the GLE, in-line with Mercedes’ wider naming strategy. The previous car was just a facelifted ML, and in all honesty not that impressive a car. However the new one is totally fresh and finally adopts many of the features which have been on Mercedes’ passenger cars for quite some time, namely a huge infotainment screen, unusual air vent arrangement and lots of in-car technology.
I’d argue that the new GLE is the most attractive of the latest bunch of SUVs, much more so than the previous generation as well. The inside is a game changer, and while it may lack some of the tech found in the Audi and BMW (albeit not by much), it makes up for it with a nicer ambience in general. The GLE also regains the option of seven seats, for the first time since 2005 (and the first ML), but its main weakness for me is the standard four-cylinder diesel engine. BMW and Audi offer a standard six-cylinder engine and cost around the same. An in-line six cylinder diesel is available, but it’s quite an expensive option as it includes air suspension and seven seats.
When Porsche released the Cayenne back in 2002 it was pretty controversial – Porsche had never made a saloon car, let alone a two-tonne SUV. However the Cayenne was a rousing success, and this was solidified by the second generation car. The current model launched late last year and to the untrained eye looks very similar the previous model, just the full width rear lights give the game away, as well as the much improved interior with its widescreen infotainment and much fewer buttons.
Arguably the biggest changes to the Cayenne are engine wise, with Porsche deciding to declare all out war on diesel engines and discontinue their biggest selling version in the UK/Europe. A replacement of sorts is found in the hybrid version, but those who want to go on longer road trips in their Cayenne may face higher fuel bills than expected. However given these are £70k+ vehicles, maybe that doesn’t really matter too much.
Tesla Model X
Tesla is a company which isn’t afraid to shake things up. While the original roadster may not have chalked up any sales records, the Model S has gone on to become a huge success, outselling even class leaders like the Mercedes S-Class. The Model X is aimed at the popular SUV market, and brings unique ‘gullwing’ rear doors (usually found on supercars), a minimalist cabin and ample seating for seven – of course it does look a little dumpy, but this doesn’t matter to most people.
Of course the main selling point for any Tesla is the fact its a pure electric vehicle, and one that can travel great distances without needing recharging. I think the range of the Model X is around 250 miles, impressive for something that weighs so much. Of course all this comes at a price, and you have to make compromises with interior quality, and arguably looks. But this is probably the future.
The Volkswagen Touareg is a luxury SUV with the wrong badge – being based on the same platform as the Porsche Cayenne, Audi Q7, Bentley Bentayga and Lamborghini Urus it has some serious pedigree, but the mainstream Volkswagen badge means that it can’t attract the same kudos as its siblings, or indeed rivals from other marques.
That’s a shame because it is a very good car – definitely erring on the luxury end of the scale and featuring a plethora of screens, the Touareg is more than enough car for most buyers, although does lack the seven seat option of the Q7 and Bentagya, despite its large size. Styling wise it is quite bold too, but the large VW badge is simply not going to attract the buyers who want to pay over £50k for an SUV.
Volvo’s XC90 originally launched way back in 2002 and was one of the first SUVs to offer seven proper seats, as well as a car-like driving experience and reasonable running costs. It was so popular that Volvo kept it on sale until 2015, when it was replaced by the current model. This was the first of a new generation of Volvos on a new scaleable platform, and introduced the firm’s current design language. Bold headlamps and cool Scandinavian detailing mean that the XC90 has aged well, although it’s disappointing that the recent facelift did not update the car’s looks a little bit.
Inside there is a large touchscreen and very few buttons – ironically when the car was launched this looked huge, but now looks almost undersized considering what’s in rivals; it’s a good system but can be a little buggy. There are seven seats as standard, with the rearmost seats being comfortable for small adults, and a reasonable amount of luggage space behind. Volvo has a reputation for being very safe and dependable, which it retains with the XC90, it’s just that by sticking to four-cylinder engines it has effectively ruled itself out for some buyers who prefer an SUV to have at least six, if not eight cylinders. The hybrid version does make up for this somewhat in terms of maximum power, but that does end up being quite expensive.
While I’ve tried to keep this list to traditional competitors in this market, there are of course plenty of others which buyers will cross-shop these with. While I’d argue that vehicles like the Range Rover, Bentley Bentayga and Rolls Royce Cullinan are in a different league price and prestige wise, it’s probably quite easy to make a case for entry level versions of the BMW X7 and Mercedes GLS to be included, and if you require seven proper seats then these might be your best bet.
If you’re reading from outside the UK, then it would also be unfair to overlook some of the vehicles being offered outside this admittedly small market. New models such as the Lincoln Aviator and Cadillac XT6 are genuinely appealing and offer some standout features, bringing the fight to rivals such as the Acura MDX and Infiniti QX60, at a price which is lower than nearly all of the vehicles in my list. Then there’s also non-premium entrants such as the new Ford Explorer, Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride – all of these are bringing luxury features and attractive styling to the mainstream.