Up to £5,000 - Subaru Forester
Well, this is a bit embarrassing. The first entry on our list, one of the cheapest SUVs on the market, might just be all the car you could ever need. No, it’ll never have passersby giddy with excitement, nor will it likely ever enter the modern classic annals, but it’ll overcome pretty much any terrain it comes across and keep on chugging well after the odometer ticks over to six digits.
That’s all well and good, but there are plenty of SUVs and crossovers that are good at not breaking down. The reason the Forester makes our list is because underneath its boxy exterior are the underpinnings of the Impreza WRX, a car built with rallying in mind. Not only does this mean the Forester behaves like a normal car, but there was also a selection of punchy powertrains shared with the WRX. There was even an STI, though that was only for Japan and is therefore a bit (read: a lot) out of our budget here.
The good news is there are a bunch of Foresters about for £5,000. There are a few third gens kicking about at this price point, plus the odd (and rare) original too, but this second-generation Forester hits the sweet spot with the 2.5-litre boxer up front. These produce a decent 227hp stock, considerably more than the equivalent BMW X3 or Mercedes ML, both of which will likely be more expensive to run. As bargain small SUVs go, nothing comes close to the performance and practicality of a Forester.
Up to £10,000 - Range Rover (L322)
Land Rover’s Range Rover does not share the Subaru Forester’s bulletproof reputation, and there are a multitude of reasons for not buying one. But that's just meant that the L322 generation cars can now be had for an absolute bargain and, if you shop around for the right one, it might not be the problem child that some make them out to be.
The L322 represented a major leap for Land Rover when it launched in 2002, upping the level of luxury while maintaining that peerless go-anywhere ability. It’s one of the cheapest ways into premium four-wheel drive ownership, but engine choice plays a big part in the ownership experience here. Arguably the pick of the bunch is the Ford-sourced 4.4-litre diesel V8, which packs a punchy 309hp and, crucially, it’s far more reliable than the earlier BMW petrol V8s and 3.0-litre turbo diesels. The TDV8 is also pretty good on fuel economy (for a massive SUV) but expect a painful trip to the pumps when you’re running low.
There are plenty of Rangies to choose from at this price range, like this TDV8 Vogue (in green!) with a full service history. Don’t worry about the 130,000 miles on the clock; these TDV8s are incredibly tough so long as they’re well looked after. Now, you may be tempted by a Porsche Cayenne at this price range - we've kept it for later - but let's not forget that Clarkson himself called the L322 the best car in the world, and he's owned one for more than a decade.
Up to £15,000 - BMW X5
The BMW X5 had its thunder stolen when the Porsche Cayenne arrived, but it still played a pivotal part in the rise of the SUV (put your pitchforks down). Until the X5’s launch in 1999, your only option for a high-riding car was a dedicated 4x4, which were brilliant when the going got tough but, being polite, weren’t tremendous anywhere else. The BMW X5 was for those who wanted a 4x4 that drove brilliantly on the road, but didn’t care all that much how it performed off of it.
You don't need us to tell you that the concept did really rather well, and it wasn’t long before a new and improved E70 generation came along. This introduced double wishbone front suspension (the first BMW to do so since the early ‘60s) in a bid to make the X5 feel every bit as sporty as BMW’s other models; it was also the first time the M badge graced an SUV.
To be fair, these second-generation cars aren’t known for their reliability, but a well-looked-after example will be considerably cheaper to run while still being a a bit of bargain. This 4.8i M Sport comes with a 350hp V8 but, more importantly, a full service history for peace of mind. Probably best to put a bit of money aside for any, er, surprises along the way, mind…
Up to £25,000 - Porsche Cayenne
Love it or loathe it, there’s no denying that the Cayenne was a car Porsche needed to make. Anticipating an SUV surge, the Cayenne was introduced to not only bring in the big bucks, but also allow Porsche to keep production of the less profitable, yet incredibly popular, 911 ticking over.
While it turned Porsche from a sports car maker to a more mainstream manufacturer, the Cayenne didn’t feel like the feeble cash grab that many claimed it would. Unlike a lot of crossovers, the Cayenne didn’t run to the hills when things got a bit muddy and, while it wasn’t built for the track, Porsche was able to blend in a little bit of the fizz it that makes its sports car so special. Go for a Cayenne Turbo and you’d get a 4.5-litre V8 that churned out more horsepower than the equivalent 996 Turbo. Madness.
The Cayenne is a landmark car in Porsche’s history but, if you fancy owning one, the second generation is the one to go for. It was sportier for one thing, and reliability took a major leap forward, while the interior was given a thorough overhaul with better tech and increased luxury. Go for this Cayenne Turbo and you’ll have a 500hp V8 up front to mess about with.
Up to £35,000 - Jaguar F-Pace
You could say this about a number of cars on this list, but the idea of a Jaguar SUV riled up a few purists when the F-Pace first appeared in 2016. But the reality wasn’t nearly as gloomy as some made it out to be. The Ian Callum design showed us that SUVs can be sleek (relatively speaking) and, if you get the right spec, it drives like a proper Jaguar, too.
You’ll need to look past some serious alternatives if you’ve got your eyes set on an F-Pace, of course. The Porsche Macan dominates the mid-tier market, and is no slouch to drive itself, but it's nowhere near as roomy in the back. There are better off-road SUVs too - not least the Range Rover Sport. But the F-Pace does what a ‘Sport Utility Vehicle’ is supposed to do: cram a genuinely performance-focused drive into a practical package. There aren’t many who get that combination right, but Jaguar nailed it.
Plainly the F-Pace SVR is the way to go for outright speed, but the F-Pace is just as good (and considerably cheaper) with a couple of cylinders knocked off. This F-Pace S packs the 380hp supercharged 3.0-litre V6 you can't get anymore, which is good for a 0-62mph time of 5.5 seconds, and it's kitted out with a digital dash and reversing camera. All for £35,050. That’s a hell of a lot of car for the money.
Up to £50,000 - Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio
Alfa Romeo found its mojo when it released the Giulia Quadrifoglio, and it wasn’t long before it announced that the Stelvio would get the same treatment. It helps, of course, that they share the same Giorgio platform, but nobody expected Alfa to hit deliver an SUV that could take on the likes of the Porsche Macan and BMW X3 M.
While there’s some who cannot countenance a performance SUVs on any level, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio was greeted warmly by the motoring press. The Ferrari-developed 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6 up front did it no harm, nor did the banzai turn of speed it generated. But it was the engaging driving experience which really got under people's skin - i.e. nearly everything that made the Giulia Quad so special migrated to the larger, heavier, all-wheel drive version – which is by no means an easy feat.
Happily, like the Giulia, values for the Stelvio Quadrifoglio have taken a tumble and you can pick up a used example at a major discount. A new one will set you back around £80,000, so a £30,000 reduction on this 2018 model looks more than a little tempting…
Up to £75,000 - Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk
Okay, this may not make a huge amount of sense. But does any £75,000 high-performance SUV rmake all that much sense? Not really. So why not go the whole hog and spend a silly amount of money on an equally silly car that’ll have you grinning ear-to-ear every time you turn over the V8 under the bonnet. Or is it hood?
Anyway, that motor is Dodge’s 6.2-litre, 710hp Hellcat engine, making the Trackhawk more powerful than a Lamborghini Urus, Porsche Cayenne GT and (marginally) the Aston Martin DBX 707. Jeep attempted to keep the car’s 2,433kg mass in check by stiffening up the suspension and, in turn, justifying the Trackhawk name. Some say it’s too firm, but that Hellcat motor will do a hell of a job of drowning the doomsayers out.
Luxurious, it is not. For that, you’ll want an F-Pace SVR or a Range Rover. But you’ll be too busy focusing on the speedo – and looking out for the Five-O – to care about what the interior plastics are like. Trackhawk’s are a fairly rare sight on the PH classifieds, so don’t expect this one to stick around for much longer. Go on, you know you want to…
Up to £100,000 - Bentley Bentayga
The Bentley Bentayga is arguably the most divisive car on this list, purely because pre-facelift cars look as though they glued the front end of a Continental GT to a Volkswagen Touareg. But if you look past its exterior styling, you’ll find one of the very finest luxury SUVs there has ever been.
Firstly, the Bentayga wasn’t just a dolled-up Touareg. It may share the same platform - along with the Urus, Cayenne, Q7 and Q8 - but Bentley introduced a 48V active anti-roll system that works its backside off to disguise the Bentayga’s portliness – all 2,422kg of it. Couple that with Bentley’s tried and tested 6.0-litre W12 engine and you’ve got an incredibly wafty SUV that can charge across continents as the crow flies.
Now, if you’re feeling sensible, Bentley did launch a V8 petrol and V6 diesel, with facelifted models also gaining a plug-in hybrid variant. But at this price point you can access the full Bentayga experience – like this W12 model with all the luxury bits from Mulliner. And for what it’s worth, we think it’s ageing rather gracefully. For a giant SUV, that is…
Up to £125,000 - Audi RS Q8
Track-focused SUVs. On paper, it’s a ridiculous idea, but to an engineer it’s simply a case of limitation spawning creativity. So, when Audi’s board decided an RS version of the coupe-like Q8 would go down well with punters, it was up to the crack team at Audi Sport to come up with a two-tonne SUV that could clock in a record-setting lap at the Nurburgring – which it duly did.
With a time of 7:42.253 seconds, the RS Q8 not only set a new record for an SUV around the 12.9-mile loop, but out lapped a whole host of hero-grade noughties supercars. Should you care? Not really, but if you like the ridiculous-speed vibe of the Urus, but hate its look-at-me styling, the closely related RS Q8 is the car you buy. Underneath it gets the all-important adaptive air suspension and a 48V active anti-roll system tuned to a much more liveable standard than in the hyper-aggressive Italian shire horse.
Moreover, its Nurburgring record was short-lived anyway, with the Porsche Cayenne Turbo GT clocking a 7:38.925 a couple of years later. But, of course, it’s a more expensive car as well. Bearing in mind the RS Q8 is built on the same platform, the £118,990 asking price for this 2021 car seems a comparative steal.
Sky’s the limit - Aston Martin DBX 707
It’ll come as little surprise that the top spot in this list is arguably the most competitive. There’s the aforementioned Lamborghini Urus, and the Rolls-Royce Cullinan is about as close as you can get to Blenheim Palace on wheels. Not to mention the Mercedes-AMG G-Class, a favourite among off-road enthusiast who never leaves central London. But nothing combines performance, driver engagement and luxury (for an SUV) quite like Aston Martin’s latest and entirely ludicrous DBX 707.
Admittedly, if it weren’t for the Trackhawk, the Aston Martin DBX 707 would be the most powerful piston-propelled SUV ever created. Alas, it’s 3hp shy of the Jeep, with its 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 churning out 707hp (the name’s a bit of a giveaway) for a 0-62mph time of a hypercar-like 3.3 seconds – 1.2 seconds faster than a regular DBX. But a big part of the DBX’s appeal is its ability to devour corners in a way that’ll make you forget about the shoddy Merc-sourced infotainment system. In fact, we were moved to report “there’s not a comparable SUV out there that rides and steers with such quality” when we drove the 707 recently. High praise indeed.
Granted, an all-court large SUV wearing an Aston badge doesn’t come cheap and, given that it only launched earlier this year, a used 707 is tricky to come by at the moment. We’ve found this black-on-black example for £229,950, which, in the grand scheme of things, undercuts the cheapest Rolls-Royce Cullinans and most Lamborghini Uruses (Uri?). Who says we don’t do consumer advice?
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