This list of the 10 best SUVs under $50,000 serves as a guide to one of the most popular consumer automobile segments and includes important terminology and recommendations for almost every driver.

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Table of Contents
The Short List

Introduction
Terms to Know
What Exactly Is An SUV?
The Future of SUVs

Our 10 Picks
Best All-Around SUV: 2018 Volkswagen Atlas
Best SUV for the Value 2018 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD
Best Luxury SUV: 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLC300 4Matic
Best Well-Optioned SUV: 2018 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
Best Family SUV: 2018 Toyota 4Runner
Best Performance SUV: 2017 Porsche Macan
Most Modern SUV: 2018 Audi Q5 Premium Plus
Best Design: 2018 Volvo XC60 R-Design
Best Off-Road SUV: 2017 Land Rover Discovery Sport HSE
Best Compact SUV: 2018 Jaguar E-Pace

The Short List

Best All-Around SUV: 2018 Volkswagen Atlas

The Volkswagen Atlas was the German automaker’s first new model after the “dieselgate” scandal first erupted. The all-new three-row SUV was shouldering a lot of responsibilty, but when VW revealed the Atlas, it was hard to imagine the US-only SUV not being a success. The formula was simple: three-rows of seats, decent power, technology and options. VW aimed right for the heart of the American consumer and hit bullseye. If you want options, the Atlas comes in 12 different trim levels. But start with the V6 and opt for the Volkswagen Digital Cockpit (the same as Audi’s Virtual Cockpit) and you can’t go wrong. A full-size SUV from a reliable (if not totally trustworthy) brand at the just the right price point.

Who It’s For: Full-size SUV fans who want something slightly smaller, and early-adopter types who like a good deal.

What’s Good: Most everything. “VW has made an extremely drivable machine: smooth and quiet at highway speeds, remarkably flat in curves. The Atlas accelerates strongly, thanks to the 3.6-liter VR6 engine. And since the Atlas weighs a relatively svelte 4,500 pounds, it feels kind of light on the road.” Tech is strong, too: “there is a “digital cockpit” with its 12.3-inch TFT display, 480-watt Fender-sourced audio system, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, full LED lighting and myriad driver aids. The AWD Atlas appears to have fairly respectable off-road capabilities, heralded by both the car’s off-road mode, which adjusts throttle and transmission characteristics to manage tricky traction scenarios, and a novel offroad ABS system. The last notable story is interior space. Atlas is roomy enough for tall adults in the third row. Behind the third row is 20 cubic feet of storage, and a full 97 cubic feet of cargo volume is at your disposal with all the rear seats folded.” – Eric Adams

What to Watch Out For: All-wheel drive is not available with the smaller, 235-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four engine. Towing capacity maxes out at 5,000 pounds.

Value: Strong. The Atlas features a base price of just over $30,000, which is on par with or lower than other popular seven-passenger SUVs like the Dodge Durango at $29,995, Honda Pilot at $30,900 and Audi Q7 at $49,900.

Design: Conservative and in line with Volkswagen’s look, but not outright gorgeous. “Under harsh light, the Atlas’s styling emerged as crisp and serious, and in general highly appealing. That said, I’m never a fan of any fender creases, like those on the Bentley Bentayga or Dodge Charger, that add ‘interest.’ Atlas has such lines, connected by a crease running the length of the doors, but I’ll admit there have been worse crease-crimes committed on cars.” – Eric Adams

Verdict: “It fills that well-loved, great big seven-passenger SUV niche American buyers love. It’s priced to sell, starting just above $30K. It’s attractive and distinctive and it packs a roster of smart decisions.” – Eric Adams

What Others Are Saying:
“Like its namesake, the Volkswagen Atlas can carry the world on its shoulders—figuratively speaking. Two adults fit comfortably in the third row with room for luggage behind them. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard; 12-speaker Fender audio is optional. The base model comes with a 235-hp turbo four, front-wheel drive, and an eight-speed automatic. All-wheel drive is available if you choose the 276-hp V-6. Optional safety tech includes automated emergency braking and lane-keeping assist.” – Car and Driver

“If you’re constantly carpooling or taking long trips with friends and family, the Atlas is a great choice in the midsize SUV class. It has an above-average starting price for the class, but it comes with a good number of standard amenities, including smartphone integration and a 6.5-inch touch-screen infotainment system. Its available features list is even longer, with notable extras like forward collision monitoring and navigation.” – U.S. News and World Report

“The 2018 Volkswagen Atlas doesn’t do much to inspire emotion, but the three-row SUV is well-built and should satisfy most consumers.” – Road Show

Engine: 2.0-liter inline-four; 3.6-liter V6
Horsepower: 235; 276
Torque: 258; 266 lb-ft
Price: $30,075

Best SUV for the Value: 2018 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD

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Even at $31,000 you won’t get a barebones CX-5 — that’s only where the top trim level pricing starts. Select AWD, the most expensive paint and every single option offered and you’re still only looking at $36,425. Combine the incredibly affordable price with one the best designs to land on a compact SUV, then throw in Mazda’s signature crisp handling and it gives the VW Atlas a run for its money for the top spot. The CX-5 might just have snagged it, if only it had more power and an extra row of seats. But not everyone needs that much room — for you, this level of bang-for-your-buck can’t be beaten.

Who It’s For: Sports cars fans who need an SUV-sized vehicle’s capabilities.

What’s Good: Great looks and quality inside and out are hard to beat in this segment, but the CX-5, like all of Mazda’s offerings, is a blast to drive thanks to sharp handling.

What to Watch Out For: Mazda’s tech frustrates some reviewers, and cargo room is relatively scarce, at 30.9 cubic feet behind the second row. There is no third row.

Value: Fully loaded, the AWD CX-5 slots in around $36,000, including every tech gadget, trim package and optional extra you’d want. Considering that direct, yet upscale, competitors like the Mercedes-Benz GLC and Audi Q5 offer base prices starting thousands of dollars higher, the CX-5 is an objectively good deal.
Design: Excellent. Mazda takes some risks with its overall design language, and it pays off in spades, and translates extremely well to all of its vehicles, from the Miata to the larger CX-9 crossover.

Verdict: The CX-5 sits square at the intersection of fun and frugality, making it a prime choice for anyone with a pulse.

What Others Are Saying:
“As long as cargo space isn’t your main reason for buying a compact crossover, the 2018 Mazda CX-5 is an excellent, fun-to-drive choice.” – The Car Connection

“The marvelous Mazda appears more expensive than it is. [Its] pièce de résistance is a phenomenal chassis that combines precise steering with refined road manners. Based on the numbers, the CX-5 isn’t the best at anything. But it is the best-looking and best-driving compact crossover. That makes it a winner in our book.” – Car and Driver

“In a 2017 First Test, we noted that due to its additional curb weight, the new CX-5 is slower than its predecessor and it the non-defeatable stability control made it a handful during handling tests. We enjoyed the CX-5’s crisp steering, quick throttle response, and quieter cabin thanks to additional sound deadening. Its handling chops continued to impress where it felt right at home on winding roads and didn’t exhibit much body roll.” – Motor Trend

Engine: 2.5-liter inline-four
Horsepower: 187
Torque: 186 lb-ft
Price: $30,945

Introduction

Despite an overall drop-off in auto sales in the U.S in 2017, most SUVs actually saw a slight rise in sales. The people have spoken, and SUVs are what they want.

So, if you’re in the market for a new vehicle, there’s an incredibly good chance you’re considering an SUV. However, choosing one among the endless many is no easy task. Moreover, since the average price for an SUV 2017 was just under $40,000, it’s a decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. To cover all the bases, we bumped the budget up to $50,000 and chose the best new SUVs you can buy in 2018.

Terms to Know

SUV: A Sport Utility Vehicle. What makes an SUV is subjective, as there is no official definition. In its strictest sense, an SUV is a body-on-frame vehicle, usually based on a truck platform, that features significant ground clearance, all- or four-wheel-drive and a closed rear section that serves as a passenger or cargo space. Classic examples of SUVs include the Chevrolet Suburban and Jeep Cherokee.

Crossover: This is a recently-coined term that describes a unibody vehicle, often based on a passenger car platform, that features elements common to SUVs: all- or four-wheel drive and raised ground clearance and ride height, among others.

Body-on-frame: Body-on-frame vehicles consist of a stiff structural frame, which could be considered the vehicle’s skeleton, onto which is mounted body components like fenders, roofs and doors. The industry has moved away from this type of construction, which was how vehicles were made for decades. Vehicles that still incorporate this style of construction are mostly utility-oriented, like heavy-duty trucks and buses, though many old-school SUVs, like the Toyota 4Runner, still utilize this method.

Unibody: Most modern vehicles are constructed using a unibody approach, in which the structural frame components are integral to body components.

Four-wheel-Drive (4WD):This simple system drives all four of a vehicle’s wheels simultaneously and with equal amounts of power, causing each wheel to spin at the same rate. Useful in situations like rock-crawling.

All-Wheel Drive (AWD): This complex system varies the amount of power sent to each wheel in real time, allowing the vehicle to find and utilize the maximum amount of grip possible. Generally, there are two different types of AWD: brake-vectoring and computer-controlled differentials. Brake-vectoring systems stop individual wheels from slipping by automatically modulating individual brakes, which allows power to flow to unbraked wheels with traction. Electronic differentials sense in real-time which wheels are slipping and which have traction and direct power toward the latter through physical differentials. More and more, AWD is featured in all types of vehicles, from wagons, like Volvo’s V90 Cross Country, to sports cars, like Audi’s TT.

Part-time Four-Wheel Drive and Part-time All-Wheel Drive: Almost all vehicles equipped with 4WD or AWD feature part-time systems, which allow the driver to switch the modes on and off at will. When 4WD or AWD is not engaged, vehicles are relegated to either front- or rear-wheel drive: most crossovers do the former.

Approach angle: The steepest angle, in degrees, at which a vehicle’s front tire can contact a surface without another part of the vehicle, like the front bumper, making contact with the surface. Taller suspensions and bigger tires (and, in some extreme cases, removing the bumpers) improve approach angle.

Departure angle: The steepest angle, in degrees, at which a vehicle can descend backward without any part of the vehicle other than the tires making contact with the surface.

Ride height: How far off the ground the lowest point of the vehicle is.

What Exactly Is an SUV?

The term “SUV” gets thrown around an awful lot. Used to be, an SUV, or sport utility vehicle, was a truck-based, body-on-frame vehicle with four-wheel-drive capability. SUVs were rugged and adventure-focused, sometimes military-inspired, and always center to the American Dream: a big, shiny, SUV was a symbol of classic stateside excess, and in the 1990s and 2000s, the country seemed to be a sea of high-roofed utes. This was the time of superlative Hummer H1s and Ford Excursions, which completely dwarfed almost everything else on the road, save actual utility vehicles. Prior to that, Broncos and FJs roamed the streets and woods and beaches. But because constitutes a sport utility vehicle has always been an inherently fluid concept, the marketplace continues to shift for various reasons.

As environmental restrictions have become necessarily tighter in recent decades, and especially after the economic collapse of 2008, a wake-up call has spread across the auto industry. Like the death-blow meteor that made extinct outsized reptiles millions of years ago, the challenges of our times have necessitated that even our biggest vehicles become more efficient and rely less on fossil fuels. In the SUV’s heyday, we didn’t care much about how much gas we burned in the name of big-vehicle excess. Those were traditional times; things aren’t so traditional anymore. SUVs have become car-like; crossovers were invented; the automotive evolution is constant.

We, the car-consumer public, still generally want large vehicles. But car companies have been forced to produce more efficient products as they are, more and more, held accountable for emissions. That, coupled with the notion that it’s much cheaper to mass-produce vehicles that share common, car-based architecture, has dictated that SUVs of yore — like the Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen and Toyota 4Runner — are endangered species. But this evolution hasn’t stopped us from calling big vehicles, be they crossovers or, in some cases even just tall wagons, SUVs, despite them not being simple trucks in the traditional sense.

So what is an SUV today? It used to be a rock-crawling, Jeep-like vehicle that could also on occasion ferry people in comfort. Now, it’s the opposite: an on-road automobile with a higher-than-normal ground clearance that can power all four of its wheels in the event it ever has to put a tire off the pavement. Today’s SUV still provides sport and utility, but it does so with different proportions and in different ways than in the past. Purists will scoff at the notion that a lot of the vehicles on this list are, in fact, on this list. But SUV purists are going the way of the old-school SUV in favor of the sport utility vehicle our times demand. And as you can see below, that is definitely not a bad thing.

The Future of SUVs

When Porsche launched its Cayenne SUV in the early 2000s, purist enthusiasts were at a loss. The SUV seemed to be all four horsemen of the apocalypse rolled into one: first, Porsche had taken away the air-cooled 911, and now an elephant-sized charlatan wore the Stuttgart crest. But consumer trends have dictated the Cayenne’s success: people want SUVs from premium and luxury sports car brands like Porsche just as much as they do from mainstream brands like Ford and Chevy. The Cayenne was just the beginning: prestige brand after prestige brand has jumped on the (lifted) bandwagon, breaking into the space for the first time.

Bentley, who launched its Bentayga SUV in 2016, becoming the first luxury automaker to do such a thing. In true form, the Bentayga is superlative luxury and refinement: an exotic and powerful W12 engine motivates a plush, materials-rich cabin that’s customizable with every type of wood and color of leather, not to mention an optional $160,000 clock. Already, Bentley is introducing V8 and hybrid versions of the Bentayga, a vehicle that shares a platform and many components with other vehicles in Volkswagen’s (the brand’s parent company) lineup, notably the Audi Q7.

Other luxury makers are rapidly following suit for their upscale customers with different takes on what an SUV looks like. In the last few months, Lamborghini, of all brands, launched its Urus, a production SUV based on a 2012 concept vehicle. The Urus departs from the brand’s current lineup not just in that it is not a sports car, but also in how it’s powered: an all-new 4.0-liter, twin-turbo V8 is under the hood, rather than a V10 or V12 seen in the company’s other road cars. Interestingly, the Urus is not Lamborghini’s first foray into SUVs — that honor goes to the military-inspired LM002, which was produced in limited numbers between 1986 and 1993 — but it is instead a more mainstream effort that’s likely to be more successful. Even more recently, Lambo’s cross-town rival got into the game officially. Sergio Marchionne (head of Fiat-Chrysler, and Chairman of Ferrari) has said that a Ferrari SUV could come as early as 2019.

British marques Aston Martin and Rolls-Royce also have SUVs in the works too. The Rolls-Royce Cullinan is expected to debut any time now as both a continuation of the Brand’s ultimate luxury status and as another portfolio expansion for parent company Volkswagen. The Aston Martin “DBX” will debut in the next handful of years as one of many new cars the brand is launching.

Closer to the SUV’s roots, the XC40, in the hopes of cashing in on SUV hysteria.

So what does this mean for the future of SUVs? If the trend continues — and it will — vehicles will proceed to evolve into homogeneous car-wagon-van mashups with moderate all-wheel-drive capability until the outliers (body-on-frame SUVs and small, boxy sedans) are extinguished. What will set SUVs of the future apart from each other are branding and technology and performance.

Buying Guide

What’s in This Buying Guide

10 Best SUVs of 2018

Best All-Around SUV: 2018 Volkswagen Atlas

The Volkswagen Atlas was the German automaker’s first new model after the “dieselgate” scandal first erupted. The all-new three-row SUV was shouldering a lot of responsibilty, but when VW revealed the Atlas, it was hard to imagine the US-only SUV not being a success. The formula was simple: three-rows of seats, decent power, technology and options. VW aimed right for the heart of the American consumer and hit bullseye. If you want options, the Atlas comes in 12 different trim levels. But start with the V6 and opt for the Volkswagen Digital Cockpit (the same as Audi’s Virtual Cockpit) and you can’t go wrong. A full-size SUV from a reliable (if not totally trustworthy) brand at the just the right price point.

Who It’s For: Full-size SUV fans who want something slightly smaller, and early-adopter types who like a good deal.

What’s Good: Most everything. “VW has made an extremely drivable machine: smooth and quiet at highway speeds, remarkably flat in curves. The Atlas accelerates strongly, thanks to the 3.6-liter VR6 engine. And since the Atlas weighs a relatively svelte 4,500 pounds, it feels kind of light on the road.” Tech is strong, too: “there is a “digital cockpit” with its 12.3-inch TFT display, 480-watt Fender-sourced audio system, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, full LED lighting and myriad driver aids. The AWD Atlas appears to have fairly respectable off-road capabilities, heralded by both the car’s off-road mode, which adjusts throttle and transmission characteristics to manage tricky traction scenarios, and a novel offroad ABS system. The last notable story is interior space. Atlas is roomy enough for tall adults in the third row. Behind the third row is 20 cubic feet of storage, and a full 97 cubic feet of cargo volume is at your disposal with all the rear seats folded.” – Eric Adams

What to Watch Out For: All-wheel drive is not available with the smaller, 235-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four engine. Towing capacity maxes out at 5,000 pounds.

Value: Strong. The Atlas features a base price of just over $30,000, which is on par with or lower than other popular seven-passenger SUVs like the Dodge Durango at $29,995, Honda Pilot at $30,900 and Audi Q7 at $49,900.

Design: Conservative and in line with Volkswagen’s look, but not outright gorgeous. “Under harsh light, the Atlas’s styling emerged as crisp and serious, and in general highly appealing. That said, I’m never a fan of any fender creases, like those on the Bentley Bentayga or Dodge Charger, that add ‘interest.’ Atlas has such lines, connected by a crease running the length of the doors, but I’ll admit there have been worse crease-crimes committed on cars.” – Eric Adams

Verdict: “It fills that well-loved, great big seven-passenger SUV niche American buyers love. It’s priced to sell, starting just above $30K. It’s attractive and distinctive and it packs a roster of smart decisions.” – Eric Adams

What Others Are Saying:
“Like its namesake, the Volkswagen Atlas can carry the world on its shoulders—figuratively speaking. Two adults fit comfortably in the third row with room for luggage behind them. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard; 12-speaker Fender audio is optional. The base model comes with a 235-hp turbo four, front-wheel drive, and an eight-speed automatic. All-wheel drive is available if you choose the 276-hp V-6. Optional safety tech includes automated emergency braking and lane-keeping assist.” – Car and Driver

“If you’re constantly carpooling or taking long trips with friends and family, the Atlas is a great choice in the midsize SUV class. It has an above-average starting price for the class, but it comes with a good number of standard amenities, including smartphone integration and a 6.5-inch touch-screen infotainment system. Its available features list is even longer, with notable extras like forward collision monitoring and navigation.” – U.S. News and World Report

“The 2018 Volkswagen Atlas doesn’t do much to inspire emotion, but the three-row SUV is well-built and should satisfy most consumers.” – Road Show

Engine: 2.0-liter inline-four; 3.6-liter V6
Horsepower: 235; 276
Torque: 258; 266 lb-ft
Price: $30,075

Best SUV for the Value: 2018 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD

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Even at $31,000 you won’t get a barebones CX-5 — that’s only where the top trim level pricing starts. Select AWD, the most expensive paint and every single option offered and you’re still only looking at $36,425. Combine the incredibly affordable price with one the best designs to land on a compact SUV, then throw in Mazda’s signature crisp handling and it gives the VW Atlas a run for its money for the top spot. The CX-5 might just have snagged it, if only it had more power and an extra row of seats. But not everyone needs that much room — for you, this level of bang-for-your-buck can’t be beaten.

Who It’s For: Sports cars fans who need an SUV-sized vehicle’s capabilities.

What’s Good: Great looks and quality inside and out are hard to beat in this segment, but the CX-5, like all of Mazda’s offerings, is a blast to drive thanks to sharp handling.

What to Watch Out For: Mazda’s tech frustrates some reviewers, and cargo room is relatively scarce, at 30.9 cubic feet behind the second row. There is no third row.

Value: Fully loaded, the AWD CX-5 slots in around $36,000, including every tech gadget, trim package and optional extra you’d want. Considering that direct, yet upscale, competitors like the Mercedes-Benz GLC and Audi Q5 offer base prices starting thousands of dollars higher, the CX-5 is an objectively good deal.

Design: Excellent. Mazda takes some risks with its overall design language, and it pays off in spades, and translates extremely well to all of its vehicles, from the Miata to the larger CX-9 crossover.

Verdict: The CX-5 sits square at the intersection of fun and frugality, making it a prime choice for anyone with a pulse.

What Others Are Saying:
“As long as cargo space isn’t your main reason for buying a compact crossover, the 2018 Mazda CX-5 is an excellent, fun-to-drive choice.” – The Car Connection

“The marvelous Mazda appears more expensive than it is. [Its] pièce de résistance is a phenomenal chassis that combines precise steering with refined road manners. Based on the numbers, the CX-5 isn’t the best at anything. But it is the best-looking and best-driving compact crossover. That makes it a winner in our book.” – Car and Driver

“In a 2017 First Test, we noted that due to its additional curb weight, the new CX-5 is slower than its predecessor and it the non-defeatable stability control made it a handful during handling tests. We enjoyed the CX-5’s crisp steering, quick throttle response, and quieter cabin thanks to additional sound deadening. Its handling chops continued to impress where it felt right at home on winding roads and didn’t exhibit much body roll.” – Motor Trend

Engine: 2.5-liter inline-four
Horsepower: 187
Torque: 186 lb-ft
Price: $30,945

Best Luxury SUV: 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLC300 4Matic

If there’s one thing Mercedes excels at, it’s providing a consistent level of luxury throughout its entire model range. The GLC might be further down the totem pole of Mercedes-Benz SUVs, but sit in one and there’s no doubt you’re in a Mercedes. The GLC is by no means the brand’s bare minimum, but even if it was, it’s still more luxurious than most of its competition. The compact SUV handles as well as any other with a three-point star, the only downside is to get the power you might want, there’s a serious jump in price to the next trim.

Who It’s For: The entry-level luxury crowd.

What’s Good: Signature Mercedes-Benz plushness paired with solid performance.

What to Watch Out For: Exterior styling doesn’t make the heart race, and there are still plenty of issues with M-B’s somewhat unintuitive COMAND infotainment system. Start adding options and the bottom line increases rapidly.

Value: At over $42,000, the all-wheel-drive Benz isn’t inexpensive by any means, and at least some of that markup is brand prestige. But it’s justified in many ways too — higher quality materials and refinement are nothing to shake a stick at.

Design: Somewhat bland sheet metal belies Mercedes-Benz’s reliably pretty and satisfying inner cabin.

Verdict: In its stop-trim, high-performance AMG guise, we found the GLC is an incredibly fun car — though that almost goes without saying. If you stay under $50K with the GLC, you’ll still get a great, if not particularly exciting or beautiful, premium German experience.

What Others Are Saying:
“It’s an excellent choice if you want a luxury compact SUV. This Mercedes isn’t a class leader in every category; there are rivals that are more athletic, more fuel-efficient or have more cargo space. However, the GLC isn’t below average in any respect, and it still ranks among the class leaders in many areas.” – U.S. News and World Report

“The GLC-class has one of the most lavish cabins in the compact-luxury-crossover segment. Sharing much of its design with the C-class, the GLC’s interior employs top-notch materials and has pleasing and expensive-looking details throughout. Additionally, it has a comfortable and accommodating rear bench seat that offers generous headroom and legroom.” – Car and Driver

“The Mercedes-Benz GLC300 4Matic won our coveted title of 2017 Motor Trend SUV of the Year: ‘The GLC isn’t the sexiest choice for SUV of the Year, but it’s without hesitation the smartest. The design is solid, the interior is first-class, the engineering is as good as small SUVs get, and the value proposition is strong. We have no crash data yet, but the E-Class chassis that the GLC is based upon underpins one of the safest cars on the road. And despite surprising all of us with its power output, displacing just 2.0 liters means that the engine is also scarily efficient.'” – Motor Trend

Engine: 2.0-liter turbo inline-four
Horsepower: 241
Torque: 273 lb-ft
Weight: 4,001
Price: $42,050
Read our review of the Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S here.

Most Modern: 2018 Audi Q5 Premium Plus

Now that tech like assisted braking is to become mandatory by 2022 (much like when ABS went from a luxury option to mandatory in 2013) and traffic-safety assist tech is nearly standard on many cars, base cars have set a new standard. Buyer satisfaction tends to be found in details and extras. If the trend continues, cheap plastics, clumsy console layouts and interior design won’t be tolerated at all, regardless of price point. Brushed aluminum, open pore wood inlays and the softest leather will be the bar for the lowest of entry. And if you want that luxury as standard now, the Q5 is your barometer. The small SUV was completely revamped for 2018; unless you opt for the performance-oriented SQ5, all Q5s are now equipped with a smooth 2.0-liter inline-four.

Who It’s For: Those in the market for a sophisticated, tech-laden small SUV.

What’s Good: The tech is strong with this one, heralded foremost by Audi’s Virtual Cockpit. Premium Plus is the SUV’s middle trim level — Audi predicts it’s the Q5’s most popular — that includes options like a panoramic moonroof and LED headlights, plus extra driver aids like a blind-spot monitoring system and automatic back-up braking. Audi is also renowned for its interior design and appointments, both of which are top-notch here, and also its superb quattro all-wheel-drive system.

What to Watch Out For: As advanced and lauded as it is, the Q5, despite its 2018 refresh, remains pretty bland. Its styling is derivative and its driving dynamics aren’t all that fun.

Value: The Q5’s value lies in its alignment with your personal tastes: if you appreciate high-tech, no-fuss, understated luxury, in this price range you likely won’t find anything better.

Design: Plain and barely different than past generations on the outside (the Q5 has been around for 10 years already). Interior design is without question top-tier, as Audis should be.

Verdict: Stereotyped as cars for architects, this is a very fine, stylish yet humorless SUV.

What Others Are Saying:
“The 252-hp four could easily be confused for a V6, except maybe for the soft, elongated growl as it rolls up to redline. Surely, though, no one will miss the six because this car is quick off the line and quick to drop gears with that dual-clutch transmission. ” – Autoweek

“For 2018, the Q5 finally gets its makeover, and many of the updates have been applied with a light and respectful touch. If you loved the look of the previous-generation Q5, you’ll feel a similar attraction to the new model. There’s a fresh front fascia, but many of the design cues tread similar territory as the old model. Beneath the skin, Audi makes some smart charges that heighten the Q5’s usefulness and appeal. Rear legroom has been increased, along with maximum cargo capacity. An upgraded suspension delivers improved ride quality.” – Daily News

“Up front, there’s good room for two, with comfortable seats swathed in leather on all models; most rivals clad base models in synthetic leather rather than real hides. Optional wood trims in glossy and matte finishes are available and, following Audi tradition, are reasonably priced. ” – The Car Connection

Engine: 2.0-liter turbo inline-four
Horsepower: 252
Torque: 273 lb-ft
Weight: 4,045 lbs
Price: $41,500

Best Off-Roader: 2017 Land Rover Discovery Sport HSE

It’s true the Jeep on this list is incredibly capable off-road, but at the same price point the Land Rover affords a relatively high level of luxury. The Land Rover Discovery Sport isn’t just an SUV that will confidently off-road, but an SUV that cosset its passengers in the process.

Who It’s For: Off-roaders with families. “There are plenty of amenities for the average family; it’s absolutely a great road-tripper. But with Land Rover, it always comes back to brute capability. It’s ready for pretty much any mess its owners may get into, recreationally or accidentally.”

What’s Good: “Oodles of storage in lots of surprising spaces (two glove compartments!), seating for seven adults. The Activity Key wristband allows access to the car, should you want to leave your keys behind while out adventuring. There’s connectivity in spades, including no fewer than nine USB ports. On the road, the ride is exceedingly smooth and surprisingly quiet. The car has ample ground clearance, controllable via a generous air-suspension system. It’s got a laudable 34.5 inches of wading depth — seven more than the LR4. There’s the new All-Terrain Progress Control, like cruise-control for off-road noobs.” – Eric Adams

What to Watch Out For: Gasoline engine fuel economy is lackluster, and the diesel engine variant could use more power.

Value: A seven-seater, suburbia-oriented but capable off-roader isn’t exactly a common combo. There aren’t many super direct competitors in that specific regard, especially considering the brand’s heritage.

Design:“It’s arrived with a slightly lower and slightly wider physique that dials back the upright-ness of its immediate predecessors.” – Eric Adams

Verdict: “This is precisely the balance you want in a modern off-road machine. Its powerful and torquey V6 got me through the muck and up the dunes, while the turbodiesel version (also coming to the U.S.) excelled in thrusting the Disco over rocks and through general grunt work. (The diesel, it should be noted, failed pretty soundly at highway acceleration, such as passing semi-trailers. Keep that in mind if the fuel benefits of diesel are on your radar.) Both engines, in short, will likely get you through the worst of days. Of course, for most owners, the chances of finding the need for much of this hardcore off-road excellence are generally pretty slim.” – Eric Adams

What Others Are Saying:
“With a focus on luxurious off-road capability that the whole family can enjoy, the Discovery offers more advanced mechanicals than your average three-row crossover. In fact, if venturing into the wilderness is indeed your intention, Land Rover provides a complimentary two-hour off-road-driving course to all buyers of new Discovery models.” – Car and Driver

“On pavement, the Discovery drives smaller than it looks thanks to its good steering and independent suspension. Due to its size, the Discovery’s handling isn’t as confidence inspiring and the SUV can feel sloppy. Inside, we noted that the Discovery’s third row is usable for adults and that the second row can slide forward and back, giving it better flexibility.” – Motor Trend

“Its off-road ability transcends what the vast majority of buyers will ever ask it to tackle, yet it’s also so relaxed and refined on the road, it may well cannibalise a few Range Rover and Range Rover Sport sales when folks take account of its gorgeous cabin and extra utility. It’s not perfect. The styling is divisive, the infotainment sub-German, and there’s a nagging feeling the XXL treatment has simply jumped the shark of UK roads: the Disco may be too big for its home country now. Still, the weight savings have made it wieldier on the road, and should you have space for it, it’s difficult to think of any situation the Disco wouldn’t take to with aplomb.” – Top Gear

Engine: 2.0-liter Turbo inline-four
Horsepower: 237
Torque: 251 lb-ft
Weight: 4,150 lbs
Price: $42,395
Read our review of the Discoery here.

Best Performance SUV: 2017 Porsche Macan

The Macan gets a lot of flak. People tend to think just because it’s a crossover, and therefore like all the rest — a compromise, a jack-of-all-trades and master of none. But, those who get a chance behind the wheel are instantly converted into believers. Porsche isn’t the sort of company that slaps its Stuggart shield on a lame vehicle and calls it a day — the Macan is a Porsche through and through. It’s a sporting ride, its throttle, steering, brakes and chassis all engineered for performance like all its siblings. And, like in true Porsche fashion, it may be of athletic build, but it’s still completely fine with the day to day duties.

Who It’s For: Enthusiasts who want a legit driver’s car but require, or simply desire, a higher seating position and more room for people and/or things.

What’s Good: It’s almost unanimously held that the Macan somehow blends sturdy, confident and smooth poise when cruising with levels of performance (in some trims) that are shockingly on par with 911s of the not too distant past.

What to Watch Out For: It’s Porsche tradition to charge exorbitantly for options; that is certainly true here. What’s more, to get true hot-rod sportiness, you’ll need to at least opt for the S trim level, which hits 60 mph in under five seconds.

Value: This one depends who you talk to. Explain to your teenage self that you want to buy an SUV that obliterates most vehicles from a stop, and he’ll grin; tell a highway patrol officer the same and you might find it harder to make a value proposition. Same with your insurance agent. But build and engineering quality are as strong as its performance.

Design: Porsche-esque. The brand has, by necessity, become homogenized as its lineup expands. The Cayenne looks like the 911 looks like the Panamera. But the Macan is certainly distinctive, and in the grand scheme is probably one of the better-looking vehicles in this segment.

Verdict: Fun as hell. Pricey. If you have kids but want a Porsche and also wear sunglasses a lot, this is your SUV. But if you spend under $50,000 for a Macan, you’ll probably wish you’d have spent a lot more for a faster one.

What Others Are Saying:
“The 2018 Porsche Macan offers families an impressive mix of utility and invigorating performance. If you desire a small-luxurious SUV that drives with the intensity and exhilaration of a sports sedan, you’ll like the 2018 Porsche Macan. It may be Porsche’s least expensive model, but it’s still a Porsche, which means it is beautifully built, impeccably tuned and fun to drive.” – Kelley Blue Book

“The struggle to come to terms with the rise of the crossover could last a lifetime for some automotive purists. The Macan may be the best compact crossover on the road today, but it’s still not as fun to drive as plenty of cheaper and smaller (albeit less practical) vehicles we could name. With no emerging alternative to the new world order, though, we are forced to live in it, one day at a time. So we’re glad the Macan is here to show the way.” – Car and Driver

“Options on the Macan are pricey, but standard kit isn’t that bad. Parking sensors, cruise control and LED daytime running lights are all included. Opt for the GTS model and you get black exterior trim as standard as well as the option for alcantara interior touches.” – Evo

Engine: 2.0-liter Turbo inline-four
Horsepower: 252
Torque: 273 lb-ft
Weight: 3,902 lbs
Price: $47,800
Read our review of the Macan GTS here.

Best Well-Optioned SUV: 2018 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

In its top factory guise, the Rubicon trim level, it’ll make quick work of both glacial deposits and the slipperiest of mountain passes. When modded by the armies of enthusiasts in the Wrangler universe, mountains tremble in this old-school SUV’s presence. To true off-roaders, the Wrangler is a tool, whether deployed right off the assembly line or deemed a mere starting point for upgrades. It’s a weapon for tackling all the challenges Earth can provide.

Who It’s For: Purists. Though it has undergone massive refinements in the decades since it first graced the trails, Jeep’s Wrangler is still a short-wheelbase off-road utility vehicle, not a comfortable road-trip cruiser. Owners should either truly want to extract all of the Wrangler’s utility or be willing to suffer somewhat in order to look like they’re hardcore offroaders. That said, the newest, completely-redesigned Wrangler is smoother and more livable day-to-day than previous generations.

What’s Good: Honest-to-god off-road cred. Dana 44 axles; knobby, 32-inch Goodrich A/T tires. A simple axle-lock toggle switch. Proper gearing and big torque from a smaller engine. And the return of Jeep’s signature fold-down windshield. Jeep has introduced a massive amount of tech into the Wrangler, bringing it in step with the other vehicles in its range.
What to Watch Out For: This is a very small, specific-purpose vehicle. Inch-for-inch and luxury-for-luxury, it costs way more than anything else on this list. So you’re not going to haul that much stuff or that many people.

Value: In terms of being well-optioned for off-roading, there isn’t anything better in this segment. You’re looking at a top-end rock-crawling machine for under $50K, and you’ve still got plenty of cash left over to mod it further.

Design: Improved, but not unfamiliar. It’s a bit bigger than the outgoing Wrangler, with more glass and better visibility all around. The interior is revamped too. Basically, you’re looking at an optimized, modernized and better-looking version of a truck that was already designed really well.

Verdict: The originator remains largely unchallenged. The Toyota 4Runner is cheaper, but it’s not as cool. The forthcoming new Ford Bronco is expected to challenge the Wrangler directly, but it’ll have to really bring it. This is a fun, refined, earth-eating machine.

What Others Are Saying:
“For decades, Wrangler fanatics have yearned for an optional V8 engine under the hood. But instead of the throaty growl of a Hemi, Jeep is offering a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder as the optional gas engine above the V6. We were skeptical. But after spending time with both engines on pavement and off, we found it to be a terrific powerplant. The V6 makes 285 hp up at 6,400 rpm. The 2.0-liter might make a bit less (270 hp) but it peaks at a lower 5,350 rpm. Even more telling, the four-cylinder develops bigger torque — a healthy 295 lb-ft at 3,000 rpm. The V6 develops just 260 lb-ft and does it way up at 4,600 rpm. The result, according to our informal stopwatch timing, is a 0-60 mph run that is consistently around a second quicker (7 seconds versus 8 seconds) in models equipped with the four-cylinder. And when driving trails, the four-cylinder delivers more torque, sooner. On Jeep’s hardcore 4WD test trail, we crawled the terrain in a Rubicon with this new four-cylinder and never felt it lacking for torque.” – AutoWeek

“There are tons of friendly new features. The pop-off doors are lighter, with a handy new lift point carved into the underside of the armrest. The hinges say T50, to remind you what size Torx bit disassembles them, and the pins are staggered lengths to make re-hanging the door easy. The canvas top, once a straitjacket of zippers, now slides together with tongue-and-groove fasteners. A spring-loaded mechanism makes flopping the roof open a one-person job, even on four-door models. There’s even an optional power-folding roof, basically a hardtop with a giant sliding canvas sunroof and removable quarter windows, so you can finally open your Wrangler at a stoplight.” – Road & Track

“The new Wrangler takes so much from its World War II ancestor, but thankfully, the cabin is no longer one of those things. My tester had the same excellent pair of screens found in high-end versions of the Compass and Cherokee, with a 7.0-inch display in the instrument cluster and an 8.4-inch touchscreen atop the center stack. It had dual-zone automatic climate control, and a heated steering wheel to go with its heated seats. And the lights were LEDs, which meant I could actually see at night. The Wrangler feels like a product of the 21st century.” – Motor Authority

Engine: 3.6-liter V6
Horsepower: 285
Torque: 260 lb-ft
Weight: 4,439
Price: $40,495

Best Design: 2018 Volvo XC60 R-Design

What the XC60 does well, it does extremely well. In keeping with the brand’s new design language, the XC60 falls in line with the drop-dead gorgeous XC90 SUV as well as with the S90 sedan and V90 wagon variants. (Since you’re wondering, the V90 Cross Country is the one to get, hands down.) It is stunningly beautiful amidst a background of bland competition — the sheet metal is outstanding, but inside design really shines, especially with the optional driftwood trim. It fits in equally well at a seaside Barcelona Hotel as it does in front of Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia cathedral or the lush green, vertical peaks of Monserrat.

Who It’s For: Safety-minded drivers who want reasonable luxury, very good tech and an extremely pretty vehicle.

What’s Good: Literally almost everything. Far and away, the XC60’s best quality is its design. Volvo is on a well-planned tear: the XC90, the S90, the V90, the XC60, XC40 and now the V60: all gorgeous executions of modern styling, inside and out. The XC60 offers ample comfort and mostly lovely materials, with good fit and finish. Add to that intuitive tech and controls and you can’t ask for much more.

What to Watch Out For: Your mileage may vary, but our initial drive elicited negative feedback about the XC60’s steering. That said, the car performs admirably. It’s a very calm, plain cruiser with a comfortable ride; it simply lacks any sort of spunk. We recommend the R-Design trim level, however, which features a more sport-forward tune. This may remedy all steering faults.

Value: Volvo strikes a middle ground in terms of price. The XC60 is well-optioned as an R-Design model, yet costs only a couple thousand dollars more than relatively spartan competition like the Mercedes-Benz GLC.

Design: Impeccable. Don’t miss the little Swedish flag attached to the front seat backs. The sheet metal is unmistakably Volvo, but so completely forward-thinking. The brand is doing something different than the mainstream, and it’s working.

Verdict: A fantastic car with excellent safety systems, beautiful design, high-end tech and supreme comfort — so long as you don’t want to carve up canyon roads.

What Others Are Saying:
“Perhaps due to these initial impressions, my expectations for the XC60’s handling chops weren’t terribly high, but I thought it performed competently on my mountainous route, especially when placed in Dynamic mode. The steering doesn’t give much feedback, and the XC60 lacks the precision found in vehicles like the Audi Q5 or the Mercedes GLC-Class, but … not many people care about driving at even 7/10ths of a vehicle’s limits, so this is likely irrelevant to most XC60 shoppers.” – NY Daily News

“The XC60’s cabin is just lovely. Furnished with Blonde leather and Driftwood accents, my test vehicle’s minimalistic interior was airy yet cozy. A big, vertically oriented infotainment screen dominates the dashboard, adding modern and surprising element and warranting attention from everyone who enters. Most of the materials supported the test vehicle’s lofty price tag. Unfortunately, some cost cutting is evident as you start tapping some of the plastics on the lower portions of the interior, detracting from an otherwise premium environment. ” – J.D. Power

“Behind the driver and front passenger, 6-footers can fit with plenty of knee room and headroom, even with a standard panoramic roof. The XC60 can seat a third adult in the middle of the back bench for short rides, or a trio of car seats. A regularly shaped cargo area measuring 29.7 cubic feet hides behind the standard power tailgate. Fold down the rear seats, and the cargo bin expands to 68.7 cubic feet.” – The Car Connection

Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder
Horsepower: 250
Torque: 258 lb-ft
Weight: 4,105 lbs
Price: $44,800
Read our review of the XC60 here.

Best Family SUV: 2018 Toyota 4Runner

The 4Runner is among the prefered overlanders among modern off-road enthusiasts. It’s capable off-road right out of the box and if you spec it with the TRD Pro package, it’s even more capable. Why does it make the cut as ‘the best family SUV’? Considering the 4Runner’s three rows of seats, off-road skills and around town livability, it makes the perfect adventure vehicle to take the family on road trip and go camping with. Its very nature promotes quality family time — most importantly, outdoors. Toyota’s bulletproof reliability will keep your pocketbook in check too.

Who It’s For: Adventurers on a budget. The 4Runner is one of the last body-on-frame SUVs available; it also features a live rear axle. It’s a relatively affordable, truck-like option in a world of homogenous crossovers.

What’s Good: Three rows. Body-on-frame construction. Toyota reliability. Off-road capability.

What to Watch Out For: The 4Runner is far more utility than refinement. Inside, you’ll find less-than-par materials, and a lower comfort threshold; the truck doesn’t win any major awards for its on-road driving dynamics either.

Value: The 4Runner’s real competition is the Jeep Wrangler, whose base price is several thousand dollars lower. But the Wrangler doesn’t offer a third row. If you want cargo room and people room in a capable off-roader with passable on-road manners, this is it.

Design: Dated and simple. Again, this is a truck on a now — unfortunately or not — archaic platform. When the Bronco comes along, Toyota will need to respond in kind or it may find itself in a bit of trouble. That said, the 4Runner is currently enjoyed extensively as the overlander of choice among hardcore enthusiasts due to its out-of-the-box capability and the ease with which it can be modified.

Verdict: A solid, simple choice for someone who values capability on the trail over cruiseability around town.

What Others Are Saying:
“Throttle response is smooth and progressive, and the five=-speed automatic transmission shifts seamlessly. It would be better with another gear to choose from.” – Edmunds

“The two-row 4Runner we tested had an optional pull-out cargo deck designed to make loading and unloading heavy items
— up to 440 pounds’ worth — a little easier. It can also double as a tailgate for seating. This provides a flat load floor when the second-row seats are folded, but also robs the cargo hold of several inches of height. Still, we fit an impressive 14 carry-ons behind the second row.” – Car and Driver

“Not much has changed on the outside for the 2018 4Runner. In an effort to give the SUV a “more rugged and aggressive appearance,” Toyota has endowed the front fascia with large, boomerang-shaped indentations below the slanted headlights. If that gaping design is a deterrent, know that it doesn’t apply to the top-line Limited edition. The rest of the 4Runner successfully carries on the SUV’s rugged, boxy shape. We dig the 4-wheel-drive TRD model’s hood scoop and additional ground clearance that totals 9.6 inches. All trims feature a standard roof rack.” – Kelley Blue Book

Engine: 4.0-liter V6
Horsepower: 270
Torque: 278 lb-ft
Weight: 4,675 lbs
Price: $36,475

Best Compact SUV: 2018 Jaguar E-Pace

“The E-Pace rises to the challenge of meeting or exceeding Jaguar’s expected levels of luxury and performance. It handles sharply and smartly, feels appropriately cushy and comfortable and has that hint of presence that is easy to lose with a crossover — in spite of its literally elevated stature. A well-designed sedan has a way of commanding authority better than a crossover or SUV, which has to do with proportions; particularly, an abundance of rear legroom. But the E-Pace is a Jag as much in spirit as it is in name, which speaks exceedingly well of the effort.” – Eric Adams

Who It’s For: People who want a pocket rocket without compromising on comfort and design — one that can bail them out if they get into trouble while scampering off-road. – Eric Adams
What’s Good: “I only drove the 296-hp R-Dynamic variant which goes like stink. The car is brisk off the line and soaks up the turns like any similarly-pedigreed machine should, with minimal body roll and a seemingly endless tolerance for pushing harder and harder with each subsequent turn. Inside, Jaguar provides its InControl Touch Pro infotaintment system, which is among the most easily comprehensible and navigable of the luxury user-interfaces.” – Eric Adams

What to Watch Out For: In an era when carmakers seem to be going out of their way to confuse consumers with everything from cryptic, unmemorable alphanumerics to trendy iPhone-esque tech handles, naming a vehicle E-anything immediately implies electrification, which is not present in the E-Pace. The forthcoming all-electric I-Pace, will, so the naming scheme is complex. It’s either a deliberate attempt at stolen valor — a cheap psychological trick to seem virtuous — or it’s simply bad judgment. – Eric Adams

Value: The Jaguar will bring the most value to drivers who prefer stately presence and style with a dash of capability, should the stream next to their summer home flood over the driveway. Otherwise, “those that come closest to hitting the proper mix of off-road capability and on-road prowess are the Porsche Macan, which offers comparable performance if a different overall vibe; and the Mazda CX-3, which brings not-insignificant — and wholly underrated — design flair to the crossover, in addition to being at worst a great vehicle.” – Eric Adams

Design: “The front end. The vehicle is generally beautiful, with excellent proportions and a notably sporty visual vibe. But the fascia feels like a glum afterthought. The grill-to-headlight ratio is off, with just a hair too little headlight relative the grill, while both are too small relative to the lower air intakes. The grill, resplendent in shiny black, doesn’t match those lower intakes, which have more of a matte finish. The headlights, while striking in profile, are a bit too minimalist from the front, calling to mind an old Dodge Neon. This isn’t so much in their shaping as it is in their general timidness, which I fear won’t age well.” – Eric Adams
Verdict: “The E-Pace rises to the challenge of meeting or exceeding Jaguar’s expected levels of luxury and performance. It handles sharply and smartly, feels appropriately cushy and comfortable and has that hint of presence that is easy to lose with a crossover — in spite of its literally elevated stature.” – Eric Adams

What Others Are Saying:
“Although adjacent alphabetically in lists of major automakers, Jaguar and Jeep are polar opposites, but that isn’t keeping Jaguar from following in Jeep’s footsteps.” – Car and Driver

“Despite its compact dimensions, the 173.0-inch-long E-Pace weighs in at a portly 4,175 lb in R-Dynamic spec thanks in part to a largely steel construction. That’s a massive 500 lb more than our Four Seasons Mazda CX-5 and the Range Rover Evoque, 200 lb more than the Land Rover Discovery Sport, and even 160 lb more than the larger F-Pace.” – Automobile Magazine

“The E-Pace shows another side of the burgeoning JLR empire: ruthless, expedient, shamelessly pursuing global volume, baldly grubbing for profits.” – The Wall Street Journal

Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder
Horsepower: 246
Torque: 269 lb-ft
Weight: 4,035
Price: $38,600
Read our review of the E-Pace here.
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