Currently reading: Top 10 best sports SUVs 2024
With heady performance, decent dynamic ability and a practical SUV body, sports 4x4s may be an acquired taste but here is our list of the best 10 money can buy

Whether you consider it a contradiction in terms, a total aberration or the ultimate all-rounder, there’s no denying the performance SUV can stir debate.

On paper, these high-riding and highly tuned machines shouldn’t work for keen drivers, yet they’re flying out of showrooms quicker than most can get to 62mph.

In many ways it’s not hard to see their appeal, the combination of pace and practicality allowing them to slip easily into most lives. What’s more, despite a hefty kerbweight and a high centre of gravity, many drive with greater poise, precision and panache than you’d believe, allowing them to be hustled hard over give-and-take roads.

Then there’s usual upmarket SUV perks of a luxurious cabin, commanding view out and the all-weather security of all-wheel drive. And, if it’s your bag, there’s kerbside kudos of all that fashionable off-road intent. On paper, these are cars that have all the bases covered.

Our top 10 here represents the high performance heartland for SUVs, with a mid-sized vibe and a price ceiling of around £100,000 (although some of our contenders float a little above this self-imposed limit). If you want more exotic and rarefied fast 4x4s such as the Lamborghini Urus, then here’s our list of Super SUVs.

1. Porsche Macan GTS

Porsche macan gts top 10

Pros: Ideal blend of pace, space and dynamic grace, best-in-class handling 

Cons: It can feel heavy, It's nearly ten years old

If any SUV is going to earn grudging respect from the died-in-the-wool sportscar fan, then it's the Macan. Despite nearing its tenth birthday (and essentially being based on the original Audi Q5, which debuted in 2008), Porsche’s entry-level off-roader continues to set the bar in this closely fought class, with a blend of pace, space and dynamic grace that makes even the greatest naysayers nod in approval.

With a new, all-electric version on the horizon, Porsche has both spruced-up and pared-back the current Macan line-up, with an end-of-life facelift. The flagship Turbo has gone, but the GTS that effectively replaces it packs the same 434bhp turbocharged 2.9-litre V6 so there’s no loss in performance (you’ll be at 62mph from a standstill in just 4.5 seconds, while the top speed is a biscuit under 170mph).

Crucially, its subtly lowered and uprated suspension delivers the sort of involving and agile driving experience that has you convinced you’re in something smaller and more hot hatch-shaped - it’s physics-defying antics beggar belief. The steering also has a similar weighting and response to the brand’s low-slung road-burners, while the expensively tuned dampers are cast iron in control but cushioned in operation.


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JLR’s first ‘special vehicle’ is big on charm, pace, capability and driver engagement. Expertly judged and executed

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Yet with its standard air suspension and cossesting, lavishly appointed interior, the Macan is a relaxed and easy-going as an executive saloon when you just want to cruise. It’s not quite as roomy as some of the younger entries here, but there’s enough space that you’ll get few complaints. If you only ever drive one SUV, make it this one.

Read our Porsche Macan review

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2. Jaguar F-Pace SVR

Jaguar f pace svr 2023 top 10

Pros: Suitable for a host of jobs, well-rounded and versatile

Cons: Fiddly infotainment, not as dynamically keen as rivals

When Jaguar started making SUVs, it became a pretty bankable probability that it would one day make a performance SUV.

And the day it did, it showed so many of its faster-moving German rivals where they'd been going wrong by launching a fast 4x4 brimming with pace and sporting sense of occasion, but also more laid back in its dynamic character than many.

The F-Pace SVR is the sports car for someone who wants a car to use on the office commute and school run, and for weekend errands - and not one so stiffly suspended that it feels like a gigantic, rolling vehicular contradiction.

Its snarling 5.0-litre supercharged V8 gives it all the speed and drama a car of this size ever needed, and its purposeful handling is exciting, but its practical cabin and boot, and its pragmatic chassis tuning, also make it well suited to the real world.

A facelift in 2021 helped nudge the fantastic F-Pace SVR into first place here. Its body is now ever so slightly more aerodynamic. A new torque-converter automatic gearbox lifted straight from the Project 8 can now handle the V8's full 516lb ft in all gears.

Suspension tweaks have made the model more rounded and usable, but without compromising its dynamism. The interior and infotainment have been updated, too. Make no mistake: this is a seriously impressive piece of kit.

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Read our Jaguar F-Pace SVR review

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3. Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio

Alfa romeo stelvio qv top 10

Pros: Dreamy engine, the most engaging SUV to drive

Cons: Interior disappoints compared to rivals, rear legroom lacking

Alfa Romeo's first performance SUV needs little introduction. It's the car whose chassis was signed off by the man who brought you the handling of the celebrated Ferrari 458 Speciale.

It also has a turbo V6 engine derived from a V8 from Maranello, and itself is from a maker of some of Europe's most revered sports saloons and coupes, one that is back on form after something of a hiatus.

For the past few years, these elements have combined to stunning effect. Put simply, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio is one of the sharpest, most engaging performance SUVs currently on sale, driving with fine vertical body control and rapier steering response that belies its mass and body profile.

A mid-life update in 2020 helped to lift some issues with perceived quality in the cabin, but even so, this still isn't the plushest fast SUV that a fairly hefty sum of money can buy. As before, it's also one of the more uncompromising members of its class when it comes to ride refinement and daily usability.

That said, if you care about driving thrills over and above anything else, this is probably the sports SUV for you.

Read our Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio review 

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4. Range Rover Sport P530

Range rover sport 2023 top 10

Pros: Excellent luxury, comfort and refinement, great off-road

Cons: Very heavy, expensive

The all-new Range Rover Sport isn’t the most dedicated driving machine in this line-up, but its blend of abilities is unrivalled.

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Yes, there’s enough pace and poise to keep keen drivers interested, but the Rangie’s real talent is to combine these with incredible luxury, comfort and refinement. Oh, and of course the ability to reach the parts other SUVs can’t reach when the going gets tough.

For now there’s no rabble-rousing SVR variant, which means the top of the performance tree is occupied by the P530. It packs a lightly modded version of the older car’s supercharged 5.0-litre V8, but here it develops 523bhp for a 4.5 second 0-62mph time, which is hardly shabby when you consider it tips the scales at just shy of 2500kg.

Speaking of mass, there’s a lot of clever suspension trickery to help mitigate the worst effects of the Sport’s hefty kerbweight. Dual chamber air springs, 48V active anti-roll bars, a limited slip rear differential and four-wheel steering all help the big Brit handle with surprising quick-wittedness. 

Slacken the suspension off, however, and the Range Rover wafts along in near silence with a sense of luxury that’s matched by its beautifully wrought and richly finished interior. And then there’s the Sport’s party trick, which is to clamber over the roughest of rough terrain with the ease and agility of a Himalayan sherpa.

Read our Range Rover Sport review 

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5. Porsche Cayenne Turbo

Porsche cayenne turbo top 10

Pros: The fastest SUV in the real world, more livable than ever before

Cons: Not as incisive as previous Cayennes, expensive

This is the quickest, in the real-world sense, SUV you can get. Thanks to its excellent visibility and a supremely effective chassis, a Cayenne Turbo can cover ground, from point to point and in any weather, faster than most cars.

However, in third-generation guise, the Cayenne has lost a degree of the incisiveness and rear-driven poise that made its predecessors such impressive performance SUVs.

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Make no mistake: the energy with which this 2.3-tonne SUV changes direction is still pretty phenomenal, but the Cayenne Turbo's previously fervid temperament feels as though it has been dialled back a notch to make it a more liveable, broadly appealing fast SUV than it was before. 

Read our Porsche Cayenne review

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6. Audi SQ7

Audi sq7 2023 top 10

Pros: Phenomenal pace, refined and immensely comfortable

Cons: Can't match rivals for dynamics, V8 is as characterful as old diesel

The SQ7 initially rose to prominence because it went about the business of being a fast, effective and impressively usable SUV in a slightly different fashion from the majority of its rivals.

Central to this was its 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged diesel V8, a powerplant that lent the SQ7 not only fairly phenomenal pace but also reasonable fuel efficiency - at least in the context of the other cars on this list.

In 2020, however, Audi ditched that oil burner and replaced it with the 4.0-litre twin-turbo petrol V8 that appears in everything from Audi's own RS models to Bentleys and Porsches. Here, it develops 500bhp and 568lb ft - all of which is deployed to stunning effect.

It's an impressive car, this - fast, refined and immensely comfortable with enough cabin space for seven people.

Given its size, it handles well, too - although it can't quite match the likes of Porsche, Alfa Romeo or Jaguar for outright driver engagement. And while that new petrol V8 might be a phenomenal engine in its own right, it's not quite as characterful as the old diesel.

Read our Audi SQ7 review

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7. Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S 4Matic+ Coupé

Mercedes amg glc63 coupe top 10

Pros: Sleek design, intoxicating V8 engine

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Cons: Can't match the Porsche in the corners, firm and noisy ride

The GLC 63 Coupe’s biggest enemy is its five-door sibling because that car offers the same performance from the same intoxicating V8 engine.

But if you're smitten by the swoopy, divisive styling of the coupe, the car's desirability will be almost unmatchable. It's packed with the luxurious perceived cabin quality you'd expect from Mercedes-AMG and it also beats the Porsche Macan Turbo to 62mph by half a second - although it can't match that car's dynamic abilities.

Its firm, noisy ride will limit its appeal to less enthusiastic drivers. However, the retention of an emotive petrol V8 in a mid-sized performance SUV, when some rivals have turned to six-pots, will be enough to draw some people to the GLC 63 Coupe’.

Read our Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S review

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8. BMW X3 M Competition & X4 M Competition

Bmw x4m 2023 top top

Pros: Surprisingly high grip levels, keen cornering balance

Cons: Firm ride, not the best to drive

BMW is a fairly recent addition to the ranks of manufacturers making hot SUVs at the smaller end of the market. While there has been an X5 M and an X6 M for several years, this is the first time those cars have had smaller counterparts.

They're oddly serious, buttoned-down counterparts, too.

Using fixed-height steel coil suspension rather than air, and seeking to carve out dynamic identities as higher-rising versions of the M3 and M4 rather than any-occasion luxury SUVs with a performance flavour, the X3 M and X4 M are firm-riding, keen-revving, six-cylinder options that seem desperate to recover some sporting credibility in what many would consider a doomed attempt.

The two cars have identical axles and chassis tuning and use the same M5-derived four-wheel drive system, which combine to make for surprisingly high grip levels and keen cornering balance. Even so, they're not the easiest cars to handle on the limit - and neither do they offer the broadest dynamic playbook in the class.

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Read our BMW X2 M Competition and BMW X3 Competition reviews

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9. Maserati Grecale Trofeo

Maserati grecale trofeo top 10

Pros: Effortless pace, luxurious interior, smooth ride

Cons: Not the most tuneful engine

There’s a sense of rejuvenation in the air at Maserati, with the once proud Italian marque starting to regain some of its swagger.

The incredible MC20 supercar is the most obvious example of the new-found confidence, but there’s also an all-new GranTurismo, which is even available in all-electric guise. Yet arguably the most important new addition, in sales terms at least, is the Grecale, a Porsche Macan-baiting mid-size SUV.

In its top Trofeo form it certainly has the raw ingredients to go after the ultra successful Zuffenhausen SUV.

Under its bonnet is a modified version of the MC20’s Nettuno twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre V6, which gives a useful 523bhp and a claimed 0-62mph of just 3.8 seconds. It’s not the most tuneful unit (although in Sport or Corsa modes there is some extra exhaust crackle), but it delivers effortless pace. 

The suspension has been uprated to cope as well, and while not as sharp, controlled or engaging as a Macan, the Grecale can be driven with real brio, its rear-biased four-wheel drive system even allowing for some throttle adjustability out of slower turns.

A real highlight is the interior, which beats most for space and has a luxurious look and feel. And with the dampers in their softest setting, the Maserati delivers a smooth and refined drive that allows it to slip easily into your life.

Read our Maserati Grecale review

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10. Land Rover Defender 90 V8

Land rover defender v8 90 top 10

Pros: Incredible 5.0-litre V8, fun to drive

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Cons: Breaks our budget, not remotely sensible 

The V8-engined Defender just breaks our self-imposed budget, but it’s so packed with character we had to include it in this list.

The supercharged 5.0-litre engine is found elsewhere in other JLR products, and while it’s not the height of sophistication there’s no denying it's effective, its throbbing backbeat and supercharged whine adding real character.

It's not engineered by the Special Vehicle Operations division, but the Defender does have many of the hallmarks of those cars: 22in wheels, more than 500bhp and a suitably fruity exhaust note.

The engineering team were also keen to ensure this was a fun car to drive and that the big old engine shouldn’t dominate. Speak to those behind the V8 and they claim they wanted to create a bit of a rally car feel, especially on the loose where the car feels surprisingly well balanced and biddable.

On the road, it's smooth and refined and unnervingly fast, and while it doesn't handle like an F-Type SVR or Cayenne Turbo (how could it?), there's a sweetness to the dynamics that make for satisfying progress. All in, not a remotely sensible car, but a lovable one indeed.

Read our Land Rover Defender review 

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James Disdale

James Disdale
Title: Special correspondent

James is a special correspondent for Autocar, which means he turns his hand to pretty much anything, including delivering first drive verdicts, gathering together group tests, formulating features and keeping topped-up with the latest news and reviews. He also co-hosts the odd podcast and occasional video with Autocar’s esteemed Editor-at-large, Matt Prior.

For more than a decade and a half James has been writing about cars, in which time he has driven pretty much everything from humble hatchbacks to the highest of high performance machines. Having started his automotive career on, ahem, another weekly automotive magazine, he rose through the ranks and spent many years running that title’s road test desk. This was followed by a stint doing the same job for monthly title, evo, before starting a freelance career in 2019. The less said about his wilderness, post-university years selling mobile phones and insurance, the better.

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TStag 3 January 2024

JLR are crazy to drop the F Pace. It's sportiness is something not found elsewhere in the range. They should replace the F Pace and make this their entry level model. It's a cracking car.

emergeeyrar 24 April 2023

Excellent piece; I found the insights offered to be both fascinating and instructive. Thanks for the informative information. I'm crossing my fingers for more fresh content in the not-too-distant future.