Best SUVs for 2021
  • Buying Guides

Best SUVs for 2021

By Autolist Editorial | March 11, 2021

SUVs are IT right now, with many automakers eliminating sedans and hatchbacks to focus on pumping out as many crossovers as possible. That means there are nearly endless choices for SUV buyers. We sorted through all of the options available to bring you 15 of the best SUVs on the market for the 2021 and 2022 model years. From compact SUVs to ultra-luxury off-roaders, this list runs the gamut. Whether passenger space or driving experience is most important to you, there is an SUV here for every need.


Audi SQ7

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This sporty version of Audi's Q7 midsize SUV adds sports car performance to a reasonably practical package. The SQ7 can move up to seven people at rapid speeds, though the third-row seat should be considered kid-only. Fold those rear seats away, and the SQ7 offers up plenty of space for luggage. Interior appointments feature a racier version of the practical luxury Audi is known for, and tech features include three touchscreens running the HVAC and infotainment and providing the driver with all the standard data.

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Pricing starts at an MSRP of $86,095 for the Premium Plus base trim and $92,295 for the upper-crust Prestige trim.

A single powertrain is available on the SQ7: a 500 horsepower twin-turbo 4.0-liter V8 powers all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission. Audi's famous Quattro AWD does the hard work, propelling the fairly heavy SUV to 60 miles-per-hour in under four and a half seconds. Fuel economy and performance don't go hand in hand, as the SQ7 returns just 17 MPG combined.

Browse Audi SQ7 listings here.


BMW X5

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BMW's midsize SUV may be the best in class when it comes to driving dynamics. The BMW X5 is the midsized luxury SUV for grown-ups. Exterior styling is handsome but not ostentatious. The interior is premium but not opulent. The performance is exciting but not outrageous. The X5 would be Goldilocks's pick among any of the major luxury automakers, not boring or gauche. Just right.

Pricing starts at $60,395 in front-wheel-drive sDrive40i trim, and the top-tier M50i starts at $84,095.

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There are three powertrain options, including a plug-in hybrid, new for 2021. The xDrive45e offers 389 combined horsepower from an electric motor and turbocharged inline six-cylinder engine. The 24-kWh battery can also power the X5 as many as 30 miles without firing up the gas engine. It's no Tesla, but it is a more eco-conscious option, almost covering the average daily commute of 32 miles.

Traditional internal combustion engines include a 335 horsepower turbocharged inline-six and a 523 horsepower turbocharged V8 in the M50i.

Browse BMW X5 listings here.


Chevrolet Tahoe

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Chevy's full-size SUV -- the truck-based SUV for families who need a lot of passenger and cargo space -- was redesigned for 2021. The biggest change is the new independent rear suspension, which opens up more room inside for third-row passengers and additional storage. The interior also receives tech updates, including a 10.2-inch touchscreen and the all-important Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The new Tahoe has a new face with a bolder look, and many will find the design refreshing compared to the subdued faces of Tahoes past.

Pricing for the Base LS trim starts at $50,295, the off-road-oriented Z71 begins at $60,495, and top-tier High Country Tahoes start at $70,895.

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Three engine options are available:

  • The base engine is a capable 5.3-liter V8 making 355 horsepower.

  • A larger 6.2-liter V8 makes 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque.

  • A 3.0-liter diesel 6-cylinder matches the torque of the larger V8 but makes 270 horsepower.

All three engines are paired with a 10-speed auto, turning the rear-wheels as standard, with four-wheel drive optional.

Browse Chevrolet Tahoe listings here.


Cadillac Escalade

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Over the years, the Escalade has transitioned from a Chevy Tahoe with some extra leather to a true luxury SUV. All-new for 2021, it's now a leader in the full-size, three-row SUV luxury category. For those in the market for large luxury, the new Escalade is now a status symbol worth owning.

Highlights include a massive curved OLED display that extends from the left of the steering wheel across about two-thirds of the cabin, handling the work of the gauge cluster, navigation, and infotainment system, plus GM's Super Cruise hands-free capabilities.

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Though it is not nimble on the road, the new independent rear suspension and many other tweaks deliver a supple ride, letting you almost forget this is a truck-based SUV.

Starting at $77,490 in base Luxury trim, the Escalade is in line with the Lincoln Navigator, its closest competitor. The top-level Sport Platinum and Premium Luxury Platinum start at just over $100,000.

Power is provided by a 6.2-liter V8 making 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque, or a 3.0-liter V6 Duramax diesel engine making 270 horsepower and the same 460 lb-ft of torque. The diesel is expected to be the more fuel-efficient option, but complete numbers from the EPA are not yet available.

Rear-wheel drive is standard, with four-wheel drive available.

Browse Cadillac Escalade listings here.


Ford Bronco Sport

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A new model for 2021, the Bronco Sport is based on the Ford Escape platform but paired with the square looks of its larger stablemate, the upcoming Bronco.

Ford has also imbued the Bronco Sport with a surprising amount of off-road prowess. Reviewers have been testing the little Bronco, and most have found it to be an excellent on- and off-road SUV.

Pricing starts at $28,305 for the base model up to $34,315 for the Outer Banks.

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A turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder making 181 horsepower is the entry-level engine, while the 245 horsepower 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder is the engine to get; both engines are paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is standard on all models, and the Badlands trim level includes a slight bump in ride height and upgraded suspension for better off-road capability.

The Bronco Sport beats the offerings from Jeep for the most off-road ready compact crossover.

Browse Ford Bronco Sport listings here.


Honda Passport

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The Honda Passport earns the praise of most reviewers for its reasonable price, a robust suite of standard safety features, and thoughtfully designed interior space. The Passport has excellent on-road manners, though it is a little rough on passengers when venturing off-road. Towing capacity is a respectable 5,000 pounds and comfortably seats five adults. Fuel economy is acceptable at 21 MPG combined, which isn't stellar compared to competitors with smaller turbocharged engines.

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Pricing for the Passport starts at $33,965 in base Sport trim, up to $45,355 for the top-tier Elite trim. All Passports share a 3.5-liter V6 engine, making 280 horsepower, and a nine-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard, and all-wheel-drive is an available option.

Browse Honda Passport listings here.


Hyundai Palisade

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While the Palisade's front end has a look that may not appeal to everyone, the overall effort of this three-row crossover makes it one of the best in its segment.

Inside, the Palisade is a true crowd-pleaser, with luxury features and tech that dominate the class. With spacious seating for up to eight and plenty of cargo space, the Palisade is a luxury family vehicle providing value for a reasonable price tag.

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In base SE trim, the Palisade starts at $33,710 and tops out at $47,235 for the luxurious Calligraphy trim.

The lone engine option for the Palisade is a 3.8-liter naturally aspirated V6, making 291 horsepower. Shifting is handled by an eight-speed automatic transmission with front-wheel-drive coming standard; all-wheel drive optional (AWD is standard on the top Calligraphy trim).

Fuel Economy is average with an EPA estimated 23 MPG for FWD and 21 MPG mixed driving in AWD models.

Browse Hyundai Palisade listings here.


Hyundai Kona

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Hyundai's entry in the subcompact sport utility vehicle segment fills the spiritual hole of the Nissan Juke, which has been discontinued for the time being in the U.S.

Hyundai's Kona has a funky face but backs it up with enjoyable driving dynamics and an impressive value in a crowded marketplace. The exterior styling does shrink interior space—taller rear-seat passengers may feel cramped, and behind-the-seat cargo storage is limited.

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But the interior is well designed and ergonomic without being boring. Most models feature a 7.0-inch touchscreen running a well-designed infotainment system. A new Night trim level has been added for 2021, featuring blacked-out interior and exterior pieces, including stylish 18-inch RAYS wheels.

The base model SE Kona starts at $21,685, and the top-end Ultimate model begins at $29,335.

Two engines are available depending on trim: SE and SEL models get a 2.0-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder making a modest 147 horsepower, paired with a traditional six-speed automatic transmission.

Higher trim levels benefit from a 175-horsepower, 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.

Browse Hyundai Kona listings here.


Kia Telluride

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Though it shares its underpinnings with the aforementioned Hyundai Palisade, the Kia Telluride offers a distinct experience wrapped in an equally-distinct exterior...one that some consider to be one of the best-looking SUVs on the market. Its styling is sophisticated mimicry of higher-end brands, without anything that is a blatantly offensive copy.

Inside, the Telluride continues to take aim at luxury brands, offering comfort and quality that hits above its price point. The interior is spacious, well assembled, and high quality in every aspect. With seating for up to eight, the Telluride is an excellent family hauler. One area where the Telluride falls short is driving dynamics; the suspension is hard, without offering the stability and confidence of European makes.

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In base trim, MSRP for the Telluride starts at $33,415, while top-end SX trim starts at $43,715. At every price point, the Kia Telluride offers a strong value, serving up amenities and style usually found on vehicles costing tens of thousands more.

All Tellurides are powered by a 3.8-liter V6 making 291 horsepower. That engine is hooked up to the front-wheel-drive system via an eight-speed automatic transmission in standard configuration, with AWD optional on all trim levels.

The Kia Telluride shares its drivetrain with its Hyundai Palisade cousin, and fuel economy is identical as well.

Browse Kia Telluride listings here.


Land Rover Defender

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Land Rover has resurrected their iconic off-road-oriented SUV nameplate for 2020, and it definitely holds its own as an upscale alternative to the Jeep Wrangler. The Defender comes in both two- and four-door configurations, bearing the traditional 90 and 110 designations, respectively.

Reviewers have found the new Defender extremely capable off-road and more refined on-road than competitors. The interior ranges from versatile to full-blown luxury. It can seat up to six when equipped with an optional center-console in the front, which folds into a jump seat.

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The 2021 Land Rover Defender starts at a Jeep-like $47,450 in base trim, while the high-end X trim starts at $81,850. Power is provided by two engine options for 2021, with a third joining the lineup in 2022.

The standard powertrain is the P300, which is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder making 296 horsepower. The P400 powertrain takes it up a notch with a supercharged and turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine, with mild hybrid assistance making 395 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque.

For 2022, a supercharged V8 model joins the lineup. It will use a 5.0-liter unit that makes 518 horsepower and 461 pound-feet of torque.

All three engines make use of an eight-speed automatic transmission and include all-wheel drive with high and low range.

Browse Land Rover Defender listings here.


Lexus RX350

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Lexus invented the midsized luxury SUV with the original RX350, and today the original is still one of the best. The exterior styling of the RX350 features Lexus's massive, aggressive grill.

Inside, however, the Lexus is much more subdued, and that is also reflected in the driving characteristics. It delivers a silky-smooth ride but offers little in the way of engagement. Buyers looking to be pampered and isolated from the chore of driving will find the RX350 a good fit. Even in F-Sport trim, the RX350 is far from athletic; drivers looking for thrills should probably consider the offerings from Porsche or Audi.

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The RX350 starts at $46,195, and the F-Sport trim begins at $49,675. Power comes from a 3.5-liter V6 making a decent 290 horsepower paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission.

Front-wheel drive is standard, with all-wheel drive available.

The same basic package is also available as a hybrid configuration as the RX450h, and both can be had in a three-row configuration designated by an L as the last character in the model name.

Browse Lexus RX350 listings here.


Mazda CX-5

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Mazda's CX-5 delivers driving dynamics more similar to a sports sedan than a midsize SUV. Interior appointments are also surprisingly luxurious, making the CX-5 a very compelling option in the segment.

Buyers longing for a Porsche Macan without the associated high price should look to the CX-5. The steering is communicative and precise, and with the optional turbocharged engine, acceleration is exciting.

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The interior appointments are comfortable and ergonomic. An upgraded infotainment system for 2021 includes a 10-inch display.

The CX-5 starts at a very reasonable $26,370 in base Sport trim. The top-of-the-line Signature trim starts at $38,505, and every trim level feels like a bargain.

The base engine is a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine making 187 horsepower. It's acceptable but doesn't compliment the well-tuned chassis the way the optional turbocharged engine does. That engine matches the displacement of the base motor, but with forced induction, makes a just-right 250 horsepower.

Both engines share an excellent six-speed automatic transmission, with front-wheel-drive standard and all-wheel-drive optional.

Browse Mazda CX-5 listings here.


Mercedes-Benz GLE Class

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Mercedes's midsize SUV offers all of the leather-draped, wood-covered luxuries of its sedans, with the added utility of an SUV body, with seating for up to seven and cargo space for more than the weekend's worth of polo shirts for a trip upstate. Though most buyers would not take the GLE off-road, it is available with an air-suspension to smooth out the bumps and optional heated armrests for those chilly elbows.

The base GLE350 starts at $55,800, mid-tier GLE450 at $63,550, and top-tier GLE580 at $79,950. Those trim levels also designate different powertrains. The GLE350 is powered by a 255 horsepower, turbocharged four-cylinder engine paired with a nine-speed automatic transmission. Rear-wheel-drive is standard, with all-wheel-drive available.

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The GLE450 gets standard AWD, and a 3.0-liter turbocharged inline six-cylinder with 362 horsepower and EQ Boost mild hybrid system.

The GLE580 bumps up to a 483 horsepower twin-turbo V8, also using the EQ Boost system.

Browse Mercedes-Benz GLE Class listings here.


Subaru Ascent

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Subaru's second attempt at a three-row SUV has been a massive success. With seating for up to eight people, the Ascent caters to the Subaru loyal, with growing families. With its reputation for safety and all-wheel-drive confidence, the Subaru Ascent is quickly becoming a common sight in areas of the country with wintry weather.

The Ascent includes standard safety features like lane-departure warning and adaptive cruise control, which are still optional on some competitors.

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The Ascent's driving characteristics are predictable and comfortable but not as agile as some competitors, and reviewers found the lone powertrain option to be sluggish and noisy.

Pricing for the Subaru Ascent starts at $33,345 in base trim and ranges up to $46,000.

As previously mentioned, all Ascents share a singular powertrain. The 260 horsepower turbocharged boxer four-cylinder is adequate but not exciting. That engine is paired with a continuously-variable transmission, and all Ascents feature Subaru's famous all-wheel drive.

Browse Subaru Ascent listings here.


Toyota RAV4

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Toyota's compact SUV offers a range of models for all buyers. Base models offer a car-like driving experience with the space and the size of an SUV, while the TRD Off-Road is a compelling entry into the growing capable crossover segment.

The RAV4 has a handsome, tough(-ish) looking exterior and a simple, well-designed interior. Its suspension absorbs road imperfection without ever feeling sloppy. For eco-conscious buyers, hybrid and plug-in hybrid models are available. Toyota's impressive suite of safety features comes standard on all trims.

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Base LE models start at $27,325, with the TRD Off-Road trim grabbing the top price point starting at $37,055. The RAV4 carries Toyota's reputation for dependability but doesn't always feel like a particularly great value on some trims.

All non-hybrid trims of the RAV4 are powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder producing 203 horsepower paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard, with all-wheel drive available across the range.

Browse Toyota RAV4 listings here.