Luxury SUV – 16 best luxury SUVs for 2021
Once upon a time, the idea of a luxury SUV meant a Range Rover, and even that was pretty agricultural by modern standards. Then Jeep Grand Cherokees and Ford Explorers started offering fancy, range-topping versions followed soon by Lexus and Mercedes dipping their toes in the water. And then the floodgates opened. Today, there is a staggering number of luxury SUVs available in every shape, size and price point. There are electric luxury SUVs like the Tesla Model X and Jaguar I-Pace, as well as gas-swilling, high-performance SUVs like the BMW X5 M and Mercedes-AMG G 63. Sports car makers Porsche, Aston Martin and Lamborghini have even dived in.
But of this great many, which are the best luxury SUVs? We sat down, scoured our reviews, took some votes, had some discussions and came up with the luxury SUVs we view as the best. They are listed alphabetically within the six segments listed below.
Best Subcompact Luxury SUV | Best Compact Luxury SUV | Best Midsize Luxury SUV (Two-Row)
Best Midsize Luxury SUV (Three-Row) | Best Flagship Luxury SUV (Two-Row) | Best Flagship Luxury SUV (Three-Row)
Best subcompact luxury SUVs
Why it stands out: Outstanding space and versatility; legit luxury interior
Could be better: Overwhelming and confusing tech interface
Read our full 2021 Mercedes GLB Review
Most subcompact luxury SUVs are a dubious value, with cramped interiors of marginal quality and unrefined driving dynamics. You’d be much better off paying less money for a loaded, non-luxury compact SUV. The Mercedes GLB is different, though. Its boxy design provides space few other subcompact SUV can match (luxury or otherwise), while its cabin design and feature content are in keeping with pricier Mercedes models. The quality’s not exactly up to GLC standards, nor is driving refinement, but the difference is appropriate for how much you’re saving and still perfectly acceptable. There’s nothing dubious about buying a GLB.
Why it stands out: More features for the money; spacious and versatile interior; distinctive design; electric version
Could be better: Fuel-efficient base engine only available with FWD
Read our most recent Volvo XC40 Review
Most subcompact luxury models feel a bit like cheap knockoffs of their bigger, pricier brand mates. The XC40, by contrast, is a break from the Volvo norm in a good way. It rides on a different platform from the various 60- and 90-series Volvos, resulting in a car that’s a bit more playful to drive, but still possessing the solid, refined feeling one expects from the brand. Its design is more utilitarian and youthful, eschewing luxury trims like chrome and wood in favor of elements like contrasting roofs and vibrant interior colors (you can get orange carpet!). Importantly, it’s also one of the larger, more versatile vehicles in the segment and provides more features for the money. It’s a desirable vehicle to buy on its own merits in a segment that often feels like you got it cause you couldn’t afford a pricier model.
Best compact luxury SUVs
Why it stands out: Drives like a proper Mercedes; stylish interior; diverse model lineup
Could be better: Overwhelming and confusing tech interface; interior space
Read our full 2021 Mercedes GLC Review
The GLC was so masterfully executed when it was introduced six years ago that it continues to impress despite numerous competitors entering the field or being redesigned since. Principally, the GLC is so good because it looks, drives and is equipped like a proper Mercedes. Sure, checking a few options boxes helps to fully achieve that status, but even the most basic GLC drives with a solidity and refinement that’s largely unmatched, and possesses a stylish interior dominated by an elegant waterfall of wood trim. It’s not quite as tech-dominant in appearance as other Mercedes, but it does include nearly all of Mercedes’ safety and infotainment tech features, including (for better and worse) the pretty but confusing MBUX tech interface. Two body styles (regular and “coupe”) and three engine options (including two AMG models) provide a lineup diversity only the BMW X3/X4 can match.
Why it stands out: The best compact SUV to drive; Porsche quality and customization potential
Could be better: Expensive before you even get to the exorbitantly priced options; small interior
Read our most recent Porsche Macan Review
Taken literally, the Porsche Macan is almost certainly the best compact luxury SUV. The way it looks, the way it’s made and, most significantly, the way it drives would make it a no-brainer if we were shopping for a compact SUV … and didn’t have to worry about a budget. Ah yes, there’s the rub. As exceptional as the Macan is, it’s still a Porsche, which means that it delivers pretty dismal feature content and space for the money. The base four-cylinder model in particular is a questionable value. So, is it the most sensible choice? No, but then, this isn’t the “Most Sensible Luxury SUV” list. It’s about the best. The Macan is one of them.
Why it stands out: Scandinavian design; more space and features for the money; available plug-in hybrid
Could be better: Unrefined engines; unremarkable handling
Read our full 2021 Volvo XC60 Review
OK, so sometimes it is about being a bit sensible, and the XC60 is more so than most. It’s more spacious than the norm and (surprise!) this Volvo boasts safety credentials that should please fretful parents everywhere. It’s also pretty fuel efficient, and even available with an excellent plug-in hybrid model dubbed Recharge. But the XC60 also isn’t some uber-utilitarian boxy Volvo of old. The styling is timelessly beautiful, and its interior oozes Scandinavian cool. Quality and feature content are also fully in keeping with the bigger, pricier XC90. Basically, the XC60 is one of the more sensible choices in the segment, but also one of the best.
Best midsize luxury SUVs (standard two-row)
Why it stands out: Exquisite interior; well-executed driver assistance tech; looks, feels and drives pricier than it is
Could be better: Limited availability of third-row seat
Read our full 2021 Genesis GV80 Review
The Genesis GV80 is not a cheap SUV, starting at around $50,000, but even when maxed out at nearly $70,000, it’ll still make you think that it should cost way more. The interior is the showpiece, with a modern design slathered in rich materials and benefiting from user-friendly controls. There are no shortage of opulent creature comforts available, and the standard portfolio of infotainment and safety technology is not only abundant, but well-executed. Importantly, the GV80 also delivers the sort of sophisticated driving experience thanks to its new rear-wheel-drive chassis, available air-spring suspension, strong engines and lots of sound deadening. There’s also lots of space inside, and although you can get the GV80 with a third row, it’s very cramped and only available with the V6 engine and one of either the Advance+ or Prestige packages.
Why it stands out: Beautiful interior; impeccable engineering oozes from everything; five engine options; well-executed safety tech
Could be better: Overwhelming and confusing tech interface
Read our Mercedes GLE Review
If the GV80 is the supremely talented rookie of the year, the GLE is the perennial all-star who’s recently taken its game to a whole new level. This midsize luxury SUV builds upon its illustrious predecessors (including the ML- and M-Classes before it) with elements that also make it far more competitive in the segment as a whole: more cohesive styling, an opulent interior, five engine choices (including two AMG models) and nearly every bit of infotainment and safety technology in Mercedes’ vast arsenal. If anything, all that tech can easily overwhelm, especially the MBUX interface. Still, it sure looks pretty with its ultra-wide twin-screen setup and vivid graphics. Note that a third-row seat is a $2,100 option, but like the GV80’s, it’s quite small and likely a rare feature to find on dealer lots.
Why it stands out: Engaging driving experience; Porsche interior quality and customization options; multiple plug-in hybrids
Could be better: Expensive before you even get to the exorbitantly priced options; smaller-than-average interior
Read our most recent Porsche Cayenne Review
On paper, and especially when compared to the GV80, the Cayenne may seem like a huge ripoff. Especially when you start making selections from the exorbitantly priced options list. But then you drive it — any of them, from the base 335-horsepower V6 up to the 670-hp Turbo S E-Hybrid — and the price starts to make a little more sense. Even if you just climb aboard, take a look around and run your fingers over the surfaces, you’ll likely come away impressed with the elevated build quality, even in a segment where that’s expected. The highly customizable infotainment tech is even easy to use. We also appreciate that despite being one of the preeminent performance SUVs, the Cayenne is available as a plug-in hybrid (there are two choices of them, in fact). We even like the Cayenne Coupe despite generally being unmoved by such “crossover coupe” models, including the GLE’s. Somehow, that body shape just works better on a car that shares its badge with a Porsche 911.
Best midsize luxury SUVs (standard three-row)
Why it stands out: Superior handling; versatile second row; value for your money; reliability reputation
Could be better: Steep tech interface learning curve; stiff brake pedal feel; no plug-in hybrid option
Read our 2022 Acura MDX Review
The MDX was completely redesigned for 2022. It’s more luxurious than its predecessor, making Acura’s three-row crossover a more convincing competitor for the Audis, BMWs and Lexuses of the world. It also has Acura’s most up-to-date in-car technology, though the interface is an acquired taste. Most important, though, the MDX is not only more engaging to drive than before, it also outpaces its three-row competition — credit to Acura’s latest-generation Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive system as well as an increased focus on driving pleasure. At the same time, though, the MDX remains one of the most sensible luxury SUV choices. The third row is friendlier for teens or adults, and the versatile second row features a removable middle-seat portion, meaning you don’t have to choose between seven-passenger capacity or more comfortable second-row captain’s chairs. There’s also the matter of getting more equipment for your money, as well as the MDX’s traditionally strong resale value and reliability.
Why it stands out: High-style cabin; massive power; relatively spacious third-row; ample cargo space
Could be better: A cheaper, less-powerful entry model that would open the Aviator up to more buyers
Read our full 2021 Lincoln Aviator Review
You won’t hear us say this very often, but the Lincoln Aviator has too much power. With a standard 400-horsepower turbo V6, the Aviator obliterates the base and upgrade engines of most competitors. That’s definitely commendable, and we’re not really complaining. It’s just that the Aviator is so good, it could easily offer a less robust engine and cater to more buyers with a lower price. They’d still be getting a spacious, well-equipped, easy-to-use and high-style interior, plus a refined driving experience that attempts to make your time behind the wheel “effortless” as opposed to “sporty.” Yes, even with 400 hp, the Aviator is more about grand-touring speed than taking corners (appropriate for a Lincoln). And, speaking of Grand Touring, the Aviator’s trim of that name is in fact a plug-in hybrid that boasts 494 hp and 630 pound-feet of torque. It also has a useful 21 miles of electric range.
Why it stands out: Spacious third-row and cargo area; Scandinavian design; wide price range; available plug-in hybrid
Could be better: Unrefined engines; tech interface doesn’t agree with everyone
Read our full 2021 Volvo XC90 Review
You can get an XC90 dressed to the nines with the 400-horsepower plug-in hybrid powertrain and every high-tech, leather-lined option available for nearly $80,000 and walk away with a truly special luxury SUV befitting that price tag. At the same time, though, you could get a base XC90 T5 for less than $50,000 and walk away with a well-equipped and well-made family SUV that’s more spacious, efficient and stylish than most luxury models. Such widespread appeal and competitiveness are rare. The XC90 is a great luxury SUV no matter the price or trim level.
Best flagship luxury SUV (two-row)
Land Rover Range Rover
Why it stands out: Regal driving experience; plug-in hybrid; new-world design with old-world charm
Could be better: The tech interface
Read our most recent Range Rover review
The Range Rover was the first luxury SUV. It is still one of the best. From high atop your throne lined in buttery soft Windsor leather, you look over the broad, flat hood at the road, field or trail around you. The cabin is impeccably modern in appearance (though the infotainment system isn’t modernity’s finest moment), yet the materials and color schemes are charmingly old world. The ride is pillowy soft yet utterly controlled, more like that of a flagship luxury sedan than an SUV. And like one of those flagship sedans, there’s even a choice of regular and extended-length body style to bring the back seat from generous to palatial. There are robust mild-hybrid V6 and supercharged V8 engines available, but we think the Range Rover is actually at its best as the plug-in hybrid P400e (pictured). Besides being sufficiently quick and exponentially more efficient than the other choices, its ability to silently waft along on electricity is a perfect fit for the rest of the Range Rover’s regal driving experience.
Why it stands out: See pictures; extreme off-road capability; impeccable interior; absurd performance
Could be better: Compromised on-road handling and interior space; fuel economy
Read our Mercedes-Benz G-Class Review
Does the G-Class make any rational sense? Absolutely not. Its design and mechanicals are a bizarre mash-up of old-school and new-school, resulting in a vehicle that’s at once massively rugged and opulently luxurious; enormous yet space inefficient; a beast off-road yet cumbersome on-road. It also has an eye-watering price tag that’s grossly higher than Mercedes’ own GLS-Class that should make far more sense for more buyers than the rather absurd G-Class. Yet, not everything has to be sensible, and what the G-Class does do, it does better than almost everything while being incredibly cool to boot. It’s the German Range Rover, and thanks to its most recent (and only) redesign, it’s actually just as modern as Land Rover’s flagship while being a little simpler (and likely reliable) by being a little less complicated. It’s all about clearance and hardcore mechanicals, including locking front, center and rear differentials.
Best flagship luxury SUV (three-row)
Why it stands out: 38 inches of OLED screens; diesel engine; tow capability; adult-friendly third row; Super Cruise
Could be better: V8 fuel efficiency; gargantuan size impedes handling and maneuverability
Read our full 2021 Cadillac Escalade Review
The Escalade is all new for 2021, radically improved and far more competitive. The switch to an independent rear suspension has taken the third row from uninhabitable to one of the biggest on the market, while also benefiting the ride, handling and cargo space. The styling is more refined and the interior gets a serious upgrade in terms of materials, design and technology. Specifically, the 38 inches worth of three OLED screens that surround the driver. The Escalade is also available with GM’s highly advanced Super Cruise hands-free driving technology. Another key new element is the addition of a diesel engine, which provides the same 460 pound-feet of torque as the standard 6.2-liter gas V8, but will save you on average $950 per year on fuel. Our experience with this engine in GM’s other full-size SUVs and trucks indicates it should be sufficiently quiet and refined in a luxury vehicle like the Escalade.
Why it stands out: High-style cabin; buttery smooth and massively powerful engine; unmatched third-row space
Could be better: Touchscreen seems awfully small now thanks to Cadillac; gargantuan size impedes handling and maneuverability
Read our full 2021 Lincoln Navigator Review
It’s easy to be wowed by the range-topping Navigator Black Label models that can be dressed up in the exquisite color “Themes” of oxblood red or icy blue. They’re truly special, and if you have the cash, the priciest Navigators are without question the most desirable ones. At the same time, every Navigator benefits from the same general Mid-Century Modern-inspired interior design, unmatched passenger space, abundant features list, refined road manners and a standard engine that produces 450 hp and 510 lb-ft of torque. Despite this significant power advantage over the 6.2-liter Escalade, it’s also more efficient (although Lincoln doesn’t offer a fuel-efficient answer to the diesel Escalade). Sure, it’s still gigantic and rather truckish in many regards, but the Navigator can still stand tall against the world’s finest flagship luxury SUVs.
Why it stands out: Beautiful interior; impeccable engineering oozes from everything; diverse model line; well-executed safety tech
Could be better: Overwhelming and confusing tech interface
Read our Mercedes GLS Review
The Mercedes GLS is so much bigger and so much nicer than three-row luxury SUVs like the Audi Q7 and Volvo XC90 that it’s elevated beyond them into the uppermost echelon of luxury SUVs: the flagships. That it has three rows is in some ways just a bonus for those seeking the most advanced SUV Mercedes has to offer (the Maybach GLS 600 doesn’t even have it), but that aft-most row is also genuinely adult-friendly, which is rare among luxury makers. As such, the GLS can at once compete with the Range Rover and Navigator … not to mention the Bentley Bentayga and Rolls-Royce Cullinan when in Maybach guise. Of course, we think the Maybach and AMG GLS 63 versions are borderline offensive in their overkill and extravagance, but if you want the best, then it’s certainly hard to argue against them.
Luxury SUV – 16 best luxury SUVs for 2021
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