The best fast SUVs to buy in 2020

The SUV has gone from soccer mom to Lamborghini badge in less than 20 years. Here's the best of them for any budget

By PH Staff / Tuesday, December 1, 2020

If the next twenty years belong to the electric car, the last twenty were in the pocket of the Sports Utility Vehicle. Urged on by voracious buyer demand and plump profit margins, the industry has developed the sort of dependency that would be unthinkable if you pitched it as a theme just a few years ahead of the millennium. It used to be that you couldn't be a volume car seller in Europe without offering a C segment hatchback; now it seems you can hardly make a sustainable business building supercars without an SUV to balance the books.

It would be easy to censure the everyman for this state of affairs, but the well-heeled enthusiast must shoulder some of the blame, too. After all, it's not the man on the street fighting his way to the head of the queue for the keys to a Lamborghini Urus or Rolls-Royce Cullinan. Plenty of people with a deep and abiding interest in cars have jumped on the bandwagon in the last 20 years. And that's fine; we're not here to judge. In fact, it is thanks to this end of the market that the SUV has gone from dynamic sticking plaster to Swiss Army knife.

Save for the circuit pace of supercars and the range of EVs, no segment has advanced so fast or far in the last two decades. Thanks to the engineering prowess of the people who work for Porsche, BMW, Audi, Land Rover, Alfa Romeo, Lamborghini and virtually every other prestigious manufacturer, the SUV's comparative handling ability has left orbit. Drive a V8-powered Range Rover Sport from 2005, and then drive a 575 SVR from this year. That's progress. And while the industry has hardly assuaged the concerns of anyone who thinks the class overweight, overpowered, overpriced, overly thirsty and overly tall, it has produced some formidable cars. Let's begin.

Up to £5,000…

  • Subaru Forester

Perhaps not an SUV in the conventional sense, but it must be impossible to find a better combination of performance, four-wheel drive traction and legendary toughness for the money. The Forester will never be stylish, or fashionable, or even especially cheap to run, what with its penchant for super unleaded; but it will get you almost anywhere you need to go, at any time of year, and pretty damn quickly as well. Its combination of talents is surely why people keep hold of them…

For £5,000, most examples of the Forester nowadays will be the Mk2, or SG, the original SF cars being fairly rare now. That should buy a decent 2.0 XT or, for the full chubby Impreza impression, a 2.5 XTEn like this one , complete with Prodrive Performance Pack – the neighbours will never have seen a sideboard move so fast. The larger engine has a less dependable reputation than the 2.0, but 180k here attests to some level of durability. And don't forget your PH Buying Guide, too!

Up to £10,000…

  • Porsche Cayenne

As last weekend proved, it is possible to buy a Porsche Cayenne for under £10k – although you'll likely have to summon up a bit of courage to do so. Of course it speaks to the model's longevity and brand-saving popularity that from here on we could have included it in any category and it would have delivered a worthy contender for the money. There were fast SUVs before the Cayenne – but none that can claim to better represent the genre as we know it today.

Somewhat inevitably, shopping with pocket money does restrict you to a first generation car (likely one that has seen its fair share of life) but this 450hp Turbo is available within budget as is this one with just 64k on the clock. No one would blame you for saving up a little more to access the subsequent 958 variant – which you can do for less than £20k – but truthfully any well-kept example (avoiding the entry-level models) is going to show you what the modern fast SUV fuss is all about.

Up to £15,000…

  • Volvo XC90 V8

At this price point, a more sober publication would probably point towards a Ford Kuga with a downsized turbo – the perfect fast-enough family holdall for £15k. But, well, this is PH, and as long as a V8 Volvo XC90 is anywhere near viable it has to be championed.

Famously known as the engine that eventually went on to power the Noble M600 (and the V8 Supercars S60), the Yamaha-built V8 was used in the XC90 and S80 back in the mid-2000s. Perhaps nothing makes that era feel longer ago than knowing entirely ordinary Volvos could be bought with an aluminium-blocked, dealer-pleasing, 4.4-litre V8. Or rather, bought new – a few of those remarkable originals are still available to buy secondhand…

Virtually indistinguishable from the smaller petrol and diesel XC90s, the flagship combines all that was good about the original Volvo SUV with the added bonus of eight cylinders. It wasn't even that much less efficient than the lesser powered T6; the automatic gearbox can cause problems, however, especially in those cars that have been used for towing. And the XC90 is an old car now, so look elsewhere for the very latest in technology.

Up to £25,000…

  • Mitsubishi Pajero Evo

Why the Pajero? Well, why not? We all know there are plenty more sensible SUV choices at this money, but in a segment where 'interesting' is in short supply, they are just too intriguing to pass up. Especially when the one thing even fast SUVs lack is homologation specials, which the Evo indubitably is. In fact it's an icon of rally raid history, and yet still available for £20k. Admit it – we've ensorcelled you. Who needs an Audi RS Q3 anyway?

Moreover, £20k doesn't just sneak you into Pajero ownership with a snotter; it buys you one of the very best, like this 60k manual car. The overwhelming majority of the 2,500 built for homologation were automatics, so to find a five-speed is quite the discovery. And this being PH, there's even a choice. As a rare and very specialised Japanese Domestic Market import that's now more than 20 years old, any Evo purchase is going to require careful consideration and ongoing care. On the other hand, it was built to win the toughest rally in the entire world, which this generation did back to back in the 1990s and which the Pajero did throughout its life 12 times. It ought to cope with the New Forest just fine.

Up to £35,000…

  • Porsche Macan Turbo

The Porsche Macan followed pretty much the same launch trajectory as the larger Cayenne: purists were aghast that the brand was pursuing it, nobody was quite sure on the looks and the journalists loved the way it drove. Then lots of buyers bought lots of cars, they were happy, Porsche kept making the cars and the world continued turning. If ever proof were needed of the Porsche SUV project, look at sales: in the first six months of 2020, Porsche delivered 116,964 cars. Of those, 73,675 were SUVs, and the Macan on its own made up 34,430 of those. This for a car first launched in 2014…

The demand and success of the Macan has kept values buoyant; though early diesels are nearing £25k, you'll still need £35,000 to get a 400hp Turbo. And though us saying this is entirely predictable, the flagship is the model that shows off the Macan at its most compelling; it being as fast and agile and satisfying as many a supposedly more focused sports cars. The Macan might not be the very best when it comes to the 'utility' side of the SUV case, but that hasn't halted the Cayenne's success, and it's unlikely to do so here. Prepare to have some prejudices quashed.

Up to £50,000

  • Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio

If the Macan was an entirely predictable scaling down of the Cayenne formula, the Stelvio was a surprise roughly equivalent to Italy winning the Six Nations – a 510hp bolt from the Savoy Blue. We knew the Italians were good at certain cars, typically superminis and supercars, but both the Stelvio and Giulia saloon put their shared Giorgio platform to good use and hit rivals where it hurt: the executive saloon and SUV segments.

In the respective Quadrifoglio flagships, the manufacturer discovered a newfound appreciation from enthusiasts – at long last here were Alfas that could really cut it with the world's best. For the Stelvio it was perhaps an even greater achievement, this being Alfa's first performance SUV of all time and being tasked with keeping the Giulia's fizz in a larger, heavier, all-wheel drive car.

The Stelvio was a valid alternative to the Germans but not a slavish copy of them, feisty and energetic where they were typically stoic and forgettable. It's recommendable at £75k brand new; with a quarter now wiped off that for the earliest cars, the Alfa is virtually irresistible.

Up to £75,000…

  • Jaguar F-Pace SVR

When the Mercedes ML55 AMG first arrived in showrooms in 2000, Jaguar didn't make an SUV – it didn't even make anything four-wheel drive until the X-Type. Despite the advances of rivals, a Jaguar SUV didn't arrive until the F-Pace's debut in 2016; the SVR badge and ethos had only been launched with the Range Rover Sport equivalent the year before. And yet it is to Jaguar's credit that, not only was the F-Pace a great SUV, it took on the SVR treatment seamlessly. That it didn't stand out in the F-Pace or the Jaguar range was arguably the SVR's standout feature – a 550hp SUV complemented the rest of the range perfectly.

Just 18 months after launching, the SVR is still a pricey prospect, though it's already one that's depreciated a fair amount, with early registrations on four-figure mileages having anything up to £20k off. Obviously, it'll continue to slide from there – and V8 4x4s will never, ever be cheap to run – but the F-Pace's perfectly wrought combination of Jag luxury with SVR performance makes it very hard to ignore.

Up to £100,000…

  • Bentley Bentayga

Yes, it looks the same as it always did and, yes, it's still probably too big for your drive, but neither of those thoughts detract from the Bentayga's ability. Or, more notably, its value a few years on from launch. There are cars out there that have already seen depreciation slash £100,000 off their asking price, with early W12s now available from £80k at Bentley dealerships. For a car of such performance, luxury and comfort, that's incredible.

With £100,000 hypothetically at your disposal, though, the Bentayga can be done better: launched just two years ago, the V8 is now beginning to dip under six figures. With 550hp and 568lb ft, it's more than capable of shifting the Bentayga's heft, and sounds more tuneful than the W12 in the process. You might even see 25mpg, too…

Thus far, no significant problems have emerged in Bentayga ownership, notwithstanding those that come with maintaining a 2.5-tonne Bentley. With the update car out there, expect values of the original Bentayga to continue falling – and the temptation to climb.

Up to £150,000…

  • Land Rover Defender Works V8

Okay, you got us. You can't argue for the technical advancement of the SUV and then put a Land Rover Defender in – that's cheating. Well, true enough, if you want the latest and greatest, they're mostly available at this money. For the record (and with some obvious caveats) we can recommend the Audi RS Q8 or the Aston Martin DBX or the Porsche Cayenne GTS with glee.

But these cars make some sort of twisted sense. The Works V8 makes no sense whatsoever; apart from financially, where its limpet-like grip on a six-figure RRP is impressive for all to see. And somewhat inevitable, given it really was an end-of-an-era product. But despite some worthwhile modifications and a valiant amount of effort, the V8 was not a Defender transformed. "A Porsche Macan this is most definitely not" was Nic's verdict in 2018.

His other point was that the Defender V8 will plaster a permagrin across your face better than any other car here – and in this segment that's almost worth the price of entry alone. That it will still off-road just as well (if you dare) and retain its value a whole lot better than the rest only strengthens its case. You'll pay a lot, but you'll get an awful lot back with a Defender as well.

Sky's the limit…

  • Mercedes-AMG G63

Call this one the guilty pleasure. Because whatever you have to say about the G63's image, there's no denying its ability in current W463 (second generation) guise. It looks like an old G-Wagen but drives far more convincingly – this is the 21st century reimagination of the G-Class we all hoped for.

And no model proves that point more emphatically than the G63. Previous AMG G-Classes drove like a Donald Trump tweet, with enormous power and impact but precious little in terms of accuracy or nuance. They weren't very good, in truth, but the new 4.0-litre has transformed the '63; it's now a car to covet almost because of how it drives, not despite it.

That the current model combines all the attitude of the original W463 with vastly more modern underpinnings has seen buyers flock to it. It means you'll pay for the privilege of owning one, too; even with 15,000 miles up, £135k is the entry point. However, if there really is no ceiling to your SUV buying budget, we can't think of anything better; sometimes the old way really are the best, especially when they're brought bang up to date.

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