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The Irish Times car buyer’s guide for 2023: The best SUVs and crossovers

In the final part of our series we pick our favourites in this category, from seven-seaters to luxury drives

The Irish Times Best Cars 2023

Once again our list of best buys is focused on the cars you are actually buying or seemingly want to buy, if the word from the forecourts is correct. Over the past fortnight we’ve given you our choice of the top electric cars, hybrids and plug-in hybrids for 2023.

Today we present our choice of the top SUVs and crossovers – and name our overall best buy.

Best small crossover: Dacia Jogger

Dacia Jogger

The Jogger is one of those rare cars that everyone really just should buy. If badge snobbery, and the constant pressure to “buy premium” were eliminated in the morning, we’d all drive one of three cars — this, a Citroen Berlingo, or a Skoda Octavia. And frankly, I think we’d all be a lot happier. The Jogger has its issues of course (the lousy official safety rating for one, although there’s a deeper backstory to that than we can tell here) and a slight sense of tightness of space in the second row. Its party trick, though, is the fact that you can actually fit real, full-size adults (yes, even chubby motoring journalists) in the third-row seats, comfortably. Try doing that in any seven-seat SUV that’s not a Land Rover Defender, and good luck to you. Only one engine option for now, but the 1.0-litre petrol is a game performer and the Jogger has a sharper chassis and better steering than you might imagine. The hybrid model arrives next year. At this price, there’s nothing to touch it for practicality. Read our original review here

Also try: Cupra Formentor

Cupra is an odd brand. We all kind of half-know that it’s Seat’s spinoff performance (and now electric car) brand but probably few of us could name a Cupra model as yet. This Formentor might change things – it’s a low-slung, not-quite-practical enough crossover that’s fun to drive, and looks great in the optional blue-green paint finish. The 300hp turbo model is a ball of fire, a plug-in hybrid is a little more reasonable for everyday use. Like a mink oven glove, it’s not quite what you expect, but you enjoy using it. Read our original review here


Wait for: Toyota Corolla Cross

Toyota Corolla Cross

Toyota has tried the tall Corolla thing before, with limited success but we suspect that this new Corolla Cross – which is more overtly SUV-ish and less of a tall estate – will hit the Irish buyer sweet spot rather better. Chunky looks and hybrid powertrains should sell well.

Best crossover: Hyundai Tucson

The Hyundai Tucson is the Limerick hurling squad of the car world. By which we mean that since 2018, it’s been hard to beat in Ireland. The Tucson has kept a tight grip on the best-selling car trophy, with only an occasional interloper from Toyota upsetting its clasp. You can see why — it still looks stylish, with that avant-garde front styling. It’s very practical, with lots of rear seat space and a big boot. The cabin is understated but welcoming, with nice big digital screens that are easy to use and which look expensive. The hybrid model is frugal to drive, and has easy-going road manners, while the plug-in hybrid ramps up the electric performance envelope. You can still buy conventional diesel models if that’s your bag. It’s not cheap, but it is well priced, well specified, and comes with that excellent five-year, unlimited mileage warranty. It’s not a thrilling car, especially, but it is a very good one. Read our original review here

Also try: Volkswagen Tiguan

There’s a fleet of forgettable mainstream crossovers on the market right now, and for many of them the clock is certainly ticking. We could have opted for the Nissan Qashqai, the Toyota C-HR, Ford’s Kuga or even another Skoday, the Karoq. We’ve plumped for the Tiguan, as it delivers on a roomy interior, VW’s relatively high cabin quality and now, thanks to a mid-life tweak — boasts a sharper, more honed performance on the road. The big issue is that it’s diesel-powered, but then that’s what still suits some buyers right now. Its long-term future must be in doubt, but for now it retains its place on Ireland’s best-seller lists for a reason: it’s a good all-rounder. Read our original review here

Wait for: Mini Countryman

Mini Countryman EV

The outgoing Countryman was the Mini that shouldn’t have been – a chunky crossover wearing the badge of the most famous dinky city car. Even so, it’s been a huge success and the new model will be better looking, roomier, and come with all-electric power donated from the BMW iX1. Expect it to be a hit.

Best seven-seat SUV: Skoda Kodiaq

The Kodiaq is one of the ultimate expressions both of Skoda’s keep-it-simple-and-rational policy of car design, as well as the brand’s relentless movement upmarket from the humble communist car roots. So, the Kodiaq can at one and the same time be a sensible, useful, low-key family haulier and also a €50,000+ luxury car. It’s quite the dichotomy to keep straight in your head. Okay, so everything has become more expensive of late, and Skoda’s not immune to that, but some of the Kodiaq’s price tags make for hair-raising reading. Thankfully you can still buy a relatively basic model, with a willing 1.5 turbo petrol engine, that does the job just as well, but without the bells and whistles. Sportline models look aggressively great, but the highlight of all Kodiaqs is the roomy, comfortable, and very high-grade cabin. Third-row seats are pretty tight though — kids only, back there. Read our original review here

Also try: Peugeot 5008

Effectively an up-gunned 308 crossover with extra seats and a longer roof, the 5008 is the spiritual successor to the great Peugeot family cars of old, such as the 404 Break and the 505 estate. Shame it’s an SUV, but you can’t win them all. No PHEV or electric versions yet, but you get loads of space, seats for seven, and a third row that lifts out entirely to reveal a humungous boot. Read our original review here

Wait for: Kia EV9

Kia EV9

Waiting in the wings for 2023 is Kia’s new all-electric EV9, a seven-seat SUV that will take the same platform as the brilliant EV6 electric car, and add to it buckets of space and space-age styling. We can’t wait.

Best premium crossover: BMW X3

The X3 is a car which has benefited more from evolution than the estate of Charles Darwin. When the first model launched in 2007, it was cramped, ugly, and not all that nice to drive. Now, 15 years on, the X3 is larger, roomier, smoother, slicker, and quite brilliant to drive. What it does best is not necessarily the traditional BMW stuff (although it certainly does have sharp steering and an enthusiastic attitude to corners) but the stuff you really need it to do. Load it up with five people and luggage, and point the nose down a motorway, and it cruises in sepulchral refinement. Go for the basic 2.0-litre diesel and it’ll return 5.5-litres per 100km while doing so. Go for the all-electric iX3, and you’ll easily put 350km between charge-ups (and have more fun on the way than you will with many electric SUV rivals). Essentially, the X3 is a perfect example of what years of careful honing and development will get you. Read our original review here

Also try: Audi Q5

Audi Q5

The Q5 was updated just recently but good look noticing — the only major changes were some new colours (including a gorgeous vibrant green) and a new infotainment screen. The Q5 remains nice to drive, handsome to look at, and practical to own but the PHEV version gets too thirsty. And the slant-backed “Sportback” version surprisingly handsome.

Wait for: Mercedes-Benz GLC

Mercedes-Benz GLC

There’s an all-new GLC about to drop, which looks identical to the old one on the outside but which is ever so slightly better in almost every department. It includes a 100km EV capable plug-in hybrid option.

Best premium SUV: Land Rover Defender

While this does come with the caveat of being aware of Land Rover’s parlous reputation for build quality and reliability, it’s almost impossible not to love the current Defender. Sure, it’s a hulking beast of a 4x4 that looks as if it will squash all before it, but then you look at its EuroNCAP pedestrian safety rating and realise that it’s a bit more soft and squashy than you thought. It’s also an incredibly good and successful relaunch of a beloved badge, one that was thought for a long time to be unrepeatable. The original Defender succeeded in spite of its myriad flaws and foibles; this one succeeds because it’s an exceptionally well-honed device, which combines most of the refinement and comfort of a Range Rover with the off-road ruggedness of Bear Grylls. The stark, pared-back cabin is industrially gorgeous and few vehicles are as all-around capable and useful as the long-wheelbase 110 model. The shorter 90 is cooler, but there’s also a stretched 130 version coming, which can seat as many as eight people. The plug-in hybrid is the one to go for — it’ll do a useful 30-40km on battery power, but is no thirstier than the diesel on long runs. Crazy expensive, but that’s the way of everything these days. Read our original review here

Also try: BMW X5

The X5 looks like an old car (its styling seems barely to have changed over the past two generations) but it’s still a stunningly capable device, and one that can truly reward a keen driver on the right road. The standard-fit 3.0-litre straight-six diesel engine may not be fashionable, but it’s still a remarkable engine; refined and very economical. More zeitgeist-y is the plug-in hybrid version, which mixes butter-smooth straight-six petrol power with useful electric range. Read our original review here

Wait for: Volvo EX90

Volvo’s big seven-seater has been the darling of the upwardly-mobile SUV classes since 2003, and now it’s getting a sharply-styled, all-electric replacement. Expect 500km+ ranges and a whopping great price tag. Shares everything with the sportier (five seat) Polestar 3.

Best luxury SUV: Range Rover

New Range Rover

Just as with the Defender, the posher Range Rover is a master of reinvention. In the 1980s, it reinvented itself from slightly more comfortable, but still farm-biased, Land Rover into the first posh SUV. Then, in the early 2000s, it morphed from posh to outright luxury, becoming more a Mercedes S-Class rival than an off-roader. Now it’s at it again, retaining the S-Class style luxury but shuffling gently towards a more environmentally-friendly future. A fully electric version is coming in 2024 but in the meantime, the P440e and P550e plug-in hybrids are pretty impressive, capable of up to 113km on electric power, and with the potential for decent long-range economy. You can still buy a conventional diesel, but few (if any, these days) Irish buyers will. You can still also buy a wicked petrol V8, with 530hp, but if even one of those is sold in Ireland we’ll be amazed. Long wheelbase, seven seat version available. Understated styling makes Bentley and Rolls-Royce rivals look astonishingly vulgar.

Also try: Porsche Cayenne

The Cayenne is the car that truly saved Porsche and turned it into the financial behemoth that it is today. It’s also an exceptionally capable car, with a range-topping 680hp plug-in hybrid turbo model that can do saintly zero-emissions miles around town and then go trawling for Ferraris on the open road.

Wait for: Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV

Mercedes-Benz EQS

Remember the early 1980s, when every car looked like a smoothed-off bar of soap? Mercedes does, it seems but look beyond the new all-electric EQS SUV’s styling and it’s bristling with high-tech and will have an exceptional one-charge range.