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Best large SUVs of 2021

BMW's next-generation SUV sets down a marker in the large SUV sector, but it doesn't quite best the last of the dinosaurs

While the unstoppable rise in SUV sales has extended to large SUVs, this is one sector that has grown in a rather different way to its smaller siblings. In addition to budget and mainstream models, there has been a huge rush from luxury car manufacturers to push out large and expensive SUVs to cash in on the craze.

In many ways these cars are the last of the dinosaurs, oblivious to the meteor that will obliterate them from the planet. Hulking great 4x4s powered by enormous petrol or diesel engines will soon be extinct, and the first examples of the next generation show that the future will be quite different. Our two award winners for 2021 reflect this changing of the guard.

The best large SUVs of 2021

Best new model + Class champion, electric: 
BMW iX

Best large SUVs of 2021 – Land Rover Defender

Class champion, overall:
Land Rover Defender

The BMW iX arrived late in 2021, but went straight to the top of the list for best large SUVs launched this year. It also ends the year as Class Champion for large electric SUVs, comfortably eclipsing the Audi e-tron and Tesla Model X.

The top-ranked large SUV overall, however, is the Land Rover Defender, which has received plenty of praise since it was first launched in 2019.

Best new model + Class champion, electric: BMW iX (77%)

BMW iX - the best new large SUV of 2021 | The Car Expert

TCE Expert Rating: 77%

Euro NCAP safety rating: 5 stars

OK, let’s get the obvious out of the way first. The BMW iX is not a pretty car. In fact, it’s hard to work out which exact part of the overall design is the worst bit, but it’s probably either the enormous fake grille or the bizarre wheel arches.

Fortunately, the iX is a lot better when you don’t actually have to stand looking at it. Critics have praised the quality of engineering beneath that curiously shaped bodywork, awarding it high marks for the way it drives and the quality of its interior.

Battery range is good, especially in the (expensive) top-spec xDrive50 version, and performance is strong. The in-car tech all works well and is generally user-friendly. And as the old saying goes, when you’re sitting inside it, you can’t see the outside…

Class champion, overall: Land Rover Defender (83%)

Land Rover Defender (2020 onwards) – Expert Rating

TCE Expert Rating: 83%

Euro NCAP safety rating: 5 stars

The all-new, all-electric BMW iX is not, however, the highest-ranked large SUV on the market. From the slightly futuristic BMW, we jump back to a model that trades on the past. The Land Rover Defender may be trying to channel Britain’s love for the clunky old Land Rovers of yore, but this is a thoroughly modern large 4×4.

Available in two lengths (although the longer 100 model is far more sensible and practical) and a range of engines that cover petrol, diesel and plug-in hybrid choices, the Defender has been widely praised ever since it was launched back in 2019.

The Defender is a polished all-rounder that combines outstanding off-road ability with smooth on-road performance and understated luxury. It may be one of the last of the dinosaurs – especially if you pick the petrol V8 version – but it’s certainly an enjoyable way to drive into extinction.

Notes on eligibility

To be eligible for our Best New Model or Class Champion titles, there are a couple of requirements in addition to having a top Expert Rating score.

Firstly, the Best New Model must have been launched in the UK between 1 December 2020 and 1 December 2021. That means cars registered and on the road, not just available to order for deliveries starting sometime in 2022.

Secondly, a car must have a current Euro NCAP safety rating of either four or five stars. If a car scores three stars or less, we can’t in good conscience give it an award for being best in class. If a new model has not been tested by Euro NCAP by December 2021, it will not be eligible but we will consider it next year if it has been tested.

Our Euro NCAP requirement did not affect the large SUV awards, as both of the top-scoring models have a full five-star safety rating.