Much like the dinosaurs who once flung their big, heavy bodies around every corner of this earth, SUVs nowadays have the lion's share of the automotive world. Whether you like them or not, SUVs are the defacto vehicle in the United States, towering over sedans, pickups, minivans, coupes, and every other type of vehicle there is. They rule the streets—and unless a big meteorite has its way—they're not going anywhere anytime soon.
This isn't all doom and gloom, of course, because for as much smack as car enthusiasts love to talk about SUVs, several of them are just fantastic vehicles worth owning. Others, eh, not so much. One thing is for sure, however, the variety of SUVs in today's market is simply staggering. From the super SUVs to the off-road types, the ultra-luxury ones, and, of course, the affordable models, there truly is an SUV for everyone out there.
Without further ado, here are The Drive's picks for the Best SUVs of 2023.
Runner-Up: Honda Pilot, The 3-Row Family SUV
"Imagine critiquing Thomas Keller on the art of French food or Alessandro Palazzi on pouring the perfect martini. No way, kemosabe. These two are masters of their trade and they stick to what they do best. It’s not often that a vehicle is so good that you start looking too closely at everything around you in order to find a flaw—and even then, any critique borderlines on nitpicking. Driving the 2023 Honda Pilot is a little bit like that.
"What truly matters is the redesigned seating for eight, nifty door cards with floating armrests that allow for more and bigger cupholders (there are 14 of them!), a console tray that can hold two smartphones, the easily accessible charging outlets, and, my favorite, the removable second-row middle seat. Weighing around 25 pounds, it can be removed and stashed in the underfloor of the trunk so it’s ready to be re-installed at a moment’s notice—no more having to leave it back home in the garage. It’s almost as convenient as Chrysler’s Stow ‘N Go." —Jerry Perez, Deputy Editor
Runner-Up: Alfa Romeo Tonale PHEV, The Electrified SUV
"I peeked at the speedo right before he flicked the steering wheel hard to the left and into a blind corner. It read 141 km/h or 87 mph. Two seconds later, I flew forward after a brutal stab of the brakes heading into the track’s slowest corner, a hairpin taken at about 30 mph. I heard the tires scream for another while and my helmet smack the B-pillar a few more times before he finally said a word: 'This is a copy of Curva Grande, from Monza, but we added this next chicane while developing the 8C Competizione.'
"It’s not often that an automaker includes dedicated track time when showing off a brand-new crossover, especially the affordable kind. In fact, I don’t recall it ever happening before. Yet, for the launch of Alfa’s new entry into the premium compact crossover segment, I drove and was driven on the same tarmac where Italian legends were born and raised. In many ways, it tells you everything you need to know about Alfa’s attitude toward the new Tonale.
"The drivetrain shines as the heart of the crossover, offering a fun, efficient, and technologically advanced driving experience. The styling, well, takes all of that nerdy stuff most consumers don’t care about and wraps it up in an attractive package that dazzles the eyes—the way Italians do. Plus, Alfa’s given it a competitive $45K starting pricing to convince lots of buyers to bring one home." —Jerry Perez, Deputy Editor
Runner-Up: Ferrari Purosangue, The Exotic SUV
"The Purosangue lurched forward like a lioness hunting down its next meal. Zero hesitation, 100% laser focus. The sound of the V12, which up until that point had been present but mostly in the background, came roaring into the cabin as if it were saying, “Did you summon me? I’m here now.” The shift lights integrated into the top of the steering wheel quickly started lighting up, telling me it was time to shift into third gear as they flashed blue. I pulled on the right paddle, triggering a loud bang from the exhaust while a surge of power and torque continued to relentlessly thrust the 4,500-pound SUV forward.
"Supercars are fun and I truly love them, but you also get to a stage in life where you want to share these cool experiences with your loved ones. The Purosangue allows you to do that. It’s a thoroughbred supercar, but one that allows you to share driving joy with others. Ironically, I wouldn’t have been able to spend a couple of days with my dad had it not been for the Purosangue’s trunk.
"From a pure performance perspective, it subdues every high-po SUV currently on the market. Not just that, but it does so with more style and class than the longest players in this game can offer. Whether you’re picking up kids from school or a couple of, er, companions for a lap around Europe, the Purosangue can help you do that without watering down the true Ferrari experience.
"If you’ve got the money—and the need/want to take a couple more folks on your escapades—you’d be silly to not buy one of these." —Jerry Perez, Deputy Editor
Runner-Up: Mazda CX-50, The Affordable SUV
"At this point, no one should be surprised at a Mazda product that drives way better than it has to but—feign shock and awe, everybody—the CX-50 is excellent behind the wheel. It's easy, intuitive, and comfortable all around. The way it steers, accelerates, rides, and stops: none of it's too light, floaty, hard, or twitchy. It's just right.
"When it comes to compact crossovers, most examples only specialize in (at most) two out of these three: daily ability, off-road prowess, and backroad huckability. The Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 are great at the normal day-to-day stuff but aren’t very exciting to hoon or very capable off-road. The Subaru Forester dominates on a trail thanks to symmetrical AWD but, as avid readers of The Drive may vividly recall, struggles as a car you’d wanna live with on the daily. Mazda's own CX-5, meanwhile, is mighty sporty and a properly nice commuter but I suspect isn’t quite as burly or good off-road as this.
"Imagine being so good at building compact crossovers that the only one that can really compare to your new compact crossover is, well, your other compact crossover. Like having to choose whether you'd like your CX-50 painted Soul Red Crystal or Zircon Sand Metallic, it's a good problem to have." —Chris Tsui, Reviews Editor
Winner: Porsche Cayenne, The Luxury SUV
It's not really a surprise that The Drive's best SUV of 2023 happens to be a Porsche, right? It's a sporty ride that can do it all—from grocery store runs to hauling kids or dogs around, to making you smile from ear to ear on twisty roads, it's a well-rounded SUV. Well-rounded is good, which is why it tops our list this year.
[Ed. note: The Porsche Cayenne also takes home the honor of being our People's Choice winner. In a series of polls on The Drive's Instagram, it was the most popular SUV of this bunch. Congratulations, Porsche. —CT]
As Editor-in-Chief Kyle Cheromcha wrote in his review, "It’s safe to assume we’re all done clutching our pearls about Porsche sullying its brand with an SUV, right? If you know anyone still determined to die on that particular hill, consider rolling up on their redoubt with a new 2024 Porsche Cayenne as proof the war is truly over. Twenty years after the Cayenne broke ground, the model has turned into not just a handsome cash cow for Porsche, but one of the best luxury SUVs, period."
"And that’s still the case after the third-gen model gets a heavy refresh this year, which Porsche execs call one of the biggest mid-cycle updates in company history. Major powertrain upgrades—a reworked V8 plunked in the Cayenne S, and a new motor and larger battery in the E-Hybrid that juices electric driving range—are paired with across-the-board boosts like a brand new interior and standard PASM adaptive dampers on every model."
"Two decades in, and it’s hard to believe people once had a big problem with Porsche selling gas-powered SUVs. Even more unbelievable: looking at the new Cayenne lineup, we’ll legitimately be sad when they stop."
Well done, Porsche. The better-than-ever Cayenne is The Drive's Best SUV of 2023.
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