Drivers across Britain are officially head over heels for the sport utility vehicle (SUV).
In 2015 sales topped a record-breaking 630,000 in the UK, making it one of our most popular car-buying choices.
But while big brawny off-roaders like the Range Rover and the Toyota Land Cruiser have been with us for decades, it’s a new, smaller breed of SUV that’s really captured the nation’s heart. Cheaper to run and more car-like to drive, these so-called crossovers have proved a massive hit.
By taking what’s essentially a hatchback and stretching it vertically, carmakers have delivered the rugged styling and commanding driving position of a traditional SUV in a more manageable, more affordable package. The class-defining Nissan Qashqai, for instance, is actually only 7mm longer than a Honda Civic, which means it’s still a doddle to park and manoeuvre around town.
For families, nothing beats the high riding stance of an SUV.
Kids love to be able to see out (it’s widely believed to reduce car sickness), while older passengers often find it easier to step up to a car than stoop down. Likewise, it places child seats at a more convenient height to load and adjust.
Safety is another major priority. While it’s something of a myth that bigger cars automatically do better in crash tests, the current breed of SUVs certainly performs very well.
Almost all new designs have received the top five-star rating in the official Euro NCAP tests.
These cars excel when it comes to swallowing prams, mountain bikes and all the other kit that comes with modern life. Again, the smaller models don’t necessarily provide a huge increase over a large hatchback, but they all compare well.
Carmakers have got wise to the fact that SUVs and crossovers are more likely to tackle Surrey than the Sahara.
But if you do want to venture away from the tarmac most models come with the option of four-wheel drive.
This can actually be a hindrance on the road, using more fuel and sometimes blunting the handling, but it’s invaluable when the going gets tough.
The vast majority of crossovers are now sold in more affordable two-wheel drive form, however.
Searching for your perfect match and drawn to the SUV’s charm? Here’s five to consider.
The Nissan Qashqai arguably set the template for the modern crossover and it’s still one of the best. Refined, economical and good to drive, the second-generation car (launched in 2013) builds on the success of its predecessor. It’s British built too, hailing from Nissan’s vast manufacturing plant in Sunderland.
Also consider: The Hyundai Tucson offers chunky SUV styling with great dynamics and decent equipment levels.
The Nissan Juke takes the ‘tall hatchback’ philosophy first seen in its big brother, the Qashqai, a step further. It’s one of the most compact crossovers out there, combining eye-catching looks with supermini proportions.
Numb steering and a fair amount of body roll dent the sporty feel somewhat once you get moving, but it remains a decent car to drive.
Also consider: The Renault Captur is attempting to out-Juke its Nissan rival with funky visuals, a striking colour palette and plenty of personalisation options.
The Vauxhall Mokka was Britain’s second best-selling crossover in 2015. It sits towards the compact end of the spectrum, but delivers reasonable interior space, masses of cabin storage and good value for money.
Scoring 96% for adult occupants and 90% for children in the Euro NCAP tests, it’s also one of the safest cars in its class.
Also consider: The Peugeot 2008 is impressively refined, with an exceptionally clean and frugal engine line up.
At the other end of the spectrum, Volvo’s XC90 comes with room for seven and four-wheel drive as standard across the range. Winner of our Best SUV award in 2015, it combines comfort, quality and refinement with the Swedish brand’s usual focus on safety.
A host of new technology including the powerful and efficient T8 hybrid model adds to the appeal.
Also consider: The XC90’s smaller brother, the XC60 is well worth a look. It’s comfortable and classy, with plenty of Scandinavian flare.
The new second-generation Kia Sportage is the archetypal mid-sized crossover. Good looking, comfortable and fantastic value for money, it builds on the success of its predecessor, which was instrumental in turning the once-derided Korean brand into a major international player.
Also consider: The Ford Kuga is one of the best handling cars in its class and offers a cavernous 1,603 litre load capacity with the rear seats folded.