Best midsize SUVs for 2021March 1, 2021
Sport utility vehicles are no longer one-size-fits-all machines. As the market has grown to embrace these high-riding haulers, automakers have rolled out crossovers and SUVs to fill gaps in just about every possible bracket. Today, we’ll be taking a look at a stalwart for family travel, the midsize SUV.
Not too large and not too small, midsize SUVs do a great job fitting into most people’s lifestyles — and most people’s garages. Whether you’re after something efficient and affordable, or something where money is less of a factor, we’ve got a recommendation for you. Let’s dive in!
There’s no One True Midsize SUV. Everybody has different needs and prefers different things about different vehicles. But if there’s one recent midsize SUV that stood out in a big way, it’s Kia’s redesigned Sorento.
The 2021 Kia Sorento is an exceptional midsize SUV in a sea of great ones. Borrowing some of its more aggressive aesthetics from the larger Telluride and the smaller Seltos, the Sorento has the right amount of character inside and out. You can keep it sparse, or if you want to throw some coin into the equation, you can kit it out with quilted leather and all that good, luxury-level stuff.
Folks who prefer different powertrains will enjoy the variety that the 2021 Sorento brings to the table. In addition to packing naturally aspirated and turbocharged inline-4 engine options, the Sorento also offers a hybrid and soon, a plug-in hybrid. No matter what’s under the hood, it’s quite the smooth operator.
We tried to avoid making this list a carbon copy of our best SUVs breakdown from earlier this year, but there’s just no denying how darned good the 2021 Genesis GV80 is.
The Genesis GV80 is an absolute home run. It’s the first utility vehicle from Genesis and it carries all the same luxury trimmings we’ve come to expect of the fancy-pants offshoot from Hyundai Motor Company. It has attractive styling inside and out, and there’s plenty of storage space behind the second row, although a third row is optional for folks who need to move more than five people on occasion.
Motive force is ample, thanks to an optional 3.5-liter V6 that puts out 375 horsepower and 391 pound-feet of torque. But it’s not some sort of sports machine; this thing is made for steady, solid cruising down the highway, soaking up nasty roads and returning a soft ride. There’s plenty of tech on offer, too, including one of our favorite infotainment systems in any car on the market.
Yes, the 2021 Lamborghini Urus is technically a midsize SUV. It’s a midsize SUV that costs as much as a house, mind you, but it fits within the definition nevertheless.
Part SUV and part supercar, the $218,000-plus Urus will not leave you wanting for power. Its 4.0-liter, twin-turbocharged V8 puts out 641 hp and 627 lb-ft of torque, enough to throw you and all your belongings to 62 mph in about 3.6 seconds. It sounds like a Lamborghini, too, bouncing that sweet V8 sound off any hard surface within a surprising distance.
The Urus’ styling is just as bonkers as you’ve come to expect from VW Group’s most hardcore brand. The outside is a collection of sharp angles, while the inside looks like a freakin’ fighter jet, thanks in large part to the massive shifter assembly that rests just below the infotainment screens. If you ever wanted to feel like you’re driving a Gundam down Rodeo Drive, the Urus will turn that into a reality.
2019 Lamborghini Urus: Not the prettiest, but pretty quick
Not every midsize performance SUV is some high-dollar bonanza straight out of Germany. American muscle has made its way to this segment, as well, and Dodge’s offering makes for quite the exciting three-row SUV.
The 2021 Dodge Durango SRT packs a standard 6.4-liter Hemi V8 engine making 475 hp, which routes through all four wheels to send the SUV to 60 mph in just 4.4 seconds, so it’s not too far off the Lamborghini Urus, but with a starting price around $64,000, it’s significantly more affordable. If you’re willing to shave a bit of power, the Durango R/T offers a 360-hp V8 with a starting price just over $45,000. That’s some seriously cheap speed in the grand scheme of things.
The Durango’s getting a little long in the tooth, but it’s still a solid choice for a three-row SUV. It offers ample space for both cargo and people, it can tow an absolute truckload (more on that later) and its Uconnect infotainment system remains one of our favorites.
The Toyota Venza used to be a frumpy crossover that rode a weird line between SUV and minivan. But now, the nameplate has been attached to a proper utility vehicle that offers both comfort and efficiency in spades.
The Venza uses a 2.5-liter, Atkinson-cycle I4 engine in conjunction with three electric motors to provide a net 219 hp, which might not seem like much, but it’s still plenty for what the Venza needs. Thrift is the name of the game here, with the EPA estimating the Venza’s efficiency at 40 miles per gallon highway, 37 mpg city and 39 mpg combined.
There are some great examples of technology in the 2021 Venza, too. The optional electrochromic sunroof can provide either transparency or opacity at the click of a button, letting in just the right amount of sun for a given situation. The optional 12.3-inch touchscreen runs Toyota’s latest infotainment system, which offers the right amount of information to keep driver knowledge high and distraction low. And then there’s the ride quality, which is so supple you could throw a Lexus badge on this thing and nobody would be the wiser.
The 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E might not be the best Mustang on the block, but hoo boy, it’s definitely one of the best midsize SUVs we’ve driven in some time.
The Mustang Mach-E is seriously impressive. We’ve spent plenty of time with the First Edition trim, which packs a 98.8-kWh battery and electric motors that put down about 332 hp and 417 lb-ft of torque. Large and small batteries can mix with rear-wheel- and all-wheel-drive options, providing for all sorts of configurability based on your needs. Want to max out the range? Opt for the big battery and RWD, and EPA-estimated range pushes toward the 300-mile mark.
The technology in the Mustang Mach-E is pretty fab, too. A standard 10.2-inch digital gauge cluster combines with a 15.5-inch portrait display in the middle of the dashboard to provide access to, well, just about anything you could need. The Mach-E’s one-pedal driving mode will cause you to forget the brake pedal even exists, and while the ride errs more toward grand touring, it’s still fun to chuck this midsize electric SUV into some tight corners.
Yes, we had to bring the Durango SRT back for a second time on this list. But then again, when you see how much the Dodge Durango can tow, you won’t be surprised at its reemergence.
Three separate variants of the 2021 Dodge Durango are capable of towing an impressive 8,700 pounds, which is about as much as you can haul before you have to rely on a truck or a full-size body-on-frame SUV. The SRT 392 and SRT Hellcat variants will tow that much without any additional equipment, while the 5.7-liter R/T requires a Tow ‘N’ Go package, but that’s it. Heck, even the V6 models can pull 6,200 pounds, so you don’t need to spend that much for some serious capability.
2020 Dodge Durango SRT gets more goods with blackout gear
The Ford Bronco doesn’t exist quite yet, so Jeep’s venerable Wrangler remains the midsize SUV to buy if you take off-roading seriously.
As in years past, the Wrangler is available in all manner of shapes, sizes and powertrains. You can have it with two doors, four doors, with a diesel engine or, in Rubicon trim, more off-road-ready equipment than most of us will ever need. Front and rear electronic locking differentials, electronic sway bar disconnects, an 84:1 crawl ratio, standard 33-inch all-terrain tires — the Wrangler Rubicon is more than happy to hang out on some rocks in the middle of nowhere.
2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392: Dirt-slinging with a V8
Another familiar face from our Best SUV roundup, the 2021 Kia Telluride remains one of the most impressive midsize SUVs on offer, and its three-row-friendly body means you can bring the whole family along for the ride.
In addition to its spacious cabin, the Telluride can be equipped to luxury-car levels without breaking the bank, loading the interior with leather, wood and metal. Of course, value still exists in this segment, so buyers can ignore all the frippery and walk away with a still-impressive SUV for well under the average new-car transaction price in 2021. The only downside we can think of is fuel economy, which falls under 25 mpg highway with all-wheel drive.
Whether you’re looking for cabin tech that wows passengers or infotainment tricks that make city driving easier, technology abounds in the 2021 Mercedes GLE, making it a seriously compelling option for technophiles.
When it comes to comfort, the GLE is the bee’s knees. You can heat and cool the cup holders and add massaging to the front seats. On the tech front, you can bolster the excellent MBUX infotainment system with augmented-reality turn-by-turn directions, and a $200 option adds an overhead camera and lasers that monitor the front row’s hand and arm movements to illuminate dark parts of the cabin where you may have stored a wallet or a phone. There’s a cabin-air purification system on offer with a built-in fragrance dispenser, heated front armrests and one of the best sound systems available on any car. If you want it, the GLE probably has it, even if you have to pay for it.
The 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLE53 Coupe looks a whole lot better than before
Hyundai has long been known for its stellar new-car warranties, and that’s no different on its latest midsize SUV, the redesigned 2021 Santa Fe.
Whether or not you opt for a Santa Fe, Hyundai’s warranty is still top of the pops, offering a bumper-to-bumper warranty of five years or 60,000 miles. The powertrain’s warranty is good for 10 years or 100,000 miles, while the body is protected against corrosion for seven years and unlimited miles. The only place Hyundai is bested is in roadside assistance, where Lincoln offers unlimited coverage, but Hyundai’s still pretty solid with an offering of five years and unlimited miles.
2021 Hyundai Santa Fe offers stellar looks, handsome interior and killer tech
The Chevrolet Traverse is a solid three-row, mass-market SUV that appeals to buyers looking for solid transportation at an affordable price. It also happens to be hiding a serious amount of cargo capacity.
The 2021 Chevrolet Traverse offers the most cargo space of any midsize SUV. Fold down the second-row seats and the Traverse will handle 98.2 cubic feet of junk, which is an absolute ton, besting other impressive figures from the Buick Enclave (97.6 cu. ft.) and the VW Atlas (96.8 cu. ft.). In fact, those are the only three midsize SUVs with interior space that breaks the 90-cubic-foot barrier.
We’ve already featured the Kia Telluride on this list, so for the passenger-space category, we’ll discuss the Telluride’s kissin’ cousin, the 2021 Hyundai Palisade.
Both the 2021 Palisade and 2021 Telluride offer plenty of space for humans across all three rows. Occupants in the second row get an impressive 42.4 inches of rear legroom, while people in the third row have access to nearly 3 feet of legroom, meaning even grown adults won’t have a bad time in the way-backs.
When it comes to quantifying safety, listing off standard driver-assistance systems is only part of the story. For this category, we’re looking beyond options lists and basing our choice on the vehicle that received the highest safety ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which puts cars through a battery of tests that go above and beyond what the federal tests offer.
According to IIHS data, the 2021 Subaru Ascent takes the cake for the safest midsize SUV. It received the top score of Good in every IIHS crash test, including the tricky small-overlap front tests for both the drive and passenger sides. It’s one of a few vehicles to have all its headlights rated Good, as well as receiving a Good Plus rating for the ease of use of its LATCH child-seat hardware. The Ascent also received top marks for crash prevention in both car-to-car and car-to-pedestrian tests. Other midsize SUVs come close, but none can match the scores from the 2021 Subaru Ascent.
The Jeep Grand Cherokee has gone unchanged for nearly an entire decade, and it’s been really good that entire time. It’s not a surprise that Jeep might be hesitant to mess with that kind of success, but the redesigned 2021 model looks promising, and we can’t wait to take a spin in it.
So far, we’ve only seen the extended three-row version of the 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee, which the automaker calls the Jeep Grand Cherokee L. Its wheelbase is some 7 inches longer than the current ute, with a body that’s nearly a full foot longer. Styling is far less conservative than before, with strong cues that bear plenty of relation to the Grand Wagoneer concept we’ve seen in recent months.
The real magic is inside, where Jeep went to great lengths to craft a modern interior that really steps it up over the outgoing model. Spec it right and you can treat yourself to quilted leather, open-pore wood and plenty of actual metal. A 10.2-inch gauge display and a 10.1-inch color touchscreen bring the latest infotainment software into the mix, and there will be plenty of safety systems on offer, too. The Grand Cherokee L should arrive at dealers in the spring, with the two-row Grand Cherokee to follow later in the year. A plug-in-hybrid variant is on the way, too.
Comparison of the best midsize SUVs for 2021
|Category||Name||Base Engine||Output||Fuel Economy (mpg, city/hwy/combined)||Base Price|
|Best midsize SUV||2021 Kia Sorento||2.5L I4||191 hp / 182 lb-ft||24 / 29 / 26||$30,565|
|Best midsize luxury SUV||2021 Genesis GV80||2.5L I4||300 hp / 311 lb-ft||21 / 25 / 23||$49,925|
|Best midsize exotic SUV||2021 Lamborghini Urus||4.0L V8||641 hp / 627 lb-ft||12 / 17 / 14||$218,000|
|Best midsize performance SUV||2021 Dodge Durango SRT||6.4L V8||475 hp / 470 lb-ft||13 / 19 / 15||$65,490|
|Best midsize hybrid SUV||2021 Toyota Venza||2.5L I4 Hybrid||219 hp net||40 / 37 / 39||$33,645|
|Best midsize electric SUV||2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E||Single electric motor||255 hp / 306 lb-ft||105 / 93 / 100 (MPGe)||$43,995|
|Best midsize SUV for towing||2021 Dodge Durango||3.6L V6||293 hp / 260 lb-ft||19 / 26 / 21||$33,490|
|Best midsize SUV for off-roading||2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon||3.6L V6||285 hp / 260 lb-ft||20 / 24 / 21||$40,210|
|Best midsize SUV with three rows||2021 Kia Telluride||3.8L V6||291 hp / 262 lb-ft||20 / 26 / 23||$33,415|
|Best midsize SUV for tech lovers||2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class||2.0L I4||255 hp / 273 lb-ft||19 / 26 / 22||$58,300|
|Best midsize SUV with a long warranty||2021 Hyundai Santa Fe||2.5L I4||191 hp / 182 lb-ft||25 / 28 / 26||$28,025|
|Best midsize SUV for cargo space||2021 Chevy Traverse||3.6L V6||310 hp / 266 lb-ft||18 / 27 / 21||$30,995|
|Best midsize SUV for passenger space||2021 Hyundai Palisade||3.8L V6||291 hp / 262 lb-ft||19 / 26 / 22||$33,700|
|Best midsize SUV for safety||2021 Subaru Ascent||2.4L I4||260 hp / 277 lb-ft||21 / 27 / 23||$33,345|
|Best midsize SUV worth waiting for||2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A|
How we made our list
Roadshow’s editors spend countless hours on the road every year, evaluating the living heck out of vehicles across a variety of categories. Our collective experiences combine to create these lists, plucking the best of the best to highlight here. Of the many vehicles you could own in each of these categories, the ones we’ve chosen represent some of our favorites.
Your mileage may vary, as every family’s needs are different from the next. We also can’t evaluate long-term reliability; editors traditionally receive about a week with each car, although some of our long-term testers give us the chance to experience a specific vehicle for an entire year. It’s also worth noting that, while base prices are listed here, it’s up to each dealership to set pricing individually, and incentives may vary from dealer to dealer.