Doing what we do, CarAdvice writers are often asked by friends and family, and through our contact page: which car is best for me?
Most buyers can identify the top three non-negotiable factors that will guide their purchase decision. But… where to from there?
In this series, we look at these cases and single out three cars that fit the brief. If there are more than three, we’ll highlight the three models that have scored well in past CarAdvice reviews.
Adrian is looking for a new seven-seater, and he has some specific criteria for us to work to.
The car can’t be a Mazda, because, as Adrian puts it, he had a “bad experience” with that brand previously. That rules out one of our go-to options, the CX-9, which is a pretty impressive bit of kit. Ah well, luckily there are a few other seven-seaters out there.
The budget for Adrian’s new car is $50,000, which is bang on the money for a low- to mid-grade large SUV, and exactly where we’d suggest most buyers spend their money.
Adrian says he has the Kia Sorento in mind, but is concerned how it will hold up after the warranty ends. We can’t exactly gaze into our crystal ball, but suffice to say that it wouldn’t be unusual to have some minor problems with any car after seven years of family use.
The other main option he’s looking at is the Toyota Kluger, so reliability is clearly one of Adrian’s main shopping points. We’ve got another SUV in mind for him, too.
Based on Adrian’s situation, here are the three criteria for this instalment of the Shortlist:
It seems like Adrian is on the right track in considering a Toyota, with that brand’s reputation for bulletproof reliability, and a Kia, with that company’s industry-leading seven-year warranty/capped-price/roadside-assist plan.
As mentioned, the new-generation CX-9 would usually be a walk-up start for a top three in this segment, because it’s such a solid offering – it drives really well, has a punchy engine, and feels quite deluxe inside.
That said, there are more pragmatic choices out there. Consider, perhaps, a seven-seat version of the Nissan X-Trail or Mitsubishi Outlander, and you’ll get quite a lot of car for your $50,000. It could also be worth waiting for the new-generation Honda CR-V, which arrives here in July, and for the first time will be available with seven seats.
But clearly Adrian is looking at the next size up for his new petrol SUV.
The Hyundai Santa Fe is a winner for pricing and equipment, starting from just $39,350 plus on-road costs for the four-cylinder petrol all-wheel-drive Active model.
Hyundai recently added a front-drive Active X model with a petrol V6, which is packed with value. The V6 is the petrol we’d go for: it has 199kW of power at 6400rpm and 318Nm at of torque at 5300rpm, considerably more than the four-cylinder petrol in the base Active variant. (That said, we think the diesel is the best drivetrain of this model line…)
Standard equipment includes 19-inch alloy wheels, tyre pressure monitor, automatic headlights and wipers, privacy glass, leather-appointed interior, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, heated exterior mirrors, along with a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The Santa Fe has a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty plan, and capped-price servicing for the life of the car if you maintain it at a Hyundai dealer. And if you do, there’s 10 years of roadside assist included.
If off-roading was a consideration, Adrian could take a look at any of the following ute-based diesel quintet: Ford Escape, Isuzu MU-X, Holden Trailblazer, Mitsubishi Pajero Sport, Toyota Fortuner, all of which can be had for about $50,000 in various levels of spec. But it seems pretty clear the focus is comfort and ownership peace of mind, not bush-bashing.
If you’re after an outright bargain you could consider a Holden Captiva or Mahindra XUV500, but they’d be down the bottom of our list, because, if you can stretch your budget a little as Adrian clearly is able to, you get a lot more for your money than these budget offerings.
All that said, here is The Shortlist for Adrian.
The Sorento range kicks off from $40,990 plus on-road costs for the 3.3-litre V6 petrol with 199kW of power and 318Nm of torque in a front-wheel-drive model, but while that engine hits the mark for Adrian’s criteria, it probably isn’t the one we’d suggest.
If you’re going for a Sorento, diesel is where you should be spending your money. Not only is it a more efficient engine, it also gets you an SUV with all-wheel-drive, which is a big advantage in a few ways – you can tackle a dirt track with more assuredness, you won’t constantly have the front wheels spinning in the wet, and it’ll be easier to re-sell.
Put that aside, though, and the petrol-powered Sorento ticks a heck of a lot of boxes. There’s the base model Si mentioned in the first instance, but there’s also an SLi model, which is our pick of the range (with the diesel engine).
You get leather interior trim, eight-way driver’s electric seat adjustment, push-button start with smart key, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, rear-view camera, parking sensors and 18-inch alloys.
Our only reservation over the Kia could be resale value on a petrol model. If you’re planning to hang on to an SUV for seven years, you can expect it to lose a fair bit of value…
Still, with a seven-year/unlimited kilometre plan covering warranty, capped-price servicing and roadside assist (provided you maintain the car at a Kia dealer), you’d be silly to rule this car out as a long-term ownership option. It’s close to unbeatable.
If you’re going to buy a vehicle purely on projected resale and predicted hassle-free motoring, a Kluger (or any Toyota) would be a normal suggestion. It ticks the box for a strong reputation in reliability as well.
It’s decently equipped further up the range, but under $50,000 there is only a base model Kluger to choose – the GX in either front-wheel drive ($43,550 plus ORCs) or all-wheel drive ($47,550 plus ORCs). It has great third-row access and enough space back there for adults for short trips.
Either option is only available with a petrol V6 engine, which can be a little thirsty, and while the front-drive model has really light steering making it feel a lot smaller than it is, the front wheels will spin very easily, and there’s some torque-steer evident (where the steering wheel tugs under hard acceleration). Our suggestion would be to opt for the AWD.
The V6 is a 3.5-litre with 218kW of power and 350Nm of torque. It’s a super punchy engine and its eight-speed auto is a good ’n too.
But as good a seven-seater as the Kluger is, you don’t get as much equipment for the cash in Toyota-land as you do elsewhere. There’s no CarPlay or Android Auto, no sat-nav, no leather, no smart key… It falls well and truly short of the Kia, then.
It also has much shorter warranty cover – three years/100,000km – and the capped-price service plan only spans three years.
We spent some time in the latest version of the Nissan Pathfinder recently, and came away impressed by the power, practicality and comfort on offer. Those things are pretty much on the list for Adrian, and so we figured this model might be a good option.
The recent revisions to the Pathfinder extend beyond the cosmetic, though the sharper new look is quite fetching in person. It’s a big vehicle, inside and out, but it carries itself well.
Other improvements have been made to the suspension and steering, and it drives considerably better than it did before. The 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine has more power and torque than it did before the facelift, with 202kW and 340Nm putting it close to its rivals. The differentiator here is the Pathfinder uses a continuously variable transmission (CVT) auto, and that’ll either float your boat, or sink it.
It has plenty of space on offer – much more than, say, a Santa Fe – with proper adult-sized seats in all three rows, air vents for all, and 16 cup holders! Yes, you read that right.
Pricing is from $41,990 for the front-drive base model, or $45,490 for the all-wheel-drive. But with a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, there are better options out there for longer-term owners.
MORE: Sorento news, reviews, comparisons and videos
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Want more of The Shortlist? Catch the growing series here.