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AUSTRALIA’S BEST SUV

What is the best SUV for you and how do you find it? With the growing popularity of SUVs in Australia we have seen more and more models being offered, making it harder to establish which is the right one for you. As with the purchase of any new cars the most important thing when selecting the Best SUV for your needs is to be clear on where you are going to use your SUV and what will be its main purpose be. Is it going to spend most of its time in an urban environment picking up children from school and running the family around? Is it going to be used for towing? Will it be used offroad? How many passengers are you going to be carrying regularly? How much luggage will you need to carry regularly? How many kilometres are you going to travel each year? This could have a bearing on whether your SUV would be best powered by a petrol, diesel or hybrid engine

To help you find the best SUV to suit your needs CarAdvice has selected its top five SUVs in several different categories – small SUV, medium SUV, Large SUV and Upper Large SUV.  And it was not just about performance and features. While compiling its list of Australia’s Best SUVs it also took budget into account, something that every Australian car buyer needs to do. We have come up with our top five SUVs for under $70,000 and our top five SUVS for over $70,000 in the large SUV segment.

WHAT IS AN SUV?

The definition of an SUV (Sports Utility Vehicle) has changed in recent history. It was first used to classify a light truck that was used as a family vehicle. It was similar in style to a station wagon and generally always an all-wheel-drive and very utilitarian. Today, an SUV can be anything from a small, high-riding, front-wheel-drive hatch/wagon designed specifically for the urban environment to a large all-wheel-drive vehicle with serious off road capabilities. The key features they all offer is a high ride height and a flexible interior layout with anything from five to eight seats, depending on the size and model.

SUVs also come with a wide range of power options both in output and type. You can choose from a standard petrol engine, a more performance oriented turbo petrol engine, diesel engines with one or two turbos bolted on, plug-in hybrid engines or straight electric motors.

POPULARITY OF SUVS

The SUV is the fastest growing segment in the Australian car market. In 2016, new vehicles sales hit an all-time high with 1,178,133 vehicles from 67 manufacturers sold nationally. SUVs were the second most popular segment accounting for 37.4 per cent of total sales. Such is the popularity of SUVs in Australia they are now available in five different segments, Compact SUVs, Small SUVs, Medium SUVs, Large SUVs and Upper Large SUVs. They even compete in the luxury end of the market.

Compact and small SUVs are often described as high-riding hatch backs and are very much designed for the urban environment. They are seldom taken off road and therefore the vast majority of them are fitted with a front-wheel-drive system.

Medium and Large SUVs are the segments where many shop for a family vehicle. They are available with enough seating to accommodate between five and eight passengers. The seven and eight passenger models are fitted with a third row of seating that can often be folded under the floor when not required, providing plenty of luggage space for busy families. These larger SUVs also come with the option of two or four-wheel-drive and many have enough offroad capability to satisfy even the more adventurous families. SUVs in this size can also have tow capacities up to three tonne making them ideal for families into boating or caravanning.

Upper Large SUVs generally are seven or eight-seater vehicles with towing capacities exceeding three tonne and with strong offroad capabilities. Many of the SUVs in this category also feature many of the luxury features that you will find in luxury passenger vehicles. It is a category that is aimed at families with larger boats or caravans or those who spend a lot of time behind the wheel in a rural environment.

SUV HISTORY

The earliest SUVs were close copies of commercial and military vehicles such as the Jeep and LandRover. They were followed by longer-wheelbase wagon-type vehicles in the mid to late 1930s. In Australia, the first SUVs did not land on our shores until the early 1950s when rugged vehicles with off road capabilities were needed for the construction of the Snowy Mountain Scheme.

The first true sport utility vehicle in the modern understanding of the term did not hit the market until the early 1980s when the Jeep Cherokee XJ was launched in the US in 1983. It was aimed at urban families looking for more than a traditional car, especially station wagons that were popular at the time. The Cherokee offered four-wheel drive capability in a more manageable size (compared to offroad vehicles offered at the time), as well as a plush interior resembling a station wagon. Since the arrival of the Grand Cherokee 25 years ago the popularity of the SUV has continued to grow internationally.

While the US lead the world in the development and then popularity of the SUV, in Australia our early 4x4 influences were mostly Japanese through Nissan and Toyota and English with Land Rover. But like in the US the early 4x4 models were more utilitarian with the progression to more family-friendly vehicles a more recent trend. Consequently, modern SUVs are available with luxury features, and some crossover SUV models adopt lower ride heights to accommodate on-road driving.

In selecting the five Best SUVs in each category, CarAdvice has taken everything mentioned above into consideration to provide you with a comprehensive guide to not only Australia’s best SUVs but the best SUV for you and your family.

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Large SUVs Under $70k

Hyundai Santa Fe
1
  • Plenty of grunt; Full-size spare wheel; Impressive interior design and materials; Strong showing of safety and tech features

  • Lacks a punchy petrol option; Third-row seat needs a touch more room; Minor refinement quibbles; Styling is sure to divide opinion

ŠKODA KODIAQ
  • Bridges the gap between mid-size and large SUVs; Huge luggage capacity; Cabin space and seat comfort; 2.0-litre turbo-diesel is a solid unit; Warranty and service costs; Ride and handling are excellent

  • It's a big premium for the diesel engine; Some hard plastics; Needs more USB ports; No full-size digital instrument display available

Mazda CX-9
  • New safety kit standard across the range is excellent; Ride and insulation enhanced by mid-life upgrades; Petrol engine is impressive despite needing to move a heavy SUV

  • Rear-view camera isn't as crisp as the competition; Third row is really only useful for children; MZD Connect still isn't the best platform to use with a smartphone link

Ford Everest
  • Benchmark ride comfort, refinement; safety tech, infotainment both excellent; two diesel engine options now available; proper 4x4 credentials when needed; Ford's five-year warranty cover

  • Expensive, particularly the Titanium grade; AEB left off base Ambiente model; some cheap-feeling interior trims; Bi-Turbo engine was thirsty when towing - on first impression

Kia Sorento
  • Engine and gearbox are a quality pairing; Clever cabin has plenty of room, even in the third row; Well appointed and solid value for money

  • Diesel only available in AWD, petrol only for 2WD; Luggage space isn't quite a match for the CX-9; Not as frugal on fuel as we'd like

Large SUVs Over $70k

Audi Q7
1
  • Proper seven-seater; great interior; enough power and torque regardless of detune; decent off-road ability; cabin ambience; interior spaciousness; great for large families

  • Not much cheaper than more powerful version; plenty of options required to make it look good; standard ride can be harsh, needs optional suspension; stop-start system very annoying

Porsche Cayenne
  • 2.9-litre V6’s refined and muscular performance; Handles better than a two-tonne SUV should; Sophisticated infotainment; Switchgear and materials quality; Front-seat comfort and rear-seat space; Can go off-road – if you really want to

  • Body control not perfect in Normal mode; Expensive options; No third-row option; No seatback release levers in boot; It’s still heavy

Volvo XC90
  • Very clever driveline which works smoothly within its range; punchy when charged; no loss of space or interior packaging due to hybrid platform; have I mentioned that stereo?

  • T8 is an expensive option and comes with compromised driving range; fuel economy claims are impossible to meet; cheeky option price increases

Land Rover Discovery
  • Interior room is next-level with proper accommodation for seven adults; Unstoppable off-road, even with a load of passengers; Comfortable around town and on the open road; Hearty four-cylinder diesel engine

  • Engine struggles when towing close to the 3500kg braked towing limit; A lot of optional extras should be standard; No Apple CarPlay or Android Auto

5

BMW X5

BMW X5
  • New cabin layout and tech, with OS 7.0; frugal quiet and muscular diesel engines; improved dynamics, on- and off-road; retains the two-piece tailgate

  • No sub-$100k entry grade yet; still not as practical as Q7/XC90; doubtless, you'll want to be careful with the options boxes