Question: Cheryl [asked on March 3,2017]
I like the height of an SUV, but I drive two hours each day to and from work on hilly and windy roads as well as around the city centre. Which SUV will give me driving enjoyment combined with good safety and features? I want an AWD that has the ability to power up and get me past tourists and is fun to drive. Mainly just two people so room and cargo space is not such an issue. I’d also like heated seats and hopefully heated steering wheel.
G'day Cheryl. Two recent arrivals in the small-to-mid SUV $50K market include the Audi Q2 and the new-generation Mini Countryman. However, AWD is only available in the top-spec turbo-diesel versions of each, and in the Mini's case, will likely be $55K on-road.
That said, the Countryman Cooper SD All4 (to give its full title), with an eight-speed automatic transmission and a fairly comprehensive level of standard equipment, may be the most amusing, and most appropriately sized AWD wagon you can get for 50 grand.
It offers plenty of room in a neatly sized package, a slightly higher driving position than a regular hatch, and truly entertaining handling. The diesel is also a strong engine [sourced from BMW] and with eight ratios, could never be caught short of a gear!
The Q2 2.0TDI quattro ($47,400 RRP, not including on-road costs, compared to $51,500 for the Countryman SD) isn't quite as entertaining to drive as the Countryman in corners, but it's slightly more affordable and arguably more tasteful design-wise [if you prefer sober over deliberately playful]. However it, too, will cost just over $50K once you put it on-road (or add any options, of which there are many!)
If neither of those premium-brand offerings fit the bill, or are a bit too far north price-wise, then perhaps an upper-spec medium SUV could suit. They're larger SUVs than the Q2 and Countryman, but our pick for best to drive.
Strong performers include the Volkswagen Tiguan 162TSI (starting at $48,490 RRP) or the Ford Escape Titanium 2.0-litre turbo-petrol ($44,990 RRP). The Tiguan is the classier of the two, both outside and in, but the Escape steers, handles and rides exceptionally well for its type, and it has loads of grunt.
You could also look at the new-generation Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring turbo-diesel [it offers much more oomph than the 2.5-litre petrol], which recently launched in Australia.
My colleagues have driven it and reckon it's in the running for best-in-class honours for all-round ability. And it has Mazda's reliability and resale reputation going for it.