QUESTION - ANDREW:
ANSWER - TOBY HAGON:
As you probably know the Fiat and Dodge are the same basic vehicle, albeit with different engine options. But none of those engines are great; the diesel is gruff and not available with an auto transmission, for example, while the V6 is unimpressive and thirsty.
And despite a cover interior with lots of storage options, the Fiat and Dodge are both showing their age. Also, Fiat Chrysler doesn't have the best reputation for quality, something that doesn't bode well for your requirements.
For those reasons we'd rule both out.
The Mazda CX-9, on the other hand, is a revelation in terms of how it moves the seven-seat SUV game on. It has class leading safety (with auto braking in forward and reverse), a comfortable and quiet ride, a classy cabin and plenty of space.
It's also one of the only SUVs that allow child seats to be fitted in the second and third rows (most have top tether points only in the middle row). And the shift from a V6 engine brings genuine improvements to fuel economy and performance.
The CX-9 is also impressive value, with plenty packed into even the base model Sport.
Another worth looking at is the Kia Sorento. It doesn't have the driving maturity of the Mazda, nor its attention to detail. But the Sorento is fantastic value and has the option of a diesel engine, something that would be useful on your longer drives. The Sorento is also covered by a seven-year warranty, which is the best in the business.
That said, the CX-9 would be our first choice. It's a fantastic seven-seat SUV.