Australians love car-based seven-seater SUVs, and the competition nowadays is fiercer than ever, but which is the best sub-$50,000 petrol-powered offering?
Here we pitch the latest challenger (Mazda CX-9) against the segment bestseller (Toyota Kluger), and our current favourite (Kia Sorento).
1. MAZDA CX-9
In one fell swoop, the all-new, second-generation Mazda CX-9 from Japan raises the bar on a number of key fronts.
Although designed to look swoopy, it was actually developed from the inside out, with an emphasis on packaging and operational ease, backed up by an excellent driving position, great forward vision, light controls, and refinement.
Vitally, there is sufficient space for seven – as long as the third-row duo are under 175cm – with reasonable luggage space out back to boot. The CX-9 is also the quietest and comfiest riding of the trio.
Another strength is the Mazda’s rousing 2.5-litre four-cylinder turbo powertrain, combining spirited performance with real-world efficiency. That it also steers, handles, and grips the road like a thoroughbred seals the deal.
The negatives? The centre armrest fouls larger drivers’ elbows, and there are no third-row air vents (though it isn’t stuffy).
So the rapid and refined CX-9 is a classy all-rounder, appealing to both the family and the driving enthusiast. This Mazda should be on everybody’s short list.
2. KIA SORENTO
Until recently, Kias were only about style, cheapness, and brilliant aftersales care, but the third-gen Sorento launched in 2015 is so much more.
Elegant inside and out, the boxy design opens up a roomy and easy-to-access cabin that majors on simplicity and functionality. The first and second-row passengers are especially well catered for.
However, larger third-row riders might find it tight back there, with odd knees-up seating and hardly any room for feet. And the cargo area is relatively small.
The lazy torque of the Sorento’s 3.3-litre V6 makes it a smooth yet gutsy performer, aided by well-weighted steering and a plush ride. The Kia isn’t too heavy on petrol either, though the sportier Mazda edges ahead for economy. Nor is it as quiet and refined.
Still, factor in an industry-leading seven-year warranty against the others’ three, and the Korean-made Sorento makes for a sensible yet pleasing choice – as long as passengers six and seven aren’t too tall.
Big, brawny, and accommodating, the US-built Kluger’s widespread appeal is very easy to understand. And for the most part, it’s well deserved too.
The interior, for starters, is huge, with real thought going into the smart dash layout, broad seating, and passenger access to all amenities. Second and third row entry/egress is first class, vision out is good, ventilation is superb, and everything is easy to reach and use. Plus, the boot area behind is also fairly large.
For sheer outright grunt, Toyota’s torquey 3.5-litre V6 is also a massive drawcard, and isn’t too bad on fuel considering how much mid-range, tow-friendly power is on offer. Additionally, the Kluger is pleasant to steer, safe and secure through corners, and seems planted to the road.
But the ride can feel unsettled and jittery, the seats lack lateral support over longer distances, and it feels quite heavy and cumbersome compared to the athletic, efficient Mazda.
Nevertheless, the Kluger is fantastic for honest and effortless transportation of families.