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Which car should I buy: small to mid-sized premium SUV

By Daniel Gardner, 27 Apr 2020 Car Advice

SUV options

$50k gets you a lot of choice in the mid-size SUV market but stick to your must-have list

Dear WhichCar,

We are thinking of upgrading my Lexus CT200h. I have loved having a hybrid but it’s hard to get our daughter into her child seat and we have another on the way!

We thought a medium SUV would make sense. Nothing too fancy because it will be parked outside and will get a rough run from kid mess.

We are thinking about the Nissan X-Trail, Toyota RAV4, Hyundai Santa Fe, Mazda CX-5, Kia Sorento, Volkswagen T-Roc, Audi Q3 and Volvo XC-40.

If the Mazda was available as a hybrid, I would get it straight away! Do any of these suit and should we rule any out? I don’t want to spend more than $50,000.

Thanks!

Victoria, Melbourne.

WhichCar says

Thanks for getting in touch, Tors. You’ve already made a great start by doing plenty of research and establishing a shortlist. You even have a spreadsheet! 

Deciding exactly what you want and need in a new vehicle is essential before you start browsing showrooms and classifieds to avoid being distracted by hot deals, persuasive sales staff and dollar signs.

MORE The future of online car buying

Your shortlist is comprehensive but also diverse and there is lots to like about your options.

Nissan X-Trail

Nissan’s X-Trail is hugely popular for very good reasons and with your budget you could potentially shop right up to the most premium all-wheel drive Ti and TL variants.

The only difference between the top two options is the choice of 2.5-litre petrol or 2.0-litre turbo diesel respectively - the diesel won’t necessarily give you the economy of your CT200h but it will come close depending on the type of driving you do.

Nissan X-Trail

All X-Trails are generously equipped but the real sharp value is in the middle of the range TS and ST-L where you can even have a seven-seat version for if you decide to add yet more kids to the growing family.

Our pick for your budget is the ST-L seven-seater which gets leather upholstery, a larger touchscreen and a good selection of driver assistance and safety tech from $39,700.

The only real drawback is that the Nissan will never feel particularly prestigious when you are comparing it with some European players on your list, nor is it the most rewarding to drive in the same company either.

More essential reading: What’s the best mid-sized family SUV?

Toyota RAV4

The RAV4 is an excellent option offering a great balance of on-road comfort and refinement, a broad selection of variants to fit your price and level of specification, as well as the trusted Toyota badge that’s not too far a leap from Lexus.

Toyota RAV4

Perhaps best of all - there’s a hybrid variant that fits your budget and its the pick of the line-up.

For $42,000 you could jump in the Cruiser Hybrid which pairs the excellent petrol/electric drivetrain with four-wheel drive and a high level of specification.

It’s also roomy and has surprisingly good off-road ability - especially if you opt for the Edge version, although this range-topper is unfortunately not available as a hybrid.

Hyundai Santa Fe and Kia Sorento

This pair of genetically similar South Korean siblings are also an excellent choice, particularly at the premium end of the range. They offer surprisingly good driving dynamics, excellent interior fit and finish, great value, and have never looked as handsome.

Hyundai Santa Fe

However - this pair competes in the large SUV market and, while that means you’ll get bags of space inside with seven comfortable seats and a huge boot, it also has the fuel consumption and exterior dimensions that come with the territory too.

Read next: Which car should I buy instead of a large SUV?

That said, the pick of the range Santa Fe Highlander and Sorento GT-Line diesel flagships are powerful and frugal for something of their size and jam-packed with kit.

Kia Sorento

One last point to consider is Kia’s unrivalled seven-year warranty which is a big selling point, especially if you sell it on with some cover remaining. The Santa Fe gets five years of coverage.

Mazda CX-5

We agree that the Mazda CX-5 is a tempting proposition and always scores well in comparison testing but it has a notable disadvantage for your circumstances with only combustion power on offer.

Mazda CX-5

That said, with claimed average fuel consumption of about 6.0-litres per 100km, the diesel is very efficient. Our pick, however, has to be for the 2.5-litre turbo petrol which is one of the most powerful in its class but still manages to return about 8.0L/100km.

There really isn’t a bad pick in the wide CX-5 range and with your budget, all options are on the table.

Read next: Mazda CX-5 versus Subaru Outback

Volkswagen T-Roc

Let’s get into some of the more premium brands on your list, Tors. We are really excited about Volkswagen’s newest SUV as the T-Roc promises to bring typical VW ergonomics, leading technology, sharp styling and rewarding dynamics to the small SUV realm.

It’ll also be joined by a smaller T-Cross as well but that might be a bit small for your purposes.

Volkswagen T-Roc

However, you’ll have to wait until early next year to get your hands on one and you’ll likely have to fight a lot of other Australians who are getting just as excited.

In the meantime, the Tiguan is still a manageable size, fits your budget and has all of the Volkswagen desirability mentioned above.

Here’s what we recommended Peter who was also shopping with similar requirements.

Which SUV should I buy?

Audi Q3

The Audi Q3 is a great little SUV from one of the leading brands in the premium segment offering German build quality and engineering and a flavour of the interior styling and cabin ergonomics of its bigger siblings.

Audi Q3

The second-generation version that arrived last year represented a huge step up over the original Q3 with more space, technology, safety systems and less awkward styling.

Unfortunately, as the range is so new, that you don’t have much choice with only a 35 TFSI representing the entry point, while the more attractive Launch Edition is out of your price range.

Audi will likely roll out more options as is typical over the life of a model but for now, there’s only a pair.

For a little more style over substance, you might also look at the Q3 Sportback which has a more elegant coupe profile but it sacrifices interior space, although it does offer more variant choice including a more sporty S Line.

Volvo XC-40

A car does not win Australia’s most coveted automotive award by luck and Volvo’s littlest SUV is no exception.

The reason this little gem took out the Wheels Car of the Year in 2019 was a combination of its standout styling, exemplary safety standards, rewarding drive and high levels of equipment.

Volvo XC-40

Only stretching to the entry T4 Momentum is not necessarily a bad thing although you’ll be getting close to your spending limit when you add the optional adaptive dampers which are highly recommended to soften its somewhat sporty ride.

ADD TO THE LIST

To answer your question Victoria, there’s certainly nothing on your list that we think you should remove. You’ve got options that cover all bases but there are certainly a few more you should seriously consider:

Mazda CX-30

Like the excellent CX-5, Mazda’s newest arrival has many of the compelling features including superb interiors and practical features but in a niche-filling segment.

Mazda CX-30

The CX-30 slots between the CX-5 and Mazda3 as a slightly smaller and more car-like SUV. You get more space and ride-height than a hatchback for easier loading, but some of the driving advantages of a small hatch that will remind you why you liked the Lexus so much.

There’s no hybrid, unfortunately, but there is a new and very efficient petrol engine, called the SkyActiv-X, coming to Mazda models including the CX-30 later in 2020, which offers diesel-like torque and efficiency. 

Subaru XV and Forester Hybrid

Subaru has just made its foray into hybridisation and its timing could be perfect for you. At the smaller end of the scale, the new XV Hybrid kicks-off from $35,990 and couples a 2.0-litre petrol engine to an electric motor for claimed fuel efficiency of 6.5 litres per 100km.

Subaru XV and Forester Hybrid

For a lot more space and some unique technological features, the Forester Hybrid uses the same hybrid drivetrain for an only slightly more thirsty 6.7L/100km. 

Like all four-wheel-drive Subarus, the hybrids have the same go-anywhere versatility that the brand prides itself on along with impressive safety standards. That said they don't offer the fuel savings like, say, the RAV4 Hybrids, so the top-spec petrol versions of each model are also worth a look.

READ NEXT: Subaru XV Hybrid AWD review

Lexus UX

Serendipitously, we finish at Lexus and if you were happy with your CT200h then you may like to know that the Japanese luxury car maker can now offer a small SUV that fits your budget - and it’s a hybrid.

Lexus UX

Your cash won't quite stretch to the entire UX line-up but the mid-range UX250h Luxury is easy to recommend. It uses the same TNGA platform that rolls under the RAV4 and its hybrid credentials can brag a claimed fuel economy figure of just 4.5L/100km.

It’s arguably the most closely related relative of your beloved CT200h that’s grown up to be an SUV.

As with all new car purchases, the most important element is to do your research - which you’ve started brilliantly, but don’t stop now. The next step is to refine the list down and start booking some test drives. Good luck!

READ NEXT The most important part of shopping for a new car