The best of NZ's mid-sized SUVs
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33% NEW-CAR BUYS ARE SPORTS UTILITY VEHICLES. HERE ARE SOME FAVOURITES
Are you of a mind to buy a sports utility vehicle?
It seems many people are, with SUVs accounting for a whopping 33 per cent of new-vehicle sales so far this year.
SUVs span every size and price range, but it’s the medium segment where the volume is biggest and the market most crowded.
So which are the best?
Here, we share our top medium-SUV picks in three categories: under $50,000, under $100,000 and the rarefied over-$100,000 crowd.
To keep things simple, we’ve stuck to SUVs with a bespoke body shape, rather than considering crossover-type vehicles based on conventional passenger cars.
The CX-5 was Mazda’s first attempt at a mainstream medium SUV in 2012 and it went straight to the top of the class for design and dynamics. It’s still there, especially with recent changes to bring some of its equipment into line with newer SkyActiv models like the Mazda3.
The CX-5 range extends well over the $50k mark, but for less you can still buy the best engine — the torquey 2.2-litre turbo diesel — with four-wheel drive, in generous mid-range GSX specification.
Truly functional, fabulous to drive both on and off-road: that’s the latest Forester, which continues an SUV theme established by the company back in 1997.
A more serious foil to the Japanese maker’s Outback crossover wagon, the Forester gives you plenty of choice in this price segment. The 2.5-litre petrol is available in Standard, Sport and Premium specifications. But don’t forget the excellent boxer-diesel, which has been combined with an automatic transmission in the facelift model. At last.
We know what you’re thinking: the Sorento isn’t really a medium-sized SUV. You’re absolutely right: at 4.8m long with a seven-seat cabin, the Kia is large in name and nature. But sneaking such a vehicle into sub-$50k price territory is noteworthy and we couldn’t resist adding it to this list.
It doesn’t hurt that the Sorento is arguably the best thing Kia is doing at the moment, or that the entry-level four-cylinder petrol — the only one in this price bracket — still comes with fulltime four-wheel drive.
Land Rover Discovery Sport
Larger and more upmarket than the Freelander it replaces, the Discovery Sport brings a taste of Range Rover styling and equipment to the Land Rover family. The Sport is great to drive on-road, outstanding in the rough and even comes with a cleverly packaged seven-seat option.
Buy a Discovery Sport and you might even get a ride on the company’s custom-built Terrapod (above): a hydraulically powered mobile off-road track designed to showcase the capabilities of Land Rover vehicles.
Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
Mitsubishi’s future-now Outlander Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) was the first zero-emissions-capable SUV in New Zealand when it was launched in 2013. It remains an object lesson in how to incorporate electric-vehicle technology into a package that is no more difficult to drive or less practical than a conventional model.
The PHEV doesn’t get the facelift just meted out to the conventional petrol and diesel models — at least for now. But it remains a revelatory real-world EV.
Lexus NX 200t
Lexus seems to be hitting its stride these days with striking (albeit polarising) styling and clever powertrain technology. It all comes together nicely in the NX 200t.
Of course, the NX hybrid also sits nicely in this price bracket.
But we’re highlighting the 2-litre turbo-petrol 200t because it injects enthusiast appeal into this medium-SUV: it’s a high-tech, sprightly engine that will be used in a wide range of products, including an entry-level version of the RC coupe.
It stands to reason that a medium-sized SUV over $100,000 is obviously going to be firmly in the luxury and/or sports domains.
The SQ5 fits both bills, thanks to its high-quality interior and muscular 650Nm 3-litre twin-turbo diesel engine. Indeed, it was the first SUV and the first diesel model to wear Audi’s S-badge. The performance might amaze, but the SQ5 can trick the ears as well.
From the front it sounds like a diesel, but from the rear or inside the cabin it does a pretty good impression of a growling V6 petrol, thanks to sound-actuator technology.
Porsche has pulled off another SUV triumph with its Macan. More than simply a baby Cayenne, it has developed a character and customer base all its own. It’s loosely based on the Audi Q5, but 75 per cent of its parts are new and the petrol engines are Porsche’s own.
The range covers turbo-diesel and turbo-petrol powerplants, with some high-tech chassis technology to make the Macan handle like a Porsche should.
Quick note: Although only the performance-flagship Macan wears the signature Porsche ‘‘Turbo’’ badge, all variants have turbo technology.
Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG Edition 1
The GLA has assumed Mercedes-Benz’s medium-SUV duties until the all-new GLC arrives in December. The range has plenty of rational models, but who says you can’t enjoy a dose of madness in SUV-world?
Meet the GLA 45 AMG, which makes little sense on paper but will have you laughing aloud when you drive it. It’s powered by a crackling AMG-developed 2-litre turbo engine with 265kW, features full-time all-wheel drive and a chassis lowered for maximum cornering ability.
It’s possibly the most un-SUV-like SUV in this group. Add the Edition 1 package with 20-inch wheels, aerodynamic bodywork and special trim/badging, and the price creeps over $100K. Might as well go all the way!
The Wild Card
BMW 3 Series Touring xDrive
The BMW 3 Series Touring xDrive has many of the key features you’d find in the company’s SUV models, including the xDrive system and versatile load space thanks to a 40/20/40-split rear seat.
But it’s svelte looking and undeniably sporty on the road because it’s much lower to the ground. Fuel for thought.