Which family SUV is best? What our car journos would actually buy
Search Driven for Mazda CX-5 for sale
DRIVEN's headquarters is, generally, one rolling ongoing argument after another about all things four-wheeled. Whether it's cars currently on test or rose-tinted memories from years gone by, the next passionate vehicular debate is never far away.
It made sense to take this excitable energy and turn it into something (hopefully) useful. As such, welcome to DRIVEN's new online content series (published each Monday), where we pick out the cars that we would actually buy with our cold hard cash.
After last week's fierce fued between enthusiast-aimed hot hatches, we thought it was time to wind things back a notch or two to a segment that better caters to the average family — the humble medium SUV.
Editor, Dean Evans: Toyota RAV4
Having just spent five months in our RAV4 Hybrid long-termer, it’s too easy a decision. Or is it?
I do love Mazda’s CX-5, especially in the characterful 2.2-litre diesel version, and with the way it drives and looks and offers a great mix of comfort and tech, plus the fact it ‘isn’t’ a RAV4 are all very attractive points I’d normally favour. I wouldn’t even need the top-spec Limited version, either, as in true Mazda-fashion, the GLX version is very feature packed and all I need. But diesel also means mandatory means AWD, which I personally don’t need. But I do need the Soul Red colour ($300 extra), which totals $49,295+ORC – let’s call it a neat $50k.
But given it’s my money I’m spending, the $46,490 Hybrid RAV4 GXL (2.5 petrol) is just too price-appealing to knock back. And of course that is a driveaway price, though I’d need the black wheels, which are offered on the Limited.
It’s fast (for an SUV: 0-100 in 7.8 secs), frugal (4.8l/100km), practical and accommodating, and I’ve bored all the other guys with all the aspects that are appealing to me and my life across the six-parts of our long-term experience, all found here.
While I’d like the Mazda CX-5, it’s a harrowing split decision until the price comparison, and for all its annoying beeps and alerts and warnings, if it were my car, I’d somehow find a way to suppress or minimise RAV4’s overly loud beepers… and then upgrade the infotainment system with Apple CarPlay. Did I mention it’s the best-selling SUV in the country… and 2019 AA DRIVEN Car of the Year People’s Choice and top 10 finalist?
I did previously? Multiple times? OK then, well what more do you need?
Deputy Editor, David Linklater: Citroen C5 Aircross
The medium-sized SUV is the single most popular type of new vehicle in New Zealand; the new normal. So there’s a lot of choice, but also a bit of a challenge for the car-lover: finding something interesting.
Because family SUVs have to tick so many boxes, they also tend to be quite risk-averse in terms of design and technology. Most are bit… samey.
Excuse the back story, but it’s necessary to explain my medium-SUV choice. If I was buying a car in this genre today it’d be a Citroen C5 Aircross ($43,990-$53,990). I’ve always had a soft spot for Citroens and especially the ones that dare to be a bit different (which they haven’t always been in the last few years).
I reckon the C5 Aircross looks the part without being too out-there: instantly recognisable and some cool flashes of colour (which you can customise).
Read more: Citroen and Peugeot Wagons deliver on cool
I also like the fact that Citroen has zeroed in on comfort as the C5’s USP, in a market where most makers insist on pseudo-sportiness. The Aircross has Progressive Hydraulic Cushion (PHC) suspension, where the dampers have tiny extra dampers at each end to soften out the movement between the bump stops.
The Aircross also has Citroen’s new super-squishy Advanced Comfort Seats. The former French obsession with people-movers shows in the spacious cabin and clever seating configurations.
Nice powertrain, with a 1.6l turbo-petrol four and eight-speed transmission. You can’t have AWD and I’m also okay with that, because I’m not taking my medium SUV off-road; I’m in the majority there.
But the C5 Aircross does have a Grip Control drive-mode setting, which adjusts the gearbox and traction control to tackle slippery conditions and off-tarmac driving if required; it works surprisingly well.
Senior Multimedia Journalist, Matthew Hansen: Mazda CX-5 Takami
Here's the bit where I cite that I'm a millennial and a car enthusiast; two things that don't really qualify me for having a 'medium SUV opinion'.
The ironic thing about this, though, is that the slightly irrational 'enthusiast adjacent SUV' that I'd buy also happens to be one of the country's best sellers — both new and in the world of second-hand imports.
Mazda's CX-5 ticks some pretty big boxes. Its cabin is plush enough to rival most European fare, its flavour of 'Kodo' design language is among the Japanese brand's most timeless, and you get a handy array of engine options. Dean's right, the 2.2-litre diesel is a solid bet, and any normal person would be chuffed to have one in the driveway. But, let me tell you a secret — the top-spec Takami is hilarious.
Along with layering in some additional luxury (the chocolate Nappa leather is both an acquired taste and sadly not made from actual chocolate), technology, and some snazzy new wheels, the Takami also whacks a turbocharger onto the ordinarily naturally aspirated SkyActiv-G 2.5-litre petrol engine.
The spinny boy helps boost power and torque by 30kW and 168Nm, making for overall output of 170kW/420Nm. That power figure in particular doesn't sound like much to get excited about, but in practice it makes the Takami a sleeper rocketship of a thing.
Granted, you won't quite be mincing many Evos at the lights. But don't underestimate how quick these Takamis are. And, paired with the CX-5's excellent chassis, it means that this is the most satisfying SUV steer you can buy without dipping into proper performance SUV territory. The $61,495 sticker price is a lot to ask. But, it's a lot of laughs.
Digital Writer, Andrew Sluys: Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
When it comes to the medium-sized SUV segment, we’re spoilt for choice. But when it comes to getting the best bang for your buck, I’d argue that the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV (plug-in hybrid) is the sharpest deal.
For the current special price of $52,490, you get a great plug-in hybrid SUV that’s not only got enough room for the whole family, but is also incredibly efficient.
Power comes from a 2.4-litre petrol engine which is paired with two electric motors that allows electric power to be used for the majority of the time spent driving. Only under intense acceleration and high speeds does the petrol engine kick in. Similar to other petrol-powered SUVs, a range of 500-600km is possible with a full charge, and a tank of gas, while the EV-only range drops down to 54km.
It comes down to personal preference, but some buyers may be put off by the Outlander’s dated looks, but then again, these dimensions provide massive visibility. Like the dated exterior, the interior isn’t anything great, but does the trick.
Adaptive cruise control, lane change assist, and blind spot warning all come as standard in the XLS, as does an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system. Upgrading to the higher VRX spec gets you leather seats, and an electric sunroof, but probably isn’t worth the $5,500 hike.