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Best medium SUVs

Medium SUVs are one of Australia’s most popular vehicle types, bested only by 4x4 utes in the sales race.

Models like the Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-5, Mitsubishi Outlander, Nissan X-Trail and Toyota RAV4 are fixtures in the top 10 best sellers list.

They’ve largely supplanted mid-sized and large sedans as the family car of choice for Australians, offering higher ground clearance and usually spacious cabins. 

That’s despite mid-sized SUVs typically being shorter in overall length than considerably less popular mid-sized wagons like the Mazda 6 and Volkswagen Passat – these models are often comparably priced and more than spacious enough for most families, but they don’t have that SUV styling people crave, nor the raised ride height.

While all-wheel drive is available on almost every mid-sized SUV sold in Australia, none of these are intended to be bush bashers. The optional all-wheel drive systems typically provide extra wet weather traction and might help the vehicle feel more sure-footed on unsealed roads or light trails, but won’t help them climb mountains.

If you want something smaller, look at a small SUV. People who want seven seats or more space should consider a large SUV, such as the Hyundai Santa Fe.

Some so-called small SUVs – the Kia Seltos and Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross – come close to offering the space of a typical mid-sized SUV at a lower price. The aforementioned mid-sized wagons are also great options, particularly as they’ll often have shorter waiting lists.

Here are six of our favourites, in no particular order.

Hyundai Tucson

Rating
8.2/10
Price
$34,500 to $53,000 before on-road costs
 Hyundai Tucson

Pros: Quiet and classy cabin, plenty of room inside, long list of safety equipment

Cons: Weedy base engine, a lot of gloss black trim inside, some models lack LED headlights

Boot space: 539L

The engine line-up might look the same but otherwise the Hyundai Tucson is effectively a clean-sheet redesign, with a new platform, a bigger body, and radically different styling inside and out.

Front-wheel drive models use a naturally-aspirated 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine with 115kW and 192Nm, while all-wheel drive models offer a choice of a turbocharged 1.6-litre petrol (132kW/265Nm) or a 2.0-litre turbo-diesel (137kW/416Nm).

Every model is available with an N Line package, which includes upgrades like sports seats with leather and suede upholstery and a unique steering wheel and 19-inch alloy wheels.

The Tucson is backed by a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.

More on the Hyundai Tucson

Mazda CX-5

Rating
8.1/10
Price
$31,390 to $52,580 before on-roads
Mazda CX-5

Typically the second best-selling SUV in this segment, the Mazda CX-5 impresses with its overall level of refinement, from its cabin materials to its noise levels. It’s also one of the more enjoyable steers in this segment, particularly with the spirited turbocharged 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine.

There are four engines available: naturally-aspirated 2.0-litre and 2.5-litre petrol four-cylinders (115kW/200Nm and 140kW/252Nm), plus the aforementioned 2.5-litre turbo-petrol (170kW/420Nm) and a 2.2-litre twin-turbo diesel (140kW/450Nm).

All engines use a six-speed automatic transmission, though you can get a six-speed manual with the 2.0-litre.

A minor update is slated for 2022 but local pricing and specifications have yet to be confirmed.

The CX-5 is covered by a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.

More on the Mazda CX-5

Toyota RAV4

Rating
8.6/10
Price
$34,300 to $52,320 before on-road costs
Toyota RAV4

Pros: Class-leading fuel economy, balanced dynamics, spacious cabin Cons: Supply issues, dated infotainment Boot space: 580L

There’s a good reason why the RAV4 is Australia’s best-selling SUV, at least when Toyota isn’t experiencing supply issues.

For a relatively small premium of $2500, you can get a 2.5-litre hybrid four-cylinder powertrain that boosts power from 127kW to 160kW (163kW in all-wheel drive models) while dropping fuel consumption from 6.5L/100km to 4.7-4.8L/100km compared with the entry-level 2.0-litre four-cylinder.

That makes the RAV4 Hybrid the class leader for fuel efficiency, while there are plenty of other strong suits like a competitive ride/handling balance, a spacious interior, and a long list of standard safety equipment. It’s an impressive all-rounder.

The RAV4 is backed by a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.

A facelifted model is coming in the first quarter of 2022, bringing a new mid-range hybrid variant and the availability of the hybrid powertrain on the range-topping Edge.

The Edge will also continue to come with a naturally-aspirated 2.5-litre four with 152kW of power and 243Nm of torque and an eight-speed automatic. All Edge models also include off-road drive modes, hill descent control, and various aesthetic changes.

More on the Toyota RAV4

Volkswagen Tiguan

Rating
8.0/10
Price
$40,590 to $56,290 before on-roads
Volkswagen Tiguan

Pros: Polished and punchy powertrains, spacious cabin, refined and capable dynamics

Cons: Conservative interior, can get pricey, smaller than newer rivals

Boot space: 520L

The only European on this list, the Tiguan features Volkswagen’s understated German styling inside and out – for better or worse – but also boasts an impressive range of turbocharged Volkswagen powertrains. Handling is engaging for a mid-sized SUV, but Tiguans also ride well.

The front-wheel drive 110TSI uses a 1.4-litre turbo-petrol four with 110kW and 250Nm, while the all-wheel drive 132TSI and 162TSI models use a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four with 132kW/320Nm and 162kW/350Nm, respectively.

The 147TDI is the lone diesel, a 2.0-litre with 147kW and 400Nm. All models use a dual-clutch automatic transmission.

The Tiguan family also includes the larger Allspace, which features a longer body and a third row of seating.

It’s covered by a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.

More on the Volkswagen Tiguan

Kia Sportage

Rating
8.6/10
Price
$34,690 to $54,990 drive-away
Kia Sportage

Pros: Slick looks, refinement, good ride/handling balance, long list of safety equipment

Cons: Underwhelming base engine, pricier than before, dual-clutch auto could be smoother

Boot space: 543L

The Sportage is the Kia cousin to the Hyundai Tucson, sharing its platform and engine line-up. However, it’s been wrapped in decidedly different styling, inside and out, while the Sportage has also received local suspension tuning. Like the Tucson, it’s grown considerably with this latest redesign.

Engines consist of a 115kW/192Nm naturally-aspirated 2.0-litre petrol four, a 132kW/265Nm 1.6-litre turbo-petrol, and a 137kW/416Nm 2.0-litre turbo-diesel. It’s one of the few mid-sized SUVs to still offer a manual transmission, though this six-speed unit is only available in S and SX trim with the base engine.

Hyundai may often boast cheaper service prices but Kia has its corporate cousin beat on warranty, with a seven-year, unlimited-kilometre coverage.

More on the Kia Sportage

Ford Escape

Rating
8.0/10
Price
$35,990 to $49,590 before on-road costs
Ford Escape

Pros: Powerful engine, excellent infotainment, great value for money

Cons: Mediocre front seats, some low-speed jitters, dull interior

Boot space: 556L

Far and away the worst seller on this list, the Ford Escape is an oft-overlooked mid-sized SUV that deserves to do better – we’ve even called it one of the best cars nobody’s buying.

In addition to a spacious interior with nice material quality, if not the flashiest design, the Escape boasts one of the most powerful engines in the segment. Surprisingly, this punchy turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder, producing 183kW of power and 387Nm of torque, is the only engine available in the Escape range. With outputs that best some rivals’ up-spec engines, it’s the ace in the hole for the forgotten Ford.

Fuel economy is a competitive 8.6L/100km but if you’re seeking something more efficient, the range will also be expanded in 2022 with a plug-in hybrid ST-Line variant, priced at $52,490 before on-roads.

The Escape is covered by a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.

More on the Ford Escape