Best 2WD SUV and AWD SUV under $50,000

Australia's Best Cars 2018

Best Small 2WD SUV Under $35,000

There’s plenty of action in this segment, which has struck a chord with Australian car buyers looking for adventure in the urban jungle.

Winner: Mazda CX-3 Maxx


Australia’s SUV obsession has exploded in recent times and manufacturers are creating niches to cash in wherever they can. This has spawned a light-to-small vehicle in 2WD guise, raised a few centimetres and with a touch of plastic on the guards to create that SUV look.

The CX-3 is the undisputed king in this category, notching up multiple wins and a previous judges’ choice award since it was released to the market, and is the vehicle by which others in this category are benchmarked.

On paper, there isn’t much between the three finalists in terms of engine outputs. The CX-3’s 2.0-litre has 109kW and 192Nm, and is coupled to a slick-shifting six-speed auto in a combination that outshines the other finalists. Add to that the best fuel economy, if only by a whisker to the Honda HR-V, and the CX-3 starts to look unstoppable. Engine noise does intrude into the cabin when the engine revs rise, but this is expected in this class.

Sharp pricing sees the Maxx variant similar to the entry-level models from Honda and Hyundai. This allows a smarter and more premium feel for the CX-3. Mazda trumps the HR-V and Hyundai Kona in the all-important safety stakes. The CX-3 range is fitted with forward and reverse Smart City Brake Support. Additionally, Maxx grade and above get blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-safety alert, none of which are available on the HR-V or Kona in the grade assessed.

If size matters to you in this category then the CX-3 might not be your first choice. While front occupants are well catered for, everything behind the B-pillar is cramped to the point you might not get a rear adult passenger in if the driver is too far beyond six feet tall. Similarly, the cargo space is on the small size, especially when you look at the big boys in the category, the HR-V and Nissan Qashqai.

Inside, the CX-3 gets a modern and classy finish. Judges thought the command control for the infotainment system was first rate and easy to use. Interior materials feature a combination of hard and soft finishes to a much higher standard than you might expect from what is essentially a light vehicle.

Ride quality doesn’t quite match that of the HR-V, although it was difficult to split the CX-3 from the Kona in this area. Handling has always been a hallmark of the Mazda and the CX-3 lives up to expectations in this area. Steering is well weighted and precise, making the Mazda a great all-round drive.

The CX-3 also has an extensive range of variants including a 1.5-litre turbo diesel and AWD with either engine package.

Second place: Honda HR-V VTi


Originally hitting the road at similar times, the HR-V and CX-3 have been going toe-to-toe for a few years now and there hasn’t been too much between them over that time, and not much has changed in this year’s program.

The HR-V has only 4kW less than the CX-3 in terms of engine power, however it’s the 20Nm shortfall in torque for the HR-V’s 1.8-litre engine that opens a clear difference between the two. The HRV makes 172Nm at 4300rpm, whereas the CX-3 delivers its 192Nm at 2800rpm, right in the range you usually drive. That said, the Honda engine is happy to be revved and is pretty smooth right up the rev range, while the CVT is ‘elastic’ with little in the way of a stepping range that most CVTs now program in.

Inside is where the HRV comes into its own and, for a small SUV, four adults can easily be accommodated. Rear-seat passengers get ample head and leg room and Honda’s “magic seats” allow multiple adjustments to accommodate loads of varying shapes and sizes.

The HR-V goes even to the point of having more internal space than vehicles from a class above, but not all of it is positive. Our judges questioned the longer-term wear and tear of the door-panel covering, which is a soft-touch fabric design, and views were the infotainment system is a generation behind the others (though they liked the piano finish and tactility of the AC controls). The multiple-view reversing camera was seen as a plus by the judges.

The five-star ANCAP-rated HR-V has a five-year warranty, however the judges thought it was time for the entire range to get autonomous emergency braking, as it’s only available on the VTi-L variant. Such an upgrade might be the difference for a winning combination in the future.

Third place: Hyundai Kona Active


The Hyundai Kona is the new kid on the block in this category and, as expected from Hyundai these days, it’s a pretty good effort even in entry-spec Active form.

Fitted with a 2.0-litre engine and six-speed auto in Active guise, the numbers are again similar to the Mazda. Fuel economy drops off a little and, while very willing, it does tend to become a little coarse when pushed. A more powerful 1.6-litre turbo with seven-speed DSG auto is available in higher-spec models.

Similar to the HR-V, the Kona Active gets a five-star ANCAP rating but misses out on the latest collision-avoidance technology, which is evident in the safety score. You can specify a safety pack variant with the advanced safety features for an additional $1500, and it's worth the investment in this judge’s view.

Reactions to the interior varied with the Kona. Some thought it was modern and up to date, while others thought the centre touchscreen looked like an afterthought. Either way, you could interact with it easily via the 7.0-inch touchscreen.

Hyundai’s local suspension engineering team have again been at work with their latest release, and it really shows. Similar to the CX-3, the ride is firm but compensated for with crisp handling and competent steering.

A five-year warranty and 15,000-kilometre service intervals make a compelling case for Kona ownership, however a few extra dollars might be needed to get the best from it in terms of performance and safety.

Best Small 2WD SUV Under $35,000

Best Small 2WD SUV Under $35,000

WEIGHTING

Mazda CX-3 Maxx

Honda HR-V VTi

Hyundai Kona Active

Details

Scores are weighted – critical, high, medium or low – according to their importance to buyers of cars in this class. The overall average totals reflect these weightings.

Type: 5-door wagon
Fuel type: 91 RON
Fuel economy: 6.1L/100km
Engine size: 2.0L, 4cyl
Transmission: 6-spd auto
Ind. drive-away: $28,284
ANCAP: 5 stars

Type: 5-door wagon
Fuel type:
91 RON
Fuel economy: 
6.6L/100km
Engine size: 
1.8L, 4cyl
Transmission: 
CVT
Ind. drive-away:
 $28,334
ANCAP:
5 stars

Type: 5-door wagon
Fuel type: 91 RON
Fuel economy: 7.2L/100km
Engine size: 2.0L, 4cyl
Transmission: 6-spd auto
Ind. drive-away: $27,930
ANCAP: 5 stars

VALUE FOR MONEY
Pricing

Critical

6

6

7

Cost of depreciation ($)

Medium

7

7

7

Running and repair costs

High

7

6

7

Fuel consumption

Critical

8

8

6

Warranty and dealer access

High

3

7

8

Insurance

Low

8

6

8

Standard features

High

6

6

6

DESIGN AND FUNCTION
Safety

Critical

9

7

7

Environment

Critical

7

7

6

Seating comfort

Medium

7

6

7

Space

Low

5

7

5

Practicality

High

5

6

5

Ergonomics

High

8

7

7

Build and finish quality

Medium

8

7

7

ON THE ROAD
Performance

Medium

8

7

7

Ride

Medium

7

8

7

Handling

Medium

8

7

8

Braking

Medium

7

6

6

Smoothness and quietness

Low

8

7

6

OVERALL AVERAGE

782

768

758

Best AWD SUV under $50,000

Any number of contenders would have made justifiable winners in this class, one of the most competitive in the Australian market.

Winner: Subaru Outback 2.5i Premium wagon


Australians love small-to-medium size AWD SUV wagons priced under $50,000. This is one of the largest and most competitive categories on the Australian market. Any number of vehicles could justifiably be the winner, depending on individual needs and personal taste.

To come out top of the class in Australia’s Best Cars is a tough job, but to do it multiple times, as the Subaru Outback has done, is certainly an outstanding achievement.

Key to the Outback’s success is its great all-round ability and general versatility. It can cover a wide range of roles and master each better than most, making it an extremely appealing package.

The 2.5i Premium model is competitively priced, generously equipped, and a standout in design and function. It puts a slightly different meaning on the term ‘crossover vehicle’. The Outback cleverly blends the space and practicality of a conventional station wagon with the appeal and functionality of a higher-riding SUV.

The premium-grade cabin has an upmarket feel and the build quality is excellent. Seat comfort is among the best in class and a spacious luggage compartment puts most SUVs to shame, while the simple folding action of the rear seats creates a flat floor and further extends the load capacity.

A mild update at the end of 2017, with more equipment, better infotainment technology and upgraded safety features, as well as refinements to the 2.5i engine, transmission and suspension, make a good vehicle even better and help keep the Outback ahead of the pack.

Subaru’s focus on safety continues to shine as the Outback comes with an excellent five-star ANCAP safety rating, supported by a highly desirable suite of advanced safety technology in the latest generation ‘EyeSight’ package.

In the 2018 model update, the mechanical changes focused mainly on a smoother, more refined engine. The 2.5-litre Outback is still not the fastest or most powerful in its class, but has good performance where it is needed for responsive driving around town and relaxed cruising on the open road.

Some credit must also go to Subaru’s Lineartronic CVT-style automatic, which helps deliver respectable fuel economy, and its operation is far less intrusive than most other similar transmissions.

The Outback also has class-leading ride comfort and surefooted handling. Subaru’s constant AWD system has proven to be one of the best in the business when the bitumen gets wet and slippery or the road surface turns to gravel. While serious rock crawling adventures are beyond practically every vehicle in this class, including the Outback, its off-road ability on rutted tracks, steep inclines, or loose or muddy surfaces, is better than most people would expect or even consider attempting in this class of vehicle.

One area where the Subaru does fall behind is in scheduled servicing which, at six months or 12,500-kilometre intervals, is a little more frequent than that of most other manufacturers, while the standard three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty is relatively short by current expectations. Subaru, however, occasionally runs promotional deals with up to five years cover, which is worth looking out for.

Second place: Subaru XV 2.0i-S


The rejuvenated Subaru XV, built on an all-new platform which it shares with the latest Impreza, has leapt over some excellent vehicles in this class to take a well-earned second place. Fundamentally, the high-riding XV is an Impreza hatchback on steroids.

The XV is the smallest model in Subaru’s impressive SUV wagon line-up. As such, it is tighter on space than other vehicles in the AWD SUV under $50,000 category, but the cabin layout is user friendly and the seats are relatively comfortable, if not quite class leading.

It is in value for money that the XV is strongest, with attractive pricing, good retained value, relatively low fuel consumption and plenty of highly desirable standard features. Top-class safety continues to be a significant part of Subaru’s DNA, with the XV boasting a five-star ANCAP rating and the third-generation EyeSight driver assistance system.

Mechanically, the XV follows a similar formula to the class-winning Outback, with a flat four-cylinder boxer engine (albeit a smaller 2.0-litre unit), CVT-style automatic transmission, and Subaru’s constant AWD system with X-mode for low-speed off-road operation.

While the smaller engine needs to work a bit harder, which is particularly noticeable off-road, it still provides ample performance for everyday use and good fuel economy. On-road, it is also considered one of the best-handling vehicles in the class.

Third place: Kia Sportage GT-Line


The Kia Sportage is a vehicle that continues to impress. In keeping with Australia’s Best Cars’ consumer-focused policy, we always look at the biggest-selling version, which in the Sportage range is the top-grade GT-Line diesel.

Although the GT-Line is more expensive than most of its competitors, you get what you pay for. Equipment levels are excellent, the trim materials have quite an upmarket appearance, and there is a pleasing build quality throughout. For peace of mind, the Kia's lengthy seven-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty provides should not be underestimated either.

The Sportage also has a high degree of safety, its desirable suite of active and passive technologies, including autonomous emergency braking and blind-spot monitoring, helping it achieve a five-star ANCAP rating.

The Sportage is a conventional high-riding, medium-size SUV wagon that is easy to get in and out of. It’s one of the best in class for seat comfort, while all the controls are logically placed and straightforward to operate.

The 2.0-litre turbo-diesel’s strong low-to-mid-range torque, combined with well-matched gearing and slick shifts in Kia’s six-speed automatic, make the GT-Line an enjoyable drive on and off road. It is always in the right gear at the right time. Around town, the diesel engine is smooth and quiet, and for those wanting to get a bit more adventurous, its off-road ability is better than most in this class.

Best AWD SUV under $50,000

Best AWD SUV under $50,000

WEIGHTING

Subaru Outback 2.5i Premium

Subaru XV 2.0i-S

Kia Sportage GT-Line

Details

Scores are weighted – critical, high, medium or low – according to their importance to buyers of cars in this class. The overall average totals reflect these weightings.

Type: 5-door wagon
Fuel type: U91 RON
Fuel economy: 7.3L/100km
Engine size: 2.5L, 4cyl
Transmission: CVT
Ind. drive-away: $47,032
ANCAP: 5 stars

Type: 5-door wagon
Fuel type: 91 RON
Fuel economy: 7.0L/100km
Engine size: 2.0L, 4cyl
Transmission: CVT
Ind. drive-away: $39,246
ANCAP: 5 stars

Type: 5-door wagon
Fuel type: Diesel
Fuel economy: 6.8L/100km
Engine size: 2.0L, 4cyl
Transmission: 6-spd auto
Ind. drive-away: $49,752
ANCAP: 5 stars

VALUE FOR MONEY
Pricing

High

4

7

3

Cost of depreciation ($)

Medium

5

7

3

Running and repair costs

High

5

5

6

Fuel consumption

High

6

7

7

Warranty and dealer access

Medium

3

3

9

Insurance

Low

6

5

8

Standard features

High

8

8

8

DESIGN AND FUNCTION
Safety

Critical

10

10

9

Environment

Critical

6

7

5

Seating comfort

High

9

8

9

Space

Medium

8

5

6

Practicality

High

8

6

7

Ergonomics

High

9

7

8

Build and finish quality

High

9

7

8

ON THE ROAD
Performance

Medium

6

5

7

Ride

Medium

8

7

7

Handling

High

7

8

7

Braking

Medium

7

7

7

Smoothness and quietness

Medium

9

7

8

Off-road ability

Medium

7

6

6

OVERALL AVERAGE

904

872

872