Best AWD SUVs $50,000 - $65,000

Australia's Best Cars 2018

Best AWD SUV $50,000 - $65,000

This category has become one of Australia’s fastest-growing market segments, tempting buyers away from the traditional family sedan.

Winner: Kia Sorento GT-Line


The Kia Sorento has returned to the winner’s list following a subtle but well thought out model update late in 2017, which has made a very good vehicle even better. Of course, there were the usual minor cosmetic changes necessary to distinguish the new model from its predecessor but the real differences lay beneath the surface.

The diesel versions get an all-new conventional-style eight-speed automatic. Having two extra gears provides a better spread of ratios, which helps the 2.2-litre turbo-diesel deliver strong performance and general drivability, both on and off the road. Even more noticeable, though, is the reduction in fuel consumption and the vehicle’s smoother and quieter operation all round.

Kia’s local engineering team has further worked to fine tune the suspension and make it better suited to Australian road conditions. The end result is a compliant, controlled ride that is among the best in the class. This sure-footedness also continues off-road where the Sorento shows plenty of agility.

The highest-selling version in the Sorento line-up is the top-spec GT-Line AWD diesel model. Over recent years, buyers have recognised the long-term value-for-money proposition of it, which now has extra features including a premium sound system, bigger touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, a 360-degree camera view and LED headlights that turn with the steering to help see where you’re heading.

A comprehensive suite of advanced safety technologies supports Sorento’s excellent five-star ANCAP rating. Highly desirable autonomous emergency braking with a forward-collision warning system is now standard across the range, together with a host of other safety features including lane-keep assist, driver-attention alert, rear-view camera and hill-start assist. The GT-Line adds blind spot detection and cross traffic alert.

Relatively affordable running and repair costs, the reassurance of seven years’ capped price servicing and the peace of mind provided by Kia’s class-leading seven-year warranty should also be considered in the buying decision.

The Sorento is a practical and classy family wagon. Seven seats are standard and space and comfort are both considered among the best in class. Leg room in the third row, which is an area where many vehicles in this class fall short, is relatively good in the Sorento, but could still be tight for large adults to travel long distances.  

The GT-Line’s interior is well appointed with leather trim and impressive build quality creating a genuine luxury look and feel. Ergonomically, the Sorento is one of the best in class, with clear instrumentation and well-laid-out controls that fall naturally to hand, which all play a significant role in the vehicle’s overall driving ease.

In such a large and hotly contested category, it’s the Sorento’s consistently high standards over all aspects of long-term ownership (value for money, design and function, and on-road ability) that makes it a worthy class winner in this year’s Australia’s Best Car awards.

Second place: Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander


The Hyundai Santa Fe and the category-winning Kia Sorento will be viewed by many as almost a mirror image of each other. They come from the same stock, but the model launches were staggered and, at the time of the Australia’s Best Cars judging, only the Kia had launched the new model, with the Hyundai appearing several months later.

Essentially, the Hyundai Santa Fe evaluated has the just superseded chassis and the six-speed auto compared to the Kia’s new eight-speed. This alone had an obvious effect on performance and fuel economy, before considering the Kia’s generally uprated chassis and underpinnings.

While design and function scoring puts the two cabins on an identical footing, this Santa Fe doesn’t match the build and finish of the newer Kia. However, when it comes to equipment, the Hyundai still manages to offer more standard features. Likewise, there’s superior smoothness and quietness on the road in the latest Kia, which Hyundai will undoubtably match with its upgraded version.

For this Santa Fe, though, there’s slightly better pricing aided by Hyundai’s clearly superior retained value. With the latest Sorento achieving a five-star ANCAP rating it’s believable that a new Santa Fe would catch up, and bring its existing five-star rating in line with the latest requirements.

It’s difficult, however, to overlook a deficit of 0.6L/100k fuel economy to the newer version and Hyundai still has not matched the lengthy warranty of the Kia. Clearly, most of the Hyundai’s shortcomings in this comparison will be addressed with the launch of the new Santa Fe and the incredibly close battle between the two will continue to leave buyers simply looking for the best deal.

Third place: Volvo XC40 T5 R-Design


The Volvo XC40 is a high-quality vehicle with outstanding individual presence, which only slips into third position in the Australia’s Best Cars comparison as the result of a couple of poor scores.

Within the 20 areas of evaluation, the Volvo has a low score for insurance cost and for its warranty and dealer access across the country. It also suffers slightly in this comparison for its fuel consumption on premium petrol, against a class dominated by diesels.

In all other aspects of design and function or on the road, the XC40 scores consistently among the best in class. In addition to a comprehensive list of features and a class-leading score for safety, the Volvo is a standout for build quality and offers an attractively presented cabin with first-class seating comfort. The equipment level is high and, at $60,342, the on-road pricing is better than the category leaders and the depreciation slope is less steep.

In keeping with its European counterparts, the XC40 is also gifted with an advanced chassis setup that delivers excellent ride and handling dynamics, along with strong balanced braking, providing a pleasing amount of driver engagement and feedback.

The all-wheel-drive in this vehicle is focused on road grip rather than off-road use, while overall performance from its 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine and responsive eight-speed automatic is very good. There’s an overwhelming feeling of vault-like structure in the Volvo’s cabin and a drive that’s delivered with impressive smoothness and quietness.

Best AWD SUV $50,000 - $65,000

Best AWD SUV $50,000 - $65,000

WEIGHTING

Kia Sorento GT-Line

Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander

Volvo XC40 T5 R-Design

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: Diesel
Fuel economy: 7.2L/100km
Engine size: 2.2L, 4cyl
Transmission: 8-spd auto
Ind. drive-away: $63,832
ANCAP: 5 stars

Type: 5-door wagon
Fuel type: 
Diesel
Fuel economy: 
7.8L/100km
Engine size: 
2.2L, 4cyl
Transmission: 
6-spd auto
Ind. drive-away:
 $61,931
ANCAP:
5 stars

Type: 5-door wagon
Fuel type: 95 RON
Fuel economy: 7.7L/100km
Engine size: 2.0L, 4cyl
Transmission: 8-spd auto
Ind. drive-away: $60,342
ANCAP: N/A

VALUE FOR MONEY
Pricing

High

4

4

5

Cost of depreciation ($)

Medium

4

5

6

Running and repair costs

Medium

6

6

6

Fuel consumption

Medium

6

5

3

Warranty and dealer access

Medium

9

8

2

Insurance

Low

8

7

1

Standard features

High

8

9

8

DESIGN AND FUNCTION
Safety

Critical

9

9

10

Environment

Critical

5

5

6

Seating comfort

High

8

8

8

Space

Medium

7

7

6

Practicality

High

9

9

5

Ergonomics

High

9

9

8

Build and finish quality

High

8

7

8

ON THE ROAD
Performance

Medium

6

6

7

Ride

High

7

7

7

Handling

High

7

7

8

Braking

Medium

6

6

7

Smoothness and quietness

Medium

8

7

8

Off-road ability

Medium

6

6

5

OVERALL AVERAGE

868

858

818

Best AWD SUVs $65,000–$125,000

All the things that make a good family car are blended with plenty of off-road smarts in this category.

Winner: Volvo XC60 D4 Inscription


For the last couple of years, Volvo has provided genuine competition to the German and British offerings in the premium SUV market. This year, the XC60, like the XC90 before it, has taken out this prestigious class.

Think ‘SUV’ and you probably think ‘gas guzzlers’, but the finalists all have relatively fuel-efficient 2.0-litre turbo diesel engines with eight-speed automatic transmissions to make the most of the small capacities and keep them in their RPM sweet-spots to maximise responsiveness and efficiency.

Gone are the boxy Volvos of the past and both the internal and external styling of the XC60 are elegant and very much in keeping with the overall brand design shared with the XC90. The cabin has a very upmarket feel, with a mix of woodgrain panels, leather and brushed-metal accents, and intricately cut speaker grilles and shaped air vents.

A customisable, dash-mounted, tablet-like screen provides the driver with a main access point to the XC60’s systems, such as the infotainment system and driving controllers. Physical buttons are limited to demisters, hazard lights, music navigation, volume and a home button for the touchscreen.

The quality of the seats, both in their materials and comfort, is class-leading and the engine start/stop is next to the drive selector and operated via twisting a knob.

Pioneering safety technology is nothing new for Volvo, and this vehicle follows the tradition of the first-generation XC60, which was the first Volvo to get autonomous emergency braking as standard nearly a decade ago.

The new XC60 has a collision-avoidance assistant to help the driver in making evasive manoeuvres, and oncoming lane mitigation, which steers the vehicle away from a potential head-on crash. It also has intersection collision avoidance that automatically applies the brakes if the driver turns in front of an oncoming vehicle.

The all-wheel-drive system is fitted across the range and driving was surprisingly smooth. On the bitumen you aren’t really conscious that you’re driving an SUV and would swear you’re instead driving a well-behaved and competent-handling sedan.

Off-road it didn’t do as well as some in the mud and dirt undulations, mainly due to its city road tyres quickly clogging up and making traction difficult. However, even off-road you feel cossetted in the quiet, safe and comfortable cabin of the XC60.

Living with the XC60 is simple and convenient. There’s a user-friendly tailgate that opens with the swipe of a foot under the bumper. And, while not having the cargo space of the larger XC90, it does have ample storage space.

The XC60’s lower price made it the best-value package in the class. As an extremely drivable vehicle with a comfortable and luxurious interior, the judges just kept piling on the scores to have it winning ahead of its larger and more expensive sibling.

Second place: Volvo XC90 D5 Inscription


The Volvo XC90 lost by a nose to its smaller and more affordable sibling. The reality for the buyer is the decision between these two luxury family-haulers comes down to what size you want and if you can afford an additional $40,000 for the XC90.

Large and luxurious, the XC90 is a premium AWD seven-seat SUV packed with innovative design features. Powering the D5 is a 2.0-litre twin-turbo diesel with an eight-speed automatic transmission and a Haldex AWD system. Although the engine is relatively small for such a large vehicle, the performance is surprisingly responsive, with the smooth-changing auto making good use of the strong torque.

Similar to the XC60, the handling and ride is at its best on the open road. The XC90 has class-leading space and easily accommodates adults in the first two rows of seats, though the third row is best left for children. The dash-mounted, tablet-like screen and soft and supportive nappa leather seats enhance its luxurious feel, while its hands-free auto tailgate is convenient and its LED headlights are auto levelling, auto bending and dusk sensing.

Although the XC60 snatched the win, there’s not much between it and the XC90, and the buying decision will come down to size and price.

Third place: Land Rover Discovery Sport HSE Luxury


Having the pedigree that Land Rover has in SUV-land and feeling the weight on its shoulders of being the smaller sibling of the iconic Discovery, the Discovery Sport didn’t disgrace itself in running a very close third to the two Volvos.

Neither did it let the team down in the premium-feel stakes and, although it doesn’t have the edgier styling of its other sibling, the Evoque, it’s certainly one of the better-looking SUVs around.

What is surprising is how well the SUVs in this category ride and handle on bitumen, despite their high centre of gravity and bulkier mass. This secure feeling is complemented by Land Rover’s signature ‘command’ driving position, which is particularly valuable off-road for better eyeing obstacles.

Land Rover’s easy-to-use and proven All-terrain Response System allows dial-up functionality, which is more user-friendly than Volvo’s screen-based menu of off-road settings.

Under the stubby bonnet, you’ll find Land Rover’s 2.0-litre turbo diesel four-cylinder engine is deceptively quiet and even better at cruising speed, when engine noise and vibrations are almost completely isolated from the cabin.

The Land Rover Discovery Sport is at the more capable end of the off-road AWD SUV spectrum and with the refinement and feel of a luxury sedan.

Best AWD SUV $65,000–$125,000

Best AWD SUV $65,000–$125,000

WEIGHTING

Volvo XC60 D4 Inscription

Volvo XC90 D5 Inscription

Land Rover Discovery Sport SD4 HSE Luxury

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: Diesel
Fuel economy: 5.4L/100km
Engine size: 2.0L, 4cyl
Transmission: 8-spd auto
Ind. drive-away: $67,771
ANCAP: 5 stars

Type: 5-door wagon
Fuel type: 
Diesel
Fuel economy:
5.9L/100km
Engine size: 
2.0L, 4cyl
Transmission: 
8-spd auto
Ind. drive-away:
 $107,003
ANCAP:
5 stars

Type: 5-door wagon
Fuel type: Diesel
Fuel economy: 6.4L/100km
Engine size: 2.0L, 4cyl
Transmission: 8-spd auto
Ind. drive-away: $79,169
ANCAP: N/A

VALUE FOR MONEY
Pricing

High

8

4

7

Cost of depreciation ($)

High

7

4

7

Running and repair costs

Low

5

4

7

Fuel consumption

Medium

9

8

8

Warranty and dealer access

Medium

2

2

2

Insurance

Low

6

6

5

Standard features

High

8

10

8

DESIGN AND FUNCTION
Safety

Critical

10

10

10

Environment

Critical

5

7

6

Seating comfort

Critical

8

8

7

Space

High

6

8

6

Practicality

High

6

7

8

Ergonomics

High

9

9

8

Build and finish quality

Critical

9

9

8

ON THE ROAD
Performance

High

6

6

5

Ride

Critical

7

7

6

Handling

High

7

6

7

Braking

Medium

7

7

7

Smoothness and quietness

High

7

8

7

Off-road ability

High

6

6

7

OVERALL AVERAGE

1044

1042

1022

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