Used car case study: medium SUV

RoyalAuto magazine

In the market for a used medium SUV? RACV vehicle tester Greg Hill offers some pointers.

Report by Greg Hill.
May 2018.


George and Jane are preparing for retirement and want a near-new car to drive into this next chapter in life. Some interstate touring is planned and towing ability would be handy. But they don’t want anything too big, as a lot of their time will still be spent in the city and suburbs.

That rules out the sports car, such as a Mazda MX-5 or Toyota 86, that George would dearly love, and neither he nor Jane are nimble enough to enjoy such a small, low car anyway.

The best choice

In reality their best choice, for its comfort, upright seating, good visibility and ease of access, is a medium SUV, for which there are plenty of strong offerings in our market.

Most medium SUVs are available in two-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive versions, although two-wheel drive is often only in the base spec and with a smaller, less-powerful engine. This is also where you’re likely to find a manual transmission option. A higher-spec automatic petrol model is a more sensible choice, with the stronger performance of a larger engine and the extra traction of all-wheel drive, as well as providing more comfort and safety features. Some diesels are available but they mostly require regular highway-speed runs to ensure proper function of the particulate filter system, which is expensive to repair. 

Check for damage

Even though most medium SUVs will only have been used on the highway, with an occasional trip down a dirt road, it is still a good idea to look for under-body damage, because previous owners may have taken full advantage of the 4WD to explore rough tracks or go off-road.

As with all used cars, an up-to date service history is important. Normal wear items such as tyres and brakes, minor rattles and the occasional cooling system or oil leak are the most common problems RACV vehicle inspectors find on the models reviewed here. Many could still have a portion of their new car warranty remaining.

RACV, the provider of Victoria's most trusted car insurance


And car history

If buying privately, a Personal Property Securities Register check is money well spent. It provides vital information such as whether the car has been a repairable write-off, is stolen or has finance owing. Go to ppsr.com.au. It’s also worth checking if a model is the subject of a recall (at productsafety.gov.au/products/transport/cars). As with all makes, you can find the occasional horror story but generally the vehicles mentioned here have a good reputation for reliability.

Top sellers such as Mazda CX-5, Hyundai Tucson and Toyota RAV4 are the starting points, but behind them the likes of Mitsubishi Outlander, Kia Sportage and Honda CR-V should be considered. Here’s why.

Mitsubishi Outlander has always been a solid performer. Although not the most refined model, it is good value for money. Outlander has been around in its current form since 2012 with updates along the way refining the mechanical set-up and adding features. Outlander can be found in petrol, diesel and hybrid models, and the majority on the used car market are the 2.4-litre petrol versions. The running gear, much of which is shared with other Mitsubishi models, is well proven, and Outlander has an excellent reputation for reliability.

Performance of the petrol engines (2.0-litre and 2.4-litre), mostly coupled with a CVT-style automatic, is more than adequate for everyday use, as is the general ride and handling. The cabin is roomier than most and comes in five and seven-seat configurations.

Like the diesel models, consider how you’ll use it before looking at the hybrid Outlander, the PHEV. Its advantage is for short trips around town where there’s regular access to charging.

Safety: 5-star. Towing: 1600kg (160kg ball load). Fuel economy: 8.0-10.0L/100km. Price range: $22,000-$43,000.

Kia Sportage grew in size with the  2016 model, and bold bodylines give it a distinctive look. Kia’s reputation for quality has grown steadily and Sportage is now among the best in class. The cabin is invitingly modern, with all the controls laid out in a logical fashion, while the instrumentation is clear and easy to read at a glance. The extra rear leg room and luggage space provided by the 2016 model’s longer wheelbase, as well as increased head room, is welcome, but it’s more of a catch-up than a class-leading move.

With four equipment grades and three engines – 2.0-litre and 2.4-litre petrol and 2.0-litre diesel – there are plenty of options, and in typical Kia style even the base models are well kitted out for the price. All models employ a conventional six-speed auto, whereas many of its competitors have gone for a CVT, and driveline choice is evenly split between the front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive.

Most owners appear to be very happy with Sportage. A few have expressed disappointment in the radio/multimedia system, and there are a few minor blind spots in rearward vision. Kia’s lengthy seven-year warranty is a plus.

Safety: 5-star. Towing: 1500kg (100kg ball load). Fuel economy: 8.5-11.0L/100km. Price range: $24,000-$40,000.

Honda CR-V’s size, refinement, functional layout and roomy cabin suit a lifestyle that encompasses a wide range of transport needs, backed up by Honda’s usual excellent build quality and reliability. When compared with many others in the class, rear-seat occupants will appreciate the cabin’s width and extra leg room.

On the road, CR-V has always been a well-mannered, solid performer, and in mid-2017, Honda built on its appeal with the stylish fifth-generation model, which employs a 1.5-litre turbo petrol engine across the range. It delivers more power and better fuel economy.  Pre-2017 models are recommended for servicing every six months or 10,000 kilometres, more frequent than most. For later versions it’s every 12 months.

Safety: 5-star. Towing: 1600kg (200kg ball load). Fuel economy: 8.5-10.5L/100km. Price range: $22,000-$42,000.

Also consider:  Ford Escape, Subaru Forester, Nissan X-Trail and Renault Koleos.

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