2019’s best AWD SUVs $55,000 to $70,000

Moving Well | RACV | Posted on 15 November 2019

Australia’s Best Cars testing reveals the best AWD SUVs for $55,000 to $75,000.

Safety, performance and flexibility are what buyers in this mid-priced SUV category are looking for, and there’s plenty to tempt them.

Grey Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander diesel parked on a test track

1st - Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander diesel

Type: Five-door SUV
Engine size: 2.2-litre turbo-diesel
Transmission: Eight-speed auto
RRP: $60,500 + on-road costs


Grey Kia Sorento GT parked on a test track

2nd - Kia Sorento GT-Line diesel 

Type: Five-door SUV
Engine size: 2.2-litre turbo-diesel
Transmission: Eight-speed auto
RRP: $58,990 + on-road costs


Test driving a blue Volvo XC40 T4 Inscription

3rd - Volvo XC40 T4 Inscription

Type: Five-door SUV
Engine size: 2.0-litre turbo-petrol
Transmission: Eight-speed auto
RRP: $51,990 + on-road costs


Winner: Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander diesel

Hyundai’s Santa Fe leapfrogged its mechanically related cousin, the Kia Sorento, to take out the 2019 Australia’s Best Cars category for AWD SUVs from $55,000 to $70,000. The fourth-generation Santa Fe – introduced in July 2018 – built on the positives of its popular predecessor, with larger dimensions in almost all areas, a notable lift in interior space and comfort, and more safety tech. It’s a perfect all-rounder for buyers that need the flexibility of a genuine seven-seater, but who also appreciate an engaging drive experience.

Hyundai ushered in a bold new design for the latest Santa Fe, with an ultra-modern look featuring split headlights and the brand’s signature ‘cascading’ grille at the front. But some of the biggest changes are found in the cabin. In the flagship Highlander guise, the Santa Fe has soft-touch materials on the dash and doors and interesting design elements throughout. It provides a feeling that this is a much more premium vehicle than its price-tag suggests. Superb front seats aid in this feat – not only do they look the part, they’re perfectly bolstered and have 14-way adjustment (including a cushion extension) for the driver and eight-way adjustment for the passenger.

Space in the second row is ample and is well-shaped for child seats. A switch folds the second row flat and there’s easy access to the third row. It’s more spacious than the previous model back there, with room for kids and plenty of storage, but adults might find it a little too compact.

Safety wise, the Santa Fe was awarded a five-star ANCAP crash rating in 2018 and the Highlander has the full suite of Hyundai SmartSense active safety gear that includes autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, safe exit assist to mitigate against dooring, and active cruise control with stop and go. The Santa Fe Highlander’s overall standard features list was rated highly in the category.

The 2.2-litre turbo-diesel in the Santa Fe isn’t a new engine, but it was revised for the new model and is paired with a smooth-shifting, eight-speed automatic transmission, driving all four wheels. Even though it shares the engine with the Kia Sorento GT-Line, it’s slightly more responsive in the Hyundai, missing out on the lag of the Kia. It’s also quieter, reflecting Hyundai’s focus on cabin insulation and eliminating road and engine noise.

The Santa Fe coped with nasty corrugations surprisingly well and its all-wheel-drive system proved effective on a decent stretch of unsealed road during testing, but its off-road ability is limited in ground clearance. Hyundai’s Australian engineers tuned the suspension setup for local conditions and it makes for a dynamically engaging drive experience through twisty roads, something not a lot of large family SUVs can manage. Combined with the torquey diesel and nicely weighted steering, the Santa Fe has one of the best drive experiences of any large SUV on the market right now – regardless of badge.

The other two podium finishers also made last year’s top three, highlighting how strong they both are. The Kia Sorento is in the final year of its lifecycle, so it’s starting to look a little dated inside, but its exterior styling is as fresh as it was when it launched in mid-2015 and it’s still a fantastic offering. Despite the light turbo lag, the Sorento is a joy to drive and offers exceptional value for money.

The third-placed Volvo XC40 appeals to different buyers from the two Korean cars but it’s surprisingly spacious for a small SUV. It’s one of the best in its class for driving dynamics and overall performance from its sweet turbo-petrol engine. The XC40’s upmarket cabin has gorgeous seats and appealing Swedish design touches that are the icing on the cake.

While the two runners-up thoroughly deserve their podium spots, in the end the Santa Fe ticked the most boxes, coming out on top thanks to its cost of ownership, excellent ergonomics and interior design, a healthy standard features list, and winning on-road performance.

Best All-Wheel-Drive SUV $55,000-$70,000

Best All-Wheel-Drive SUV $55,000-$70,000

WEIGHTING

Mid-grey Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander diesel parked on test circuit

Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander diesel

Metallic-grey Kia Sorento GT-Line diesel on test track

Kia Sorento GT-Line diesel

Dark-grey Volvo XC40 T4 Inscription SUV parked on test track

Volvo XC40 T4 Inscription

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: 5dr SUV
Engine size: 2.2L turbo-diesel
Transmission: 8spd auto
RRP: $60,500 + ORC

Type: 5dr SUV
Engine size: 2.2L turbo-diesel
Transmission: 8spd auto
RRP: $58,990 + ORC

Type: 5dr SUV
Engine size: 2.0L turbo-petrol
Transmission: 8spd auto
RRP: $51,990 + ORC

VALUE FOR MONEY
Pricing

High

3

4

6

Cost of depreciation ($)

Medium

4

6

7

Running & repair costs

Medium

6

6

2

Fuel consumption

Medium

5

6

5

Warranty & Dealer Access

Medium

8

9

2

Insurance

Low

7

8

6

Standard features

High

9

7

5

DESIGN AND FUNCTION
Safety

Critical

9

8

10

Environment

Critical

5

5

6

Seating Comfort

High

8

7

8

Space

Medium

7

7

5

Practicality

High

8

9

6

Ergonomics

High

9

8

7

Build and finish quality

High

7

7

8

ON-THE-ROAD
Performance

Medium

7

7

7

Ride

High

7

7

7

Handling

High

7

7

8

Braking

Medium

6

6

7

Smoothness & quietness

Medium

7

7

8

Off-road ability

Medium

6

6

5

OVERALL AVERAGE

842

834

804