2019’s best AWD SUVs under $55,000

Moving Well | RACV | Posted on 15 November 2019

Australia’s Best Cars testing reveals the best AWD SUVs under $55,000 in 2019.

This category has become one of Australia’s fastest-growing market segments, with an abundance of excellent entry-level all-wheel-drive SUVs to choose from.

White Toyota RAV4 GXL Hybrid parked on a road

1st - Toyota RAV4 GXL Hybrid

Type: Five-door SUV
Engine size: 2.5-litre hybrid
Transmission: CVT auto
RRP: $44,640 + on-road costs


Blue Subaru Forester 2.5i-S driving on a dirt track

2nd - Subaru Forester 2.5i-S

Type: Five-door SUV
Engine size: 2.5-litre petrol
Transmission: CVT auto
RRP: $41,940 + on-road costs


White Mazda CX-5 driving past trees

3rd - Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport

Type: Five-door SUV
Engine size: 2.5-litre petrol
Transmission: Six-speed auto
RRP: $38,590 + on-road costs


Winner: Toyota RAV4 GXL Hybrid

Australia’s love affair with small-to-medium SUVs continues to grow. Buyers in the all-wheel-drive SUV under $55,000 category now have a plethora of excellent models to chose from, which makes the RAV4 GXL AWD Hybrid’s win in this important category an outstanding achievement.  

The RAV4 took a significant step up with the all-new 2019 model. While the regular top combatants in this category – the Subaru Forester and Mazda CX-5 – weren’t far behind in second and third place, the RAV4 matches their strengths in on-road ability, comfort and space, and then raises the stakes with category-leading fuel economy and lower emissions, as well as being the smoothest and quietest. As it’s a recently released model, the RAV4’s five-star ANCAP rating was achieved under the tougher 2019 test requirements, so it also gains maximum points for safety. 

Toyota’s new global platform provides the RAV4 with a solid foundation for improved driving dynamics and impressive ride comfort, while a longer wheelbase and extra width create more useable cabin space, particularly for rear occupants. Seating up to five, the RAV4’s redesigned seats provide good comfort and support. The luggage compartment is also one of the most spacious in the category. For the driver, the all-new layout is clean and simple with easy-to-read instrumentation and logically positioned switches. 

The introduction of Toyota’s well-proven petrol/electric hybrid technology has added a new dimension to the RAV4 line-up and gives it a distinct point of difference over the competition. Using a similar system to the Camry hybrid with minor tweaking to suit SUV requirements, the AWD version employs a third electric motor to drive the rear wheels. For everyday driving, the Hybrid’s electric motors add extra punch down low, with the petrol and electric power sources combining to provide brisk performance and seamless transition between the two. It can also be driven short distances on electric power only (in EV mode).   

Like most vehicles in this category, the main benefit of the RAV4’s AWD system is the reassuring extra traction it provides if the bitumen is wet and slippery or when travelling on loose gravel or dirt roads. For the odd occasion when you might want to venture onto rougher tracks, the hybrid AWD system has proven itself to be as capable as other more conventional mechanical AWD setups in the category – the majority of which are on-demand AWD systems. In most cases, the limiting factors will be ground clearance and tyre grip, rather than any problems with the ability of the hybrid AWD system.     

The GXL model’s purchase price and ownership costs are competitive with other brands’ top-selling variants. It has a respectable rather than generous level of standard equipment, however, as some of the money goes to pay for advanced technology in the hybrid system. 

The second-placed Subaru Forester is a talented all-rounder that’s right at home around town, on the open road or off the beaten track. Its superb constant all-wheel-drive system provides ample off-road ability for this type of vehicle, which appeals to the more adventurous family buyers. The Forester’s low waistline and thin pillars also mean its visibility is the best in the category.   

The fractionally smaller Mazda CX-5 rounds out the top three and lives up to the Mazda “Zoom-Zoom” slogan with responsive steering and handling, making it one of the more dynamic and involving SUVs in the category.

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

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

WEIGHTING

White Toyota RAV4 GXL Hybrid SUV on test track

Toyota RAV4 GXL Hybrid

Mid-blue Subaru Forester 2.5i-S SUV on dirt track

Subaru Forester 2.5i-S

White Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport SUV on road

Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport

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: 2.5L hybrid
Transmission: CVT auto
RRP: $44,640 + ORC

Type: 5dr SUV
Engine size: 2.5L petrol
Transmission: CVT auto
RRP: $41,940 + ORC

Type: 5dr SUV
Engine size: 2.5L petrol
Transmission: 6spd auto
RRP: $38,590 + ORC

VALUE FOR MONEY
Pricing

High

5

5

6

Cost of depreciation ($)

Medium

7

8

10

Running & repair costs

High

8

5

9

Fuel consumption

High

8

6

6

Warranty & Dealer Access

Medium

8

7

7

Insurance

Low

7

7

7

Standard features

High

6

7

5

DESIGN AND FUNCTION
Safety

Critical

10

10

8

Environment

Critical

10

6

6

Seating Comfort

High

7

8

7

Space

Medium

7

7

6

Practicality

High

5

8

5

Ergonomics

High

8

9

8

Build and finish quality

High

7

8

7

ON-THE-ROAD
Performance

Medium

7

6

7

Ride

Medium

8

8

7

Handling

High

7

7

8

Braking

Medium

7

7

7

Smoothness & quietness

Medium

9

8

8

Off-road ability

Medium

5

8

5

OVERALL AVERAGE

934

914

870