2019’s best family wagons

Moving Well | RACV | Posted on 15 November 2019

Australia’s Best Cars testing reveals the best family cars.

If you need to transport a crowd, take a look at the family wagon category, where the final ranking is a tussle between a people mover and large SUVs.

Blue Mazda CX-8 Sport parked on the road

1st - Mazda CX-8 Sport

Type: Five-door SUV
Engine size: 2.2-litre turbo-diesel
Transmission: Six-speed auto
RRP: $43,410 + on-road costs


Dark blue Kia Carnival Platinum being test driven

2nd - Kia Carnival Platinum

Type: Five-door MPV
Engine size: 2.2-litre turbo-diesel
Transmission: Eight-speed auto
RRP: $62,790 + on-road costs


Blue Mazda CX-9 Touring driving on a country highway

3rd - Mazda CX-9 Touring

Type: Five-door SUV
Engine size: 2.5-litre turbo-petrol
Transmission: Six-speed auto
RRP: $52,460 + on-road costs


Winner: Mazda CX-8 Sport

Once for people movers only, this category was previously expanded to include larger SUVs, which these days seem to have been added to the shopping lists of many families seeking style and versatility. This year has been a great result for Mazda’s front-wheel-drive SUVs, taking out the top spot with its CX-8 and a third place with the CX-9. The Kia Carnival has wrestled its way between them, showing once again why it has been a stellar performer in the category for a number of years.

The volume-selling people mover models tend to be those with higher specifications as buyers prefer to shell out more dollars for vehicles with all the bells and whistles. Meanwhile, those opting for an SUV-type solution are going for the lower-specification models. This situation hits hard in the value-for-money stakes, with the initial cash outlay and depreciation for the top-end model Carnival hurting its pricing and depreciation scores. This leads to the CX-8 leaping ahead in the category as it has a $17,000 advantage over the Carnival. 

It’s in the design and function area that the Carnival, as a pure people mover example, fights back. The judges paid particular attention to this area, in particular each row of seating for comfort, ease of access and convenience features. The Carnival will carry eight occupants and a reasonable amount of luggage, has sliding doors on both sides, a clever folding second row, and second- and third-row air conditioning vents. Access is supported by sliding doors on both sides that are auto electric operated.

The two Mazdas are a compromise in the third row, with the CX-9 just marginally bigger than its sibling. The third row will accommodate children with little fuss and there’s room for carting any extras to the sports field on the weekend, but young adults will be less happy with the accommodation space on those longer family trips. Additionally, with the third row in play, you might need to find someone else to carry the cricket kit bags as luggage space is limited in both Mazdas. 

On-road the gap narrows between our podium finishers. The CX-8 and Carnival use the same capacity 2.2-litre diesel engine, with a six-speed auto in the Mazda and eight-speed in the Carnival. The CX-9 uses a 2.5-litre petrol turbo and leads them in terms of performance. Being large vehicles, none will be at home on a race track, but the CX-9 does have a surprisingly dynamic ability for its size. 

When the dust settles, the CX-8 wins by a narrow margin, however kudos must go to the Carnival, which will move more people and luggage more comfortably than anything else on the market.

Best Family Wagon

Best Family Wagon

WEIGHTING

Silver-grey Mazda CX-8 Sport on test circuit

Mazda CX-8 Sport

Dark-blue Kia Carnival Platinum on test track straight

Kia Carnival Platinum

Black Mazda CX-9 Touring on road beside trees

Mazda CX-9 Touring

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: 6spd auto
RRP: $43,410 + ORC

Type: 5dr MPV
Engine size: 2.2L turbo-diesel
Transmission: 8spd auto
RRP: $62,790 + ORC

Type: 5dr SUV
Engine size: 2.5L turbo-petrol
Transmission: 6spd auto
RRP: $52,460 + ORC

VALUE FOR MONEY
Pricing

High

5

1

2

Cost of depreciation ($)

Medium

7

1

2

Running and repair costs

High

8

5

6

Fuel consumption

High

9

5

4

Warranty and dealer access

High

7

9

7

Insurance

Low

8

1

5

Standard features

High

7

8

9

DESIGN AND FUNCTION
Safety

Critical

10

8

10

Environment

Critical

5

5

6

Seating comfort - all rows

Critical

5

7

6

Space

Critical

5

9

6

Practicality

Critical

6

7

6

Ergonomics

High

6

9

7

Build and finish quality

Medium

7

8

8

ON THE ROAD
Performance

Medium

7

7

8

Ride

High

7

8

7

Handling

Medium

7

7

8

Braking

Medium

6

6

6

Smoothness and quietness

Low

7

7

9

OVERALL AVERAGE

868

852

832