Softroaders have become the default purchase for many Australian families but if you want to head off-road, there’s one box you need to tick.
Softroaders have become the default purchase for many Australian families but if you want to head off-road, there’s one box you need to tick.

The one item every SUV should have

THE QUESTION

I own a Toyota Prado diesel in rural NSW and want to downsize to a mid-size petrol SUV. I want a five-seater with good legroom for rear adult passengers and full-size spare wheel for rural bitumen and gravel roads. I've mainly had Toyotas the past 25 years, but am open-minded to alternatives with reliability, safety, fuel economy and reasonable servicing and parts.

Barry Cox, email

ANSWER

Many car companies underestimate how important a full-size spare is to certain buyers, especially those in rural regions. The current crop of medium SUVs is quality-packed, but I'll omit any not offering a full-size spare. These days petrol medium SUVs are more popular than diesels, and a new one should give better economy than your heavier diesel Prado.

Toyota’s RAV4 Hybrid has been a runaway success. Picture: Supplied.
Toyota’s RAV4 Hybrid has been a runaway success. Picture: Supplied.

CHOICES

TOYOTA RAV4 2WD GX, about $36,400 drive-away

The latest RAV4 has been an in-demand sales superstar because, simply, it's an excellent vehicle. Popular Hybrid versions are ideally suited to urban life - the basic 2.0-litre petrol is better for your location. Only the entry-level GX has a full-size spare option. This limits you to 2WD, but if you won't venture more hardcore than gravel roads, AWD really isn't necessary. Safety items include automated emergency braking (AEB), radar cruise control, blind-spot assist, rear cross-traffic alert (RCTA) and more, plus there's Toyota's legendary reliability. Services are a bargain $1075 for five years and the boot is a massive 542L, even with that full-size spare. Economy is good at 6.5L/100km, while rear space, reclining rear seats and ease of entry are standouts.

The Subaru Forester has excellent vision and a roomy cabin. Picture: Supplied.
The Subaru Forester has excellent vision and a roomy cabin. Picture: Supplied.

SUBARU FORESTER 2.5i AWD, about $39,735 drive-away

If you need more off-road ability it's hard to look past the all-wheel-drive Forester. There's 220mm ground clearance, a smart off-road mode, proper adult space in the back and a comfy and quiet ride. The entry-level 2.5i has key safety features such as lane-keep assist, AEB, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitor and RCTA. Petrol use is 7.4L/100km, while the first five services cost $2400. It's short on driving thrills, but the Forester's an impressive all-rounder and all-wheel-drive is welcome on wet, icy or gravel roads.

The Mitsubishi Outlander is well equipped and attractively priced. Picture: Supplied.
The Mitsubishi Outlander is well equipped and attractively priced. Picture: Supplied.

MITSUBISHI OUTLANDER ES 2WD AUTO, $32,990 drive-away

The value-for-money pick, especially now Mitsubishi offers a 10-year warranty if you service with the dealer, which gives huge peace of mind. You only need a five-seat 2WD version (although there are AWD variants), and safety includes AEB, lane departure warning and active cruise control, but there's no RCTA or blind-spot warning. For $35,990 drive-away you can get these in the LS model, which also has seven seats, the front ones heated.

Economy from the 124kW 2.4-litre four-cylinder - which is no firecracker - is average at 7.2L/100km. I was hugely impressed with its rear space, made even more comfortable with reclining seats. The boot's a good size at 477L, while the first five services cost just $1495.

The Honda CR-V has just has an overdue facelift. Picture: Supplied/
The Honda CR-V has just has an overdue facelift. Picture: Supplied/

WILDCARD

Honda CR-V VTi 2WD, about $37,000 drive-away

Many older drivers swear by the Honda CR-V's ease of entry and exit. The pick is the VTi five-seater, featuring a spritely 140kW turbo petrol engine. There's AEB, lane-keep assist and radar cruise control, but no blind-spot monitor or RCTA. The cabin's massive in five-seater guise, while the boot has a low lip to throw in up to 522L of cargo. Honda has a strong reputation for reliability, while services cost only $312 per year for the first ten years.

VERDICT

It's hard to look past the RAV4 as the best all-rounder for comfort, reliability, space and safety, especially as you've been a Toyota loyalist. I'd put my money their way, unless AWD was non-negotiable. If that's the case, the Outlander's your value pick, but the Forester will give you far better off-road opportunities.

Originally published as The one item every SUV should have


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