4x4Car Advice

The Top 5 Best Medium SUV models for over $40K

THERE is an equation with the following medium SUV models that many families will like.

Each is priced at over $40,000 but below $55,000 even when on-road costs are included. That means, driveaway no more to pay, out the dealership door and no more. They all have all-wheel drive as standard, and manage to combine luxury trimmings with more powerful and/or fuel efficient engines than any of the sub-$40K entry-level five-seat family car crew.

In short, if you’re paying five-figure money and with a 4 or 5 following the dollar sign, you should expect something a cut above the basic expectation of space and versatility provided by most of the SUV crop. Nor should you expect any major failings or great compromises.

Pleasingly, the below five conform to the above request – and in different ways that may be more or less suitable to your individual needs.

Hyundai Tucson Highlander

This South Korean-built medium SUV is a rare example where the top model grade – if not the top engine – is the pick of the whole range.

Priced from $46,500+ORC or $50,996 driveaway, the Tucson Highlander delivers such staggering all-round virtues. Its 130kW/265Nm 1.6-litre turbo petrol engine isn’t the fastest, and nor is the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic the smartest, but in both cases they are enjoyably above average. The handling isn’t the sportiest, either, but the lush ride quality and direct steering imbues this Hyundai with a near-indulgent, yet balanced character.

The trend continues, because the cabin isn’t the biggest you’ll find, especially in the boot area, but its seats are superb, the build quality is excellent and it’s absolutely loaded with equipment – 19-inch alloy wheels, leather trim, heated/ventilated and electrically adjustable front seats, panoramic sunroof, adaptive cruise control, a brilliant active lane-keep assistance, impressive Infinity audio system, satellite navigation, digital radio, wireless smartphone charging, the list goes on and on…

Factor in a five year warranty, plus annual or 12,000km servicing for $885 over three years/36,000km or $1290 to four years/48,000km, and you have an all-round superstar for $50K driveaway.

Volkswagen Tiguan 162TSI Highline

If the Tucson Highlander does everything really well, then the Tiguan 162TSI Highline kicks things off with one standout virtue: performance.

It may cost $49,490+ORC or $55,257 driveaway, and is therefore pricier than the Hyundai, but Volkswagen’s 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine blows it away with an additional 32kW/85Nm, totalling 162kW/350Nm. It’s powerful enough for a 6.5-second 0-100km/h that is about two seconds quicker.

That will be money well spent for some. Otherwise, equipment follows all of the above, except that premium audio isn’t standard, a digital radio and wireless smartphone charging aren’t available, and a panoramic sunroof is a $2000 option – which is a bit mean. At least it brings unique items such adaptive suspension and tri-zone (versus dual-zone) climate control. It’s a dead heat inside, with a bigger boot offset by firmer seating and cheaper plastics.

This German-badged contender also only typically gets a three-year warranty, too, though if you buy before December 31 that’s extended to five years. It can also be forgiven, given that annual or 15,000km intervals are longer than what Hyundai requires, and it asks a competitive $1304 (to the others) to three years or 45,000km.

Mazda CX-5 Akera diesel

A 2.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine has arrived in the CX-5 Akera, but we haven’t yet driven it. For now it’s wise to choose the 2.2L turbo-diesel over the 2.5L non-turbo petrol.

That’s simply because the latter really can’t compete for above $40K, hence the imminent release of a turbo version. In any case, Mazda’s diesel is the best in the class, with immediate response and sterling economy of 5.7 litres per 100 kilometres (versus the above unleaded pair’s 7.7L/100km for Tucson, 8.1L/100km for Tiguan).

Load up this medium SUV with kids and luggage, and it will continue to feel effortless, backed by the smartest (six-speed) automatic among this lot by far, and the most compelling blend of steering, ride and handling. The dashboard and trim also best both of the above, with seats that closely rival the Hyundai, though rear legroom and boot space are also a little bit down on the above duo – pros and cons.

Annual or 10,000km servicing is another downside, though the $1389 spend to four years or 40,000km is competitive and a five-year warranty is standard. An CX-5 Akera also gets gear such as head-up display, 360-degree camera and automatic-adaptive high-beam missing in the others, plus heated/ventilated seats, sunroof and more, for $49,670+ORC or $54,647 driveaway. It delivers the best blend of affordability, luxury, drivability and frugality here.

Ford Escape Titanium

Meet the oldest contender here, with an interior that feels plasticky and offers the smallest boot – but only just. The Escape Titanium is not an ‘all rounder’, but stay with us because it’s also the most affordable contender, yet it comes fully loaded with equipment and an equal-fastest engine.

Think of it as a cut-price Tiguan. For $45,480+ORC or $50,205 driveaway, the Ford’s 178kW/345Nm 2.0-litre turbo almost matches the $5K-pricier Volkswagen for performance, yet it offers a superior auto transmission. Okay, you’ll need another $800 for should-be-standard adaptive cruise control, auto high-beam and active lane-keep assist, but the Titanium uniquely here comes with auto reverse-park assistance, plus leather trim, heated seats, power tailgate, panoramic sunroof – it’s a list to equal CX-5 or Tucson, but with real power.

If you can get past the slightly chintzy instrumentation, and mildly squeezy back seat, you’ll actually find a thoughtfully pragmatic cabin with good infotainment too. There are tray tables for rear passengers, matching only Tiguan here, plus digital radio and premium audio unlike the Volkswagen, in addition satellite navigation and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto common to every other contender on this list.

Five years of warranty is now standard, and Ford will throw in a free loan car for you with its capped-price servicing. With annual or 15,000km intervals, costing just $1185 to three years or 45,000km –  the cheapest here, and sealing Escape’s place.

Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk

Just one quick question before we begin. Do you spend any time off-road, as in properly on mushy sand, rock climbing or mud-busting? If no, then see the above rivals. If yes, then read on and all about this Cherokee Trailhawk.

Priced at $48,450+ORC or $50,950 driveaway, this Jeep is the only proper off-roader here. Even compared with cheaper Cherokees, the Trailhawk gets a more hardcore all-wheel drive system with extra driver-select modes, a locking rear differential, hill-descent control, bush-friendly tyres, underbody skid plates, twin-front tow hooks, 221mm of ground clearance (up from 185mm), and approach, departure and ramp-over angles of 29.9, 22.9 and 32.2 degrees respectively – up from 18.9, 19.5 and 25.

In short, it places about the distance from Sydney and Uluru between its off-road ability and that of the above four rivals. And it isn’t like you’re getting a dud inside or on the road. In particular the infotainment system is an equal-benchmark with the Hyundai, matching it for everything except wireless phone charging. The seats are cushy, the boot is huge and rear legroom is decent, if no more.

The 3.2-litre petrol V6 is a really charming engine, but it loves to drink fuel, and the 1800kg-plus Chekka is the heaviest of these five by some margin. Together with a ditzy nine-speed automatic, its on-road manners just aren’t in the same league as the above crew. So there’s a compromise, though this US brand at least offers a five year warranty. Now they need to work on servicing costs – annual or 12,000km checks cost $2155 to four years or 48,000km. That’s the sort of ‘ouch’ akin to what others make when they crunch their bellies off road.


Dan DeGasperi

Dan DeGasperi