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Best Compact AWD SUVs

For many, a small all-wheel drive wagon offers more capability than they’ll ever need. Loaded with equipment, it’s no wonder these practical and economical do-it-alls are so popular. Here are the best compact AWD SUVs on the market.

IT’S AMAZING the rapid transformation of the Australian vehicle fleet. Just a few years ago traditional passenger cars – sedans, wagons and hatchbacks – were king, and four-wheel drives were just for industry and government fleets, and that small band of people who liked to go on camping holidays in the Aussie bush.

Today, it’s four-wheel drives that are king, in particular big 4×4 utes that offer a fantastic combination of load-carrying capacity, off-road capability, on-road ride performance and comfort, and loads of safety features… not to mention some attractive tax benefits for many ABN holders.

These 4×4 utes aren’t for everyone though. After all, not everyone wants a big ute that’s hard to pilot around town and navigate through confined shopping centre carparks, while others simply don’t need a whole lot of off-road capability. But a decent dose of all-wheel drive security, raised ride-height visibility and wagon versatility is still appealing to many, and for those there are several compact AWD wagons on the market. The bestselling of these are outlined here, and although many of them are also available in two-wheel drive variants, for this story we’re focusing on AWD models only.

Here’s what you can get for your money…

Mitsubishi ASX

The Mitsubishi ASX is currently the bestselling compact SUV in Australia and in all-wheel drive guise it’s available in LS ($32,500) and XLS ($37,500) trim levels.

Both ASX AWD models are powered by a 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, which in turn works with a selectable one-touch AWD system that allows the driver to choose between 2WD for greater efficiency and 4WD for increased traction in slippery conditions.

refreshed 2018 Mitsubishi ASX

The ASX’s oiler produces a claimed 110kW of power at 3500rpm and a very useful 360Nm of torque from a low 1500rpm through to 2750rpm. Claimed fuel economy is an impressive 6L/100km.

Standard equipment on the ASX LS includes a seven-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, multi-information display, climate control air conditioning, leather-covered steering wheel with phone, audio and cruise control switches, reach and rake adjustable steering, height adjustable driver’s seat, 60:40 split folding rear seat, 18-inch alloy wheels, rear privacy glass, fog lamps, DRLs, roof rails, engine immobiliser and alarm. The XLS adds heated front seats, leather seat trim, keyless entry and one-touch start, panoramic glass sunroof, dusk-sensing headlights, auto high beam and rain-sensing wipers.

The ASX was awarded a five-star ANCAP rating in 2014 and it’s loaded with safety features including seven air bags, ABS, EBD, active stability control (ASC), active traction control (ATC), hill start assist (HSA), rear parking sensors, a reversing camera, three child-seat anchors and two ISOFIX points. The XLS model (and LS optioned with Advanced Driver-Assist Systems) also has Forward Collision Mitigation and Lane Departure Warning.

The ASX AWD models have a 470kg payload and a 750/1400kg unbraked/braked towing capacity, with a 140kg maximum tow ball load. The cargo area is reasonably generous for the class with a 393L capacity with all seats in use or 1993L (LS)/1143L (XLS) with the seats folded.

Mitsubishi has done a great job keeping ASX styling up to date and both LS and XLS models are well equipped for the money, so it’s little wonder this vehicle currently sits atop the sales charts.

Mazda CX-3

The Mazda CX-3 AWD is available with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine in Maxx ($26,890), sTouring ($30,990) and Akari spec levels, or with a 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine in sTouring ($33,390) and Akari ($37,890) spec levels.

Nissan Qashqai Vs Mazda CX-3

The petrol engine produces a claimed 109kW of power at 6000rpm and 192Nm of torque at 2800rpm, and has a claimed combined fuel consumption figure of 6.7L/100km. The turbo-diesel engine makes less power, peaking at 77kW at 4000rpm, but substantially more torque, with 270Nm available from 1600-2500rpm. The diesel is also more economical, with a claimed combined figure of 5.1L/100km.

All CX-3 AWD models run the same six-speed automatic transmission, but the diesel models have a taller final drive ratio for more relaxed highway touring.

Standard equipment on the Maxx includes a seven-inch colour touchscreen with internet radio integration, reversing camera, steering wheel audio controls, satnav, air conditioning, keyless start, height adjustable front seats, 60:40 split folding rear seat, rear parking sensors and 16-inch alloy wheels. The sTouring adds climate control air conditioning, keyless entry, 18-inch alloy wheels, DRLs, fog lamps, auto LED headlights, auto folding and heated exterior mirrors, LED tail lights, rain-sensing wipers and colour active driving (multi-information) display. The top-spec Akari also gets a glass sunroof, 10-way power adjustable driver’s seat, heated front seats and leather/suede seat trim.

The CX3 was awarded a five-star ANCAP rating in 2015. Standard safety equipment across the AWD range includes a full suite of front and rear air bags and curtains, ABS, EBD, EBA, traction control, dynamic stability control, emergency stop signal, hill launch assist, top tether and ISOFIX child seat anchorage points, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross traffic safety alert. The sTouring and Akari variants also get Driver Attention Alert (DAA) and Traffic Sign Recognition (TSR). Exclusive to Akari are adaptive LED headlights, lane departure warning and front parking sensors.

The CX3 certainly isn’t as big inside as some of its competitors and with all seats in use it offers a rather compact 264L of cargo space, increasing to 1174L with the rear seats folded. Towing capacity for the petrol engine is 640/1200kg and for the diesel it’s 640/800kg, both with a maximum tow ball load of 50kg.

With Mazda’s innovative G-Vectoring control, the CX-3 is regarded by many as the benchmark for dynamic handling in the class, and its good looks combined with a comprehensive model line-up, two engine choices and competitive pricing have certainly proved popular with Aussie buyers.

Subaru XV

It could be argued that Subaru invented the Compact AWD Wagon category back in the late 1970s, and the Impreza-based XV probably adheres to the original Subaru design philosophy more than any other model in the carmaker’s line-up. The XV is available 2.0i ($27,990), 2.0i-L ($30,340), 2.0i Premium ($32,140) and 2.0i-S ($35,240) trim levels.

2018 Subaru XV 2.0i-S Review

All XV models are powered by Subaru’s 2.0-litre four-cylinder boxer engine that produces a claimed 115kW at 6000rpm and 196Nm at 4000rpm. All models also feature a same seven-speed CVT auto transmission mated to a full-time all-wheel drive system. Subaru claims a combined fuel consumption figure of 7L/100km.

The base-spec 2.0i rides on 17-inch alloy wheels and comes standard with privacy glass, DRLs, fog lights, auto headlights, LED tail lights, climate control air conditioning, rake and reach steering adjustment, height adjustable driver’s seat, colour multi-information display, steering wheel controls for phone, audio and cruise control, tyre pressure monitor, 6.5-inch colour touchscreen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, remote central locking and keyless ignition. In addition the 2.0i-L has Eyesight, with adaptive cruise control, brake light recognition, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, lane sway warning, pre-collision braking, pre collision throttle management and power folding door mirrors. The Premium also has a sunroof and satnav, while the top spec 2.0i-S gets an eight-way power driver’s seat, heated front seats, leather seat trim, rain-sensing wipers, self-levelling and dusk-sensing LED headlights, LED DRLs and 18-inch alloy wheels.

The Subaru XV is loaded with standard safety features and was awarded a five-star ANCAP rating in 2017. Standard across the range is ABS, EBD, BA, traction control, stability control, active torque vectoring, hill hold assist, reversing camera, a full suite of air bags and curtains, three child-seat anchorage points and two ISOFIX points. Higher grades score the aforementioned Eyesight system, and the top-spec 2.0i-S also has Vision Assist, with blind spot monitor, lane change assist, rear cross traffic alert, high beam assist and reverse automatic braking.

When it comes to cargo space, the Subaru XV is bang in the middle of the generous Mitsubishi ASX and the compact Mazda CX3. The XV offers 310L of cargo space with the rear seats in use, expanding to 765L with the seats folded. Towing capacity is 650/1400kg (unbraked/braked trailer) with a maximum tow ball load of 140kg.

While no rock crawler, the XV features Subaru’s X-Mode, which tailors throttle response to suit slippery terrain, adjusts the transmission’s shift response, more evenly distributes torque between front and rear axles, sharpens up the traction control response and enables hill descent control.

Hyundai Kona

The all-wheel drive Kona is available in Active ($28,000), Elite ($32,000) and Highlander ($36,000) trim levels and is powered by Hyundai’s high-tech 1.6-litre gasoline-direct-injection turbo-petrol four-cylinder engine that makes a claimed 130kW of power at 5500rpm and 265Nm of torque from 1500-4500rpm.

2017 Hyundai Kona Review by Practical Motoring

The engine is mated to a seven-speed DCT, which in turn provides power to all four wheels through an active on-demand 4WD system with a 50/50 front and rear lock mode. Hyundai claims a combined fuel consumption figure of 6.7L/100km for the AWD Kona.

As with its competitors, the Kona is loaded with features, starting with the Active model which comes standard with 16-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, seven-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, leather covered steering wheel with controls for audio, phone and cruise control, reach and rake steering adjustment, height adjustable driver’s seat, tyre pressure monitor, keyless entry, engine immobiliser, alarm, 3.5-inch multi-information display and air conditioning. The mid-spec Elite adds 17-inch alloy wheels, rain-sensing wipers, keyless start, leather seat trim, solar control glass, rear privacy glass, climate control air conditioning, skid plate and fog lights. Exclusive to top-spec Highlander are features including high-beam assist, 10-way power driver’s seat and eight-way passenger’s seat, heated and ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel, wireless charging pad, auto-dimming mirror, head-up display, 4.2-inch multi-information display, static bending LED headlights and LED tail lights.

Tested in 2017, the Hyundai Kona was awarded a five-star ANCAP rating. Standard safety gear across the range includes ABS, EBD, BA, traction control, stability control, hill start assist, downhill brake control, emergency stop signal, rear parking sensors, reversing camera, a full suite of air bags and curtains, three child-seat anchorage points and two ISOFIX points. The Elite and Highlander (and Active with Safety Package) add rain-sensing wipers, blind-spot collision warning, driver attention warning, forward collision avoidance, lane keeping assist and rear cross traffic warning. Only Highlander scores High Beam Assist and front parking sensors.

The Kona has a generous interior with a 361L cargo area with the rear seats up, and 1143L with the rear seats folded. Maximum towing capacity is 600kg unbraked and 1300kg braked, with a maximum tow ball weight of 130kg.

Like many other compact SUVs, the Hyundai Kona has up-to-the-minute love-it-or-hate-it styling. According to the sales figures so far in 2018, plenty of Australian buyers love the look.

Toyota C-HR

The designers responsible for the radical looking C-HR were obviously given free rein, as this compact AWD wagon certainly looks nothing like typically conservative Toyotas of years gone by.

2017 Toyota C-HR review by Practical Motoring

The all-wheel drive C-HR is available in AWD ($30,990 and AWD Koba ($35,290) trim levels, both powered by a 1.2-litre direct-injection four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine that makes a claimed 85kW of power from 5200-5600rpm and 185Nm of torque from 1500-4000rpm. The transmission is a CVT mated to a Dynamic Torque Control part-time AWD system that sends torque to the front axle under normal driving conditions and switches to AWD when needed via an electromagnetically controlled coupling in the rear differential housing. Toyota claims a combined fuel consumption figure of 6.5L/100km for the AWD C-HR.

Standard equipment in the base-spec AWD C-HR includes 17-inch alloy wheels, LED DRLs, fog lights, satnav, dual-zone climate control air conditioning, 6.1-inch colour touchscreen with Toyota Link, 4.2-inch colour multi-information display, steering wheel controls for audio, phone and cruise control, reach and rake adjustable steering, power folding heated exterior mirrors, auto dimming interior mirror, engine immobiliser, “C-HR” puddle lamp and active cruise control. The Koba adds smart entry, keyless start, LED headlights and taillights, 18-inch alloy wheels, heated leather trimmed seats, power lumbar adjustment for the driver’s seat and privacy glass.

The C-HR scored a five-star ANCAP rating in 2016. Standard safety features include ABS, EBD, BA, pre-collision safety system, autonomous emergency braking, active cruise control, lane departure alert with steering assist, sway warning system, blind spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, reversing camera, seven airbags, vehicle stability and traction control, trailer sway control, anti-skid brakes, hill-start assist control, brake hold, advanced pitching control, front and rear parking sensors and rain-sensing wipers.

The C-HR has a 60/40 split folding rear seat. The cargo area is reasonably large at 377L with the seats in use; Toyota doesn’t quote a figure with the seats folded. Towing capacity is the least of this quintet at 600kg unbraked/braked.

Toyota may have hoped its C-HR would be further up the sales charts but it faces some seriously stiff competition in the compact AWD wagon segment.

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Dean Mellor

Dean Mellor