It’s time to hit the road and discover which mid-size SUV has the best mix of performance, handling and ride for Aussie road conditions
It’s not asking too much to expect any new car to iron out the bumps on the road, handle corners predictably and deliver smooth, quiet, responsive and economical engine performance. Or is it? We’ve lined up 14 high-spec and high-calibre contenders for carsales’ Best Mid-Size SUV 2022, but there’s a diverse range of capabilities on show here. Some hit the bullseye and deliver an excellent all-round driving experience, while others run wide of the mark in some areas.
One of the problems of taking any new vehicle for a test drive before you buy is that you rarely have the opportunity to drive it for very long and you’re restricted to a limited range of road conditions.
You may only discover much later that the vehicle in question really lacks the oomph for overtaking with the family on board, or that it crashes over big bumps, making it frustrating and tiring to drive at times.
Well, we’re here to help.
With the 14 candidates for carsales’ Best Mid-Size SUV 2022, we’ve driven them all across a wide range of conditions and measured them against key parameters such as engine performance, ride quality, dynamics and refinement.
In terms of economy, the difference between the most fuel-efficient model on test and the biggest guzzler is significant, based on the official combined-cycle test that provides an average consumption figure across city and highway environs.
The Skoda Karoq 140TSI is the most economical at 6.9L/100km, while the MG HS gulps down 9.5L/100km.
Although the Skoda must run on a minimum 95RON premium fuel – as does the Ford Escape and Volkswagen Tiguan 162TSI – the MG and the remaining models can be filled with regular 91RON petrol.
Beyond the Karoq and HS, the other SUVs lining up here settle in a range between 7.2L/100km (Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage) and 8.5L/100km (Volkswagen Tiguan).
All have a similar fuel tank capacity, with the smallest (54 litres) belonging to the Hyundai and Kia and the largest (63 litres) fitted to the Subaru Forester.
Looking at the bigger picture, the Volkswagen Tiguan 162TSI offers the best overall balance in driving performance of our 14 contenders.
The VW’s 162kW/350Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine is a punchy unit that really gets the Tiguan moving.
The German brand’s mid-size SUV is also a dynamically adroit model that’s well suited to often patchy Australian road conditions, staying unflustered over potholes, lumps and bumps.
Another Euro-bred model, the Ford Escape, also impressed with its performance and dynamic capabilities.
The Escape’s 183kW/387Nm 2.0-litre turbo-four has the highest output in this group, setting it apart from its competitors and proving an advantage on the road. The engine teams up well with an eight-speed automatic that provides crisp and smooth changes.
The Escape also turns-in fast – thanks to light, direct steering – and holds the road well. While ride quality isn’t harsh over bigger bumps, on small road imperfections it can become fidgety – even irritating – over what would normally appear to be a relatively smooth surface.
The new Kia Sportage is next best. Producing 132kW at a conservative 5500rpm, and a solid 265Nm of torque at just 1500rpm, the 1.6-litre turbo-petrol four deals well with the new Sportage’s borderline hefty kerb mass.
A willing performer, the engine emits a pleasantly muted growl and has the accelerator responses to inspire confidence on the road. The only issue is the dual-clutch transmission’s over-eagerness at dropping down a ratio when it seems unnecessary.
On the flipside, the Kia Sportage’s Australian-tuned MacPherson strut front, four-link rear suspension set-up combines with well-weighted steering to provide a ride and handling balance that’s altogether much more resolved than any Sportage we’ve driven before – and one of the best combinations of dynamics and comfort in this group.
The Skoda Karoq is up next, its smooth and powerful 140kW/320Nm 2.0-litre turbo engine delivering the goods. Power from the 140TSI is both accessible and plentiful, with peak torque arriving from just 1500rpm.
The force-fed engine will happily rev to its circa-6200rpm cut-out, at which point the rapid-fire seven-speed dual-clutch transmission quickly finds the next gear.
Faithful steering and admirable levels of body control also ensure the Karoq remains controlled through faster corners.
A class favourite over many years, the Mazda CX-5 is still a worthy competitor for its overall performance, ride and handling polish.
The 140kW/252Nm 2.5-litre engine is refined and responsive, and finds a smooth and willing partner in the six-speed auto. The CX-5’s handling is lively and the steering response is better than you’d expect for a mid-size SUV.
Following close behind is the Hyundai Tucson, which shares its powertrain and platform with the Sportage, but not its local suspension tune – and that makes a big difference.
The Tucson is heavier than the Sportage too, which blunts the performance of the 132kW/265Nm 1.6-litre turbo-petrol engine a little. There’s good pulling power down low, but asking more of it at speed leaves the driver wanting more.
That said, the popular Hyundai’s proves itself to be almost as dynamically capable as the Sportage, offering decent grip and little body roll when pushing it. The new Tucson is nimble and easy to place on the road, but it’s less controlled on bumpy roads and doesn’t steer with the agility of the Sportage.
As you might expect, the Toyota RAV4 still looms large in the mirrors of its major competitors.
It might not be at the top of this class for performance, but the RAV’s combination of a punchy 152kW/243Nm 2.5-litre engine and slick eight-speed auto result in a swift, efficient mid-size SUV that’s always able to find the right gear and makes the most of what it’s got under the bonnet.
There’s only a modicum of body roll during swift directional changes, while the 235/55 tyres wrapping decent-size 19-inch alloy wheels conspire to find a good balance between road grip and ride comfort.
The Subaru Forester is next on the ladder, impressing with its accomplished dynamics and brilliant ride comfort but ultimately lacking polish in the powertrain department.
The Forester feels surprisingly agile and engaging while still providing a supple ride and a relatively quiet cabin at cruising speeds. The steering is perhaps a touch too sensitive though.
But the Forester’s continuously variable transmission (CVT) isn’t inspiring and its horizontally-opposed ‘boxer’ engine – for so long a tasty, engaging point of difference for Subaru – isn’t much better.
The 2.5-litre bangs out a respectable 136kW and 239Nm, but it’s flat and insipid in its delivery. Throw in a bunch of passengers and luggage and the boxer doesn’t come out swinging; in a lot of ways, it misses.
The Honda CR-V is also not as crisp in performance terms, or dynamics, as it could be. The 140kW/240Nm 1.5-litre turbo-four is more diligent than delightful, providing the CR-V with plenty of urge when you nail the accelerator pedal.
But the engine is vocal at higher revs, and the CVT feels a little laggy at times and isn’t as quiet or smooth as newer CVTs. Paddle shifters allow a quasi-manual mode, but it’s still slow to react.
The CR-V’s independent suspension does an excellent job of cushioning occupants from road surface blemishes and the Honda settles quickly after encountering speed bumps and the like.
In a lower position than we might have expected, the new Mitsubishi Outlander fails to live up to the promise of its generational change.
The 135kW/245Nm 2.5-litre engine provides decent response and enough power to keep up with traffic, but it appears that throttle mapping is designed to give the engine’s best early on. Floor it for a long climb or overtaking and it feels as though the Outlander doesn’t have the willingness to get up and go as it does with small accelerator inputs at low speeds.
At least the auto is good – the Outlander’s CVT does a fine impersonation of a quick-shifting eight-speed automatic, even selecting its own gears with confidence and negating the need to use the steering wheel paddles.
The steering is well-weighted and accurate, there’s impressive grip and even some adjustability when driven with enthusiasm.
But the price you pay for this accomplished handling is fussy, reactive ride quality. The Outlander cushions its occupants relatively well on the highway, but on typical broken urban roads it tends to thump back through the seats.
That brings us to the Haval H6, which is another mixed bag.
The 150kW/320Nm 2.0-litre turbo-petrol is a bit thrashy at higher revs, but quietens down at open-road touring speeds. It is responsive to the throttle, and although the accelerator pedal travel is long, there’s no real need to go in search for higher revs because the engine produces abundant torque in the mid-range.
The seven-speed dual-clutch auto operates more like a manual gearbox. Unlike conventional autos, there’s no stamping on the accelerator for a quick launch; you have to feed in the power more gently to allow the transmission to smoothly engage.
If you like your chariot to ride compliantly whatever the road surface, you’ll love the H6. The suspension is quite soft, but still well controlled over bumps and potholes negotiated at practically any speed.
Unfortunately, however, that translates to cornering ability on the low end of the scale in the competitive mid-size SUV segment. The Haval rolls in corners and the front tyres start to scrub and protest long before competitors like the Honda CR-V or Hyundai Tucson.
Fellow Chinese brand MG comes in next with the HS, which in this guise has a 168kW/360Nm 2.0-litre turbo engine and shows a lot of promise with its relatively high output – which is needed, given its hefty 1700kg kerb weight.
The MG’s dynamics are generally well sorted, but it lacks finesse. The ride is pleasantly supple and refinement is good. As the bumps and cambers get a little more challenging, though, the overall performance falls off a little.
There’s also a brittleness to the way the HS copes with multiple small bumps and bigger road irregularities. If you are focused on dynamics and the last few percentage points of overall polish, then the MG HS will not push your buttons.
Following next is the ageing Renault Koleos, which is based on the same platform as the current Nissan X-TRAIL – which is also down at this low end of the field.
There are plenty of differences between the two models, but once you’re on the move the common DNA – including a 126kW/226Nm 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and CVT auto – becomes strikingly evident.
The Renault’s CVT is prone to raising engine revs up to its ideal torque zone (more than 4000rpm) and then stubbornly holding it there during hard acceleration. The constant wail from the engine remains so intrusive that you will tend to avoid, where possible, any strong acceleration.
X-TRAIL? Similarly, the engine feels a bit unresponsive down low while the CVT has a tendency to hold revs when accelerating – unlike the ebb and flow you get with a torque-converter auto – so the engine has to work hard to deliver its best.
Like the Nissan, the Renault is also ordinary in its dynamic capabilities. It’s not anywhere near the segment’s cutting edge in terms of ride and handling qualities.
While an around-the-block test drive might reveal that the Nissan rides with a soft edge that makes it feel at home in the slow, steady suburban shuffle, it goes downhill from there in driving performance.
At open-road speeds, the Nissan’s damping just doesn’t appear to be able to cope with fast-repeated inputs and the ride becomes jittery. The soft set-up produces lots of body roll in corners and the steering is perhaps best described as indistinct.
Showing its age? Perhaps. What’s clear is that there’s a lot riding on the incoming fourth-generation X-TRAIL that’s due to roll into dealerships late this year. Ditto for the next Koleos, too.
Best Mid-Size SUV 2022 contenders:Ford Escape Vignale AWDHaval H6 Ultra AWDHonda CR-V VTi LXHyundai Tucson Highlander AWDKia Sportage GT-LineMazda CX-5 AkeraMG HS Essence XMitsubishi Outlander Exceed TourerNissan X-TRAIL TiRenault Koleos Intens AWDSkoda Karoq 140 TSI SportlineSubaru Forester 2.5i-SToyota RAV4 Edge
Volkswagen Tiguan 162TSI Elegance