TMR Best Buy 2016 – Top 5 Large SUVs: Kia Sorento, Toyota Kluger, Ford Territory, Hyundai Santa Fe, Subaru Outback

Last year sales of medium SUV models overtook the large SUV category by just 4000 units. While medium soared by 15.7 per cent compared with 2014, the large sector grew by 9.3 per cent.

What those figures show is that Australians are still in love with the SUV, and with the large SUV class totalling 139,734 units in 2015, it remains the third most popular segment overall behind small cars and those pesky medium SUVs.

Our ‘top 5’ picks represent 39 per cent of sales volume in this segment. Read on to find out why…

Kia Sorento

Price Range: $40,990 (Si V6 FWD) – $55,990 (Platinum diesel AWD)

Engine: 199kW/318Nm 3.3 petrol V6, 147kW/441Nm 2.2 turbo diesel 4cyl

Transmission: 6sp automatic

Kia provides something for almost every family in the latest Sorento range, but breadth of choice is only part of this class-leading vehicle’s appeal.

The lighter, front-drive V6 kicks off from an affordable $41k with seven seats as standard, and it’s a quick (if thirsty) performer. Finding another $4000 buys the frugal turbo-diesel and all-wheel drive capability for mild off-roading.

It’s the middle-specification sub-$50k SLi versions that represent the best balance of price and equipment, although the $56k diesel-only Platinum is alluring because it’s absolutely loaded with kit.

Our review verdict:

The Sorento drives beautifully for such a large wagon. Its combination of ride and handling, and mix between performance and economy in the diesel models, makes it a standout.

It’s the interior that seals the deal. The seats are superbly comfortable in all three rows, while there are air-conditioning vents for all as well. Premium-grade plastics and control tactility mark this Kia as a cut-above its rivals.

Add a seven-year, unlimited kilometre warranty and capped-price servicing, and you have a segment winner.

Toyota Kluger

Price Range: $40,990 (GX FWD) – $67,520 (Grande AWD)

Engine: 201kW/337Nm 3.5 petrol V6

Transmission: 6sp automatic

The Toyota Kluger is designed for the USA and it gives buyers there exactly what they want – big space and performance. That philosophy largely translates well here.

The Kluger offers only a V6 petrol engine and six-speed automatic transmission. It’s offered in front- or all-wheel drive, but such is its performance we’d almost certainly prefer the latter even if it adds cost.

All grades are reasonably well equipped, but the highlight isn’t features: Kluger offers the roomiest cabin of any SUV in our ‘top 5’.

Our review verdict:

Particularly in all-wheel drive specification, the Toyota Kluger is a great large SUV to drive. Likewise the middle-spec GXL version helps elevate the interior ambience with added equipment compared with the base GX.

It is getting expensive towards the top end, but servicing is cheap and resale value strong.

Your family will also love the space, particularly those sitting in the third row, which is a benchmark in the class for comfort and room. If you really need seven seats and still want some boot space, the Kluger is also among the most convincing models here.

Ford Territory

Price Range: $37,490 (TX petrol RWD) – $56,740 (Titanium diesel AWD)

Engine: 195kW/391Nm 4.0 petrol 6cyl, 140kW/440Nm 2.7 turbo-diesel V6

Transmission: 6sp automatic

An oldie but a goodie – that’s the best summary of the Ford Territory.

Like the Sorento, but unlike the Kluger, the Territory offers potent six-cylinder petrol or efficient turbo-diesel V6 power. Unlike both, the two-wheel drive version powers the rear wheels, not the fronts, so there’s less need to choose all-wheel drive (too much grunt can overcome the steering wheels in the others).

The big Ford offers the most affordable entry price in the class, though you’ll need to add $2500 for the seven-seat option in the base model, where a third-row is included with rivals.

Our review verdict:

The locally engineered and Australian-built Ford Territory remains the best-driving car in its class, full stop. For steering precision and ride plushness, not to mention handling crispness, it is uncannily and brilliantly car-like.

An ageing interior means the Territory lacks the quality feel of rivals, and the third-row seats are more like a park bench than proper pews – they’re for little kids and short hauls only.

As a five-seater, the Ford scores with superbly comfortable front- and middle-row seats, plus plenty of room to back its terrific suspension tune.

Hyundai Santa Fe

Price Range: $38,490 (Active petrol AWD manual) – $55,990 (Highlander diesel AWD automatic)

Engine: 138kW/241Nm 2.4 petrol 4cyl, 147kW/440Nm 2.2 turbo diesel 4cyl

Transmission: 6sp manual, 6sp automatic

The Hyundai Santa Fe is a near-twin to the Kia Sorento, but they are each very different propositions.

For a start, all-wheel drive is standard for those who need it, and even then the Santa Fe starts with a cheaper pricetag than two-wheel drive rivals. Only a petrol four-cylinder is standard, and for those who don’t mind shifting gears themselves, so too is a six-speed manual.

There’s also an automatic petrol, but it’s still an undernourished four-cylinder (versus the Sorento’s mighty V6). Best to choose the optional diesel, which can be had as a manual or auto. There’s stacks of choice in this range.

Our review verdict:

The Santa Fe has terrific showroom appeal, with great styling and a nicely finished cabin with plenty of space and equipment.

Particularly in diesel specification, there’s lots to like and the fact a manual version costs just $41,490 (plus on-road costs) is damn impressive. At the top end the Santa Fe has the equipment swagger to swing buyer favour, too.

Hyundai hasn’t tuned the suspension as well as its Kia rival – it’s a bit too bumpy for urban duties – but otherwise the Santa Fe steers well.

Subaru Outback

Price Range: $35,490 (2.0D diesel AWD manual) – $47,990 (3.6R Premium petrol AWD automatic)

Engine: 110kW/350Nm 2.0 turbo diesel 4cyl, 129kW/235Nm 2.5 petrol 4cyl, 191kW/350Nm 3.6 petrol 6cyl

Transmission: 6sp manual, CVT automatic

Technically the Subaru Outback is classified as a large SUV. Perhaps the Japanese brand sees it as an ‘SUV rejector’ as it’s still a high-riding wagon version of the Liberty – as it has been since 1994.

Buyers love it, and the new Outback is more popular than Liberty. If you don’t need seven seats, the five-seat-only Subaru is worth a look. All-wheel drive is standard like the Santa Fe, so you can go slightly offroad.

Pricing is thousands cheaper than an equivalent ‘proper’ SUV, yet interior space for five is not reduced at all. Choose manual or auto, with four-cylinder petrol or diesel and six-cylinder petrol availability all with change from $50k.

Our review verdict:

With plenty of equipment and a huge interior, it’s easy to recommend the Subaru Outback to families. The standard all-wheel drive and extra ride height are just bonuses with this jacked-up wagon.

Our pick would be the diesel automatic. It’s a smooth and quiet operator, effortless yet frugal. In base auto trim it costs only $1500 more than the petrol four-cylinder, yet is more convincing unless you can spend $42k-plus on the responsive (but thirsty) 3.0-litre six-cylinder petrol version.

While the Outback steers and handles decently, it’s worth keeping in mind that a Holden Calais Sportwagon, for example, is a far sweeter drive if you still need space but don’t need ride height and traction to all four wheels.

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