I am after a small all-wheel drive. I will be towing a trailer and prefer something not too low to get in and out. What would you recommend? Steve, email Finding the best small SUV is tough. It’s probably the toughest choice in showrooms today. There are dozens of different ways to go, from brands to drivelines and engine choices, and that’s before you get into prices and colours and equipment. Prices start at $20,990 for a primitive Suzuki Jimny and race up to $84,315 for a raunchy Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG. The cheapest SUVs are now front-wheel drive, so the question is do you need allwheel drive? If it’s just for safety and security then you won’t need to worry about low-range gears for off-road work, and an on-demand system — which runs in front-wheel drive until the electronics detect rearwheel slip — will also be fine. On the towing front, a weekend trailer for trips to the tip does not put much strain on a vehicle. But it’s very important to check the load, as compact SUVs are typically only rated to haul from 650kg to 750kg. They can tow more if they’re fitted with trailer brakes but make sure the towball rating is at least one-tenth of the claimed towing capacity. So if your trailer is going to be loaded with a big jetski, or motorcycles and a mobile workshop, you might be better off looking for something a little bigger.
CHOICES Mazda CX-3, from $26,390
The favourite choice for the Carsguide crew, based on its quietness, comfort and driving dynamics. The price penalty of all-wheel drive is obvious, as the bottom line jumps from $19,990 to $26,390. The CX-3 drives fine, even without the security of AWD, but is only a fourseater with adults and is short of boot space. The tow rating is 1200kg with trailer brakes or 640kg without them but the recommended 50kg ball weight means we wouldn’t advise pushing it to the limit.
Mitsubishi ASX, from $32,500
Not the most refined SUV in the business but wins a lot of friends on the value side and is bigger than many of its trendier rivals. The AWD model also gets a slightly bigger 2.2-litre diesel engine, over the 2.0-litre petrol in the front-driver, which shows it’s aimed at people who will be travelling longer distances or with bigger loads. Its tow rating is 1400kg with trailer brakes and 750kg without them. It claims 140kg ball weight.
Subaru XV, from $26,490
The obvious choice for someone who wants to sit a bit higher, wants the security of all-wheel drive and does only lightweight towing. The XV will tow 1400kg with trailer brakes or 650kg without and ball weight is 140kg. But the XV is a dozy drive, partly because of its lacklustre CVT, and a standard full-size spare gobbles up luggage space.
WILDCARD Kia Sportage, from $33,390
It means stepping up to the medium class, and basic pricing from $33,990 as an AWD diesel, but there are benefits. It has locally developed suspension and is very car-like to drive. It has a tow rating of 750kg unbraked but that climbs to 1900kg with trailer brakes on the diesel (but only 100kg ball weight). It has a seven-year warranty for peace of mind.
The Subaru XV is the obvious choice with the signature allwheel drive you want but it’s too slow and compromised as a carrier. The ASX will tow well enough but is far from our favourite on the other fronts, which puts the CX-3 ahead apart from its low ball weight. So it makes great sense to step up to the Sportage as it ticks all the boxes and is only a little more costly than the tiddlers.
KIA SPORTAGE MAZDA CX-3 SUBARU XV MITSUBISHI ASX