Weighty mat­ters

Herald Sun - Cars Guide - - WHICH CAR? -

THE QUES­TION

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.

VER­DICT

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

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