Most SUVs are made for the suburbs, but some still cater for those looking to live the great Aussie dream
THE SUV isn’t what it used to be. Once an all-purpose escape machine, it has been largely confined to the cul de sac in recent years. Off-road work is limited to climbing the odd kerb and parking on the grass at the local sporting field.
Despite the explosion of city-friendly, bush-baulking two-wheel-drive SUVs, there are still some keeping the great outdoors dream alive.
Toyota’s RAV4 and Subaru’s Forester are able off-roaders, with four-wheel-drive and extra ground clearance for scouting out that secret fishing spot, deserted waterway or hidden surf break. In diesel form, they also make light work of towing a runabout, jetski or pop-up caravan, adding to their getaway appeal.
Our third contender is the diesel AWD version of the country’s best-selling SUV, the Mazda CX-5. The Mazda’s had a midlife tweak, while the Forester diesel is now available as an auto.
Most buyers will fall for the CX-5 before they take the test drive. The interior feels upmarket, with soft-touch surfaces, a big colour touchscreen with satnav (the only one in this comparison) and artificial carbon-fibre and alloy highlights. Solely in this trio, it has an electronic park brake and push-button start.
But the beauty of the Mazda isn’t skin-deep. The diesel engine under the hood is more refined and powerful than those of the Subaru and Toyota, and it’s also the most frugal, thanks to technology that shuts down the engine when the car is stopped at intersections. The six-speed auto is well matched to the grunty engine, which has 20 per cent more torque, or pulling power, than the other two here.
Through the twisty stuff, the Mazda stays flat and composed, with well-controlled suspension that soaks up the bumps. The steering is direct and well weighted and there’s little lean through corners. The downside is that the Mazda has the least ground clearance of the three, which won’t preclude it from dirt roads, but may prove a challenge on deeply rutted tracks or sand.
The Mazda also goes without any 4WD lock function, and doesn’t have hill descent control (available on both rivals).
The rear load area isn’t as deep as the Toyota or as long as the Subaru, but there’s a retractable cargo blind and the rear seats can be folded individually via convenient levers in the cargo area.
For those looking to tow, the Mazda can pull a respectable 1800kg (same as the Subaru) and should do it easily, given it has as much torque as some much larger SUVs.
The new continuously variable transmission (CVT) in the Forester sounds like a recipe for noisy motoring. CVTs (which have only one gear) can drone, especially when matched with diesels, But Subaru has added artificial steps, mimicking a normal transmission. It works well.
TOYOTA RAV4 GX DRIIVE--AWAY PRIICE $40,,227--$40,,748 THIIRST 6..5L// 1100km SAFETY 7 aiirrbagss,, rreverrssiing ccamerra WEIIGHT 11640kg SERVIICIING COST $ 11080 (( 3 yearrss)) SPARE Spacce-- ssaverr ENGIINE 2..2-- lliittrre 4-- ccyll diiessell,, 11110kW// 340Nm BOOT 506L TRANSMIISSIION GROUND CLEARANCE 1176mm 6-- sspeed autto;; AWD (( on demand)) TOWIING 11000kg (( brraked))
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