The ‘TOP 5’ Medium SUVs For 2015: X-Trail, Kuga, CR-V, CX-5, Forester Photo:

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TMR Team | Jan, 23 2015 | 5 Comments

The medium SUV segment is a hotly-contested battleground where 16 models compete.

Sales in this segment topped 112,000 cars in 2014 - that’s one in every ten cars sold.

And it’s growing. To say it’s important is an understatement. Only small cars - where the Corolla and Mazda3 duke it out - take a bigger slice of the pie.

So, given that roughly a tenth of the car buyers reading this intend to purchase to purchase a midsize SUV, what should they be spending their hard-earned on?

Here’s our shortlist of the best in the segment.


Nissan X-Trail

Price Range: $27,990 (ST petrol FWD manual) - $46,580 (Ti diesel AWD manual)
Engine: 106kW/200Nm 2.0 petrol 4cyl, 126kW/226Nm 2.5 petrol 4cyl, 96kW/320Nm 1.6 diesel 4cyl
Transmission: 6sp manual or CVT automatic. FWD or AWD.

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Nissan launched its all-new X-Trail in April last year, and compared to the more-agricultural and roly-poly car that preceded it, it was a revelation.

Car-like at the wheel, the new model range offers has the capability and flexibility to cater to country drivers, urban families, and those looking for the outdoors.

All up there are six distinct drivetrain/powertrain/seat configurations within the X-Trail range, encompassing 2WD petrol and diesel, AWD petrol and diesel, and 5 seat/7 seat options.

Something for everyone, then.

Granted, you still can’t get an AWD diesel automatic or a seven-seater in diesel or AWD, but the X-Trail range has broad appeal.


Our review verdict

This new X-Trail is one you’ll like and a very good car from Nissan.

Before you buy something as big and thirsty as a Kluger, you really should have a look at what you can buy in ‘a size smaller’.

You’ll be surprised by the roomy space in the X-Trail, by the feel of quality, by its long legs and by its on-road comfort.

MORE: X-Trail News & Reviews


Ford Kuga

Price Range: $27,490 (Ambiente petrol 2WD) - $46,990 (Titanium diesel AWD)
Engine/Trans: 110kW/240Nm 1.5 petrol 4cyl, 132kW/400Nm 2.0 diesel 4cyl, 176kW/345Nm 2.0 petrol 4cyl
Transmissions: 6sp manual, 6sp twin-clutch automatic. FWD or AWD.

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A greatly underrated and often overlooked choice in this segment, the Ford Kuga deserves to sell in higher numbers than it currently does.

Positioned at an attractive price point, the Kuga boasts a high-quality interior, plenty of European design flair, solid equipment levels and great road manners.

The 1.5 litre turbo petrol engine is a much torquier thing than the naturally-aspirated powerplants of its competitors too, and the 132kW diesel is even better.

The newly-introduced 176kW/345Nm 2.0 litre turbo petrol engine in the AWD Trend and Titanium models is the highlight though, with enough power and torque to do the Kuga’s chassis justice.

A range-wide update brought in last month also added more equipment to most models and sharpened up the Kuga’s value equation. It’s incredibly good buying right now, and deserves a look.


Our review verdict

No question about it, the new engines transform the 2015 Kuga.

The big surprise is the 1.5 litre EcoBoost. Vastly superior and more potent than the 1.6 litre it replaces, it makes a very strong pitch in the entry-level Ambient.

And if you want real performance, you’ve got two more choices: the bigger 2.0 litre EcoBoost is exceptionally lively – at least as quick as most ‘warm’ hatches – and the 2.0 TDCI diesel pulls like a train.

Add in a technology-laden interior, a premium-feel finish, and a $27,990 entry-point to the range, and you’ve got a lot of car here in the 2015 Kuga.

The Kuga is a little under buyers’ radar at the moment. But that will change - this car is very good buying, beautifully engineered, and will win hearts when the word gets out.

MORE: Kuga News & Reviews


Honda CR-V

Price Range: $27,490 (VTi petrol 2WD) - $45,790 (VTi-L ADAS petrol AWD)
Engines: 114kW/190Nm 2.0 petrol 4cyl, 140kW/222Nm 2.4 petrol 4cyl, 110kW/350Nm 2.2 diesel 4cyl
Transmission: 6sp manual, 6sp automatic; FWD or AWD.

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The CR-V nameplate has plenty of credibility in this segment, and it’s little wonder that it’s presently Honda’s highest-selling car.

That said, it only barely outsold the much less-resolved Mitsubishi Outlander last year, and, like the Kuga, deserves a greater share of the sales pie.

Boasting a spacious interior and powered by two petrol engines and a diesel, the CR-V has plenty of appeal for those with growing families.

It’s now entering its third year on the market, but a mid-life facelift brought in at the end of last year has added more 2WD models and more equipment to the range.

It’s solid buying right now, and plenty of car for the money.


Our review verdict

While so many cars creep up in size with each new model, Honda has kept the exterior dimensions of the CR-V in check, while simultaneously improving interior space and comfort. A wise move, we think.

Family buyers will certainly appreciate the room to expand in the CR-V’s interior - while the kids are growing, wheeling them around to ballet class or cricket training shouldn’t ever be a problem. There is lots of room for growing legs.

While there’s plenty of choice among medium SUVs, and some strong new contenders on the way, the Honda CR-V should certainly be on your shortlist if you’re shopping in this segment.

MORE: CR-V News & Reviews


Mazda CX-5

Price Range: $27,190 (Maxx petrol 2WD) - $50,610 (Akera diesel AWD)
Engine: 114kW/200Nm 2.0 petrol 4cyl, 138kW/250Nm 2.5 petrol 4cyl; 129kW/420Nm 2.2 diesel 4cyl.
Transmission: 6sp manual, 6sp diesel. FWD or AWD.

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Nearly 1 in every 5 medium SUVs sold in Australia last year was a Mazda CX-5. It absolutely dominates this segment, and it deserves to.

Why? After all, it’s not the most affordable option on the market nor is it the most spacious, so why do buyers flock to the CX-5?

It must have something to do with its attractive design, neat interior and stellar on-road driving experience.

Having a Mazda badge on the front certainly helps too, as the brand can seemingly do no wrong in this market right now.

A mid-life refresh has literally only just been launched, adding equipment, cutting prices on some models and rejigging the suspension for greater comfort.

Don’t expect it to get any less popular anytime soon.


Our review verdict

Mazda hatched a landmark car with the midsized CX-5. In terms of ‘getting it right’, the instant sales success that the CX-5 became suggests that Mazda - back in February 2012 - absolutely nailed the market.

Australian families, younger buyers in the main, love this car. It is the top selling SUV in the land because it answers so many questions for so many buyers.

And this updated model, better looking certainly - the barred grille, revised LED lights and big 19-inch wheels on the up-spec models give it a much stronger presence than the older model - is a better car all round.

MORE: CX-5 News & Reviews


Subaru Forester

Price Range: $29,990 (2.0i petrol AWD) - $50,490 (2.0XT Premium petrol AWD)
Engine: 110kW/198Nm 2.0 petrol 4cyl; 126kW/235Nm 2.5 petrol 4cyl; 108kW/350Nm 2.0 diesel 4cyl, 177kW/350Nm 2.0 turbo petrol 4cyl
Transmission: 6sp manual, CVT automatic. AWD.

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The Forester might have the highest starting price in this group, but that’s because of Subaru’s long-standing policy of maintaining an all-AWD line-up (the BRZ sports car being the sole exception).

Even with that price disadvantage at the lower end of the range, the Forester clearly resonates with SUV buyers.

It was the third-highest selling medium SUV last year, and it was only beaten by the CX-5 and the RAV4.

And we can see why. With Subaru’s reputation as a builder of go-anywhere passenger cars plus the space and driveability of the Forester, it’s no wonder Subaru’s medium SUV is a popular choice.

Having the 177kW turbo petrol XT model in the range certainly helps, too.

The only downside: no manual for the diesel or the atmo 2.0 litre petrol. Other than that, the Subaru Forester is a pretty well-rounded product.


Our review verdict

Subaru’s new Forester XT - fresh out of “finishing school” - is a vast improvement over the old model.

Quieter, more refined, and with an improved drivetrain and handling, it’s a more grown-up car - not surprising then that it’s targeted at more grown-up buyers.

MORE: Forester News & Reviews

For TMR’s Best Buy Award 2015, the Contenders, are:

(Click on each model to learn more)

From this list, on Monday, 26th January, Australia Day, we will announce both the overall winner and the Top Ten Best Buys of 2015.

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