Drive Car of the Year 2018: SUV preview
The ever-versatile SUV just keeps on conquering.
If the prolific spread of SUVs across the urban sprawl was not notice enough of Australia’s appetite for replacing all types of cars with a high riding soft-roader, the segment’s immunity to downward sales is indisputable evidence of the SUV’s immense gravitational pull on shoppers.
While new car sales hit the brakes a little this year, it was upward movement across the increasingly-broad SUV spectrum that bucked the trend, helping to push this year’s projected annual sales back on track to tip over one million units.
Naturally, manufacturers are making hay while the sun shines.
The 2018 Drive Car of the Year awards, presented by BP, has grown to cater for six different groups of SUVs, covering high-riding luxury to monstrous performance machines and a trio of family-focused categories dictated by size. But it is these three categories that cover the most pragmatic options, packed with updated and new contenders that all have a red-hot chance of toppling the carry-over champions.
Consisting of our market’s best-selling SUV segments - city, small and large – Drive’s Best SUV awards put cars to the test that will likely be on the list for over 50 per cent of shoppers in the next twelve months. And the models don’t discriminate, catering for households that need seating for more than five, fledgling young families and downsizing empty nesters.
Carry-over winners from the 2017 Drive Car of the Year - all back to defend their title - include the Suzuki Vitara (Best City SUV), Volkswagen Tiguan (Best Small SUV) and the Mazda CX-9 (Best Family SUV). For a full review of last years competition read ourDrive Car of the Year: 2017 Review.
But all three are under threat from a competitive set and in particular the CX-9, which forms part of the increasingly popular seven-seat Best Family SUV segment. It is Drive’s largest competing field this year with a total of five competitors, consisting of the CX-9, new-generation Hyundai Santa Fe and Peugeot 5008, and the all-new Mazda CX-8 and Tiguan Allspace.
But not all things are equal, with the CX-9 and Santa Fe the only two ‘true’ seven-seaters here, competing against slightly shorter five plus two rivals that have plenty of value to offer.
A size down, the Best Small SUV shootout is no less exciting as the Tiguan comes under threat from the fifth-generation Subaru Forester, the all-new Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross and the Tiguan’s Czech-sibling debutant, the Skoda Karoq.
Judging in this segment was made all the harder with the variety of capabilities and unique points each vehicle brings – would it be the Forester, with its off-road bent and focus on safety? Or the Skoda, that makes clever use of every inch inside its capacious cabin backed with slick technology? And then there’s the Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross, a new entrant with unique coupe-style curves and brimmed with features at the most affordable price point.
In the smallest category, the battle for Best City SUV sees the reigning Suzuki Vitara go up against the updated Mazda CX-3 and refreshed Ford EcoSport - both bringing new features and improvements against the ageing Japanese champ.
As is the case every year, Drive Car of the Year testing and evaluation was centred around Wakefield Park raceway in Goulburn, NSW.
Helping to highlight the difference in ride, handling and dynamic ability between cars, each group of SUVs was evaluated for their performance completing a swerve-and-brake manoeuvre, cornering through a slalom course and distance to stop in an emergency braking procedure.
Beyond drivability was practicality, value and overall presentation, taken into account with all the judges crawling from tip to toe in each SUV.
In the end, no category was safe (or predictable!) from a tight race and judges across all three segments were closely split, proving the quality of options available to new car buyers is near the best it has ever been in this class.
Click here to see the full field of finalists for the 2018 Drive Car of the Year, presented by BP.