By John Cadogan
We’re really talking comfortable accommodation only for four here - especially on longer trips. Mazda 3 will manage two adults up front and two child seats in the rear, and the luggage space is adequate for a small family.
Mazda3 is ideal for younger families with just one or two small children.
Full suite of Mazda’s SKYACTIV engine technology means the Mazda 3 is among the most economical choices you can make in this class of car. The Mazda 3 comes with a three-year warranty with unlimited kilometres. Read more about the Mazda 3 here.
Dollar-for-dollar, the i30 beats the Mazda 3. There is a five-door hatch and a superbly practical station wagon. The wagon delivers around the same luggage space as a compact SUV.
The diesel i30 is the one to go for. It’s much stronger in the mid-range. An exception here is the i30 SR, which features a sweet 2.0-litre petrol engine with direct injection, and suspension specially tuned for Australian conditions. Like all Hyundais, the i30 comes with a five-year warranty with unlimited kilometres. Read more about the Hyundai i30 here.
Elantra is really the sedan version of the i30. The range is: Active, Elite, and Premium, and a special edition Trophy model. (Trophy is essentially an Active with 16-inch alloys, and part leather trim - for an additional $760, which is pretty good value.) The ride on Elantra is a bit harsher than on i30, and there’s no diesel engine option. Pricing mirrors the i30 range. Read more about the Hyundai Elantra here.
Many families buy an SUV when the Mazda 6 would make more sense. Mazda 6 comes as a sedan or a wagon. The range kicks off at $33,460 and stretches all the way to $50,960, plus on-road costs. In defence of the range-topping Mazda 6 Atenza diesel, which is an expensive Japanese car, it would seriously compete with the base model Audi A4, and on objective criteria the Mazda would win. The Mazda6 uses the same SKYACTIV driveline as the CX-5, with a 2.5-litre petrol four-cylinder engine or 2.2-litre diesel. Read more about the Mazda 6 here.
The Optima is a large car with exceptional equipment levels and plenty of legroom front and rear. Kia offers a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, and the Optima range is simple: $30,990 to $40,490 plus on-road costs, with three models - Si, SLi and Platinum. There’s one driveline: a 2.4-litre petrol four with six-speed auto. The Si offers a rear-vision camera, 17-inch alloys, Bluetooth for phone and music, and steering wheel-mounted controls. Si adds 18-inch alloys, leather, xenon headlamps and a multimedia system, while Platinum tops the range with a smart key, panoramic black glass roof and better instruments. Read more about the Kia Optima here.
The Mazda CX-5 is the best of the medium SUVs. It’s a five-seater. It’s a very safe, well thought out SUV. The 2.5-litre petrol four and the 2.2-litre diesel are both great. Prices range from $27,880 to $49,420 plus on-road costs - but the 2.5-litre Mazda CX-5 Maxx for $32,880 is a good value entry point. The CX-5 is the top-selling mid-sized SUV in Australia - 20 per cent in front of the nearest contender (Hyundai ix35). It’s easy to see why. Read more about the Mazda CX-5 here.
The Kia Sportage is a very family friendly SUV. It offers an adequate petrol engine and an outstanding diesel. There are four model grades: Si, SLi and Platinum, and prices range from $25,990 to $41,390 plus on-road costs. The diesel is the pick here. Like many of the latest South Korean vehicles it’s hard to see how Kia can package all that they do into Sportage at the price. Read more about the Kia Sportage here.
HYUNDAI SANTA FE
The Santa Fe is not cheap, but it is very good value. Prices range from $38,490 to $51,990 plus on-road costs, and two engines are available: a 2.4-litre petrol and a 2.2-litre diesel. The 2.4 is really a boy doing a man’s job in the Santa Fe, so the diesel is the pick of the range, as it is for many of the vehicles in this list.
Seats number six and seven fold brilliantly into the floor, leaving a dead-flat cargo space, which is a real plus for versatility. Read more about the Hyundai Santa Fe here.
KIA GRAND CARNIVAL
Big family? Need to transport half a soccer team? The Kia Grand Carnival is certainly in the running here. It’s got seating for eight, and substantial versatility. Pricing from $38,990 to $56,290 plus on-road costs means this vehicle is about the same cost as an SUV – and it offers more seating, dollar-for-dollar. Big sliding doors on both sides make access very easy. The range is: S, Si, SLi and Platinum. And here, SLi and Platinum are quite civilised, offering leather, alloy wheels and electric sliding side doors. Read more about the Kia Grand Carnival here.
The iMax is an eight-seat people adapted from the iLoad van. Prices range from $38,290 for the petrol to $43,990 for the diesel auto. Seating capacity is eight but compared with the Grand Carnival the iMax is more van-like to drive. It’s also higher but it offers copious luggage capacity even with all eight seats occupied, and it’s a newer platform than the Kia Grand Carnival, and all-round vision is excellent – for both driver and passengers. When you’re driving it, it doesn’t feel nearly as big as a large, all-terrain SUV like a Land Cruiser.