Drive Car Of The Year

Best Medium Hybrid SUV 2023

Best Medium Hybrid SUV

With the medium SUV segment being large and diverse, this year we split off the hybrids to give them a chance to shine.

The medium SUV is one of the most popular categories in Australia. It's also where most brands have started their journey, by first building an mid-sized SUV, then filling in the range with smaller and bigger ones shortly after.

Consider them the breadwinners. The category is massive, too, with over 50 different nameplates split into three categories for Drive Car of the Year 2023: Best Medium SUV, Best Luxury Medium SUV, and Best Medium Hybrid SUV.

As a new category for 2023, there is no previous winner of the Best Medium Hybrid SUV. However, the Best Medium SUV category winner from 2021 was the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, which is also the best-selling hybrid in Australia. Its combination of fuel-saving smarts, drivability, practicality and value earn it a finalist's spot in this new category.

Joining the 2023 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid in the inaugural event of this up-and-coming class is the 2023 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, the 2023 Ford Escape PHEV and the 2023 Haval H6 Hybrid.

Let's see which one comes out on top.

Winner: Mitsubishi Outlander

The first sense you get behind the wheel of the 2023 Mitsubishi Outlander Aspire PHEV is quality. In fact, everything the Outlander does, it does well and with a quality beyond its price. 

The interior is neatly presented, minimal and above expectations. Even our mid-tier Mitsubishi Outlander Aspire PHEV impressed the judges as we poked about the cabin, and it's fantastic to see a brand offer four different trim levels of plug-in models across one Outlander range (ES, Aspire, Exceed and Exceed Tourer).

Once you start driving, that quality experience continues on. The ride errs on the side of softness, but even over our fast country road loop it felt planted and secure. The cabin is quiet thanks to good levels of sound suppression material, and our mid-tier Aspire model rode well on its 20-inch alloy wheels (as per Exceed and Exceed Tourer models).

The steering is a little bit uncertain off centre, but that's honestly as bad as it gets. On top of driving well, it was frugal on test too, showing fuel consumption figures around 3.4L/100km combining time spent driving on electric-only range, plus using the system like a 'regular' hybrid. You do have to commit to keeping it charged up, but its possible to run most of your day-to-day trips without needing to use the petrol engine.

The second row is decent, too, and the compact third row could be the ideal get-out-of-jail-free card you need in a school-run emergency. It offers flexibility at the right price and feels like the most complete mainstream PHEV we've driven yet. Aside from the great presentation inside and out, it was the most composed on the road loop, and reacted well during swerve-and-avoid and slalom exercises.

So, cutting edge electric technology in a brilliantly functional family car makes the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV an ideal first step into the future for many Australian buyers.

Runner-up: Toyota RAV4

A favourite of the Drive Car of the Year team, and a runner-up by only one vote.

The 2023 Toyota RAV4 was sadly unable to win more silverware this year. The judges commended its ability through the slalom, and all spoke highly of its balance between ability and ride comfort.

What it offers in terms of fuel efficiency and simplicity is worth commending also. As a closed-loop hybrid, the Toyota RAV4 only needs fuel to get the job done, generating its own electric charge from energy that might otherwise be wasted and removing the need to plug in to charge.

Sure, it uses more fuel than the Outlander, but there's no denying it's a simpler car to own. However, the driveline is showing its age compared to cars like the Mitsubishi, which can do well over 50km of EV driving as well as deliver lower fuel consumption figures.

It's also noisy in terms of when the petrol engine kicks in to help get the job done. It's clear the game has moved on, and for now the 2023 Mitsubishi plug-in hybrid is the better choice.

Finalist: Ford Escape

The Ford Escape PHEV had some big expectations to meet.

Our previous experience with Ford's SUV range at Drive Car of the Year has been good, with the brand's Puma small SUV impressing us last year. Ford's ST-Line trim has also been a sweet spot, generally offering great dynamics and sporty exterior styling without the thirsty fuel consumption.

The 2023 Ford Escape PHEV is engaging to drive, but arguably it's too busy on an Australian back road. The car will fidget and bob around a bit, and it could really do with some softness added to its ride and handling. The steering is also a bit mediocre, in that it lacks off-centre bite and feels oddly weighted.

However, the powertrain switchover is easily the smoothest, and the petrol engine is properly refined and well hidden behind a thick firewall. The interior is spacious, too, and there's lots of storage dotted around the cabin for your stuff.

Parents of younger kids will really appreciate it. The second row can recline once your kids grow up and are out of their support chairs, and there are rear air vents and USB-A and USB-C ports in the back – the standard we expect for the class.

The perceived quality isn't up there with the segment best, however, with both the Japanese cars offering more value for money in terms of technology and equipment.

Finalist: Haval H6


Haval H6

Haval H6

0 variant available

$ 33,990 - $ 45,990* MRLP

What we love

  • -Second-row space
  • -Affordability and value
  • -Looks great

What we don't

  • -Handling isn't as confident as the rest
  • -Not as refined as the competitors
  • -Poor tyre quality and traction issues

Although a newcomer to hybrid technology, the 2023 Haval H6 finished in fourth place. It was commended for great value for money; however, it fell short in dynamic testing and over our exacting road loop near Orange, NSW.

The tyres are the biggest letdown of the package, and a good set of rubber would go a long way to addressing its current dynamic shortcomings. If you get the power down, however, you'll find its performance is actually quite good.

It's quick on a rolling start, and if you value some performance under your pedal, you'll love the acceleration. But you'll pay for it; the Haval had by far the worst fuel economy of our four finalists.

That aside, the judges loved how spacious the cabin is, and the amount of technology you get for the money is excellent.

Aside from seat heating and the usual trinkets, there's a good amount of active safety systems on board too. The Haval H6's low-speed ride quality is great, too, and better than the Ford Escape's when singled out.

However, it finished in fourth place for a reason, and sadly felt a little out of its depth against this year's stiff competition.

You can read about all the other 2023 Drive Car of the Year categories and winners here:
Drive Car of the Year categories and winners

Note: All vehicle specifications pertain to variants tested as part of DCOTY assessment program.

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