Drive Car Of The Year

Best Medium SUV 2023

Best Medium SUV

Medium SUVs are the most popular vehicle class with Australian new car shoppers, so which brand makes the best vehicle for more Aussies? Let's find out.

The Medium SUV class represents the new battleground for the hearts and wallets of Australian car buyers. It’s arguably the most important segment in Australia, experiencing 20 per cent growth in 2022, the largest of any category.

Some 216,151 medium SUVs found new homes in 2022, the largest of any single segment and eclipsing the total number of traditional passenger cars sold across all segments last year, which stopped the ticker at a smidge over 203,000.

In short, one out of every five new cars sold last year was a mid-size SUV.

It’s no surprise, then, that nearly every mainstream and luxury car manufacturer features a medium SUV in its arsenal.

With so many models to choose from, narrowing down the field to the three finalists was no easy feat.

Judges considered many contenders in a segment that is now the default go-to for families everywhere. They considered many aspects of the Medium SUV diaspora, with value, comfort, drivability and practicality at the top of the list of criteria.

Last year’s overall Drive Car of the Year, the Kia Sportage, returned to defend its Best Medium SUV crown. It faced some tough competition in 2022 – defeating the Mazda CX-5, Mitsubishi Outlander and Toyota RAV4 – and this year was even tougher with the all-new Nissan X-Trail fresh off the boat and into the hands of the judges.

For those seeking practicality, the Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace provided the flexibility of seven seats while also lavishing its medium SUV with plenty of standard equipment.

Separating the three finalists was no easy feat, and of all the categories in this year’s Drive Car of the Year, the Medium SUV segment provided the greatest challenge to the adjudicators.

In the end, though, and after several long discussions, the judges were in agreement and declaring there could be only one winner.

Winner: Nissan X-Trail


Nissan X-TRAIL

Nissan X-TRAIL

9 variants available

$ 36,750 - $ 57,190* MRLP

What we love

  • -Excellent engine and transmission combo
  • -Thoughtful and stylish cabin
  • -Decent fuel economy

What we don't

  • -We're not a fan of 10,000km service intervals
  • -Hybrid variants on the pricey side
  • -Small 8.0-inch touchscreen in the base model

It’s fair to say that Nissan needed the X-Trail to be good. The old X-Trail was on sale, arguably, long past its expiry date. The wait, it seems, has been worth it, the all-new Nissan X-Trail a standout in almost all key areas against rivals that can more than hold their own in the Medium SUV class.

A family car that moves with the times, the new Nissan X-Trail delivers a comprehensive package for today’s buyer.

Our pricing and specification guide breaks down the Nissan X-Trail range in more detail, but here's a quick reminder of the Australian range. Four model grades are available, priced from $36,750 plus on-road costs. There's no longer a manual X-Trail available. Instead, all petrol X-Trails get a CVT, but there is two- or all-wheel drive.

Model grades include the entry-level ST, then ST-L, Ti and lastly Ti-L. The top two grades will be available only as five-seat models and with AWD. Importantly for the more adventurous family buyers, X-Trail tows a useful 2000kg, up 500kg from the old model.

Nissan has added e-Power hybrid variants since February 2023, however the hybrid was not available in time for testing. It's likely that these e-Power variants, while more expensive than petrol-powered variants, would only have enhanced the X-Trail's Drive Car of the Year-winning merits. But, because we couldn't test it, it is not covered by this award.

Standard features on the well-equipped entry-level model include 17-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, an 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, 7.0-inch driver's display, keyless entry and start, cloth seats, a plastic/rubber steering wheel, and rear parking sensors. Also standard is an airbag between the front seats – a key feature among cars that have scored five stars under the latest ANCAP crash-safety testing criteria, including the new X-Trail's rivals from Hyundai, Kia and Haval.

Judges praised the X-Trail for a thoughtful and practical cabin that offered plenty of space, especially in the second row.

Its dynamism too impressed, the X-Trail handling our chopped-up and decidedly patchy test route with poise, the mid-sizer simply swallowing up the rough stuff with barely a ripple inside the cabin. It’s arguably not as good as the locally tuned suspension found in the Kia Sportage, but we’re splitting hairs here.

The X-Trail’s 2.5-litre petrol engine matched to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) also outshone the opposition, especially the CVT that proved quiet, intuitive and refined. Noted one judge, “the CVT Nissan used in this X-Trail is a very impressive one”.

It also proved the most economical on fuel, and by some margin, posting an impressive 8.5L per 100km over the course of our testing. And with a hybrid variant added to the line-up earlier this year, the X-Trail range looks even more compelling for buyers in the segment.

With a price spread ranging from well under $40,000 for the entry-level two-wheel-drive petrol to a touch over $57,000 for the top-of-the-line hybrid (both before on-road costs), there’s an X-Trail to suit most budgets. 

Judges praised the X-Trail’s practicality in the cabin with plenty of storage options, including the cleverly designed floating centre console that allows for extra storage underneath.

Making life easier for second-row passengers, the X-Trail’s rear doors open wide – 80 degrees – ideal for families needing to securely seat little ones in baby capsules or child seats. Another clever touch from Nissan.

The sum of the X-Trail’s parts added up to a cohesive whole. A thoroughly modern medium SUV with plenty of space for families inside, decent fuel economy, excellent safety credentials, and a simple drivability and comfort on the road that’s hard not to be impressed by. And that’s why the Nissan X-Trail is the Drive Car of the Year Best Medium SUV.

Runner-up: Kia Sportage


Kia Sportage

Kia Sportage

11 variants available

$ 32,795 - $ 52,720* MRLP

What we love

  • -Excellent ride on locally tuned suspension
  • -Extensive list of standard safety kit
  • -Nice design inside and out

What we don't

  • -Base 2.0-litre petrol feels underwhelming
  • -Petrol models are thirsty on fuel
  • -Some variants miss out on sat-nav and digital radio

Let’s get one thing out of the way from the outset. The Kia Sportage, last year’s winner of the Drive Car of the Year Best Medium SUV (as well as the overall Drive Car of the Year winner) is still an excellent proposition in the segment, despite relinquishing its crown to the Nissan X-Trail.

There’s much to like about the Sportage, the judges continuing to be impressed by the sheer breadth of the range (it gets underway at just over $36,000 drive-away for a two-wheel drive with a manual gearbox for those who like to keep things old school) with two-wheel drive, all-wheel drive and a choice of two petrol engines or a single diesel-powered option. It’s that breadth of mechanical variants that impressed the judges, although some noted that the entry-level 2.0-litre petrol can feel a little “underdone” at times.

The Sportage’s interior was again cited as a highlight, although, in lower trim levels, it lagged a little behind the new Nissan X-Trail in terms of presentation and practicality. Twelve months is a long time in the Medium SUV segment, it seems.

The Sportage’s locally tuned suspension remained the benchmark in the segment, although its advantage was diminished a little with the arrival of the Nissan X-Trail.

The Sportage petrol’s fuel number ran to 9.4 litres per 100km, almost one litre more per 100km than the Nissan. That the Sportage offers a more frugal diesel alternative should not be forgotten. But a hybrid Sportage to rival RAV4 and X-Trail hybrids is still 12 months in the future and way overdue.

None of this is to say that the Kia Sportage has suddenly been relegated to a sub-par medium SUV. Nothing could be further from the truth. In a segment brimming with choices, the Kia Sportage still cuts a striking figure and remains one of the best propositions for buyers.

But, the arrival of some excellent newcomers made the Sportage’s title defence just a little too difficult.

Finalist: Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace


Volkswagen Tiguan

Volkswagen Tiguan

16 variants available

$ 42,490 - $ 70,490* MRLP

What we love

  • -Seven-seat flexibility
  • -Massive boot
  • -Punchy engine

What we don't

  • -Hesitant dual-clutch auto
  • -Expensive for the segment
  • -Firm and harsh ride

The Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace did a great job of straddling mainstream affordability with a touch of European flair and design. The Tiguan has a long history of success in Drive Car of the Year competition, taking overall honours way back in 2016.

This year, though, it’s the Tiguan Allspace that remained in contention for top honours, with its three rows and seven seats a different take on the Medium SUV segment.

The Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace trades on its reputation as a luxury offering without the premium pricing, even if, with a starting price of around $48,600 drive-away for the entry-level front-wheel-drive model, it’s the most expensive in this Drive Car of the Year company.

The 2022 Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace range opens with the entry-level Life ($44,490), progressing to the mid-spec Elegance ($56,790), and topping out with the flagship R-Line ($60,290). Previously, the R-Line trim was merely an optional trim package, but its popularity prompted VW to make it a standalone model grade for the new model year. 

Starting at the bottom end of the line-up, the Life grade is offered with either a 1.4-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine (110TSI) with six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, or a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine (132TSI) with seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.

Meanwhile, the all-wheel-drive Elegance and R-Line grades are available with either a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine (162TSI), or a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder diesel engine (147TDI) – both paired to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. 

While the judges praised its premium touches both inside and out, they also felt the Tiguan Allspace was starting to show its age. The addition of a third row was lauded for offering the flexibility of seven seats, even if, as the judges found on testing, that last row proved a little tight.

The Tiguan Allspace did claw back some points with the largest cargo area of its rivals here, some 700L with that occasional-use third row stowed away.

Ultimately, though, and despite its peppy engine, the Tiguan Allspace was let down in a couple of crucial areas.

Firstly, the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT) displayed the kind of lagginess and hesitation automatic transmissions of this type are sometimes known for. And with the firmest suspension tune out of the final three, the Tiguan Allspace’s road manners left a little to be desired, and overly firm and hard-edged over our test loop.

As one judge noted, “I like the Tiguan Allspace, like its huge boot and that occasional third row, but the ride quality really does let it down”.

A worthy finalist, yes, but ultimately the Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace fell short of the mark in a couple of key areas.

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.

Other Award Categories

Chat with us!

Chat with Agent