The best family SUV to drive in 2023

After comparing 12 of Australia's most popular three-row SUVs head-to-head, the top pick for drivers has been revealed.

Drive's 2023 Family SUV Megatest took a deep-dive into mainstream family SUVs with seven (or more) seats across a number of key areas.

For the best to drive, look no further than the Skoda Kodiaq, which topped the assembled field as the most rewarding family SUV from behind the wheel.

To be absolutely clear, our team of judges know that the field of 12 cars assembled here won't be lining up for duty on racetracks, so we've assessed the cars here with a view to real-world driving duties.

Our assessment took place on real roads, with real traffic. No isolated racetracks or unrealistic situations here.

Judges took all 12 cars on a drive loop that encompassed high-speed freeway driving and stop-start suburban traffic. Conditions varied from maintained main roads to potholed side streets – with school zones and train tracks thrown in for good measure.

We were looking for cars that effectively disguised their size, offered a smooth, quiet ride for all rows of passengers, and had enough on-road oomph to tackle a long-haul road trip with a fully loaded boot.

Here are the best family SUVs to drive in Australia in 2023.

1st Place: Skoda Kodiaq

The Skoda Kodiaq's combination of Euro-tuned handling and a robust turbocharged engine translated to a punchy and agile feel on the road. The Kodiaq has a lovely fluid on-road feel for the day-to-day commute, but has some fun factor in reserve when conditions allow.

The Skoda Kodiaq feels just as at home zipping around city corners as it does tackling freeway driving. Skoda has managed the perfect blend of comfort and refinement without sacrificing dynamic flair. Quite simply, this is a proper Large SUV we loved driving, which is a rare feat.

From suspension that settles quickly over big hits to a quiet and refined cabin, the Kodiaq pampers passengers, while at the same time giving the driver something to look forward to with well-weighted steering, a responsive and jitter-free dual-clutch transmission, and a secure all-wheel-drive system that instills confidence no matter the road surface.

2nd Place: Nissan X-Trail

The Nissan X-Trail proved itself an excellent all-rounder across the broad spread of road conditions we subjected it to. The fundamentals are well covered, with fantastic visibility, a quiet cabin, and a capable and comfortable behind-the-wheel experience.

X-Trail highlights include an alert continuously variable transmission (CVT), putting to rest any qualms about the suitability of CVT autos in changing traffic conditions. The 2.5-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine is low on vibration and noise, making for fuss-free drives.

As a family SUV for urban use, the X-Trail provides easy, well-weighted steering that’s easy to interact with, and a footprint that’s friendly for around town. Such was the natural and fluid feel from behind the wheel that the judges found little cause for complaint – and even wondered if the lack of criticisms might look out of place, but Nissan's well-balanced dynamic package is simply a great fit in this application.

=3rd Place: Nissan Pathfinder

While its physical dimensions well and truly put it in the Extra Large SUV grouping here, the way the Nissan Pathfinder drives will have you wondering if you're not in something more compact and nimble. It disguises its size well, with an unexpected crispness to its handling.

Underpinning the Pathfinder is a platform from the previous-generation car, but Nissan has managed to hide that underlying age so well that you'd never know this wasn't an all-new car. No doubt the new nine-speed auto, in place of the previous CVT, helps somewhere here.

Speed humps and potholes rarely unsettled the Pathfinder, which is a great experience for the passenger, but it's the pert steering and secure handling that really pay off for the driver.

=3rd Place: Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace

The Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace presented judges with the firmest-feeling suspension of the 12 cars assembled for this comparison. Not so firm as to make it uncomfortable, but enough to give it a noteworthy point of difference.

The Tiguan Allspace traded its ride comfort for a touch more engagement than some of its rivals. Light-footed but secure in the way it tackles more dynamic sections of road, even when loaded up with passengers.

Overall, the Tiguan Allspace felt polished and upmarket on the road, but the judges did call out some shortcomings of the dual-clutch automatic transmission, which exhibited some patchy performance and hesitation at low speeds, the likes of which weren't present on the similarly equipped Skoda Kodiaq.

And the best of the rest...

Despite being one of the oldest vehicles on test, the Mazda CX-9 put up a strong showing both in terms of refinement and dynamics and ranked fifth in our driving comparison.

The Toyota Kluger, easily the most comfortable car on test, came sixth thanks to its superbly soft ride and quiet cabin, but the trade-off is a wobbly feel over bumps and less-than-alert handling.

Much like its larger CX-9 sibling, the Mazda CX-8 in seventh place exhibits excellent refinement. As one of the sportiest cars on our test, it offers a taut, firm ride that settles quickly after larger hits, and a light steering feel with a surprisingly direct response.

The Mitsubishi Outlander took eighth place as a sturdy, capable jack-of-all-trades that performed consistently across all criteria but felt less upmarket than some of its rivals.

In ninth place, the Kia Sorento offers strong visibility and solid comfort around town, but judges were aware of its size going into corners and noticed more noise seeping into the cabin at freeway speeds.

The eminently comfortable Hyundai Palisade placed 10th in the driving category, with a silky V6 engine that works well with the smooth automatic, but tends to feel a touch too docile with steering that's vague and does little to disguise its overall size.

The Honda CR-V felt the most dated of our seven-seat SUV contenders, with a sluggish CVT that’s slow to react and an engine that struggles to shift the heft of the car – landing it in 11th place.

It’s worth noting that despite our best efforts, the Hyundai Santa Fe was a diesel variant, whereas many of our other test cars were petrol-powered. This could explain why the Santa Fe felt out of its depth around town and ranked 12th for driving. It’s comfortable and easy to manoeuvre, but refinement could be improved.

For the full breakdown of driving scores, read Drive's seven-seat SUV megatest summary.

To see all the other categories and cars tested, follow the link to get your comprehensive guide to the Best Family SUVs in Australia for 2023.

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Kez Casey

Kez Casey migrated from behind spare parts counters to writing about cars over ten years ago. Raised by a family of automotive workers, Kez grew up in workshops and panel shops before making the switch to reviews and road tests for The Motor Report, Drive and CarAdvice.

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