Buying the right SUV for your family’s needs

My wife and I have 2 cars that are both around 15 years old and its time to update. The primary driver for an update (of at least one...

My wife and I have 2 cars that are both around 15 years old and its time to update. The primary driver for an update (of at least one of these cars) is the impending arrival of our first child (any day now). We want to ensure we have the space we need to facilitate family trips comfortably, combine that with the fact we’d love to take advantage of the new technology and safety available in new cars and its time to update.

After owning mid-sized sedans, now its time to do the family thing and look at an SUV instead. Over the past few months we’ve spent hours researching and considering our options, and have narrowed the possible vehicles down to just 3.

Making the decision as to which one is right is ultimately a game of priorities. Those priorities ultimately come down to the following (most important, least important)

  • Storage space
  • Technology
  • Design & Safety
  • Comfort
  • Price
  • Fuel efficiency
  • Performance

Everyone will have a different set of priorities as they enter a big decision like a vehicle purchase, but this is ours. If there was a clear winner, it’d be a no brainer, but there just isn’t, so the question is, what are you prepared compromise on?

Space & Storage

We need a car that’s going to fit a car seat (maybe 2 in the future), a pram and if we go on holidays, a couple of suit cases. This means the boot space litre count, needs to facilitate that. If it doesn’t and a couple years in we can’t fit what we need, we’ll regret the purchase.

Technology

Cars have come a long way in the last 10-15 years, particularly in driver assists and infotainment. Android Auto and Apple Car Play support is obviously preferred over a manufacturer that rolls their own. I also think Adaptive Cruise Control and reverse parking camera are must have features. I’d love rain-sensing windscreen wipers and automatic headlights, but am willing to leave a few items off the list if the budget can’t stretch for them.

Design & Safety

I spent a lot of money on my current car for aftermarket parts to enhance the appearance of my car. This investment achieved my ultimate goal, which was to call that car mine and to put a smile on your face when you see it. In a new car, I’m after something modern, something that turns heads, but in the SUV market, that seems to be harder than in sedans.

Sure there’s stunning designs like Range Rover Sport or the Lexus RX, but they come with a serious price tag that’s probably out of our range (especially if we want 2 of them).

Comfort

How comfortable a vehicle is, is determined by a number of attributes. How good the suspension is and how much of the impact of a bump is passed through to the passengers. How do the seats feel (particularly on a longer journey). How much room is there in the back seat, particularly if there’s a car seat in there. Are there rear vents and charging outlets for all passengers? How far do the rear doors open, to allow easy access to the baby.

These are the differences between a comfortable and uncomfortable life in the car.

Price

This is a difficult one, what can you afford and what can’t you? There isn’t an exact number, rather than just level impact on your cash flow, that you’re willing to put up with. Here’s the hard part, at the cheaper end of the range, start around A$30k, but for that you have to say goodbye to a lot of the nicer technology features.

At the top end, you’re looking at around $50k, but that’s everything you could want from a car in this price range. At that price, you could be a long way to paying for a second car, there in lies the problem and complexity in your decision.

Talking more generally, I’d love to say electric cars were here and affordable, but they’re not. Even if you could tick the box on size and storage, the most realistic EV for us would be the upcoming Tesla Model 3, problem is availability, it’s not hitting Australia till next year. Starting around A$60, its still a massive premium to go electric.

We’re planning on having this new car (or cars) for at least 10 years, but in that time, the landscape for vehicles will change like never before. Driverless cars are about revolutionise transport around the world and by 2020. 2021 almost every decent manufacturer will be selling them. Fast forward to 2030 and its likely resale values of cars that require humans to drive, will crash to be worth almost nothing. That’s how we have to think about car purchases now, its not like in years gone by where you could predict with some certainty what your resale value would be at the end of your use for it. Not anymore. We have to think of this purchase as money we’ll never see again.

Fuel efficiency

The weekly running costs of our new SUV is an important consideration as a new human in our lives will have plenty of their own. While an SUV is less aerodyanic than a sleek sedan, we’re still expecting a dramatic improvement over our older vehicles.

Performance

It may be strange to some that performance is so low on this list, but given every car can hit 110km/hr, its just not a metric that’s meaningful to us. Of course you’d love a rapid response to putting your foot down (particularly for overtakes), but it is something that is low on the priority list.

So understanding those priorities, here’s the 3 vehicles we’ve shortlisted.

  • Honda CRV (great blend of features)
  • Mazda CX5 (best design, no Android Auto/Apple Carplay, smaller boot)
  • Kia Sportage (best value)

While there’s many other great SUV’s on the market, their priority list, didn’t match ours.

At the end of the day, when researching a new car, you’ll need to spend lots of time working your way through each of the manufacturer websites for the vehicles, checking and comparing specs, features and pricing options. Personally I started collating this information in a spreadsheet as none of the online comparison sites offer the exact set of numbers I needed.

Once you narrow the list of contenders to around 3, its time to go and get hands-on with a test drive. All the photos in the world won’t tell you how something feels to be in it, how the suspension and steering feel as you drive and how the car feels as you imagine it in your life.

Overall

You know the show X Factor? Well cars seem to have this as well, there’s a feeling that you get when you’re in a car, as to whether it fits you like a glove and you’re instantly at home, or if you need to adapt to the car. Everyone’s preferences and priorities will be different to ours, but its likely you’ll go through a very similar evaluation process, before you ever set foot in a dealership. This speaks to the modern challenges of a car sales person in 2018, you’re dealing with highly informed buyers and you need to act quick to explain why the car you’re selling is better than the competition.

You can’t leverage the spec sheet, the customer probably knows that better than you, ultimately your biggest asset to influence the decision making process is how you can sweeten the deal, what accessories are you going to throw in, or how much are you going to knock off the price?

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Creator of techAU, Jason has spent the dozen+ years covering technology in Australia and around the world. Bringing a background in multimedia and passion for technology to the job, Cartwright delivers detailed product reviews, event coverage and industry news on a daily basis.
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