Over the last decade or more the majority of Australian new vehicle buyers have switched their allegiance from traditional three-box low-slung passenger cars to high-riding SUVs, or Sport Utility Vehicles.
They come in all sizes and capabilities but are consistently similar in shape. Fundamentally, you can think of them as wagons with a tougher look and a raised view out over the surrounding traffic.
The epicentre of the SUV sales action is in the family-oriented small, medium and large segments, where flexibility and space is often more important than outright off-roading skills – despite the tough styling many models employ.
So let’s have a look at some of the key players on-sale now and a few of the slated new arrivals that might be worth paying attention to when they arrive.
The biggest-selling small SUV has a British name but Chinese ownership and manufacturing.
The latter helps explain why it’s become so popular in Australia. It’s just so affordable and it’s backed up by a generous seven-year warranty.
It’s not a special car to drive that’s for sure, especially in the entry-level petrol iterations. But there is also a battery electric model that until very recently was the cheapest way in Australia to get into a brand new EV.
The aged warrior is in the twilight of its career but still selling strongly, exploiting Mazda’s strong reputation for build quality and driving enjoyment.
The CX-5 is a five-seater that offers three petrol engines and one turbo-diesel option across the range. For its combination of frugality and performance the diesel is an appealing choice. However, because of its high pricing you may find petrol versions more affordable.
The CX-5 is also starting to age in its cabin. It simply can’t match some newer offerings like the Kia Sportage and Hyundai Tucson for infotainment tech.
It’s got exterior looks only its designer could love, but the latest Outlander is one of few medium segment SUVs that offer a plug-in petrol-electric hybrid.
That powertrain’s only available near the top of the range so it’s not cheap, but it does offer the ability to travel for up to 84km at a time without running the petrol engine and venting emissions.
If you can’t cope with the PHEV’s pricing Mitsubishi will be happy to sell you a cheaper petrol-engined model.
The Outlander is also a rare medium SUV that offers third row seating in some models.
For a long time Australia’s biggest selling SUV, the medium-sized RAV comes as a five-seater, with front- or all-wheel drive and the choice of orthodox petrol or petrol-electric hybrid drivetrains.
The hybrid is far more popular for the good reason it charges only a small price premium to deliver substantial fuel economy savings.
The trouble is high voltage battery shortages mean demand for the RAV4 hybrid far outstrips supply and the waiting list now stretches into the years.
Sadly, the pricing of the RAV has been climbing regularly at the same time as the waiting time has been lengthening. That means you could put your deposit down now at the current price and pay a higher price at delivery.
The Everest is the large SUV spin-off of the Ford Ranger ute. So that means it’s set up to go seriously off-road thanks to its technical underpinnings, ground clearance, 4×4 system and tractable turbo-diesel engines.
The Everest is also an excellent choice if you fancy towing a caravan as it can haul up to 3500kg.
The Everest also offers seven-seat space and can perform adequately in the urban commuter role when required.
However, if you don’t plan to venture beyond the ’burbs or tow, it’s probably more vehicles than you need.
Like the Toyota Prado against which it competes for sales, the Everest is not a cheap option either.
Boasting a bit of mini-Maserati look, the five-door five-seat ZR-V is a new nameplate that will be offered as both a 2.0-litre petrol-electric e:HEV hybrid and an orthodox 1.5-litre turbo-petrol.
It will be part one of a dual-pronged Honda hybrid SUV attack on the Toyota RAV4, with the larger new-generation CR-V joining the action later in the year.
The second generation small SUV is going to come this year with the choice of orthodox internal combustion engines, a fuel-saving petrol-electric hybrid and as a zero emissions battery electric vehicle.
At the core of it all, the five-door, five-seat concept of the Kona will remain unchanged, but it will roll on new underpinnings, have new exterior and interior designs and a significant uptick in cabin tech and features.
Pricing will also inevitably go up.
The what? Crosstrek is the new name for the new-generation XV, Subaru’s contender in the small SUV segment.
On-sale around now, the Crosstrek shares its platform with the Impreza small car and comes with those Subaru signatures – a boxer four-cylinder engine and all-wheel drive. A petrol-electric hybrid is also offered.
While the exterior is new – if familiar – the interior has been overhauled and is highlighted by an 11.6-inch vertical infotainment touchscreen.
Never let it be said Mazda follows the herd.
In an era where most major car makers are abandoning internal combustion engine development in favour of electric vehicles, Mazda is flouting the norm.
The CX-60, which arrives in June, is a medium/large SUV that sits on a brand new platform and is powered by a new family of inline six-cylinder petrol and diesel engines that drive all four wheels.
Designed to appeal to more upmarket buyers, the CX-60 is a five-seater that is priced well above the similarly-sized CX-5.
The flagship of the CX-60 range is a plug-in hybrid with more than 70km of range and the most power ever offered by a production Mazda.
A larger seven-seat CX-90 with the same new tech basis has also been announced and confirmed for Australia.
The Prado is proof of just how powerful the Toyota name is among people who want to venture into Australia’s more remote regions.
Despite the current generation tracing its history back to 2009, it still easily outsells much cheaper opposition in the large SUV segment.
But there is a new Prado on the way and we expect it to be revealed in 2023. However, it probably won’t be on-sale here till 2024.
The chat is it might add a hybrid powertrain to its line-up as part of a wheels-up overhaul that is expected to borrow plenty of tech from the latest Toyota LandCruiser wagon.