Seven seater SUVs are hugely popular and with good reason. It’s not that every second family is doing their own Brady Bunch impersonation, it’s just that they are hugely practical. Great for running you and the neighbours’ kids to footy, space for the dogs, room for Bunnings essentials – wait, is anything from Bunnings essential? Anyway, you get the idea.
If you’ve decided to go down the seven seater route and chosen to ignore my suggested alternative – a Golf and contraception – you will find that seven seaters fall into two distinct flavours; off-roader and soft-roader.
A quick wrap of the seven seater SUVs to grace the EFTM Garage recently sees two of each falling neatly into these two categories; the Nissan Patrol and Ford Everest in the off road camp and the Kia Sorento and Mazda CX9 in the soft road camp.
Starting with the heavy hitter, the Nissan Patrol Ti-L retails for a rather scary $102646, but the almost as well equipped Patrol Ti comes in at a more reasonable $85606. Still big bucks, but almost cheap when you consider just how spacious and capable it is.
The smooth, smooth 5.6 litre V8 loves a drink, but it is addictively lucious. It has an achilles heel though – as good as it is to have acres of space, and despite the best efforts of the hydraulic body control system, it’s not exactly a lithe handler. Over time, steering the S.S. Hiratsuka through countless suburban roundabouts becomes tiresome.
Ford’s Ranger based Everest Sport is, mostly, as capable off road and gives only a little away in space to the big Nissan while coming in at a much more reasonable $65490 – a handy $20k saving. So, what do you give away for 20 large. Sophistication is the first casualty.
The Ford really does show its commercial vehicle heritage, with a powerful, but gruff five cylinder 3.2 or smoother, but more expensive, twin turbo 2.0 four cylinder, it really is quite truck-like. The coil sprung rear end is far more supple than the leaf springs fitted to its Ranger twin, but is a very long way behind the Patrol’s comfort and long distance travel capabilities. Still, at least you get Apple CarPlay in the Ford.
Load capacity if towing at the Ford’s maximum 3000kg is also significantly compromised, necessitating a step up to the beefier Patrol or rival Landcruiser.
If off-roading isn’t your thing, you’re actually spoilt for choice in seven-seater SUVs, including the cheap, but well equipped LDV D90 and the sporty, but strangely oil-burning SKODA Kodiaq RS. Two that should definitely be on your shopping shortlist are Mazda’s CX9 and Kia’s Sorento.
With Mazda’s CX9 range starting at $45k for the front wheel drive Sport and culminating in the extensively equipped all wheel drive Azami ($70485), there is generally a significant saving for sacrificing off-road ability.
More importantly though, soft roaders make far better road cars than their more dirt oriented counterparts. The CX9 is beautifully finished and a fine, if dreary, handler.
Think less Zoom, Zoom, and more room, room. It is a car that I have happily recommended to friends. I just wish Mazda could get their MX5 engineers to give it more sparkle.
Despite the quality of the Mazda, you can save even more of the family’s shekels by leaving Japan behind for the cracking value of Korean brand Kia. Kia’s Sorento offers as much useable space as both the Everest and CX9 (forget the Patrol; it may as well be in a different galaxy let alone a quick snapshot comparison of usable space) and is mostly as well equipped as its competitors, all while offering longer warranties and fixed price servicing (seven years for both).
The front-drive V6 petrol is actually a tidy little handler and relishes in being steered by the throttle through the twisties. It has weaknesses, of course. The rearview camera, for example, is a low-resolution unit – fine during the day, but next to useless in the dark. A minor issue, sure, and no worse than the unit fitted to the Patrol, but lightyears behind the super high resolution, swiveling unit fitted to Volkswagen’s Touareg (a car that should be a seven-seater, but isn’t).
So, there you have it. Not so much a definitive head-to-head as a little taster of what you should be thinking about if you need a big family hauler. Have a really honest conversation with yourself regarding your off-roading needs.
It could be that a soft-roader will do all that you need while delivering a tidy saving.
Nissan Patrol Ti-L
- Sweet, sweet V8
- Built to last
- You need every camera it has to park the thing
- Very dated, but capable, infotainment system
- More affordable than a LandCruiser… but more expensive than really anything else in the family seven-seat field
ON A TEST DRIVE: Check that you’ve got your Coles fuel voucher – it loves a drink.
Ford Everest Sport
- Looks great in “Sport” trim
- Built to last
- Still a jiggly ride, despite the coil spring rear end
- Has none of the sophistication of the Nissan
- Feels cheap compared to more car-based opponents
ON A TEST DRIVE: Check that you really need the more expensive and complicated twin turbo four cylinder – I prefer the cheaper gruff and grunty five cylinder.
- Beautifully finished
- Conservative style is classless
- Safe as houses handling
- Expensive Azami model is the most appealing in the range
- My God, it’s dull
- I wish it was so badly that it was a seven seat MX5
ON A TEST DRIVE: Check that you don’t knock your head on the low boot lid.
- Compellingly affordable
- Front wheel drive handling
- As good as the expensive brands…
- The more expensive “Executive” weakens this value
- Front-wheel drive wet road wheelspin
- As good as the expensive brands…Most of the time
ON A TEST DRIVE: Check that you really can live with the front-wheel drive’s wheelspin – you feel like a contestant at SummerNats.