SINGAPORE - We now take a look at a category that was once viewed as something of a niche segment when it first started growing about 20 years back but has now become a bona-fide force to be reckoned with in the auto industry.
The SUV, or Sports Utility Vehicle, was once the domain of true off-road hustlers like the Jeep Wrangler, Land Rover Defender and even the little Suzuki Jimny.
The segment was expanded when auto designers realised that you can make an offroad vehicle kind of car-like and comfortable too, and urban drivers will surely appreciate the higher driving position and extra space in the cabin.
The result was that as soon as people cottoned on to the fact that a family car doesn't have to be a three-box sedan, the urban SUV category really took off.
The mid-sized SUVs are a step up from small SUVs (like the Honda HR-V) and generally cost above $120k with Certificate of Entitlement (COE), but their size and price also mean they've spelt the doom of the large sedan segment, which included cars such as the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.
Big interior room is a hallmark of mid-sized SUVs
Many mid-sized SUVs these days don't even have genuine off-road capabilities, but are sold to drivers that simply like their cars to look a little rugged while being able to ferry the whole family in comfort, and perhaps their bicycles or sports gear (hence 'sport utility') for a little sporting fun.
That's no real loss however, as removing the heavy, complicated off-road capable mechanisms usually make the cars cheaper, more economical, and lighter for urban street use.
CarBuyer.com.sg is aiming to make it easy for you to zero in on the best you can get in Singapore, since we have chosen the top three mid-sized SUVs currently on sale in 2022, along with two strong contenders to also consider.
Toyota RAV4 Hybrid
Our pick: Toyota RAV4 Hybrid 2.5 Premium from $196,888 with COE (June 2022)
History has shown that successful cars with long lifespans are usually because the formula was right the first time out, and the RAV4 proves this point. That and well, it has evolved with each generation to fit the automotive trends of its time, having gone from a baby Toyota Land Cruiser to an urban family SUV.
The RAV4 Hybrid is classic Toyota, meaning that it's spacious, durable, comfortable, and reliable.
A large 2.5-litre petrol four-cylinder engine, plus electric motor, gives the car a total power output of 215 horsepower which is plenty for a car of this size. The big engine doesn't do it any favours where road tax is concerned, but it is ridiculously efficient on fuel.
When we test drove one we returned 4.6l/100km over three days of urban driving. It doesn't feel like it in practice, but with a 0 to 100km/h timing of 8.1 seconds it's actually pretty brisk when necessary.
The car has a full suite of active safety features with pre-collision alert and braking, dynamic radar cruise control, lane departure alert with steering assistance, and automatic high beam assist as standard. It also gets a wireless smartphone charger, electric tailgate, and driver's memory seat.
Where it doesn't live up to expectation perhaps is in the 9.0-inch, touchscreen infotainment display that is an aftermarket, non-factory piece of kit. However, it does have Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity.
There's just one trim level so it's easy to choose, and thanks to generous VES rebates at this point in time, the hybrid version of the car costs no more than the standard petrol 2.0-litre version. At $196,888 with COE as of July 2022, the RAV4 Hybrid is still pricey as a family car but that's the COE for you these days.
Our pick: MG HS 1.5 Turbo from $179,888 with COE (June 2022)
When we tested the MG HS 1.5 Turbo in 202 it cost just $99,888 with Certificate Of Entitlement. That's an attractively low price for a highly competitive family SUV.
It's nearly doubled in price since then, but that's the effects of steeply rising COE prices for you right there.
The money buys you a five-seat, five-door car with 160 horsepower and a seven-speed twin-clutch auto. But behind the engine compartment is where the MG really impresses.
The cabin looks and feels expensive, and the car itself is equipped with lots of features: Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a panoramic glass roof, auto wipers and headlights, a high-quality 10.1 touchscreen, and so on.
In the back, there's ample room, and the MG is quiet on the move with a firm ride that never really degenerates into a harsh one.
The MG badge might be British, but the company behind the HS is China's SAIC Motor, a colossal, ambitious carmaker that has obviously invested plenty into making its export cars feel like quality products.
If you're after an SUV on a budget, it would be an error to skip the MG because of its China connection. Indeed, the car would probably be much worse if MG were still owned by the British.
Our pick: Skoda Karoq Style 1.5 TFSI from $195,900 with COE (June 2022)
If you've been around long enough to remember Skoda's patchy history in Singapore and are still slightly doubtful if the Czech brand delivers, it's time to leave it all behind.
As a proper part of the Volkswagen group, Skoda came back to Singapore (distributed under Volkswagen Singapore no less) and its brand of European value proved an immediate hit.
Now heralded as a more affordable alternative to VW, and the Karoq shares a lot of its architecture with the VW Tiguan and VW Golf. What you don't get however, is the VW price tag.
The Karoq was given a pretty big facelift in late 2021, but the excellent 1.5-litre turbo engine with 150 horsepower is still here, coupled to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.
Clever cabin features like configurable rear seats and durable bag hooks in the boot ensure that your things stay in place as you drive. It's all proper continental quality and the car does feel and drive like something that should cost more.
Further convenience and tech features that make the car appealing include the SmartLink function, which includes Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink.
Driving dynamics are pretty much on par with the VW Tiguan, with the lively engine excelling in the cut-and-thrust of urban city driving, and with excellent fuel economy as well. All Karoq variants have seven airbags for added peace of mind.
The Style variant ($195,900 with COE) is pricier than the base model Sportline ($193,900 with COE) variant, and the extra price gets you leather seats and adaptive lane guidance, plus paddle shifters on the steering wheel. For just a $3k bump in price over the Sportline, the Style does add a lot to the mix
Watch our video walkthrough of the Skoda Karoq's bigger brother, the Kodiaq, to understand why Skodas are pretty good value for money right now:
Our pick: Toyota Harrier 2.0 Premium from $209,800 with COE (June 2022)
Though not as populous on local roads as before, thanks to COE prices pushing the cost of maintaining a medium-sized SUV way up, the Toyota Harrier is still one of the best bang-for-bucks cars in this category.
The fourth-generation Harrier has a much more luxurious cabin that feels like it was plucked out from a Lexus. Full mobile phone connectivity is a given, and there are other luxury bits like the video camera-enabled rearview mirror.
In the case of the top spec Luxury variant there's even a panoramic glass roof that frosts over at the touch of a button.
Generous legroom for all occupants add to the car's overall sense of it being an upscale Toyota, and the drive experience is slightly smoother than what the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid can muster.
Fuel economy is typical for a Toyota petrol-electric hybrid, which is to say, quite sensational. With a 55-litre fuel tank and quoted economy of 4.7l/100km, the car can theoretically cover more than 1000km between fill-ups.
The Luxury variant is a hefty $17k pricier than the base model Premium edition, which already has most of the good stuff but minus the huge panoramic glass roof. The driving experience of the Premium variant is essentially unchanged from the top-spec car, and with the cost savings we think the Premium Harrier is the one to get.
As mentioned, the SUV segment is on fire still, so there's plenty of choice here. The next two cars are more expensive, which is why they're not top of the class: The VW Tiguan is the car to get if you want a more premium choice, and the DS 7 Crossback is the luxurious European choice you've never heard of, but should definitely check out.
Essentially a posh version of the Skoda Karoq, the recently-facelifted Volkswagen Tiguan occupies an interesting position in this segment, where it is marketed as a step above the mainstream contenders but still more affordable to own and maintain than a luxury vehicle.
If you compare the Tiguan with the Skoda Karoq back to back, you'll immediately note the family resemblance, especially in the cabin. The Tiguan does look more muscular from the outside though.
The base trim level, dubbed the Elegance, now costs $209,900 with COE, while the R-Line goes for $228,900 with COE. The difference in price is largely accounted for by the R-Line bodykit, multi-function steering wheel, wireless phone connectivity, and a heads-up display.
Both are powered by 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engines with 190 horsepower and adaptive four-wheel drive so this is a real SUV capable of some offroading too.
With a slick Active Info Display and Dynaudio sound system, the Tiguan feels exactly like what it is, which is a slicker and better-featured version of the Skoda Karoq.
Check out the VW Tiguan romping about off the road!
The new Nissan Qashqai will take some getting used to. At $174,800 with COE for the Premium variant and $189,900 with COE for the Prestige variant, it's no longer the budget family SUV that the earlier versions used to be.
With almost Volkswagen Tiguan levels of comfort and a very techy cabin, the Qashqai has really leapfrogged classes and moved upwards.
It's still a smaller car than the Toyota RAV4, but the interior does feel a lot more upmarket. The 1.3-litre turbo petrol engine has mild hybrid assistance and makes a pretty decent 157 horsepower, but this of course puts the car into the more expensive Category B COE bracket. It's a very clean-burning engine though, and has a VES rating of A2, giving it a $15k rebate already factored into the asking price.
The driving experience is top-notch Nissan, with sure-footed handling and a smooth ride at high speed. The cabin is a little smaller than the other cars in this category, but does feel quite posh, helped along by the all-digital instrument cluster and panoramic moonroof of the Prestige variant.