What's the Best Family SUV?

best family suv

Not what you were looking for? Check out the SUV Advice home page >>


We are in the market for a new family SUV to replace our ageing Mazda CX-9. We are considering a Honda CRV or a Hyundai Santa Fe. The seven seats while it would be nice to have in the future aren't a deal breaker. We have two kids with a small possibility of three in the future, so we want it large enough to accommodate growing kids.

Confused regarding the diesel vs petrol option - will be doing mostly around town driving with a little highway driving so worried about diesel particles blocking the particle filter.

Are you aware if a new model Hyundai Santa Fe is being released any time in the near future that we should hold off for? Are there any other cars we should be considering? We liked the look of the Mazda CX-5 however we think it might be on the small side. I would appreciate any advice to help us with our decision.



best family suv


I'm increasingly of the view the Honda CR-V is a joke - a nice looking joke, but a joke. It has an outdated engine requiring incredibly high revs to perform, with no innovation and outdated technology, and the sat-nav in it is notoriously unreliable, and cannot be fixed. (They fail and freeze all the time.) Honda has been asleep at the wheel since before the GFC, and this is well reflected in the current product range.

Read how Honda lost the plot >>

You’d be much better off in a Hyundai Tucson, which is a direct competitor. Tucson has a better warranty (5yr/unlimited kilometres versus Honda's 3yr/100,000km), better servicing (12mth/capped price for life versus 6mth not capped). Or a Mazda CX-5, which is superior in most ways.

best family suv


Santa Fe and CR-V are not direct competitors. CR-V is a five-seat SUV, and Santa Fe is seven. And you do pay significantly more for the extra seats. Because I can see you considering the CR-V, you probably don’t really need a seven seater. 

[We want it] “large enough to accommodate growing kids” - if your eldest child is five and you do in fact ultimately have a third child, and if you keep the vehicle for a massive seven years, the eldest will be 12, and the youngest will be just seven. Any 12-year-old who hasn’t been force-fed human growth hormone from birth would fit comfortabley in the back of a Hyundai i30 or Mazda3 - so I’d say by any rational analysis, a five-seat SUV will accommodate your family for several years to come. 

I’ve just done a test on my long-term Hyundai Santa Fe test car: three months of only short trips. No long distance driving. (I live in Sydney.) It hasn’t managed to compromise the filter. The Santa Fe still runs brilliantly - and I’m inferring from this that the carmakers are getting better at managing regeneration in the filter. (Technology always improves with time.) If I were you I would not worry about this. 


Your comments re CX-5: CX-5 is superior to CR-V in most ways, but your assessment of its size is incorrect. They are almost identical in size, and CX-5 has a larger cargo volume. Let's compare the dimensions of four key SUVs:

Honda CR-V

2015 cr-v.jpg

Length: 4585 mm
Width: 1820 mm
Height: 1685 mm
Wheelbase: 2620 mm
Seats: 5
Max. cargo: 1120 litres

Mazda CX-5

2015 CX-5.jpg

Length: 4540 mm
Width: 1840 mm
Height: 1710 mm
Wheelbase: 2700 mm
Seats: 5
Max. cargo: 1560 litres

Hyundai Santa Fe

2015 Santa Fe.jpg

Length: 4690 mm
Width: 1880 mm
Height: 1690 mm
Wheelbase: 2700 mm
Seats: 7
Max. cargo: 1615 litres

Hyundai Tucson

2015 tucson.jpg

Length: 4475 mm
Width: 1850 mm
Height: 1660 mm
Wheelbase: 2670 mm
Seats: 5
Max. cargo: 1478 litres

(Wheelbase is the front-to-back distance between the wheels. It’s a good indicator of relative passenger legroom.)

People often make determinations about the relative sizes of SUVs (and cars) without consulting the actual dimensions. Unfortunately, if there's one thing the human brain is really bad at, it's assessing volume, length, width, and height. We're good at looking at shapes and drawing conclusions ... often erroneous ones. What really matters is how well the people are accommodated, and whether you can fit all your stuff in the cargo bay. If in any doubt - bring the stuff with you to the dealership and give it a test fit. It's very bad news to assume the golf bags, the two prams, the bicycles - whatever - will fit, and afterwards (once the car is in your driveway) to hear yourself uttering the immortal words of Maxwell Smart (missed it by that much).

More advice about evaluating vehicles in my report: How to test drive like a pro >>

It's interesting how the perception can be that the CX-5 might be too small when in fact it has a longer wheelbase as well as more cargo volume and greater height and width compared with CR-V - obviously though, they are very similar. More CX-5 reports >>

Interesting also how close in size the Santa Fe is to the others. You really do pay a premium for the seven seats.


Hyundai Tucson Highlander images - click to enlarge

My advice to you is: look really hard at the new Hyundai Tucson Highlander. Five seats, great warranty/service arrangement, full-sized spare, better equipped than current Santa Fe Highlander. And the price is very hard to argue with, especially when compared with the CX-5 Akera - and that's an SUV I really do like. See why I like the CX-5 Akera so much >>

best family suv


Santa Fe will be upgraded at some point later this year. It is unclear exactly what form that upgrade will take, but the motivation will be to equate Santa Fe Highlander with Tucson Highlander, and therefore logically it will include adaptive cruise control and blind spot warning. 

Hyundai also has a Grand Santa Fe in its inventory (100mm longer than our Santa Fe). Because the Kia Sorento is now about that much longer than Santa Fe they might choose to introduce this stretched version at that time. However, this would be a big, expensive step for them to take.

The adaptive cruise and blind spot warning are virtually assured, but everything else is just speculation at this point. They might also add some other equipment, though it is hard to see what (it’s already comprehensively equipped).