Families used to flock to saloons and estates to transport their nearest, dearest and their luggage around. Nowadays, however, SUVs (Sports Utility Vehicles) are the family-hauler of choice for many households.
The extra height gives a more commanding view of the road ahead, while optional four-wheel drive on most models brings a level of ability should conditions get slippery. Equally, a higher car means you don’t have to bend down to install kids in child seats and elderly relatives don’t have to contort too much to get in.
Off-road performance isn’t particularly important in an SUV (that’s where the 2014 4×4 shortlist comes in), so we judged according to their efficiency, practicality, comfort – essential considerations for families.
The British-built Nissan Qashqai has won over many reviewers with its balance of practicality, frugality and comfort. Inside the sturdily built cabin there’s loads of space for passengers with enough legroom for four adults to sit in comfort. Plenty of storage space is dotted about the cabin and the boot is a reasonable size with a low loading lip.
There’s only a small selection of turbocharged petrol and diesel engines, but reviewers favour the 1.5 dCi for its efficiency and willingness to accelerate at low speeds. The Qashqai won’t sway many racing drivers, but for families, it’s about as good as it gets.
Small SUVs are big sellers, and the Renault Captur is about as small as they come. Sitting on a revised Clio platform, its bold front end features a large Renault badge in the centre. This is an SUV meant for the road, so there’s no four-wheel drive, not even as an option. You do get the usual range of Renault-Nissan alliance’s engines, including the 1.5 dCi, which most reviewers felt was best suited to the car.
The chassis, like most family cars, is set up for comfort rather than handling prowess and, provided you spec the smaller wheels, it’s comfortable and secure on the road.
Mazda’s CX-5 comes in as the most expensive car on this shortlist, but don’t be put off because you get what you pay for. The CX-5 comes with Mazda’s range of Skyactiv engines that are among the most efficient units available anywhere on the market. The 2.2-litre diesel is particularly well suited to the CX-5 delivering its plentiful torque cleanly and willingly from very low in the rev-range.
In addition, the CX-5 handles very well, gripping hard through corners and feeling planted at speed. It may ride slightly firmer than rivals but it’s never crashy and the payoff is excellent handling.