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SUVs get the chop

The compact SUVs spruiked at the show all had the same message: it’s still big enough, but it drinks less at the bowser.

For the first time in a while, the show itself opened not with a futuristic technological concept car, but with an old-school ex-army urban assault vehicle.

As the covers dropped on Holden’s new import, the H3 Hummer, there was absolute silence from the media, the photographers, and Holden employees.

It was a heavy decision indeed, to make the ‘smaller’ H3 Hummer the opening star attraction.

But it set a precedent for the rest of the show.

Big is not necessarily better anymore, and even the leviathan Hummer has been shrunk to a more user-friendly size. So goes it with the SUV market, entering a mid-sized makeover with several smaller, more user-friendly five and seven seat models.

A different seven-seater on the Holden stand may prove slightly more popular to both media and the environmentally and socially aware buyer.

The Captiva is Holden’s new foray into the SUV market, a big moneymaking niche from which it has been excluded since the demise of Jackeroo and Frontera in the early 2000s.

The newly-released five-and seven-seat Captiva, which runs a 3.2-litre six and sips 11.5L/100km, is Holden’s hopeful in the battle against arch-enemy Ford and its long-running local favourite, the Territory. But the Holden will have company.

Though the SUV market has taken a dive in recent times, the mid-sized market is in a revival.

Three prominent new mid-sized car based SUVs were launched at the 2006 Motor Show: the Land Rover Freelander 2; Subaru Tribeca; and Mazda CX-7.

The Freelander 2 stands apart from the bunch as a premium model with more focus on off-road ability.

The tired first-gen model with its lacklustre engines and major handling and safety concerns is replaced with two new models running a 171kW 3.2-litre six petrol and beefy 400Nm 2.2-litre TD4 diesel.

Both are connected to a six-speed auto and full-time 4X4 system, and both the exterior and interior of the new model has had a major design overhaul. It looks tough, instead of tired.

Subaru has finally brought in a model for the five-plus family to gorge on.

Fears of losing the brand-loyal but expanding family have brought the Tribeca to the fore, part SUV, part MPV, Tribeca is the first all-new Subaru since the Forester in 1998.

While second and third row seating in the seven-seat model looked tight, and its big hamster nose is as polarising as a pair of sunnies, the equipment levels for price of the $55K and up model line, combined with the safety of AWD, six airbags and five-stars in crash testing is a sure inducement.

But the buzz surrounding the Mazda CX-7 was loudest in media circles.

Looking like a Mazda3 on steroids, the CX-7 is the shapely new SUV entry that will join the recently-facelifted but still ageing Tribute, and the plain old MPV models.

Just like the recently-launched MX-5 Coupe, we were the first market in the world to see the right-hand drive version of the CX-7, and also will be the first to get it on the street (in mid-November).

CX-7 is definitely a challenge for Ford’s Territory Turbo; it is powered by the turbocharged 2.3-litre four-cylinder DISI engine from the Mazda Performance Series (MPS) in the 6 and 3 lineup.

Slightly down on power at 175kW (compared to the sedan and hatch MPS’s 184kW) and in auto only, CX-7 should be on or under $45K for the luxury model, with a bargain basement base sitting well below the leather and BOSE specced flagship.

It is five-seat only, but a proposed seven-seat CX-9 (are the numbers confusing you yet?) could be here in another one or two motor shows.

Ssangyong also had a tilt at the compact SUV market with their Motor Show release of the Actyon.

Dubbed a “coupe SUV”, the Actyon further demonstrated a trend for car makers to trim down the softroader end of their “4WDs”.

The Actyon is driven by a 2.0-litre turbo-diesel engine, with 104kW and 310Nm, and also comes with a 2.3-litre four with 110kW.

The Actyon will also have electronic stability control and double-wishbone front suspension with a five-link rear end.

Be it sporty, off-road capable, or fitting into a small parking space while fitting the basketball team in its innards, the irony still remains. In a world crammed with oversized SUVs, the mid-sized and compact market is also eyeing off a big parking spot. It is harder to argue the negatives of these more socially friendly, eco-friendly and carpark-friendly SUVs.

Thank goodness for the likes of the Hummer H3.

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