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Mums test SUVs

Some fall for the high-riding visibility, many feel safer, and a vast majority realise a versatile wagon is the best way to meet the changing and demanding needs of a 21st century lifestyle.

Large four-wheel drives were easy to dismiss as high-priced Toorak Tractors less than 10 years ago, but today's SUVs have flooded every area of new-car showrooms. They come in every size and most price ranges, from compact $20,000-somethings right through to Range Rovers and Porsches with showroom stickers in the $200,000 range.

Women with families were originally forced into suburban work with four-wheel drives which were bought as weekend escape machines, but nowdays there are dozens of SUVs which have been designed to meet the real needs of women.

Nissan even created a virtual woman — 50-something, independent and successful, kids away from home — when it was developing its latest  Murano SUV. The result is a car that's fine for blokes but ticks the boxes for females.  So, what do some regular Australian women think about a range of the most popular SUVs sold in Australia today?

Claire Heaney road-tested the Subaru Forester

Mum of Hannah, 10; Patrick, 8 and Lucy 5.

There was much excitement when I told the kids we were getting a new car - for the weekend.  That was tinged with horror when they learned I, and not their father, would be in the driver's seat.

They think I am a candidate for one of the ‘worst drivers’ shows on telly. And they also hate the fact that when they start clobbering each other I pull over to the side of the road until they promise to stop.  Nonetheless, they waited with anticipation when I left to collect the new car - a Subaru Forester AWD wagon.

First impressions were pleasing. It was lovely - black, sleek, not too big and fitted with roof rails.  Then, as I was handed the key, I was told it was a manual. I was struck with fear. Once I got it reversed, I kangaroo hopped home.

The kids gave the car the once over, giving it the thumbs up. Although the eldest thought the black duco looked a bit "Goth". Seating negotiation was finalised. Our own car is a Toyota Avensis, a small seven-seater that fits the three kids easily. It also means they are separated over two rows of seating. No fighting over window seats.

We popped the bulging booster seat in the middle and I turned myself inside out to buckle them in. Their dad reluctantly slid himself into the front passenger seat. White knuck led, it reminded me of my Dad trying to teach me how to drive.

Fairly soon, I was working my way up through the gears with ease. There were a few hiccups such as when we stalled on the Westgate Freeway. "Hey, this isn't a carpark," my eldest advised.  But once we were out of town and headed for Torquay it came into its own. We noted what a smooth and quiet ride the Subaru offered.

I experimented with the cruise control but the dual range, providing for low gear if you are driving in sand or up a steep hill, wasn't needed.  The seating, once I remembered it did not have armrests, was really comfy.   There were upsides about only have three seats on offer. We avoided the usual badgering about whether a friend could accompany us on our outing. "It's just us today, guys, we can't fit anyone else in," I told them, barely able to suppress my delight.

Sitting side-by-side there was a bit of elbowing and poking going on but the upside was the great wagon space. We had no trouble fitting a picnic, beach bags, boogie boards and other things that would normally be tricky.

Although we are getting to the end of child seats, the clever child restraint attachments would have been welcome not so long ago. I also loved the ease in which one or both the back seats could fold down to create a very big space at the back.

While we may have outgrown such a car, we could see why they are so popular. Two kids at the back, with the armrest and drinks holder and easy on the fuel would be in heaven.


  • Great fuel efficiency.
  • Armrests and drink holders in the back.
  • Stylish design.


  • Bit cramped for three kids in the back.
  • I'd go crazy trying to keep a black car clean - so bear that in mind when choosing the colour.

Wendy Tuohy road-tested the Toyota Landcruiser

Mum of Angus 11, Lachie 10 and Eliza, 6

This car is not a runabout.  In fact, employing its 2.5 tonne, V8 grunt for the school run or supermarket is like saddling up a stallion for the St Kilda pony rides.  Not that driving it isn't a heap of fun.

With awe-inspiring power and excellent suspension -- and much better cabin stability than you'd expect being so high off the ground -- tooling around in Cruiser is a driving novelty.

Everything about it is big, including the gas-guzzling, 4.7 litre engine.  It seats eight, and space in the middle row is so generous it feels about like the whole interior of a smaller car.  The outsized rear vision mirrors offer panoramic views, and the storage compartment in the front console is big enough to hold a handbag -- or small gas bottle, if you are using this as the luxurious bush tractor it so obviously is.
And you could almost fit a Smart Car in the boot.  But for all its size, the LandCruiser is surprisingly easy to handle.

Thanks to a range of new high-tech features, steering is light and agile, and stopping is unexpectedly smooth.  Though in the city, you find yourself riding the brakes a lot.

The five-speed auto engine takes off and effortlessly gathers speed as if itching to head straight for the open road -- not the next set of lights.  Because of its ample space and many creature comforts (leather seats, four temperature zones, sun roof, 10 air bags) you can understand why these took off as people-mover alternatives.

But given its power, weight, and the fact its impact zone with a normal car would be at their head-height, it's also understandable why many disapprove of urban Cruiser use. Let alone the carbon cost.  And reverse parking is a drag.

Sure, reversing cameras help but the LandCruiser just isn't an easy vehicle to back between two normal cars outside the local shops.
But try one for the fun. Men will look at you like they want to jump in -- women like they'd rather shoot the tires out.


  • Interior space
  • Driver and passenger safety features
  • Excellent power steering


  • Hard to reverse park
  • Blocks other drivers view of the road
  • Too much power for town

Ruth Lamperd road-tested the Kia Carnival Grand

Mum of Joe, 10; Daniel, 8 and Charlie 5

Moving three children and their friends around the suburbs means practicality overtakes image on the freeway of life.  While diesel people mover, the Kia Carnival Grand, looks a lot like any other uninspiring longish-nosed van from the outside, its high-end versions on the inside offer luxuries that make the grown-ups feel a little like royalty.

Buttons operate nearly everything and dual air conditioning with personal vents stop squabbles among the passengers.  There are no more heaving on sliding doors or swinging off upward opening boot doors. Power operation makes entering and exiting simple enough for even five-year-olds to manage.  That means far less work and bother for the big people.

The steady flow of childrens quizzing from the back seats are easily heard by the driver thanks to good insulation from road and engine noise.  This is in spite of the diesel engine making it sound more like a truck from the outside than an eight seater van.

A power lag from a standing start like pulling from a side street into a space in a busy road is nearing danger levels if not in reality, at least in driver perception.  Stick your foot to the floor and about a second will pass before you feel any real power and then it comes on so strong that you are pushed firmly back into your seat from the delayed acceleration.

It can provide some scary moments in traffic and belies the ample power otherwise under the bonnet. Hitting the speed limit on a freeway happens deceptively easily and ensures the cruise control albeit a bit shaky in its sensitivity gets a good workout.  There are airbags at every turn and in the event of a head-on crash, manufacturers reassure the nose collapses downwards, ideally leaving drivers legs intact.

Good driver vision of surrounding traffic is impressive.  In the child-friendly stakes (although we didnt test what happens when slow-closing power doors if a kids finger is in the way) its right up there.

A pop-down fish-eye mirror affords the driver a view of little passengers in the back two seat rows. Anything which gives mum a mythical set of eyes in the back of her head has got to be good.


  • Power doors
  • Ease of folding down seats


  • Weak airconditioning
  • Lag on take-off

Pricing guides

Based on 73 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
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Range and Specs

Workmate (4X4) 4.5L, Diesel, 5 SP MAN $44,880 – 52,250 2010 Toyota Land Cruiser 2010 Workmate (4X4) Pricing and Specs
Workmate (4X4) 11 Seat 4.5L, Diesel, 5 SP MAN $53,350 – 61,380 2010 Toyota Land Cruiser 2010 Workmate (4X4) 11 Seat Pricing and Specs
Workmate (4X4) 3 Seat 4.5L, Diesel, 5 SP MAN $52,580 – 60,390 2010 Toyota Land Cruiser 2010 Workmate (4X4) 3 Seat Pricing and Specs
Workmate (4X4) 4.5L, Diesel, 5 SP MAN $48,510 – 55,770 2010 Toyota Land Cruiser 2010 Workmate (4X4) Pricing and Specs
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