Kia Sorento Platinum.
Sharfraz is in the market for a seven-seater SUV or four-wheel-drive. Most of its life will be spent around town but he's into camping so dirt-road exploring will be on the agenda, as will - time permitting - some off-roading. He is weighing up between a Mazda CX-9 Luxury and Toyota Prado GXL. The budget is $50,000-$60,000.
You couldn't have two more different contenders than the CX-9 and Prado. The latter is a big, bulky,
heavy-duty 4WD and one of the toughest customers you'll find for serious off-road duties. For buyers intent on chasing the horizon, it's just about perfect. For those who will never actually venture that far off the beaten track, a light-duty 4WD (or SUV), such as the CX-9, should rightly come into play.
So, in many respects, the ball is in Sharfraz's court. He is going to have to decide whether his dreams of adventure are really going to turn into reality in order to make the best choice.
In the Mazda and Toyota, though, he has two good counterpoints, especially the latter, which stands alone as the serious off-roader's rig of choice. The former, while hardly an SUV to shy away from, does have some tantalising alternatives, such as the third contender we've thrown into the fray.
Kia Sorento Platinum diesel, from $50,390
Why this Kia? Well, it costs a lot less than the Mazda but has even more luxury toys and a gutsy diesel engine, which is what you want on any heavy car, such as a seven-seat SUV.
It also smacks its Japanese rival in the chops with a five-year warranty. And if you don't like the looks and can handle a little less driving polish it has a close relative - Hyundai's Sante Fe - to back it up.
The Sorento's cabin, though, could be roomier and more user-friendly, and the final row has tiny windows and a lack of curtain airbags. It has a comfortable on-road ride and good road-holding, with sufficient give for rough roads.
Mazda CX-9 AWD Luxury, from $57,480
The recently updated CX-9 pulls harder on the heartstrings than many mainstream SUVs with its good looks and road manners.
The cabin also wins points for its generous space, great user-friendliness and curtain bags for all three rows, and its petrol V6 is a willing and refined performer.
But that V6's hefty thirst, compounded by the lack of a diesel option, means pain at the pump. You don't get much to show for its price premium over the Kia, nor does it have an answer to that car's five-year warranty or capped servicing, and the firm ride isn't that compatible with rough dirt roads.
Toyota Prado GXL, from $60,990
This Toyota has many of the things you'd want in a good seven-seat SUV, including plenty of space, solid safety (you get a reversing camera and curtain bags that cover all three rows), diesel availability and capped servicing.
But it's harder to park, wobblier through the bends, noisier and less economical than similarly priced SUVs. If you want all the toys they get (such as satnav), you'll have to step up to the $70,000-plus VX. There are rewards, such as its immense off-road nous, cushy dirt-road ride and massive 150-litre fuel capacity, but you'll need to be in the boondocks to appreciate them.
If you really want to get out there and test your off-road mettle then the Prado is the winner. The reality, though, is most buyers dream of such exploits but never end up following through. And in that circumstance an SUV such as the Kia or Mazda is a smarter choice.
Which one? Well, if you didn't care about economy, service costs or a long warranty the stylish, sweet-driving CX-9 offers more enrichment for the soul. But we'd find it very hard not to be swayed by the Kia's price, warranty, capped servicing, diesel economy and more dirt-friendly character. If it's not as easy to love as its Japanese alternative, it's close enough to make its rational advantages count.