Hyundai's new seven-seater Santa Fe is a great option of a family SUV.

Hyundai's new seven-seater Santa Fe is a great option of a family SUV.

The dilemma

Mark's lease on his 2010 Subaru Tribeca is ending soon. He likes its seven-seat capacity (less because his family of four needs it more than for the added versatility), luxurious specification (especially its heated seats) and all-wheel-drive traction (he occasionally travels to the snow), while its towing capabilities (2000-kilogram braked towing capacity; 160-kilogram tow-ball limit) are perfect for caravanning. He'd love another Tribeca, but with no word from Subaru about a replacement, is wondering what else he should look at. The budget is up to $60,000.

The shortlist

Mark reckons Mazda's CX-9 probably comes closest to matching his Tribeca's talent set, and if he just wants the same strengths and weaknesses, it wouldn't be a bad place to start. But we'd tend towards the other SUVs he's considering, such as Ford's Territory and Hyundai's Santa Fe/Kia's Sorento cousins, all of which can be had with more economical diesel engines than the Mazda's big petrol V6.

In light of the Korean pair's similarities, we will focus on the one Mark prefers, the Hyundai. That leaves a spot free for another seven-seater SUV that - while ostensibly not fighting in the same weight division as the Ford and Hyundai - might be up for the job.

Ford Territory Titanium AWD diesel, from $62,740

This is a step up from the Tribeca in some ways, from its agile and refined road manners to its roomier, more user-friendly cabin and capped servicing.

Its towing capabilities are superior (this top-line diesel AWD packs a 2700-kilogram braked capacity and 160-kilogram tow-ball limit), while the smooth 140kW 2.7-litre turbo-diesel V6 has better low-rev shove and uses less fuel.

Despite capped-price servicing, reliability niggles are well documented. It's starting to look and feel old (no surprise for a design that lobbed in 2004) and - despite its $60K-plus price - misses out on features such as heated seats.

Read Drive’s Ford Territory reviews:

Ford Territory diesel road test

Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander, from $49,990

This has appeal with its competitive price, bulging specifications (including heated seats for both rows), five-year warranty and capped-price servicing. That might be less surprising than how good it looks, how nicely it's presented inside and how reassuringly it drives. It's spacious, versatile and has a great 145kW 2.2-litre diesel engine, while an optional tow kit (2000-kilogram capacity/150-kilogram tow-ball limit) brings it in line with Mark's Tribeca.

The Santa Fe, while decent to drive, isn't exceptional like the Ford, while final-row occupants get crook vision from tiny side windows.

Read Drive’s Hyundai Santa Fe reviews:

Mitsubishi Outlander Aspire diesel, from $45,490

With its less-enticing appearance and uninspiring cabin, this isn't an easy car to love. But the cheapest package here, while squeezier than a Territory, is barely any smaller than the Santa Fe. Its 2000-kilogram capacity and 200-kilogram tow-ball limit endow it with similar towing abilities, as does its flexible 110kW 2.2-litre diesel engine.

The Aspire throws in heaps of gear (including heated seats) and matches the Hyundai's five-year warranty and capped servicing. It's not much chop to drive, though, thanks to mushy handling.

Read Drive’s Mitsubishi Outlander reviews:

Mitsubishi Outlander Aspire diesel road test

Drive recommends

The Territory’s sprawling space, brilliant road manners and strong-arm towing abilities are desirable but it also breaks Mark's budget (albeit not by much) and isn't that well equipped or well covered on the warranty front. We suspect a Subaru owner might also have concerns about its less than stellar quality and reliability prospects.

The Mitsubishi isn’t a seven-seater SUV for keen drivers or aesthetes. Factor in the kind of space, luxury, all-round ability and ownership appeal it offers for the money, however, and the cheapest car of this group starts to look pretty good.

Not as good as the Santa Fe, though, which is nicer to look at, nicer to sit in and nicer to drive without demanding any significant compromise. It might cost a little more but, if your budget can handle the stretch, the premium is worth paying.