The Mazda's all-round competency puts it near the top of the list for Chris.

The Mazda's all-round competency puts it near the top of the list for Chris.

The dilemma

Chris has three young children, one of them in a wheelchair. He's looking to buy a wagon or SUV with a boot that can swallow the wheelchair and still have enough space for shopping and the like but doesn't know where to start.

The budget

About $30,000

The shortlist

If Chris' child doesn't need to be in their wheelchair at all times (if they did he'd need something like a Toyota Tarago equipped with a ramp), then a wagon or SUV will be more than sufficient.

We would suggest, however, that the latter isn't really necessary unless he needs some off-road ability or wants the versatility of two extra seats in the boot. If not, and he says nothing of needing to fulfil such requirements, the more traditional solution to family hauling is a lighter, more economical and better driving way to get much the same job done.

He shouldn't expect a brand new car, though. While new wagons can be had for this budget, a used mid-sizer will offer a more appropriate serve of back-seat space for the three-kid caper.

2009-on Ford Mondeo wagon, from $14,190*

This mid-sized Ford is barely any less accommodating than its large-sized Falcon sibling in the back and also packs more boot space than a Holden Commodore Sportwagon, so it's well suited to family hauling.

It's also notable for its beautifully resolved road manners, solid safety and, in lavish topline Titanium trim, unmatched serve of upmarket toys and technology. It's great used value and Chris has the cash to sidestep unremarkable petrol versions for more flexible, frugal diesels.

Other niggles are mandatory, like its lack of hush on coarse-chip, slightly scrappy cabin finish and propensity for the odd minor reliability issue. But used examples with fully stamped service books will be covered by Ford's capped-price servicing program.

Read Drive's Ford Mondeo reviews: Ford Mondeo used

2008-12 Mazda 6 wagon, from $15,950*

This recently superseded wagon ultimately cedes to the Mondeo for back-seat and boot space.

There really isn't a lot in it, though. The second-gen 6 is still a roomy, practical car and it has the Ford's measure for reliability, cabin quality and user-friendliness. Its road manners are just as capable, comfortable and engaging and petrol models – while not performance or economy leaders – aren't to be ignored.

The Mazda, though, while well equipped with toys and safety gear, has no answer to the Mondeo Titanium's lavish spec. It's even less hushed on coarse-chip, the diesel's desirability is diminished by its manual-only status and Mazda doesn't offer any kind of capped servicing plan.

Read Drive's Mazda 6 reviews: Mazda 6 Touring road test 

2010-on Skoda Superb wagon, from $24,200*

A properly big boot, vast back-seat leg room and enticing used value make this often overlooked mid-sizer a walk-up starter for this contest.

It's not just a roomy, appealingly priced nitwit, either. Like most VW Group products you get great petrol and diesel drive-trains (we'd go a 118 TSI petrol or 125 TDI diesel over the thirsty 191 TSI petrol V6), thoroughly sorted road manners, impeccable safety and an upmarket cabin ambience.

But the Skoda, while undoubtedly roomy, isn't especially broad across the back seat (probably less of an issue now than when Chris' children are older) and has no answer to the Mazda's spotless reliability or the Ford's capped servicing. It's an occasionally stern ride. Premium ULP requirement and the DSG auto's urban stutters are other reasons to think twice.

Read Drive's Skoda Superb reviews: Skoda Superb used 

Drive recommends

The Mondeo's class-leading back seat and big boot make it a safe choice in terms of fulfilling Chris' most basic requirement. The fact it's a great drive, safe, well equipped, and has a competitive diesel drive-train and the peace of mind of capped-price servicing bolsters its case for being this contest's outright winner.

The Mazda and Skoda are also likely to be roomy enough, though, and in that circumstance they'll be justifiably hard to count out.

The 6's inherent competency, ample appeal and rock-solid reliability prospects make it the better bet for buyers with a thoroughly mainstream motoring view. But those willing to rationalise a little extra cost and forgo a little peace of mind in return for a more sophisticated and upmarket mid-sized experience could do a lot worse than put Superb on their radar.

* Values are estimates provided by Glass's Guide based on an entry-level model averaging up to 20,000km a year and in a well-maintained condition relevant to its age.