2023’s best SUVs at Wheels Car of the Year

They’re part of the biggest-selling segment in Australia, and at COTY we have six of the year’s true standout SUVs

2023 COTY Group Set Up E Dewar 230201 COTY Wheels 2971 7

The lane-change witches’ hats on the Lang Lang skidpan looked impossibly tight and narrow, seemingly arranged for a go-kart, as the Nissan Qashqai approached.

The speedo read 100km/h – way too fast for a compact SUV. Every sinew – every cytoplasm – screamed “brake”, “what the hell are you doing?”, and at least six different expletives.

A swerve left, a quick swerve right, and then left again, a couple of graunches of ESC later and it was all over. No witches' hats harmed, no Qashqais on its roof. In fact, the small Nissan SUV had sliced through the slalom like it’d found a loophole in the laws of physics.

Dynamics of these high-riding vehicles are not what they used to be. SUVs are Australia’s most popular type of passenger vehicle, and last year more than 574,000 SUVs hit our roads, more than 53 per cent of the total new-car market.

It makes sense, then, that of the 17 vehicles fronting COTY 2023, 10 should be SUVs or crossovers.


2023 Nissan Qashqai SUV COTY E Dewar 230131 COTY Wheels 8312

And for the SUV category itself, the bookies would have struggled with pre-event odds.

The six we have here – we’ve split the battery ones off into an electrons-only section – are the cream of the SUV crop from the last 12 months.

With the hybrid e-Power delayed for Australia, two variants of the new, third-generation Qashqai fronted COTY: the mid-spec $37,890 ST+ and range-topping $47,390 Ti (prices before on-road costs), both petrol front-drivers. Their blade-like exterior styling conceals a smartly appointed and richly equipped interior dominated by a generous 12.3-inch central infotainment display.

2023 Nissan Qashqai SUV COTY BRU LOW RES 047
“Cabin design and quality is one of new Qashqai’s biggest strengths,” reflected Inwood on behalf of all the judges. “The Ti feels properly posh.”

The Qashqai’s 429-litre boot is almost best-in-class, despite packaging a multi-link rear-end to rivals’ torsion beams.

Despite a slightly anaemic 1.3-litre turbo-petrol inline-four pumping 110kW through a CVT – the Qashqai won’t win many drag races – it carved up the handling circuit with a delightful eagerness. “Feels like a car designed and engineered by the English for the English, ie, those who like to drive fast on narrow B-roads,” said Law.

Big early ticks for the little Nissan, and unfortunately the same couldn’t be said of the Corolla Cross, the Qashqai’s crossover foe.

2023 Toyota Corolla Cross SUV COTY BRU LOW RES 725

Continuing the SUVification of Toyota’s range, two variants took on COTY 2023 – the $33,000 GX petrol front-drive base model and – a casual $16,050 up the road – the top-spec $49,050 Atmos Hybrid AWD (prices before on-road costs).

One with a 126kW atmo 2.0-litre, a postage-stamp-esque 8.0-inch infotainment screen and a torsion beam rear-end. The other with a 146kW petrol-electric powertrain, independent rear suspension and a that’s-more-like-it 10.5-inch infotainment display.

In GX spec, the Corolla Cross makes you feel like you’re on holiday – as in, you’re picking up a hire car from the airport.

2023 Toyota Corolla Cross SUV COTY BRU LOW RES 179

The conservative interior is classic, appliance-esque Toyota like they’ve brought back the team from 2005. Jump from the GR86 into a Corolla Cross, and you’d wonder if they came from the same company. A dollop of C-HR in the Corolla Cross cabin would not go astray.

Lucky, then, the handling is anything but conservative. On the Lang Lang loop, the Corolla Cross had one of the best-judged passive damper set-ups of any vehicle in the entire field, expertly balancing ride and handling. The judges also heaped praise on the crossover Corolla’s steering and pedals which were an unusual joy to use.

“Corolla Cross follows the current trend for fun-to-drive normal Toyotas,” said Spinks. Its active chassis safety systems were also among some of the most advanced feeling in the field, resulting in an impressive performance through the lane-change and on dirt.

“Corolla Cross delivers ride suppleness combined with expertly judged rebound” – Jez Spinks
2023 Range Rover P 530 First Edition SUV COTY E Dewar 230130 COTY Wheels 6485

Jumping from the Corolla Cross into the great satin gold Range Rover was like walking from Jetstar economy through to Emirates first class.

Indeed, the all-new, fifth-generation Range Rover stuck out like a sore thumb at Car of the Year – a perfectly manicured, bejewelled thumb. A thumb powered by a thumping 4.4-litre twin-turbo BMW-sourced V8. (So, more like a fist, then.)

As you’d hope, the new Range Rover is a first-class seat on wheels. Four first-class seats on wheels, in fact, our lone-entrant P530 First Edition boasting the optional Executive Class Comfort Plus rear seats including Chauffeur Mode, which folds down the front passenger seat when not in use, allowing partial reclining for the person behind. Nice.

2023 Range Rover P 530 First Edition SUV COTY E Dewar 230130 COTY Wheels 6575

The Range Rover sits you upright, like you’re Prince Philip on a drive of Balmoral, with an almost oversized-feeling steering wheel. At low speeds, the rear wheels turn in the opposite direction to the front – to a comical 7.3 degrees for outside observers, like the car is broken – to make full-lock U-turns a breeze for such an enormous car.

Bury the throttle pedal into the deep carpet and the Range Rover squats heavily as the V8 smoothly yet greedily rips through its gears. There’s also plenty of dive and roll. It’s certainly entertaining.

The Rangie excelled, as you’d hope, on dirt. And the air-suspended ride quality, despite being on 23-inch wheels, was the best of the entire field. “It just feels absolutely enormous,” grinned Fisk. “It is the ultimate boy’s toy.” The enormity continued in the braking and lane-change exercises where the British brute didn’t quite like what you were doing to it – as reflected in its results.

For lazy cruising, however, at the end of each day (and they’re long days at COTY), this was the vehicle everybody thought up increasingly spurious excuses to drive back to the COTY Hilton. Hot-rock massage seats will have that effect.

2023 Ford Everest SUV COTY E Dewar 230131 COTY Wheels 7648

They might be approximately the same size, but where the Range Rover is a Prada handbag, our next SUV wannabe, the Ford Everest, is a heavy-duty phone case. You won’t find any massage seats here.

As close to an Australian car as we get in 2023, the Ranger-based Everest was designed and engineered in Australia, by Australians, and honed on the same roads as the Falcon was for decades. If the Everest was a bloke, it’d drink Carlton Draught and visit Bunnings every Sunday, like a church.

Ford sent two Everests to COTY 2023, the Trend 2.0-litre four-cylinder and the Sport V6, both diesel, both four-wheel drive. The former kicks off at $65,290 and the latter $69,090 (both before on-road costs) – very sharply priced.

2023 Ford Everest SUV COTY BRU LOW RES 494
Ford Everest interior

Immediately, despite its hulking size, the Everest wooed the judges. An intelligently designed 12-inch vertical touchscreen takes pride of place in the dash, while the Everest itself bristles with thoughtful touches such as the smart placement of interior door handles (in the grab-handle itself). The turning circle, for a large four-wheel-drive SUV, is also impressive.

Around the proving ground, the silky smooth powertrains surprised with their quietness. On dirt, the Everest felt at home with impressive ESC – even if its emergency stopping distance and lane-change performances were some of the worst of the entire field (thank all-terrain tyres for that). But among the judging panel, the Everest had strong support.

2023 Cupra Formentor SUV COTY BRU LOW RES 350

So did the Cupra Formentor. Part of the VW empire, Cupra – a subsidiary itself of Iberian car-maker Seat – builds its cars in Spain.

The crossover Formentor sits on the same MQB Evo platform as the current Audi A3 and Mk8 Golf. It’s no surprise, then, that the Formentors feel very Golf-ish.

Three versions rocked up to Car of the Year 2023, two with dual-clutch transmissions mated to the ever-familiar EA888 2.0-litre turbocharged inline-four – the same one that’s powered Golf GTIs and Rs for generations. One front-drive, the 180kW, $53,790 VZ; another all-wheel-drive, the 228kW, $61,990 red-hot VZx (prices before on-road costs).

In between was the 180kW plug-in hybrid VZe combining a 1.4-litre turbo-petrol four with a 13kWh battery and 85kW/300Nm electric motor. Cupra claims about 50km of electric-only driving range.

For the judges it was love at first sight, the quirky Cupras each offering their own personalities – and excelling around the Lang Lang proving ground. They’re ‘hundred-metre cars’ – vehicles you jump in and, after just 100 metres of driving, let you sense just how deep the engineering goes.

“Formentor VZ feels composed and alert. Very little handling compromise imposed by taller crossover body” – Andy Enright
2023 Nissan X Trail SUV COTY BRU LOW RES 38

The fourth-generation T33 Nissan X-Trail, meanwhile, was more of a grower. Built on the new CMF-C platform also underpinning the Qashqai – and new Mitsubishi Outlander – two X-Trails arrived to do COTY battle.

At $46,290 before on-road costs the mid-spec ST-L pairs a 135kW/244Nm 2.5-litre petrol four-cylinder with a CVT driving the front wheels only; while the top-spec Ti-L e-Power is Nissan’s take on electric motoring.

Two electric motors send a combined 157kW/525Nm to all four wheels and are supplied by a tiny 1.8kWh battery, itself recharged by a 1.5-litre three-cylinder acting solely as an onboard generator. The thinking, we guess, is that a small internal combustion engine is a lot cheaper than a giant lithium-ion battery pack, helping keep the cost ‘down’ to $57,190 before on-roads.

Both variants’ interiors raise the bar for that of a Nissan, the ST-L offering an 8.0-inch central touchscreen to the Ti-L’s wider and smarter 12.3-inch unit. Richly specced, the Ti-L on test came with a black-and-caramel leather trim that reminded some judges of a Ferrari interior. High praise.

The X-Trails acquitted themselves well around the proving ground – even if the Ti-L’s ESC seemed a bit loose through the lane change. If we were giving feedback to engineers, it’d be to revisit this ASAP. Small yellow flag but overall the X-Trail had COTY judges on side.

When it came time to pick finalists, the Qashqai was the first of the SUVs to bite the Lang Lang dust.

Affat almost damned it with faint praise: “A solid car with good fundamentals, and confident roadholding.” Its surprisingly eager dynamics came at a cost – especially on the 55-profile 18-inch wheels.

“Jostling ride over bumpy roads and generally too firm in either spec,” said Spinks. Question marks over high servicing costs also dented its chances. And so the Qashqai, while initially “one of the most convincing cars here” to Editor Enright, knocked on the door of finalist status – but wasn’t quite let in. (If this was SUV lane-change Olympics, however, the Qashqai would romp away with gold.)

This was as far as the Corolla Cross was going to come, too. Ultimately, the judges found it too conflicting a car. “It is simultaneously underwhelming yet it doesn’t actually do very much wrong,” said Fisk. Enright struggled with the $49,050 list price of the hybrid. “I’d pay for a RAV4 instead. A GXL Hybrid AWD is $3500 less and far nicer and more spacious.”

And so that was it for the Corolla Cross. “The best-handling fridge ever,” summarised Law.

Next to miss out on a finalist guernsey was the Range Rover. In its own niche way, it comes close to nailing its brief – big, smooth, comfortable, with effortless power and a rip-snorting V8. People who want it will love it. But it didn’t stand a chance in the context of Car of the Year.

With an all-electric version still in the pipeline, the as-tested fuel use of 13.5 litres per 100 kilometres from our sole V8 entrant did not cut the mustard. Neither did the $332,525 as-tested price. It had other foibles: “Hit my head getting into the back seats,” noted Enright, dryly. “Legroom unimpressive. Where’s the interior space gone?”

That left the Everest, X-Trail and Formentor – all having won over enough judges to graduate to the all-important finals. The rest were destined to head home on trucks.

Toyota Corolla Cross GX petrol FWDToyota Corolla Cross Atmos hybrid AWDNissan Qashqai ST+ petrol FWDNissan Qashqai Ti petrol FWDRange Rover P530 First EditionFord Everest Trend 2.0L bi-turboFord Everest Sport V6Cupra Formentor VZ FWDCupra Formentor VZe PHEVCupra Formentor VZxNissan X-Trail ST-L 7 seaterNissan X-Trail Ti-L E-Power
Price$33,000 + on-road costs$49,050 + on-road costs$37,890 (tested $38,590) + on-road costs$47,390 (tested $48,090) + on-road costs$321,875 ($332,525) + on-road costs$65,290 + on-road costs$69,090 + on-road costs$53,790 + on-road costs$60,990 + on-road costs$61,990 + on-road costs$46,290 + on-road costs$57,190 + on-road costs
Body5-door, 5-seat small SUV5-door, 5-seat small SUV5-door, 5-seat small SUV5-door, 5-seat small SUV5-door, 5-seat upper large SUV5-door, 7-seat body-on-frame large SUV5-door, 7-seat body-on-frame large SUV5-door, 5-seat medium SUV5-door, 5-seat medium SUV5-door, 5-seat medium SUV5-door, 7-seat medium SUV5-door, 5-seat medium SUV
Drivetrain2.0-litre petrol 4 cylinder2.0-litre petrol 4 cylinder, 83kW e motor front, 30kW e motor rear1.3-litre turbo-petrol 4-cylinder1.3-litre turbo-petrol 4-cylinder4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 petrol2.0-litre 4cyl bi-turbo diesel3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel1984cc inline-4, turbo petrol1395cc inline-4 (110kW/250Nm) turbo petrol; 13kWh battery, single electric motor (85kW/300Nm)1984cc inline-4, turbo petrol2.5-litre 4cyl petrol1.5-litre 3cyl turbo-petrol + twin electric motors & 1.8kWh battery
Power126kW @ 6600rpm146kW @ NArpm110kW @ 5500rpm110kW @ 5500rpm390kW @ 5500-6000rpm154kW @ 3750rpm184kW @ 3250rpm180kW @ 5000rpm180kW @ 5000rpm228kW @ 5450rpm135kW @ 6000rpm106kW (petrol) + 150/100kW (front/rear e-motors). Combined system output is 157kW
Torque202Nm @ 4400-4900rpmnot specified250Nm @ 1600-3750rpm250Nm @ 1600-3750rpm750Nm @ 1800-4600rpm500Nm @ 1750-2000rpm600Nm @ 1750-2250rpm370Nm @ 1550rpm400Nm @ 1550rpm400Nm @ 2000rpm244Nm @ 3600rpm250Nm (petrol) + 330Nm/195Nm (front/rear e-motors). Combined system output is 525Nm
Transmissionautomatic, contioniously variableautomatic, contioniously variableautomatic, contioniously variableautomatic, contioniously variable8-speed automatic10-speed automatic10-speed automatic7-speed dual-clutch6-speed dual-clutch7-speed dual-clutchautomatic, contioniously variablesingle-speed automatic
Fuel consumption6.0L/100km (91 RON)4.3L/100km (91 RON)6.1L/100km (95 RON)6.1L/100km (95 RON)11.8L/100km7.2L/100km8.5L/100km6.9L/100km (NEDC)1.9L/100km (NEDC)7.7L/100km (NEDC)7.4L/100km6.1L/100km
Kerb weight1380kg1550kg1472kg1524kg2585kg2383kg2454kg1608kg1730kg1650kg1578kg1911kg
Towing capacity750/725kg750/750kg1500/750kg1500/750kg750/3500kg3500kg3500kg750kg/1600kg750kg/1500kg750kg/1800kg2000kg1650kg
0-1009.0 seconds7.6 secondsN/AN/A4.6 seconds10.0sec (estimate)9.0sec (estimate)7.1sec7.0sec4.9secn/an/a
SuspensionStruts front, torsion beam rearStruts front, multi-link rearStruts front, multi-link rearStruts front, multi-link rearDouble wishbone front, multi-link rear, air springs, adaptive dampersLive axle, coil springs, multi-links, Watt’s linkLive axle, coil springs, multi-links, Watt’s linkMacPherson struts front / multi-link rearMacPherson struts front / multi-link rearMacPherson struts front / multi-link rearStruts front, multi-link rearStruts front, multi-link rear
Boot space436L380L429L418L1037L239/898/1823L239/898/1823L450L450L420L465L575L
Warranty5yr/unlimited km5yr/unlimited km5yr/unlimited km5yr/unlimited km5yr/unlimited km5yr/unlimited km5yr/unlimited km5yr/unlimited-km5yr/unlimited-km5yr/unlimited-km5yr/unlimited km5yr/unlimited km
Safety rating5 star ANCAP (2022)5 star ANCAP (2022)5 star ANCAP (2021)5 star ANCAP (2021)Unrated (5 star Euro NCAP)5 star ANCAP (2022)5 star ANCAP (2022)5 star ANCAP (‘21)5 star ANCAP (2021)5 star ANCAP (2021)5 star ANCAP (2021)5 star ANCAP (2021)


Now that you're done reading about these COTY 2023 contenders, you should go back to catch up on anything you might've missed. Check out the links below, or find it all at our COTY page.


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