5 brilliant alternatives to a family SUV

Holden Commodore SS Sportwagon

Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) hijacked the term crossover.

The label should really apply to these five – plus another five runner-up – wagons that blend dynamic appeal with load-lugging space. The SUV, by contrast? Lumbering thirst mixed with inefficient packaging.

There is no reason to buy an SUV as a family car, even if the household budget doesn’t extend as far as Joe Hockey’s cigar.

The rules are as follows: wagons with 50,000km and 100,000km on the clock, not older than a decade – okay, there’s one major exception – and with prices ranging from $10,000 to sub-$50,000 pre-haggling.

1. $10,000 – 2010 Skoda Octavia RS 147TSI Wagon with around 100,000km
A Mk5 Golf GTI with a better boot and worse resale. The 147kW 2.0-litre turbo is flexible even by today’s standards, and both manual and six-speed DSG were available. A seven-year-old Skoda for $10K is bang-on. (RS-P Concept shown)

Skoda-Octavia.jpgRunner-up: 1997 Volvo 850 R Estate with ‘variable’ kilometres. Did we say only 10 years old? This 20-year-old wagon was spruiked by Peter Brock and is a 1990s Touring Cars icon. And a 184kW 2.3-litre turbo-five is just too cool.

2. $15,000 – 2007 Subaru Liberty 3.0R with around 100,000km

Go the smooth 3.0-litre flat six over the 2.5-litre turbo and find a (rare) Blitzen special edition preferably in red with a (ultra-rare) manual transmission. The Liberty brand peaked a decade ago, and it hasn’t driven this well or looked this good since.

Subaru-Liberty.jpgRunner-up: 2007 Alfa Romeo 159 JTS V6 wagon with around 100,000km. Oh, the sexy styling. But, oh, the anxiety of running it. Aussie-built 3.2-litre V6 went hard, and all-wheel drive gives it Snowies appeal. But check that service history.

3. $20,000 – 2010 Holden Commodore SS Sportwagon with around 100,000km

Holden designers’ favourite company car remains a looker today. Only go the SV6 if you’re tight, but a V8 with (rare) manual will hold its value best long-term; plus, the six-speed auto was below average until VE Series II handed the baton to VF in 2013.

Runner-up: 2008 BMW 530i Estate with around 100,000km. Can’t do a V8 manual? This E60-gen sold new at almost twice the price of an SS, and while the 3.0-litre six isn’t super quick, it sounds great and the chassis is terrific.

4. $25,000 – 2008 Chrysler 300C SRT8 Touring with around 60,000km

Old E-Class-based brute isn’t subtle or sensible. But this is MOTOR and the 300C SRT8 Touring packs a mighty 6.1-litre HEMI V8 with 317kW and 569Nm under the snout of its long, hearse-like body. We found one with just 60,000km for $25K.

Chrysler 300C TouringRunner-up: 2011 Volkswagen Passat Highline FSI with around 100,000km. Looks like a luxury wagon and goes exactly like the Passat R36 it replaced. This 220kW 3.6-litre V6 claimed a 5.5-second 0-100km/h, making it a real sleeper.

5. $30,000-plus – 2007 Audi RS4 Avant with beyond 100,000km

Manual-only and with the same soaring 4.2-litre atmo V8 used in the Audi R8, the RS4 Avant has become very special in this day and age, and its sellers know it. Prices vary – and can be a gouge – but no more than $40K should be paid these days.

Audi RS4 Avant
Runner-up:
2006 Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG with around 100,000km. It comes with seven seats, but this is no Kia Carnival. The rear-facing third-row sits above the driven wheels fed by a 700Nm 5.5-litre blown V8 for a 4.6sec 0-100km/h.

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