When you have three children to ferry around, a Labrador for company and enough gadgets, gizmos, pushchairs and luggage to fill the shelves of a Mothercare store, you need a big car.
Amanda Harwood had been making do with a Golf hatchback, which comfortably accommodated her and her two daughters without any drama. But once her son was born, the car soon felt as cramped as a postbox.
There are some specific requirements: Amanda has a £10,000 budget; she wants to buy a four-wheel drive car to cope with occasional snow; and she’d like seven seats to carry extra passengers. So, Direct Line Magazine turned to James Mills, a journalist and car reviewer with more than 20 years’ experience of trying cars for size. These used SUVs will best meet the Harwood family’s needs – all for £10,000.
1. The largest seven-seat SUV for £10,000: Volvo XC90
The Volvo XC90 is one of the most spacious and comfortable SUVs at any price, let alone £10,000. When it was launched in 2002, it was one of the only cars of its kind to come with seven seats, all the more notable because the third row of two extra chairs could be folded into the floor when they weren’t in use, leaving a large 615-litre boot.
The middle row of seats features three independent chairs, which can be moved backwards and forwards and have tilting backrests. And there are Isofix child seat mounts on the two outer seats. It’s spacious too. All of which means it’s easy to fit two child seats and have a third person sit between them – perfect for Amanda’s three children.
The driving experience is thoroughly Swedish: laid back, comfortable and distinctly unhurried. This is an SUV that wants to get people from A to B in the safest manner possible, rather than one that’s scintillating to zoom around in. But judged on the number of existing or former XC90 owners who are happy with the car’s performance, that’s just fine.
Because the XC90 was a large, expensive car when new, it will be the oldest car of this trio when spending £10,000. Examples are typically 2007 or 2008 models, and several we rated particularly highly were 2008 D5 SE versions, which have a smooth five-cylinder diesel engine (34mpg) with four-wheel drive, an automatic gearbox and more than 80,000 miles under their belt.
Auto Express buying guide: used Volvo XC90
2. The most reliable seven-seat SUV for £10,000: Mitsubishi Outlander
When looking for the most reliable seven-seat SUV that falls within the £10,000 budget, we turned to the largest driver satisfaction survey in Britain: Driver Power [http://www.autoexpress.co.uk/best-cars/driver-power/91218/best-cars-to-own-in-2015]. The survey asks over 60,000 drivers to rate their car for reliability, among other criteria, and throws up plenty of useful information for car buyers who want to know about more than flat-out acceleration or how well a car goes round corners.
When it comes to reliability, car owners rated the Mitsubishi Outlander highest. Similar in size to a Toyota RAV4 or Ford Kuga, the Outlander isn’t the best car in its class in terms of the driving experience. And some won’t see it as an especially desirable model to have parked outside their home, but it shouldn’t let you down.
The third row of seats is on the cramped side and they’re fiddly to raise or lower, and the middle row of seats is a bench, so fitting three children across it is going to be more of a squeeze than in the Volvo XC90 or Hyundai Santa Fe. However, the driving experience is perfectly adequate and the four-wheel drive system gives a steady footing in poor weather conditions.
It’s pretty good value for money compared to better known rivals. For £10,000, a 2009 petrol-powered model (returning 40mpg) is easily within budget, with about 50,000 miles on the clock, and some of these will come from Mitsubishi dealers, giving superior warranty protection.
Car Buyer review: Mitsubishi Outlander
3. The best value seven-seat SUV for £10,000: Hyundai Santa Fe
What driver doesn’t want to get the newest car with the most bells and whistles for their money? The idea of a newer car certainly appeals to Amanda Harwood, and when it comes to value for money, the Hyundai Santa Fe is up there with the deal of the day at a Poundland Store.
For £10,000, a 2010 Santa Fe is available from franchised Hyundai dealers. That means it comes with a Hyundai-backed warranty, and will be the post-facelift version, considered more desirable thanks to its improved features, styling and superior 2.2 litre CRDi engine – which can return more than 41mpg.
It’s very comfortable and relaxing to drive. But more importantly, there’s enough room for a game of hockey in the cabin. The middle seat is spacious enough for three children, while the rearmost seats are noticeably more accommodating than the Mitsubishi Outlander’s.
Amanda and her family will need to try all three cars for size, compare the deals and models available and see which they enjoy driving, but for our money, the Santa Fe is the sensible seven-seat family SUV that’s hard to beat.
What Car? review: used Hyundai Santa Fe