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Reliable SUVs that won’t break the bank

There is no need to spend a fortune on a big sport utility vehicle in tiny Hong Kong. Some families like the seat-height and “face” of an SUV, but then learn how local roads and car parks seem smaller and more crowded in one.

Besides, Hong Kong’s roads are so smooth, these days, that a 2003 Toyota Corolla Deluxe (HK$20,000) can arguably safari you to darkest Tai O just as easily as a luxury HK$1.2 million SUV packed with the latest off-road technology.

If you insist on driving an SUV, buy second-hand to see whether you enjoy driving these larger vehicles. You will also avoid the first registration tax and depreciation.

A 2004 Lexus RX 240 was recently advertised online for HK$45,000, alongside a 2004 two-litre Hyundai Tucson (HK$22,000) and a 2007 Hyundai Santa Fe (HK$65,000). A clean-looking 2006 Toyota RAV4 Deluxe was stickered at HK$65,000.

If you must buy new, then the Ford Kuga is among the most family friendly SUVs in town. It has all-wheel-drive; an economic 1.5-litre, 177-horsepower EcoBoost engine that does 100km/h in 9.7 seconds on 17-inch wheels. The Kuga also has a six-speed SelectShift automatic transmission, and lots of stability, braking, cruising and hill-start controls.

Available in an array of bright colours, and backed by a friendly, English-speaking Gloucester Road showroom, the five-seat, 4.524m Kuga (HK$269,900-$329,900) looks fine for daily routines at Hong Kong traffic speeds, and has a five-year warranty (HK$20,000).

The 1,686kg model also has a retractible panoramic roof, a 406-litre to 1,603-litre boot, and an intelligent all-wheel-drive system that adapts to road conditions.

It also has a Microsoft-designed Smart entertainment system, with voice commands, Bluetooth and connectivity. The Kuga’s grille even closes to improve aerodynamics, but then Ford is very hi-tech, these days.

The 2,359cc, 188ps Kia Sorento (from HK$299,00) has a comfortable cabin and lots of all-wheel-drive technology on 19-inch wheels. The 4.78m seven-seater was in January voted best Large Crossover in Britain’s The Sunday Times Top 100 Cars report – ahead of the more expensive Land Rover Discovery Sport, Porsche Macan and Mazda CX-5.

Described by the paper as a “family workhorse”, the Sorento mocks parochial Hong Kong snobberies about Korean cars, with a strong steel body, an attractive interior and adaptive front lights. Kia and Hyundai now make as much sense as more costly Audi, BMW and Volvo SUVs in Hong Kong.

The 117ps 1.6-litre Nissan Juke (HK$249,800) was the “waah” of Geneva in 2010 and is still hot in Hong Kong because it has the ride height of an SUV combined with the manoeuvrability of a saloon. Curvy on the outside and modernistic inside, the 4.14-metre Juke still looks best in primary colours on 17-inch wheels, and comes with a sunroof and a 354-litre to 1,189-litre boot with an adjustable floor for large luggage.

Its electronics include an all-round-view monitor and a stats keeper on the quality of your fuel-efficiency and driving. The 1,175kg five-seater belts out 161 Newton metres of torque and does 100km/h in about eight seconds via a CVT transmission. It also has steering controls, and blind-spot and lane-departure warning systems that you might expect in more expensive European cars.

The Volkswagon Tiguan “all-round urban” five-seater SUV deserves more respect in Hong Kong, especially as 2.8 million models have been sold since 2007. The latest, 4.49-metre Tiguan 2 has a road-adapting “rugged all-wheel drive system” and might be a more affordable answer to village potholes with 25-degree front approach angle and 200mm ground clearance on 18-inch wheels.

The Tiguan 2 is five-star Euro crash-tested with a choice of two Euro-6 standard petrol engines: the 150PS New Tiguan2 280 TSI ACT Street (from HK$299,980), which does 100km/h in 9.2 seconds; and the 180PS New Tiguan2 330 TSI 4MOTION Trail (HK$369,980) which hits the mark in 7.7 seconds.

The Tiguan 2s have a panoramic sunroof, and are the first Volkswagens in Hong Kong with a steering-wheel-controlled 12.3-inch Active Info Display. The model also has a five-star European crash-test rating and helpful English-speaking back-up at Volkswagen Hong Kong.

The latest 1.6-litre Suzuki Vitara (HK$229,800) weighs about 1,100kg, or 350kg lighter than its predecessor, and tops at 180km/h. Fitted with a road-responsive “All Grip” four-wheel drive, the Vitara drives in auto mode on two-wheel-drive, but switches to all-wheel when it senses slippage, say after a shower. The five-seater also has cruise, hill-descent and hill-hold controls with LED headlamps and daytime running lights.

The 4.175-metre dashboard controls parking sensors instead of a TV camera. The Vitara also has MP3, CD player and Bluetooth connectivity; automatic tunnel light sensors; a lightweight shock absorbing body and 185mm ground clearance on 17-inch wheels.