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Daniel DeGasperi | Sep, 14 2017 | 1 Comment

The occasional chair. It is to home furniture what the sixth and seven seats are to both the Hyundai Santa Fe Active X and Skoda Kodiaq 132TSI assembled here.

This duo of medium-to-large SUV models straddle an inexpensive-to-middling line between the likes of the smaller five-seat Mazda CX-5 and Toyota RAV4, and their larger seven-seat CX-9 and Kluger siblings respectively. Not too small, not too big.

While the larger crop have an overall body length spanning 5.0 metres or beyond, the Santa Fe and Kodiaq each stop at 4.7m. At just over $40,000 they nudge up to the entry-level models of the bigger crew on price, and they similarly seat seven, yet they also trade sheer size for extra creature comforts and urban maneuverability.

In short, both Hyundai and Skoda are out to convince buyers of a medium SUV that they ‘might’ just need that third-row of seats. Equally, they want those looking at a large SUV to reconsider how often those sixth and seventh seats are used.

The question, at large, is now whether this duo manage to find a happy medium…

 

TESTED

Hyundai Santa Fe Active X ($40,990 plus on-road costs)

  • 199kW/318Nm 3.3-litre petrol V6 | 6sp automatic
  • Fuel use claimed: 10.5l/100km | tested: 11.4l/100km

Skoda Kodiaq 132TSI ($42,990 plus on-road costs)

  • 132kW/320Nm 2.0-litre petrol turbo 4cyl | 7sp dual-clutch automatic
  • Fuel use claimed: 7.6l/100km | tested: 9.1l/100km
 

OVERVIEW

While the Santa Fe is nearing the end of its model life and has been crammed with extra value, the Kodiaq is new but emerges from Volkswagen Group’s value brand. Comparison tests don’t come much closer than this – the body of the Hyundai is just 3mm longer, stretching 4700mm exactly; but the Skoda is 2mm wider, at 1882mm.

In keeping with the cheap-seats theme, petrol versions have been selected to test. The 3.3-litre V6-engined, front-wheel drive Santa Fe Active X starts at $40,990 plus on-road costs. The diesel, all-wheel drive Active both deletes equipment of the ‘X’ – such as leather, heated seats and climate control – and yet asks $44,850 (plus orc).

The 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder Kodiaq 132TSI is pricier, at $42,990 (plus orc). However, all-wheel drive is standard and that alone could account for the $2000 premium. A diesel, all-wheel drive version is also available, for $48,990 (plus orc).

While both contenders feature 19-inch alloy wheels, foglights, autonomous emergency braking (AEB), adaptive cruise control, dual-zone climate control, leather-wrapped steering wheel, auto on/off lights and wipers and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring, the Skoda otherwise offers some extra equipment.

It exclusively adds LED headlights with adaptive beam, front parking sensors, electric tailgate, keyless auto-entry, and a 9.2-inch (versus 7.0in) touchscreen with satellite navigation and digital radio over the Hyundai, which only responds with full leather trim, heated front seats, a blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert.

 

THE INTERIOR

For a buyer who might want to splurge, the Skoda further offers more equipment options than the Hyundai. The leather, heated seats, blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert that we mentioned above, and which comes as standard in the Santa Fe Active X, forms part of a $4900-extra Luxury Pack in the Kodiaq 132TSI.

Pricey, yes, though the pack also adds electrically adjustable front seats, lane-keep assistance, front ventilated and rear heated seats, surround-view camera and tri-zone climate control, the latter four features of which are still missing from the Santa Fe Elite that in diesel- and all-drive-only trim costs a staggering $51,990 (plus orc).

Suddenly, the Luxury Pack-kitted Kodiaq 132TSI looks good at $47,800 (plus orc).

Our test vehicle was further fitted with a $2500-extra Tech Pack featuring premium audio and auto-park assistance, plus the only feature that affects the way this Skoda drives – three-mode adaptive dampers, which will be dealt with in the next section.

For the likes of premium audio and auto-park assistance, plus another $1900-extra for a panoramic sunroof in the Skoda, a buyer would be looking past the Santa Fe Elite and to the flagship Santa Highlander at an eye-watering $57,090 (plus orc).

Tick all the above options in the Kodiaq 132TSI and it comes to $52,090 (plus orc). Call it round one to the Czech Republic value brand.

The South Korean contender does, however, make up significant ground when seated inside the cabin. It might lack clever little niceties of its rival – more on those in a moment – but it does hammer out the big-hitting items with aplomb.

Despite the current-generation Santa Fe being five years old, which is seemingly an eternity in automotive terms, it delivers both a higher-quality cabin and greater second- and third-row amenities than its newer European size-clone rival here.

While the overall design and switchgear is dated, the front door materials – with leather padding, textured soft-touch plastics and silver highlights – even extends to the rear doors.

The Kodiaq provides fine dashboard and front door trim quality, but its lower plastics are harsh and scratchy, and they extend to completely hard and blank rear door trims. It feels fractionally more downmarket in the details.

Hyundai also delivers the greater seat comfort in any of the three rows, with the cushy, armchair-like front seats extending to a middle bench with generous side bolstering for outboard riders and a much-needed pliancy to sixth and seventh seats.

We say ‘much needed’ because there isn’t much room back there.

Even so, at least there are third-row air vents and a separate fan control disappointingly missing from the other contender. The 40 per cent portion of the 60:40 middle-row split backrest is also positioned on the Active X’s kerbside for our right-hand drive market, allowing kiddies to only tilt-and-slide the lighter, smaller portion of the seat forward to get into the furthermost row.

In the 132TSI, clearly designed for left-hand drive, the 40 per cent portion is on the driver’s side, or the potentially dangerous trafficked side in our market when collecting the kids from out the front of the primary school, for example.

The Kodiaq also has narrower and firmer seating all ‘round – although the pews are still comfortable and supportive. Everyone seats lower as well, with a notably less SUV-like driving position on the upside providing all riders with greater headroom.

Indeed, in terms of space – and also up-front amenities – the snazzy Skoda snatches back its lead over the honest, Labrador-faithful Santa Fe.

What should also be made clear at this point is that neither contender offers the sprawling space of a CX-9 or Kluger. That much should be obvious given that the bodies of this duo stop a 30cm-ruler’s length before 5.0 metres. But only if several lanky teens are in the family should the Mazda or Toyota be the default choice.

Both vehicles here allow the middle row to slide backwards and forwards, but the newer European delivers far greater toe room beneath the front seats, enhancing its perception of legroom. It also provides greater third-row legroom, allowing this 178cm-tall tester to stretch out slightly without having upper-thighs forced into the air.

Check the rear roofline of both competitors, too: the Hyundai presses this tester’s head into the rear tailgate glass, and the tiny side window provides a claustrophobic ambience; whereas the squarer Skoda delivers expansive side-glass for greater visibility and extra headroom with the roof, not the tailgate glass, above noggins.

The real kicker, though, is boot space. With all seven seats in place the Kodiaq still offers 270 litres of luggage volume, near-identical to a Mazda2. Hyundai doesn’t quote an all-seats-up figure, but pictures tell the story: it virtually halves the space.

In five-seater mode the Santa Fe delivers boot space of 516L. The Skoda, however, offers 630L. And for the Ikea run, if all but the driver and passenger seats are folded down the latter’s lead extends to 2005L versus 1615L.

Yes, the 132TSI may feel slightly firmer and cheaper in places inside. However, along with a fantastic touchscreen with high-resolution graphics and effortless menu intuition, plus little extras such as an umbrella in each front door, or plastic trim strips that deploy on each door edge to protect vehicles from nasty door dings, all the way to a detachable torch in the boot, the Skoda is the smarter seven-seat SUV inside.

 

ON THE ROAD

With all-but-identical exterior dimensions it should come as no surprise that the kerb weight of these two contenders is separated by 40kg, with a 1677kg figure in the lighter Skoda’s favour. Both come with 235mm-wide 19-inch tyres, but the Hyundai’s are a little thicker on the sidewalls, with a 55- versus 50 aspect ratio.

The Kodiaq triumphs for torque, with a new-age 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine delivering 320Nm from just 1400rpm. From just above idle, basically, it delivers everything as a driver steps away from a set of traffic lights, for example.

By contrast the Santa Fe’s old-school 3.3-litre non-turbo V6 makes 318Nm at 5300rpm, which means the petrol engine must be wailing into the upper reaches of the tachometer before it provides its best work.

While that sounds better-suited to a sports car than an SUV – and, frankly, it is –the Active X at least delivers a mighty 199kW of power at 6400rpm. The 132TSI, as the name suggests, makes 132kW and delivers that between 3900rpm and 6000rpm.

Head for a test drive around a dealership block, plant a foot firmly on the accelerator, and the front-wheel-drive South Korean SUV will sound sweeter and feel faster. Its rapid accelerative ability is charming; if it doesn’t spin its front tyres first, that is.

The all-wheel drive Czech Republic SUV is slower off the line, hobbled by some turbo lag and a slightly more ditzy seven-speed dual-clutch automatic that pales against the immediacy of its rival’s regular six-speed auto and non-turbo V6 combo.

Everywhere else, though, the turbo four-cylinder feels far more silken and effortless, while drinking much less (albeit premium unleaded) fuel. On hills, and when overtaking, that extra wad of torque means the auto can remain quiet in top gear. In the big V6 the auto shuffles constantly, slinging the tachometer needle up and down.

There is no doubt which is the smarter powertrain for families.

What must be emphasised, however, is that what is being tested here is a standard $40,990 (plus orc) Santa Fe versus a $45,490 (plus orc) Kodiaq. Some of the other equipment differences can be ignored, but given the $2500-extra Tech Pack adds adaptive suspension, this is the only version of the Skoda that can be recommended.

So is the 132TSI worth the $4500 over the Active X, as tested? On the road, if a buyer can make the stretch, the answer is ‘absolutely’.

We say ‘if a buyer can make the stretch’ because in isolation the Hyundai remains a generally good SUV to drive. In fact, right in the twilight years of its life this vehicle proved the most impressive of all the Santa Fe variants this tester has ever driven.

The front-wheel drive V6 is 140kg lighter than the all-wheel drive diesel, which must explain why the steering feels far less ponderous and the suspension less terse and abrupt than those heavier more expensive versions.

Steering still isn’t a Santa Fe strong suit, requiring a decent amount of arm twirling and making this SUV feels more sizeable than it is. Ride comfort likewise remains better suited to soaking up deep and successive country-road ruts than filtering out minor imperfections. Around town or on the freeway, it can still feel jittery.

Its dynamic blend is, however, more than decent. That is until the Skoda steps up.

In urban confines the Kodiaq feels perfect in its standard ‘normal’ mode, soaking up small and large road irregularities with luxury-car-like aplomb. Often with multi-mode set-ups this tester is left trying to pick which is best balanced, or least compromised, but here the alternative ‘comfort’ and ‘sport’ modes are mostly redundant.

Only on the choppiest, nastiest country road does the cushier mode deliver soothing, soaking progress that trumps the standard mode, but on-test the firmer setting was never, ever required.

Even in ‘normal’ the 132TSI feels like a semi-hot-hatchback compared with its more lumbering rival. Through urban and rural corners alike there is an immediacy and agility to its movements that is instantly gratifying and deeply rewarding. Best not forget that this SUV is only 40mm longer than an Octavia RS. Hint hint…

While the Active X handles well, it lacks that extra layer of dynamic depth that elevates its rival from being ‘good for an SUV’ to plainly excellent, full stop.

Both vehicles, meanwhile, are far more parking-friendly and nimble around town than a CX-9 or Kluger. As mentioned earlier, neither of the models tested here can match them for sprawling space, but then they are smaller SUVs. A family who doesn’t need the extra space will find the Santa Fe and Kodiaq far easier to park and drive.

Take these models off the road and into service centres, and a trio of annual or 15,000km capped-price check-ups will cost a Skoda buyer $1399 at the local dealership versus $915 for its rival – for a $484 saving over three years.

With on-test fuel consumption of 11.4 litres per 100 kilometres, however, the Hyundai will cost $2223 per-year to fill over an annual average of 15,000km, calculated with regular unleaded at $1.30 per litre. The Skoda used 9.1L/100km, and even requiring premium unleaded at $1.45 per litre, its $1979 total over the same distance leaves it $244 per-year cheaper to fill – for a $732 saving over three years, or more than cancelling out the extra servicing costs.

Both brands also offer a standard five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, so there is otherwise nothing in it for long-term ownership.

 

TMR VERDICT | Seven-Seat SUV Showdown Winner

The Active X is comfortably the best Santa Fe on offer. It is a genuinely good medium-to-large SUV offering and Hyundai deserves praise for offering a contender that needs not a dollar more than $40,990 (plus orc) to feel complete and cohesive.

With comfortable seats, great cabin quality, impressive amenities such as third-row air vents, high levels of standard active safety technology, plus a charming V6 engine and pleasant on-road manners, consider the South Korean contender confidently.

Equally, however, the $4500 extra spend to the adaptive suspension-equipped Kodiaq 132TSI is worth every cent for its broader virtues and greater sophistication.

Not only does it add all-wheel drive to the mix, but its torquier and fuel-saving engine is more refined, its lush suspension is matched by genuine dynamic talent, and its slight shortcomings in plastics quality are more than made up for in its superb packaging that packs amazing space into a vehicle no longer than a medium sedan.

Add in greater infotainment technology and a rival-matching warranty, and the ‘Skodiaq’ is the near-perfect choice for a family buyer wanting a couple of extra occasional chairs positioned in a larger medium SUV, or a smaller large SUV…

Hyundai Santa Fe Active X – 3.5 stars

Skoda Kodiaq 132TSI – 4.5 stars

MORE NEWS AND REVIEWS: Skoda | Hyundai
VISIT THE SHOWROOM: Skoda Kodiaq Models | Hyundai Santa Fe Models

 
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