It’s a battle of the faux-wheel drives as the SUV-styled, front-drive-powered ŠKODA KAROQ lands in Australia priced virtually eyeball to eyeball with Hyundai’s most popular Tucson variant - the front-drive Active X.
Typically for ŠKODA, the KAROQ doesn’t quite conform to class norms when it comes to size. It effectively replaces the charming but obscure Yeti (2009-17) in the Czech brand’s showrooms, though the KAROQ has expanded to the point where it effectively bridges two classes (small and medium SUVs). It’s what we’d call a Euro-sized medium SUV – more compact on the outside than usual, but remarkably space-efficient inside, kinda like a Peugeot 3008.
The Hyundai Tucson, on the other hand, is firmly rooted in medium SUV conventionality. Recently refreshed with a mid-life facelift (August 2018) that brings more Santa Fe-esque front-end styling and a bunch of equipment upgrades, the Tucson is currently the fourth-biggest seller in its class, ranking just behind the Toyota RAV4 and Nissan X-Trail in sales, if not in ability (the Tucson is a better bus), while offering one of the roomiest interiors in its class.
But is the trusty Tucson clever enough to out-class the super-smart ŠKODA?
At ground zero, there isn’t much to separate the ŠKODA KAROQ and Hyundai Tucson Active X in terms of price. ŠKODA asks $32,290 (before on-road costs) for a stock KAROQ 110TSI with seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, whereas Hyundai charges $33,850 (before on-roads) for an Active X with six-speed automatic transmission.
What You Need to Know About Car Batteries
Then the options begin. To bring the Hyundai up to the ŠKODA’s active-safety level, you’ll need the SmartSense option pack ($2200), which brings a bunch of safety features that are mostly standard in the KAROQ (forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keep assist, rear cross-traffic assist, driver attention warning) as well as adaptive cruise control, dual-zone climate control, an electric park brake, puddle lamps in the exterior mirrors and glovebox cooling. That’s your bonus set of steak knives right there, plus the rest of the utensils.
But the KAROQ already includes almost all those things, as well as rear-seat air vents, four one-touch power windows (driver only in the Hyundai), ambient cabin lighting (in 10 different colours), ŠKODA -branded LED puddle lights (they project the brand logo onto the ground), and keyless entry and start.
The Hyundai returns serve with standard leather-faced trim (the ŠKODA gets cloth), driver's electric lumbar support (the ŠKODA gets manual adjustment for both front seats), a full-size 17-inch alloy spare (the ŠKODA gets a space-saver), a rear-seat USB slot (the ŠKODA gets a 12-volt outlet), and a bass-tastic eight-speaker Infinity audio system packed with eardrum-bursting goodness and embedded sat-nav.
Finally, there’s servicing cost. With 12 month or 15,000km recommended service intervals, the KAROQ’s fixed cost over three years is $790 – or $35 cheaper than the Tucson. But the Tucson’s three-year period only covers 10,000km per year. Over five years, the KAROQ is slightly dearer at $1650 (versus $1505 for the Tucson), but you could’ve travelled 25,000km further in the ŠKODA for that servicing cost. To match that distance, the Tucson would need another two-and-a-half visits to a service bay.
Both cars are covered by five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranties.
The Tucson Active X’s projected resale value after three years (according to Red Book) is a solid 61.5 per cent, with the KAROQ slightly behind at 60.5 per cent.
Winner: ŠKODA KAROQ
Unlike its rather derivative seven-seat sibling (the KODIAQ), the KAROQ’s dashboard doesn’t look like it’s deliberately a lower-grade, decontented Volkswagen. There’s a synergy and style to this Czech SUV’s interior that feels uniquely KAROQ, and we love that.
From its superb three-spoke, flat-bottomed steering wheel to its terrific seat comfort, seamless multimedia system and excellent ergonomics, the KAROQ feels perfectly sized, and of a higher standard than its price-tag might suggest. Finally, a modern ŠKODA whose trendy cabin meets or surpasses the Volkswagen DNA that spawned it.
For all its feeling of indestructability, the Tucson Active X’s cabin is far less glamorous. It lacks the sparkle of the KAROQ – especially its swathes of dour charcoal plastic and dark-coloured trim – though its build quality is solid and its leather trim is much nicer than Korean cow used to be. The MY19 model’s new stitched trim panel across the dash’s horizontal section makes a difference too.
While the Tucson’s seats lack the intimacy and support of the KAROQ’s chairs, they’re still comfortable on long distances, and arguably better for larger-framed folk. It’s just that there isn’t the same level of consistency to its overall design and aesthetic.
For example, Tucson’s centre-front console is filled with cavities, cupholders and what-not, whereas its door bins are so heroin-chic thin, you could barely squeeze Kate Moss in there. And while the Active X’s cracking stereo packs enough meat to out-rank Australia’s best-quality butcher, the rest of the show feels workmanlike.
Winner: ŠKODA KAROQ
Neither of these medium SUVs is a game-changer when it comes to drivetrain clout. But thanks to its chunk of turbocharged torque and its exceptional fuel efficiency, the KAROQ is the under-bonnet victor by some margin.
Not only does the KAROQ’s 110kW/250Nm 1.5-litre turbo-petrol four drink 27 per cent less fuel than the Hyundai on the government combined cycle (5.8L/100km versus 7.9L/100km), it’s also two seconds faster to 100km/h (8.6sec versus 10.5) and much more driveable in demanding situations.
With maximum torque spread across a shelf spanning 1500-3500rpm, the KAROQ effortlessly devours hills and lugs loads. The Tucson, on the other hand, struggles with just 205Nm at 4000rpm trying to pull 200kg of additional weight. Hyundai’s 122kW 2.0-litre direct-injection, non-turbo four-cylinder simply doesn’t have the grunt to make life easy, or enough power-to-weight zest to feel spirited, even when driven hard. Instead, it relies on its over-zealous six-speed auto to plug the holes its undernourished engine can’t.
Where the Tucson claws back some ground, though, is in its low-speed urban driveability. With a conventional torque-convertor automatic, it’s inherently smoother – and, thus, easier to drive – when moving off from a standing start, and crawling in city gridlock.
The ŠKODA’s dual-clutch transmission can feel slightly jerky in similar traffic situations and requires acclimatisation to get the best from it. It’s also more difficult to modulate its accelerator-pedal response, demanding familiarity and sensitivity from its driver to be super-smooth. However, those faults aside, the KAROQ’s overall performance and economy rewards are substantial.
Winner: ŠKODA KAROQ
HOW IT DRIVES
Riding on the same MQB platform as Volkswagen’s closely related five-seat Tiguan, the ŠKODA KAROQ shares many of the Tiguan’s virtues. It steers crisply, responds keenly, and offers fine handling balance. Wearing the fat (optional) 235/40R19 tyres of our test car, there’s so much cornering grip the KAROQ feels like a semi-hot hatchback with a bar-stool view, and enough performance to support that perception.
However, there’s a flipside. Instead of the Tiguan’s multi-link independent rear suspension, the KAROQ gets a torsion-beam arrangement, trading some of the Tiguan’s road refinement for cheaper build cost. And the KAROQ’s engine also lacks a final layer of refinement. When extended, it sounds louder and less cultured than the same drivetrain does in a Golf. Thankfully, it’s so torquey, you don’t really need to push it.
The Tucson’s well-regarded Australian suspension tune has done wonders in transforming this Korean SUV into something with an admirable affinity for our roads. It feels larger to drive than the KAROQ, even though their dimensional difference isn’t great – the Tucson is 98mm longer, 9mm wider, and 57mm taller – and there’s no doubt the Hyundai’s tubbier overall weight plays a role in that. But the side benefit is a calmer, quieter ride over lumpy roads, with far less reaction to potholes and road-surface irregularities that can upset the KAROQ.
The Tucson’s biggest flaw is the weight of its steering. Even in Comfort drive mode, it already feels heavy and slightly muddy, like its tyres may not be pumped up properly, but in Sport mode the Tucson’s hefty steering is borderline obstructive. It has little of the KAROQ’s crispness, and that’s a pity because the Tucson’s nicely balanced handling deserves better.
Ultimately, it’s the Tucson Active X’s weak-kneed drivetrain that fails to flatter its otherwise capable dynamics. If you could stretch to it, the $40,850 Tucson Elite AWD with its 130kW/265Nm 1.6-litre turbo-petrol four is a much more cohesive, more effortless SUV.
In the same vein, a KAROQ riding on standard-issue 17-inch wheels (with 215/55R17 tyres) or optional 18s (with 215/50R18 tyres) is a more refined, more comfortable car.
Winner: ŠKODA KAROQ
ŠKODA makes quite a big song and dance about the KAROQ’s practicality, and rightfully so. Riding on a shorter wheelbase than its Tiguan cousin (2638mm versus 2681), the KAROQ doesn’t have quite as much rear-seat room but there’s still ample space, especially considering its compact external size. And that plays out in KAROQ’s boot too – 588 litres of max space with the rear seat slid right forward (against 615 for the Tiguan) and 1605 litres in total volume with the back seats folded (versus 1655 in the Tiguan).
Uniquely, you can remove all three ‘VarioFlex’ rear-seat sections individually in the KAROQ, unleashing a cavernous 1810 litres of cargo space. And its boot area keeps on giving with a reversible floor cover (carpet one side, rubber the other), a 12-volt outlet, a boot light that becomes a removable torch, three luggage nets, four take-away/shopping-bag hooks, and a nifty luggage cover connected to the tailgate.
The Tucson is far from hard done by, with a sizeable 488-litre boot (and full-size spare beneath) and 1478 litres with the rear seat dropped, but it isn't the Tardis-like experience of the ŠKODA. And while the Tucson’s lounge-like rear seat is both roomy and comfortable, with Isofix child-seat anchorages (like the KAROQ) and a proper centre armrest (not just a flip down backrest section like the ŠKODA), it doesn’t have the KAROQ 's vision or its theatre-style rear-seat placement (higher than the front pair).
The Tucson also struggles for bottle storage, with rear door pockets only suited to 600ml water bottles, or one-litre jobbies up front, whereas the KAROQ will take 1.5-litre bottles in all doors.
The KAROQ also gets proper door grab handles, a ticket holder in the A-pillar, an umbrella under the front passenger seat, a moveable rubbish bin, and (somewhat bulky) tablet holders for both rear-seat passengers. Each of its more supportive, height-adjustable front seats (via a crank handle) also get lumbar-support adjustment, and there’s a height-adjustable centre-front armrest too.
Winner: ŠKODA KAROQ
There’s a lot to be said about an SUV that’s compact on the outside, big on the inside, stylish to look at and accomplished to drive. It makes the whole SUV-versus-station-wagon argument fall decidedly in favour of the SUV option.
The KAROQ isn’t as polished as the circa-2013 Volkswagen Golf Mk7 that debuted its underpinnings, but you get a surprising amount of value and verve for its 30-something price tag. Its engine may be rather uninspiring, and its suspension might prefer smooth roads, but there’s an appeal to the KAROQ that runs deeper than its sharply cut sheetmetal and left-of-centre brand appeal.
The Tucson Active X can be looked at two ways. From a pure ability standpoint, it fails to match the consistency of the ŠKODA. For all its strengths – space, suspension tune, stereo quality – there’s a side to the Tucson that aims to merely do a job, rather than excel at a job. Yet there’s an honesty to Hyundai's likeable SUV – one that will surely offer many years of faithful, reliable service.
Winner: ŠKODA KAROQ
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