SEVEN-SEATER SUV COM­PAR­I­SON

Mazda CX-8 v Peu­geot 5008 v L-R Dis­cov­ery Sport v Skoda Ko­diaq v Hyundai Santa Fe

Wheels (Australia) - - Contents -

THE FUN thing about Wheels Car of the Year is that you line up 22 cars and then 21 of them lose. This, in turn, means that al­most all of our read­ers will dis­agree with the fi­nal choice. Ev­ery year in the wash-up from COTY, we learn that we have lost all cred­i­bil­ity, are lib­eral mil­que­toasts and have our heads lodged in our fun­da­ments. But 2017 was dif­fer­ent. We were ex­pect­ing the usual on­line shel­lack­ing af­ter giv­ing the award to an SUV for the first time in more than a decade but, by and large, read­ers just shrugged and ac­knowl­edged that the Mazda CX-9 was a wor­thy win­ner. We all sat glumly over our soy lat­tes and won­dered where we’d gone wrong.

The thing is, there al­ways was a chink in the CX-9’S ar­mour. It feels vast and while its 170kw tur­bocharged petrol en­gine is re­as­sur­ingly over­spec­i­fied, it also drinks a bit; qual­i­ties which, when com­bined, don’t make it the most uni­ver­sally en­dear­ing ur­ban wagon. When Mazda an­nounced the slightly slim­mer, 2.2-litre diesel-pow­ered CX-8, it seemed the an­swer to many cus­tomers’ prayers and spawned this com­par­i­son of seven-seat up-spec oil-squash­ers. The model in ques­tion here is the 140kw/450nm Asaki range-top­per, priced at $61,490. Avail­able op­tions for this ver­sion run to just floor mats and premium paint.

The CX-8 might have been the cat­a­lyst, but it isn’t the only new face here. Hyundai’s fourth-gen­er­a­tion Santa Fe also wings in, bring­ing greater in­te­rior so­phis­ti­ca­tion while ditch­ing the old model’s clean but anony­mous lines for some­thing with a bit more pres­ence. Think of it as a more grown-up take on the Kona’s con­spic­u­ous and ex­tro­vert de­sign theme, car­ry­ing over the old but well re­garded 2.2-litre 147kw/440nm trans­versely mounted diesel that’s now mated to an eight-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion. The range-top­ping High­lander spec­i­fi­ca­tion, priced at $60,500, squares up nicely to the Ja­panese new­comer.

Pro­vid­ing a durable bench­mark of ex­cel­lence in this sec­tor is Skoda’s Ko­diaq. The petrol ver­sion al­most car­ried off our COTY award this year and the diesel-en­gined ver­sion could well prove an even more tempt­ing propo­si­tion. This Sport­line ver­sion looks a bar­gain at $52,990 be­fore you have any is­sues with im­pulse con­trol when con­fronted with an op­tions list. This par­tic­u­lar ex­am­ple of the 140kw/400nm 2.0-litre Czech came loaded with pearl-ef­fect paint as well as Tech and Lux­ury packs, lift­ing the price-as-tested to a not in­signif­i­cant $59,690.

The petrol ver­sion of Peu­geot’s 5008 came up a lit­tle short when we last gave it a Skoda Ko­diaq to chew on back in April of this year, but it gets a sec­ond chance to im­press in diesel form. The 2.0-litre diesel en­gine only drives the front wheels but the Pug is both light and squeezes a lot out of its pow­er­plant, mak­ing the same 400Nm as the Ko­diaq, while its peak power out­put of 133kw gives it a su­pe­rior power-to-weight ra­tio. Ci­tyfriendly di­men­sions and a fo­cus on driv­ing dy­nam­ics also of­fer some­thing a lit­tle dif­fer­ent to the usual adi­pose im­age of seven-seat SUVS. The diesel en­gine is

solely of­fered in style-driven top-spec GT guise, priced from $54,490, but supplied here with Ama­zonite Grey paint­work and a $4K pack that in­cludes heated Nappa leather seats and a panoramic roof.

As is usual with Wheels com­par­isons, we’ve thrown in a left-fielder to keep the oth­ers on their toes. Land Rover’s Dis­cov­ery Sport isn’t tra­di­tion­ally thought of as a seven-seat hauler, but a pair of ad­di­tional seats can be op­tioned into one. The ob­vi­ous ri­val for the afore­men­tioned quar­tet would prob­a­bly be the $60,290 TD4 132 SE but Land Rover Aus­tralia didn’t have one avail­able on fleet, so we had to com­pro­mise slightly and step up to the more pow­er­ful 177kw SD4 en­gine which wears a $66,455 sticker. Add $3470 for the ex­tra row of seats and you’re good to go. Or you would be if Land Rover hadn’t up­turned another $16K worth of good­ies in­side, which we’ve been striv­ing stu­diously to ig­nore.

Speak­ing of over­sights, is it me or does the Mazda CX-8 look a bit anony­mous? Okay, so the doom blue paint­work prob­a­bly isn’t do­ing it any favours, but from some an­gles it looks cu­ri­ously un­der­wheeled and there’s an un­set­tling un­ortho­doxy to its pro­por­tion­ing. De­signed for the Ja­panese mar­ket, which doesn’t get the chunky CX-9, the diesel-only CX-8 is oth­er­wise only sold in Aus­tralia and New Zealand. Its wheel­base of 2930mm is shared with the CX-9, as are some of the sus­pen­sion parts, but it utilises the smaller CX-5’S body width of 1840mm. Front and rear track widths are sep­a­rated by only a few mil­lime­tres com­pared with CX-5, while in­side, vir­tu­ally ev­ery­thing for­ward of the B-pil­lar is com­mon. The Ko­diaq is 2.49 times as long as it is wide, the 5008 2.51x and the Santa Fe’s ra­tio is 2.52x, so all con­form to a closely tem­plated ‘foot­print’ in the class. The CX-8’S ra­tio is 2.66x which, com­bined with its mod­est 200mm ground clear­ance, re­sults in a form fac­tor more akin to an MPV than an SUV.

The Santa Fe only af­fords you 185mm of fresh air be­neath its belly, so its all-wheel-drive abil­i­ties are best re­served for gravel roads and wet bi­tu­men rather than any­thing much more in­volv­ing. The squint­ing LED strip head­light, huge grille and aux­il­iary light clus­ter in­set into a stealth-like fu­sion of non-or­thog­o­nal shapes gives the big Hyundai real pres­ence. The flanks are more con­ven­tional, with a sharply ris­ing waist­line, while the rear end fea­tures the same ves­ti­gial bumper-level light pods as seen on the Kona. The 5008 and Dis­cov­ery Sport are by now fairly fa­mil­iar and the Ko­diaq is a reg­u­lar sight on Aussie roads, although this Sport­line model, fin­ished in black with stan­dard Vega an­thracite 20-inch al­loys made, by com­mon con­sent, the most co­he­sive styling state­ment.

The Ko­diaq also con­vinces on road. Ev­ery­thing we loved about the petrol ver­sion’s dy­nam­ics are pre­served in this diesel with the added ben­e­fit of more power and torque. We recorded a 9.5-sec­ond sprint to 100km/h, match­ing the pow­er­house Land Rover in the process

THE MAZDA CX-8’S LONG AND NAR­ROW FORM FAC­TOR IS MORE AKIN TO AN MPV THAN AN SUV

for the joint quick­est time. From 100, how­ever, the Ko­diaq just drove away from the Dis­cov­ery at the strip, its light­ning-quick dual-clutch trans­mis­sion, su­pe­rior aero­dy­nam­ics and more ef­fi­cient driv­e­line see­ing it more than a sec­ond clear of the Disco by 160km/h.

Testers were im­pressed by the Skoda’s body con­trol on our test routes, while con­sid­er­ing that this car’s $2600 Tech Pack also brings Adap­tive Chas­sis Con­trol with three elec­tron­i­cally reg­u­lated damper set­tings: Com­fort, Nor­mal and Sport. Ride qual­ity, even in Com­fort, is on the firm side and wind noise com­fort­ably the loud­est of the lot, but the Ko­diaq’s front end is so re­spon­sive that you find your­self driv­ing it like an upscaled all-wheel-drive hot hatch.

That said, you’d have dif­fi­culty shak­ing a Peu­geot 5008 on the twisty way home from the school run. Tip­ping the scales at just 1575kg thanks to its gos­samer EMP2 chas­sis – less than some Porsche 911s – the 5008 fea­tures the best power-to-weight ra­tio of any­thing here with­out a Land Rover badge, and had our Dis­cov­ery been fit­ted with the more suit­able 132 TSI en­gine, it would have topped the lot. We bet­tered Peu­geot’s claimed 0-100km/h time of 10.2 sec­onds by a chunky seven-tenths and loved the 5008’s wieldy slot­ta­bil­ity along both ur­ban streets and coun­try lanes. The sport mode adds some wel­come at­ti­tude to the sound­track, ar­ti­fi­cially drown­ing out its rather sibi­lant en­gine, although it does in­tro­duce an un­wel­come propen­sity to hang onto gears for a frac­tion too long. The 5008 GT feels taut, poised and gen­er­ous in its feed­back, and might have made the Santa Fe feel like a lumpen clod.

That’s what we ex­pected, at least. The re­al­ity is that the Hyundai’s a real eye-opener, car­ry­ing speed ef­fort­lessly across coun­try. It’s nec­es­sary to man­age that 1995kg kerb weight at times, but the Santa Fe de­liv­ers meaty and talk­a­tive rack-mounted elec­tric steer­ing, de­cent pitch and roll con­trol and strong stop­pers, reg­is­ter­ing the best brak­ing per­for­mance on track, even pulling up more sharply than the feath­er­weight Peu­geot. Like the French car, it rode on ex­cel­lent Con­ti­nen­tal Con­tisport­con­tact 5 rub­ber, al­beit with a slightly more gen­er­ous side­wall. The sub­jec­tive feel of the brake pedal can seem a bit flabby with the car switched into Sport mode, which sharp­ens the throt­tle mapping to such an ex­tent that the brake pedal feels long by com­par­i­son.

The Dis­cov­ery Sport felt a few de­grees vaguer in its re­sponses, the car por­pois­ing and grab­bing at the sta­bil­ity con­trol when har­ried through bumpy cor­ners. Any gripes about the Land Rover’s han­dling in ex­tremis on bi­tu­men has to be tem­pered by off-road chops that

THE KO­DIAQ’S FRONT END IS SO RE­SPON­SIVE THAT YOU CAN DRIVE IT LIKE AN UPSCALED HOT HATCH

WE EX­PECTED SOME­THING BIG AND VANILLA, BUT THE SANTA FE IS A FAR MORE NU­ANCED PROPO­SI­TION

are vastly su­pe­rior to any­thing else here. Judged in that con­text, its ride and han­dling are bet­ter than they have any real right to be. The en­gine never quite feels its big kilo­watt ad­van­tage and there’s a fair de­gree of old­school head toss on so-so sur­faces. Driven at some­thing less than eight-tenths it can feel beau­ti­fully re­laxed, the nine-speed trans­mis­sion slur­ring through changes with real so­phis­ti­ca­tion.

Like the Dis­cov­ery Sport, the CX-8 isn’t a car that en­cour­ages you to give it a good work­out, de­spite its promis­ingly low driver’s hip point. There’s that nag­ging sus­pi­cion that you’re get­ting the aloof­ness of the CX-9’S turn-in but miss­ing out on the COTY win­ner’s im­pe­ri­ous ride qual­ity. What it lacks through cor­ners, the Mazda makes up with a beau­ti­fully cal­i­brated driv­e­train and eas­ily the best re­fine­ment here. Dial things back a lit­tle and it all makes sense, the CX-8 en­cour­ag­ing this by es­chew­ing fix­tures such as shift pad­dles or se­lectable drive modes. There’s a lan­guid long-wheel­base sang-froid to its com­port­ment that’s wholly prag­matic, if a lit­tle dis­ap­point­ing from a com­pany that can usu­ally be re­lied upon to de­liver a broad and sat­is­fy­ing dy­namic reper­toire.

There are no com­plaints about the CX-8’S prac­ti­cal­ity, though. It fea­tures com­fort­ably the long­est pas­sen­ger cell of this group, and is the only one where you’d coun­te­nance putting adults in the third row. Or kids un­der seven come to that, as it’s alone in pro­vid­ing top teth­ers built into its third row. Egress from the third row is also the best of this bunch; an of­ten over­looked safety con­sid­er­a­tion. The cabin is wholly un­ad­ven­tur­ous in its ex­e­cu­tion if you’re fa­mil­iar with Mazda’s cur­rent de­sign lan­guage, but it all feels well fin­ished and prac­ti­cally ex­e­cuted. The small cen­tre screen feels a bit be­hind the curve, but the CX-8 gets a head-up dis­play to com­ple­ment the ana­logue clocks. Head­room is ex­cel­lent through­out, with a mas­sive 9cm more driver’s head­room than the pinched Peu­geot (104cm vs 95cm) although much of this dis­par­ity comes about due to the French ve­hi­cle’s ac­cursed op­tional panoramic sunroof.

The Santa Fe re­quires a lit­tle more flex­i­bil­ity to clam­ber into the third row and while space there isn’t too bad, the view out is poor for small kids, the ris­ing win­dow line of­fer­ing a lofty port­hole to peep out of. Hyundai claims that this aper­ture is 41 per­cent big­ger than that of its pre­de­ces­sor. It still feels poky back there. The story’s a lot hap­pier up front with stacks of stan­dard equip­ment in this High­lander flag­ship, in­clud­ing wire­less mo­bile charg­ing, a heated steer­ing wheel, a gutsy In­fin­ity stereo, heated and cooled seats, a mas­sive panoramic glass roof, a head-up dis­play, and a sur­round-view park­ing mon­i­tor, at which point you get the idea. We ex­pect this from Hyundai. We haven’t al­ways ex­pected a car that’s re­ward­ing to drive as well.

The Skoda prob­a­bly marks the limit of ac­cept­abil­ity for a seven seater where the rear­most seats will get used on a semi-reg­u­lar ba­sis. It makes the most of the real es­tate af­forded by its mod­est 2791mm wheel­base, with the most sec­ond-row head­room and plenty of avail­able legroom thanks to the gen­er­ous travel

of the slid­ing 60:40 rear bench. The Sport­line trim brings a car­bon­fi­bre ef­fect to the fas­cia pan­els that sounds ut­terly egre­gious in a fam­ily SUV but which complements the fin­ish of the per­fo­rated leather wheel and deeply bol­stered Al­can­tara-trimmed front seats. The usual Skoda thought­ful­ness is ev­i­dent, with unique door-edge pro­tec­tors, a sen­si­ble divi­sion of phys­i­cal but­tons and on-screen menu items, sur­prise-and-de­light blan­kets, um­brel­las and twin glove­boxes.

The 5008 is a mixed bag. Judged purely on its in­te­rior aes­thetic, it’s a win­ner. Prac­ti­cal­ity? Not so much. So many of its con­trol sys­tems seem to pri­ori­tise style over func­tion­al­ity, the sunroof that most buy­ers spec­ify cru­ci­fies avail­able head­room and the re­mov­able rear­most seats are per­func­tory at best, hid­den be­neath a mess of fold­ing flaps. The Dis­cov­ery is even worse for third-row oc­cu­pants, its pair of chairs of­fer­ing a mean 85cm of head­room, lit­tle view out, footspace crip­pled by huge plas­tic floor-mounted cuphold­ers and ter­ri­ble ac­cess to the rear doors. Why you’d put any­one you had any re­gard for in these seats frankly bog­gles the mind.

The prac­ti­cal short­com­ings of the Bri­tish and French ve­hi­cles help de­cide this test. The Land Rover brings up the rear. It has to. It’s ex­pen­sive, cramped and, in cer­tain re­gards, it feels very old with its in­can­des­cent globe headlamps, CD slot in the dash, non-adap­tive cruise con­trol and vari­able fin­ish of dash ma­te­ri­als.

The ex­te­rior styling has aged very well – the Dis­cov­ery Sport still look­ing sharp and el­e­gant – and its off-road cre­den­tials still make the Sport a wor­thy pur­chase, but it’s a heav­ily com­pro­mised sev­enseat pre­tender.

The 5008 is an in­ter­est­ing one. We can cer­tainly see how it might ap­peal to those who want some­thing man­age­ably sized, stylish, eco­nom­i­cal and fun to drive. The thing is, many of these qual­i­ties di­min­ish its use­ful­ness as gen­uinely prac­ti­cal trans­port for larger fam­i­lies. In­te­rior space is com­pro­mised by the op­tional over­head glaz­ing, which you should avoid if you’re any­where near six foot, but even aside from that, you’re not get­ting the ben­e­fits of all-wheel drive and there’s the nag­ging sus­pi­cion that you’re buy­ing less al­lweather abil­ity, less tow­ing ca­pac­ity and less use­able lug­gage space; in ef­fect pay­ing the same for a ve­hi­cle that’s half a class be­hind the best three cars here.

Sep­a­rat­ing the Mazda, Skoda and Hyundai isn’t easy, partly be­cause they’re three very dif­fer­ent means to much the same end. It’s most in­struc­tive to think of them as a con­tin­uum. At one ex­treme, rep­re­sent­ing com­fort, prac­ti­cal­ity and dis­creet com­mon­sense is the Mazda CX-8 Asaki, while the Ko­diaq Sport­line is at the other end, de­liv­er­ing a sharp steer, slick styling and ac­cept­able com­pro­mises for third-row oc­cu­pants.

Some­where be­tween the two is the Hyundai Santa Fe High­lander, which is com­posed and punchy enough to en­ter­tain on a good road while de­liv­er­ing plenty of space and equip­ment. On that ba­sis, it just does enough to squeak a win. We ex­pected some­thing big but vanilla from Hyundai, but the Santa Fe is a far more nu­anced propo­si­tion. Whether it would top the podium had Mazda merely plumbed a diesel en­gine into the CX-9 is another ques­tion al­to­gether. Still, it’ll be in­ter­est­ing to see how deep the Hyundai will go at the next COTY. You’ll still get pretty good odds on a maiden win for South Korea.

IT’LL BE IN­TER­EST­ING TO SEE HOW DEEP THE HYUNDAI GOES AT THE NEXT COTY

FIVE NA­TIONS, BUT ONLY THREE VE­HI­CLES EMERGED AS CON­TENDERS FOR THE VIC­TORY

HUN­KERED DOWN NICELY ON CONTI RUB­BER, WITH MEATY STEER­ING AND A GUTSY POW­ER­PLANT, THE SANTA FE DOES COR­NERS TOO

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