Fam­ily SUVs

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Will the seven-seat Hyundai Santa Fe up­set the es­tab­lished hi­er­ar­chy of go-any­where fam­ily trans­porta­tion?

Modern life is filthy. Not in the ad­verts, of course – there, the kitchen work sur­faces gleam, and your hair al­ways looks like you’ve just stepped out of the sa­lon. Sim­i­larly, there’s never been a car ad­vert that showed an­cient ap­ple cores rolling out from un­der the back seats, what mucky foot­ball kit ac­tu­ally does to a boot car­pet or what hap­pens if, hav­ing just waded back to a Dis­cov­ery Sport through thick sludge, you climb in and thought­lessly, vig­or­ously, knock your boots to­gether…

Fam­ily cars have it tough. And we ex­pect a lot of them: seven seats, phone con­nec­tiv­ity, a big boot, re­laxed road man­ners, com­pre­hen­sive in­fo­tain­ment, low own­er­ship costs. The last thing we prob­a­bly ex­pect is for them to be good off-road. So we tested that and, pre­dictably, the Land Rover was best: smoother to drive, more cush­ioned and re­as­sur­ing. “I’ve got this,” it seems to say, and you find your­self trust­ing it.

We’re get­ting ahead of our­selves, but the Dis­cov­ery Sport is the right way into this story. It was a cru­cial car for Land Rover be­cause it pack­aged many of the full-size Dis­cov­ery’s at­tributes into a more com­pact, af­ford­able frame. It de­fines this class – it’s the one they all want to em­u­late. And so it’s un­der pres­sure. Last year the Skoda Ko­diaq turned up, an es­tate car lofted fur­ther into the air and pre­dictably well thought through. Now there’s an all-new Hyundai Santa Fe, long an ex­po­nent of seven seats, now sharp­ened up in other ar­eas. And it looks like Honda is get­ting se­ri­ous about the CR-V, bow­ing to mar­ket pres­sure and fit­ting seven seats for the first time since it first ap­peared over 20 years ago.

Prac­ti­cal­ity first. Want to carry kids, dogs and bags? Go Skoda or Santa Fe. In five-seat mode, both have load bays of prodi­gious acreage – short of need­ing to shift so­fas reg­u­larly, it’s hard to think why you’d ever need any­thing big­ger. And they have load cov­ers that can be taken out and stored neatly un­der the boot­floor. Nifty. Raise all the seats and you’ll still get a weekly shop in the Skoda, a mid­week one in the Santa Fe and per­haps a bunch of ba­nanas in the Disco Sport. Our test CR-V didn’t have the ex­tra seats, but look­ing at the space we can’t imag­ine they’re go­ing to be gen­er­ous.

None of them are re­ally, of course. De­spite them all hav­ing a mid­dle row that tilts and slides, the act of get­ting into the rear­most row is one best left to chil­dren, let alone tol­er­at­ing the knees-around-your-ears po­si­tion once en­sconced. The stand­out point for the Honda is its low load­ing sill, but the only com­mod­ity that gets gen­er­ous space in the CR-V is odd­ments.

By mov­ing the gear­lever to the dash­board, the whole cen­tre con­sole has be­come a slid­ing, lift­ing trib­ute to hidey-holes. Er­gonom­i­cally the Honda is sound, and it’s easy to see out of, light to drive and so on, but the de­sign is underwhelming and the tech-savvy among us will be­moan the poor in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem and ropey graph­ics.

For a car pitched around the £40,000 mark, the Santa Fe isn’t made of par­tic­u­larly pre­mium ma­te­ri­als. Too much black plas­tic and cheap leather. Shame, as the Santa Fe’s pleas­ingly curved lay­out and good cen­tral screen cer­tainly put it ahead of the plain and rather dated Dis­cov­ery. Mind you, the Land Rover is fine to get on with – the driv­ing po­si­tion is great, ma­te­ri­als feel ex­pen­sive and you’d be proud of your pur­chase. Un­til you have to in­ter­act with the small cen­tral touch­screen. Ten min­utes of frus­trated prod­ding and you’ll have given up on ever mak­ing it link to your phone.

The one car that sails above all con­cerns is the Ko­diaq. It’s er­gonom­i­cally bril­liant, with a fine touch­screen. The Sport­line seats are won­der­ful. There’s a twin-level glove­box for all your stor­age needs. The ma­te­ri­als are great. There’s no squeaks or rat­tles. The oth­ers have nig­gles. The Skoda doesn’t put a foot wrong.

But it is a diesel. Doesn’t have to be, as you can have a petrol in­stead. In fact, you can have un­leaded ver­sions of any of them bar the Hyundai – and we have two of them here, the Land Rover and the Honda. There isn’t a diesel op­tion for the Honda at all, but you can have a hy­brid. With a CVT gear­box. Don’t do it to your­self.

Should you aban­don diesel? Con­sumer con­fi­dence may have sagged in the wake of gov­ern­ment plans, but if you’re go­ing to ask your SUV to man­age ex­tra weight, whether peo­ple, lug­gage or trail­ers – and do so ef­fi­ciently – diesel does it best. The CR-V’s 1.5-litre turbo is not only woe­fully short of torque, but also sur­pris­ingly rowdy. The Disco’s 2.0-litre Si4 is bet­ter, but barely any more re­fined than the diesels while the 9spd auto is slow to choose be­tween its plen­ti­ful ra­tios. Nei­ther makes the car it pow­ers feel easy or re­laxed. And the fact the light, pi­ous, man­ual


Honda was less ef­fi­cient in our hands (31.4mpg plays 32.7mpg) than the far more rugged, 394kg heav­ier Hyundai, speak vol­umes.

Let’s look else­where. In ur­ban sit­u­a­tions, the CR-V is good. It’s com­par­a­tively small and nim­ble. But else­where it falls short. Body con­trol is weak (blame the soft springs), so you find your­self hav­ing to make ad­just­ments to keep the car point­ing where you want it. That’s not re­lax­ing. Just as we found off-road, the Bri­tish SUV is the best-rid­ing, most re­fined and ma­ture-man­nered car of the four. The steer­ing is pos­i­tive, it’s se­cure and sta­ble on the road and han­dles nat­u­rally. Hyundai would do well to take note. It’s ob­vi­ously gone for a sim­i­lar feel – a big, ma­ture car that’s de­signed to con­sume dis­tance. But the un­der­pin­nings don’t sup­port that aim well enough. The chas­sis isn’t stiff enough, so you get some jit­ter and shake – not much, but enough to nib­ble at the edges of com­fort. It’s not as steady on its feet, ei­ther.

Ac­tual nim­ble­ness? That be­longs only to the Skoda. The Honda may be even lighter to drive, but it feels like it would get blown away in a gale, and is bucked about on a bumpy road. The Skoda is taut and pos­i­tive. It’s the most like a car – you sit lower in it, feel more at­tached to it. Does it need a 190bhp diesel? Prob­a­bly not – 150bhp would be fine. Maybe step a rung or two down the spec lad­der if you are happy to sac­ri­fice the Sport­line vi­su­als for a gen­tler ride.

It would help keep costs in check, too. Ko­diaq prices may start at a lit­tle over £25,000, but once you’ve made it nice, y’know, added a DSG auto gear­box (£1,300), 4WD (£1,485), seats six and seven (£980), you’re in for a £30,000 bill. The Honda’s the cheap one here, the Hyundai the sur­pris­ingly ex­pen­sive one – both to buy (en­try price £33,425) and run (164g/km CO stings the tax). 2 The Land Rover is a pre­mium prod­uct, ar­guably the most de­sir­able car here. The way it looks, the badge, the pedi­gree and ku­dos. But watch the run­ning costs: in­surance 10 groups above the Ko­diaq and a lease cost­ing roughly £100 per month more.

Fi­nal anal­y­sis? The CR-V is first to fall. Apart from the op­tion of seven seats, it hasn’t done enough to catch up with the class lead­ers. Easy around town, but a fam­ily needs a heav­ier-duty work­horse. The Hyundai ticks that box. It’s big and ro­bust al­right, spa­cious and well kit­ted out, but it’s a bit of a plod­der, best at the long-haul stuff. Still, it comes close to knock­ing the Dis­cov­ery Sport out of sec­ond spot – both are well fo­cused on their tar­get mar­ket, and pro­vide very com­pre­hen­sive an­swers to most fam­ily ques­tions. The Skoda Ko­diaq wins. It’s the one that leaves tra­di­tion fur­thest be­hind in its quest to be the only car a fam­ily will ever need. That’s the dif­fer­ence. You can see it vis­ually and you feel it dy­nam­i­cally when you’re driv­ing. It’s a grafter, and when all’s said and done, that’s what you’re af­ter.


Ol­lie cold-heart­edly drowns an­other Oompa-Loompa inchoco­late foun­tain

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