Seven-seat SUV comparison: Santa Fe vs Kodiaq and Sorento
CONTRARY to perception, seven-seat SUVs aren't driven by penniless parents with oversized families. The average seven-seater buyer has only two or three children and mainly gravitates to the most expensive model in the range.
Hyundai says many people don't blink at spending $60,000 to $70,000 on a new SUV. It predicts the top-of-the-range Highlander will be the most popular choice for its new Santa Fe, accounting for roughly 35 per cent of sales.
So we've chosen to toss the Highlander into one of the toughest comparison tests in recent memory. Taking on the new Santa Fe is our reigning 2017 Car of the Year, Skoda's Kodiaq, and the updated version of our 2015 Car of the Year, the Kia Sorento. All are diesel, all-wheel drive and circa $65,000 on the road.
HYUNDAI SANTA FE
The new Santa Fe has grown slightly, liberating more space for second-row passengers and making access to the third row easier. It's still not as big as the Toyota Kluger or Mazda CX-9.
The model update has focused mainly on creature comforts and safety technology. The Santa Fe now has technology to steer you back into your lane if you wander and it will apply the brakes on one side to pull you back into line if you try to steer into an already occupied lane.
The cabin has a more modern look, especially in the Highlander, which gets a digital dash and head-up display in lieu of old-school dials and needles in front of the driver. The centre screen is bigger, satnav is standard and creature comforts extend to a heated steering wheel and electrically adjustable leather seats with heating in the first and second rows. The third row gets its own aircon fan controls and the second row folds and slides forward at the press of a button.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, there's a wireless inductive charger for compatible smartphones and you can turn on the engine and aircon/heating remotely via an app on your phone - it will also tell you where you parked your car.
There's also an abundance of USB ports and 12V outlets for the kids' portable devices.
The diesel carries over from the previous model but an eight-speed auto and additional sound deadening mean it feels quieter and more responsive.
The Santa Fe comes with a new all-wheel drive set-up that allows you to adjust the bias from front to back at the press of a button. In sport mode, more drive is sent to the rear, in economy mode it's front drive to save fuel.
On the road the Santa Fe feels confident and composed through corners, while still cushioning occupants from bumps and corrugations. The balance between comfort and cornering ability is the best in the class.
The Sorento and Santa Fe are twins under the skin, although their model cycles are different. Kia updated the Sorento at the end of last year, fitting an eight-speed transmission and more driver-assist tech including lane keep assist, blind-spot alert and smart cruise control that keeps a safe distance to the car in front.
It doesn't get some of the more advanced safety gear of its sibling, most notably cyclist detection and the ability to slam on the brakes when reversing if it senses an obstacle behind the car.
The cabin is well put together and it mimics the Santa Fe's heated seats and aircon vents with fan speed control in the rearmost pews. As with the Hyundai, the airbags don't extend all the way to the back of the car.
The cabin of the Sorento is more conservative than the Santa Fe, which may appeal to some but it is beginning to look a little dated. Dark leather is offset by moody red lighting and plain but effective readouts. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard.
The Kia trumps the Hyundai and Skoda with a seven-year unlimited kilometre warranty to the others' five.
Access to the rearmost seats is tighter than the Santa Fe and doesn't have the convenience of a one-touch slide and fold mechanism but, once in place, passengers will find similar headroom and kneeroom.
The Sorento doesn't feel as sporty as the other two through the corners but provides excellent comfort combined with safe and predictable handling. Noise suppression isn't quite as good as the other two, though, and the steering isn't as sharp.
The cheaper petrol-powered Kodiaq was our Car of the Year last year but this is the range-topping diesel Sportline with all the bells and whistles. The Sportline pack adds bigger wheels, sports seats and more visual bling inside, including paddle-shifters on the steering wheel.
Our test car also had the tech and luxury packs, adding active safety features as well as such creature comforts as heated rear seats, 10-speaker audio and three-zone aircon.
A panoramic sunroof, standard on the Santa Fe and Sorento versions we tested, adds $1900.
The Kodiaq's cabin oozes quality and class, with stitched Alcantara and leather seats, a sporty flat-bottom steering wheel, carbon-fibre inserts in the doors and on the dash and a razor- sharp centre touchscreen. Then there are the clever Skoda touches including umbrellas in the front doors, detachable torch in the rear and waste bin in the driver's door.
Among omissions are individual air vents in the third row. The car has only one USB port and three 12V outlets. The Santa Fe has seven.
The Kodiaq is a little down on power and torque compared with the Korean pair but you don't notice behind the wheel because it is considerably lighter. That translates to a handy fuel economy advantage - more than 20 per cent better on the official test cycle - and an advantage on the road. It feels more nimble than the other two through corners, although it can be a bit jittery at times over corrugations.
Compact dimensions also mean there's noticeably less space for third-row passengers. You can slide the second row forward for more space but it is still a young kids-only zone and access to the third row is a bit fiddly.
These comprise the cream of the seven-seat SUV crop and none will disappoint. The Sorento wins points for its longer warranty but can't match the others for tech and up-market feel. The Kodiaq is a great drive with a beautifully appointed cabin but the Santa Fe narrowly takes this contest thanks to greater safety and comfort tech and more space for the price.
SANTA FE HIGHLANDER
PRICE About $65,700
WARRANTY/SERVICE 5 years/unlimited km, 12 months/15,000km, $1197 over 3 years
ENGINE 2.2-litre 4-cyl turbo diesel, 147kW/440Nm
SAFETY Not yet rated, 6 airbags, AEB, lane keep assist and blind spot assist, active cruise control, rear cross traffic alert
SPARE Full-size alloy
PRICE About $64,700
WARRANTY/SERVICE 7 years/unlimited km, 12 months/15,000km, $1184 over 3 years
ENGINE 2.2-litre 4-cyl turbo diesel, 147kW/441Nm
SAFETY 5 stars, 6 airbags, AEB, lane keep assist, blind spot alert, rear cross traffic alert
SPARE Full-size alloy
SKODA KODIAQ SPORTLINE
PRICE About $63,800
WARRANTY/SERVICE 5 years/unlimited km, 12 months/15,000km, $1375 over 3 years
ENGINE 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo diesel, 140kW/400Nm
SAFETY 5 stars, 9 airbags, AEB, lane keep assist, blind spot alert, rear cross traffic alert
* Prices are estimated drive-away