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Both the Skoda Karoq 110TSI and Hyundai Tucson Highlander are built around the same ‘utility vehicle’ philosophy, but despite differences in their makeup, they arrive at very similar conclusions.

We’ve put together the highest spec of each available in Australia to see if Europe’s challenger brand, Skoda, has what it takes to topple the might of Hyundai.

The Tucson has become one of the default choices in the medium-SUV segment, though so far in 2019 it’s a top-five seller in its class, but not the leader. Still, it currently outsells the Karoq by around 16 to one.

That’s a big hurdle to overcome, so despite what the sales say, we wanted to see if the Karoq deserves to do better against the better-known Hyundai.


Price and specs

Curiously, Skoda doesn’t offer multiple specifications of the Karoq, whereas Hyundai has four full-time variants in the Tucson range, plus the occasional special edition here and there.

That means the Tucson range starts from as little as $28,150 plus on-road costs in its most basic Go trim, with a manual transmission but through the range offers auto and manual variants, front and all-wheel drive, and a choice of three engines: petrol, turbo petrol, and turbo diesel.

At the top of the range, the 1.6-litre turbo petrol all-wheel-drive Tucson Highlander tested here tips in with a $46,500 price tag, and supplied with a dual-clutch automatic.

Comparatively, the Karoq comes only in ‘110TSI’ trim, which describes the output of the 1.5-litre turbo petrol engine (more on that further down) and drives the front wheels only, via a seven-speed dual clutch automatic, from $35,290 drive-away.

Instead of different trim levels, Skoda offers optional equipment packages dubbed Premium, Tech and Travel, and adding all three adds $7900 to the price. The car pictured here varies slightly, and misses out on the 10-speaker premium audio upgrade you’d normally get (it’s a 2018-plate Launch Edition car), but is otherwise specced the same as a fully pack-loaded model with an optional sunroof added, too.

While you may not have the same model walk to get through, with three packs and the roof added you’re looking at $45,090 drive-away. For the Tucson with its $595 metallic paint, list price is $47,095 plus on-roads – not a perfect match, but neither is outside of the budget of the other, and you should be able to comfortably negotiate on either before signing up.

What are you getting for your outlay then? In standard form, the Karoq lays claim to key safety features like seven airbags, autonomous emergency braking, rear-view camera, driver fatigue detection, tyre pressure monitoring and driver steering recommendation – a system that ‘nudges’ the steering wheel in the recommended direction of travel to help remedy a slide to assist the stability-control system.

Skoda’s optional Travel Pack bundles in additional tech like blind-spot monitoring, lane assist, and distance-keeping cruise control with traffic jam assist. Emergency assist can call emergency services in the event of an accident.

In Highlander trim, the range-topping Tucson eschews option packs for a somewhat more traditional all-inclusive approach. The safety roll call covers autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, six airbags, driver fatigue detection, tyre pressure monitoring, rear-view camera, and distance-keeping cruise control with stop&go.

Blind-spot warning, lane-keep assist, and rear cross-traffic warning are included, too, though perhaps a little surprisingly, at the timing of writing Hyundai had added a 360-degree camera and trailer-sway assist to the Tucson Special Edition model but not yet to the Highlander.


Interiors

Just how different can two medium SUVs be inside? Well, despite basic black-on-black colour schemes, the Tucson and Karoq take very different approaches to interior design and functionality.

The jewel in the Karoq’s crown is its VarioFlex rear seats, which allow each individual seat to be folded at the backrest, flipped forward from the base, or completely removed to free up as much space as possible.

Hyundai sticks with a more traditional 60:40 split for the folding backrests, but doesn’t offer tumble-forward or removable bases. The result is a flat floor the Karoq can’t match, but less overall space and less packaging flexibility.

On numbers alone, the Hyundai claims 488L to the rear seats compared to the Skoda’s 479L minimum or 588L maximum depending on how the rear seats are placed. Fold the backrests in both and the capacity opens up to 1478L in the Tucson or 1605L in the Karoq with the option to go further, pull the seats out, and there’s a van-like 1801L on hand.

Skoda typically has the market cornered on simple cargo convenience items, too, like a reversible boot mat, sliding bag rails, a rechargeable torch and velcro-fastened load restraints all packed into the Karoq’s boot as standard kit, rather than coming from an accessory catalogue.

While there’s a world of versatile configurations available to Karoq owners, the act of setting up the interior isn’t quite as simple as it seems. Getting seats flipped and folded is a touch more intricate than it appears at first glance, and removing a seat entirely requires a fair bit of muscle.

They’re not light little units, even individually, so it’s not a bad idea to have a second person give you a hand. Getting everything lined up to reinstall involves a fair amount of fiddling, too, so the extra versatility comes at a cost.

Occupants of the rear seats themselves will likely favour the Hyundai’s larger seat space. A slightly longer wheelbase (by 32mm) contributes to a more roomy rear seat in the Tucson, both leg room and width are superior, although there’s a wider range of adjustments with which to tailor comfort in the more compact Karoq.

Both cars host a trio of top-tether child seat anchor points and a pair of outboard ISOFIX seat mounts.

Up front, the size difference becomes less noticeable with both offering a spacious front row.

Once again, Skoda goes one step further with addenda designed to boost practicality. A multi-use, multi-storage space under the centre armrest, elasticised door bin restraints to hold maps and magazines in place, and a drawer beneath the passenger’s seat to name a few.

Both cars feature wireless mobile charging, though Hyundai’s is easier to access. Both feature touchscreen infotainment with CarPlay and Android Auto, too, but the huge 9.2-inch display and wireless charging of the Skoda are a result of ticking the Tech Pack option along with DAB+ radio and a hands-free powered tailgate.

By comparison, the Tucson’s screen measures ‘just’ 8.0 inches, but again, the all-inclusive nature of Hyundai’s model walk means there are no options and features like DAB+, wireless charging, and a so-called smart tailgate are all a part of the Highlander as standard.

Personal preference might point you to one over the other in terms of styling. Neither is groundbreaking, though there’s a measured conservatism to Skoda’s interior styling.

Hyundai’s choice of a free-standing screen isn’t to all tastes, and while both abound with soft-touch finishes inside and feature high standards of fit and finish, there’s an added sense of solidity and quality inside the Skoda. But honestly, the two are so closely matched in this regard that it’s almost moot.


Drivetrain

These two differ most under the bonnet, but even amongst their differences there are parallels.

Both are powered by turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engines and both feature seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmissions, but whereas Hyundai’s comes mated to a standard all-wheel-drive system, the Skoda only turns its front wheels.

Outputs differ too. The Karoq produces 110kW and 250Nm from a 1.5-litre engine, while the Tucson edges ahead slightly with 130kW and 265Nm from a 1.6-litre engine.

The slightly more compact Skoda also has a weight advantage with a tare ticket of 1353kg, some 274kg less than the 1627kg Hyundai. Put that down, in part, to its smaller overall size and the lack of added all-wheel-drive componentry.

In the real world, the Tucson is well mannered with an engine that’s smooth and quiet around town. The auto can show some initial reservation about moving off from stationary, but once on the go it cycles through gears smoothly and gracefully.

Demand more and the engine can lose its cool as revs rise. A thrashing soundtrack accompanies quick bursts of acceleration – something the Tucson will happily comply with, though not without protest.

Behind the wheel of the Karoq, the slightly scaled-back engine feel surprisingly spritely – it is only slightly down on power and torque, but makes up for any differences thanks to its weight savings.

In most conditions, the engine feels robust enough to do what’s asked of it without breaking a sweat, working in concert with Skoda’s quick-thinking automatic that is just a little quicker and more polished when it comes to selecting the right gear for the job.

Like the Tucson, the Karoq tends to be slow to start when moving from a full stop, and takes a moment longer to move cleanly up to speed.

Official fuel-usage figures see the Karoq rated at 5.8 litres per 100km and the Tucson at a higher 7.7L/100km. On test, the Karoq returned 7.1L/100km, while the Tucson finished closer to its claim at 8.3L/100km.


Ride and handling

As vehicles that are probably bound to live their days on urban streets rather than outback trails, it’s probably not too surprising to find that both can shrug off city living with ease.

From a technical point of view, both cars use a fairly industry standard MacPherson front suspension, but at the rear the Hyundai deploys a technically superior multi-link suspension while the Karoq runs a simpler torsion beam.

In all but the most demanding conditions, the difference is unlikely to make itself felt in any significant way.

More noticeable are the ride differences between the two. The Karoq has an underlying firmness on initial bump compression, but provides much more measured control and recovery. Tyre noise is also quite subdued.

Conversely, the Tucson blots out little bumps more willingly and is quite comfortable over most surfaces, but doesn’t cope as well with high-amplitude bumps and corrugations. Fire into a corner keenly and the Tucson transitions to understeer earlier without the front-end accuracy of the Karoq.

Tyre choice makes a difference, too, with the Hankook Kinergy GT tyres of the Hyundai tending to squeal more and make more noise than the Michelin Primacy 3 tyres used beneath the Skoda.


Service and warranty

Five-year warranties have fast become the industry norm, and that’s what you’ll get with both the Karoq and Tucson. Five years, unlimited-kilometre warranty coverage.

Servicing costs vary more dramatically. Although the Hyundai is cheaper to service, it requires 12-month or 10,000km intervals compared to 15,000km for the Karoq, which means an average owner might get away with annual dealer visits in the Skoda, but the Tucson would need to go back a touch short of the one-year mark.

The first five visits to a Hyundai dealer add up to $1585, while the Karoq will rack up $2153 for its first five services. While that might look impressive at first, if you were to cover 75,000km in that time (15,000km per year), the Tucson would actually be the more expensive at $2585 – servicing based on distance rather than time.


VERDICT

As is so often the case with Skoda cars, and the company’s deliberate attempts to straddle traditional segment boundaries, the Karoq feels like a plus-size small SUV rather than a regular mid-sizer.

Rather than being a drawback, though, it means that space efficiency is top notch and innovation abounds with trick features like VarioFlex seating. They may appear a little gimmicky on the surface, but even if you only have a need to strip the seats out once or twice a year, you’ll soon fall in love with the practicality.

A price advantage, both at the time of purchase and when it comes to servicing (particularly for those that rack up a decent amount of kilometres), an extra layer of finesse through the drivetrain, and a more composed on-road feel, all give the Skoda Karoq an incremental edge.

It’s only a minor victory, however, with the Hyundai Tucson putting up a convincing rebuttal. Be that as it may, it’s the details that make the difference in the fully optioned Karoq’s instance.

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