The Skoda Kodiaq takes on the new Kia Sorento in this family-friendly SUV twin test.
If families need a big people-mover these days, they’re more likely to buy a seven-seat SUV than an MPV (even if the new Kia Carnival is a significant upgrade on the old). It’s the way fashion and trends evolve, and there’s certainly no denying that this pair of off-roaders look more stylish and appealing than their more van-like counterparts.
That’s why SUVs are so popular, and the number of large cars like this hitting the market shows that this is still the sector for growth, and the most recent to launch is the new Kia Sorento, with a refreshing recipe. There’s one diesel and one petrol.
It’s up against one of our favourites in the class – Skoda’s petrol-powered Kodiaq seven-seat SUV.
There’s lots that’s new for this fourth-generation Sorento, not least its silky petrol and diesel drivetrains.
Design & engineering
Kia’s seven-seat Sorento SUV is all-new, with the N3 platform designed to accept diesel, petrol and also hybrid powertrains.
The new platform means the Sorento’s wheelbase is 35mm longer than its predecessor’s, helping improve packaging inside despite only a minimal increase in overall length.
For the hybrid which is not yet in Australia, electric range is limited, but the small battery is more for assisting the petrol engine to help shift the car’s 2006kg kerbweight, which is 253kg more than the Skoda’s. The powertrain, which will be introduced to the Australian market, produces 168kW and 350Nm of torque and it drives all four wheels through a six-speed automatic gearbox. This is our first taste of the motor before it joins the local fleet.
This Sorento is what Kia calls a ‘self-charging’ hybrid, which means you don’t connect it to mains electricity. Instead, the car manages the state of the battery’s charge and will recoup energy when slowing down or braking, topping up the system with energy that would otherwise be lost, or it’ll use the petrol engine as a generator to ensure the state of charge is maintained at an optimum level.
There’s a lot more tech in this new Sorento too, with plenty of safety features that make this an appealing family car. We’ll come to those shortly.
Inside, the Sorento has been smartened up, with a fresher design and some higher-quality materials, and it feels like a leap above the old model. Top-spec models are even encroaching on premium territory.
The Sorento’s hybrid powertrain makes it relaxed on the move. As long as you don’t push it too hard, the powertrain is relatively refined, calling on the electric motor to do a good chunk of the work. The diesel and petrol V6 are torquey and have more than enough power for smooth city driving plus easy highway lumbering.
However, the Kia’s ride isn’t quite as accomplished as the Skoda’s. The Sorento is soft, but over bumps there’s not as much control, so the wheels move more aggressively and more of this energy is transferred through to the passenger compartment. Still, it’s far from an uncomfortable car.
That weight means it doesn’t handle with anywhere near as much precision as the Skoda, but given the above we’d wager that doesn’t really matter as much as ride comfort in a car of this type.
These cars are all about usability, and the Kia excels here. It’s the roomiest in the third row, and the mechanism to fold its seats and access the rear is the best.
The Sorento serves up 179 litres of boot space with all seven seats in place. This rises to 608 litres when the rear seats are folded. The middle-row seats are more spacious than those in the Skoda – they slide in both models – while the Kia offers USB charging points in the rear to keep gadgets topped up.
Fold the middle-row seats down and the Sorento offers a maximum 1,996 litres carrying capacity. This is only a few litres down on the Skoda’s maximum 2,005 litres, so there’s little to split the two here.
The Kodiaq is at the sharp end of the seven-seat SUV class and combines contemporary design with clever packaging.
Design & engineering
The Kodiaq has been on sale from late 2016, so it’s now one of the older large SUVs on sale. But updates throughout the car’s life have kept it at the edge of the class, with new tech features, engines and trim levels, which this 2.0 TSI 190 4×4 DSG SportLine model represents.
The Skoda’s chassis is based on the VW Group’s MQB architecture, which is a scalable platform that underpins a whole range of vehicles from the Audi TT sports car to this Skoda family SUV.
Both cars here are four-wheel drive, so their suspension layouts are identical, with MacPherson struts at the front and a multi-link set-up at the rear.
Where the two differ in their engineering approach is that the Skoda isn’t available as a hybrid. The four-cylinder turbo engine produces 138kW – a little down on power compared with the Kia – but with an identical 320Nm of torque produced at the same 1,500rpm yet a kerbweight of just 1,753kg, making it considerably lighter, the Skoda is the quicker car.
It has a dual-clutch gearbox and four-wheel drive, with selectable driving modes that include Eco, Comfort, Sport and Off Road settings. The latter matches the Kia, but the Sorento also has the choice of mud, snow and sand as part of its Terrain setting. In reality few will take either of these pair off the beaten track, but both will be fine for light off-roading.
These cars will likely spend more time on road, where the Skoda’s higher-quality cabin will come into its own. The Kia’s is fine, but the Skoda’s feels decidedly plusher, even if its design is best described as plain and simple.
It’s clear that the Skoda is the more driver-focused model of the two, especially in SportLine spec. The steering is sharper, and you can sense its comparatively lower mass relative to the Kia because it feels more agile and grips more tenaciously. The engine pulls strongly and delivers good performance too, covering 0-100km/h in 7.6 seconds.
Despite better body control, the Kodiaq is actually the softer, more comfortable car. It doesn’t lumber over corrugations in the road like the Kia does. The Skoda does lose its composure on undulating roads a little, with a kind of nodding motion, but on the whole it’s the more interesting and able machine to drive, and also the more comfortable.
Powertrain refinement is on par with the Kia’s at cruising speeds, but under hard acceleration the Sorento is noisier than the smoother Kodiaq.
Seven-seat SUVs are all about size. The Skoda is 10cm shorter than the Kia and also has a shorter wheelbase. While the Kodiaq has sliding middle-row seats like the Kia, it feels less spacious – this is obvious once you get into the very back row, where the Kodiaq is more cramped. It’s also harder to climb into the third row.
The trade-off for the small rear cabin is a decent boot. There are 270 litres in seven-seat form, between 560 and 705 litres with the third row folded, depending on where the middle seats are, and 2,005 litres with them all flat. There’s a powered tailgate, too.
Skodas are known for their practicality and the brand’s Simply Clever touches, and the Kodiaq is no exception. Little extras, such as an ice scraper in the fuel filler flap and an umbrella in the front door make the Kodiaq easy to live with.
First place: Kia Sorento
For family transport, the excellent standard safety kit and superb level of space and flexibility are what make the Sorento so usable. We’d like a little more comfort, but performance is good and efficiency great.
Second place: Skoda Kodiaq
The Kodiaq is still a great SUV and while the Skoda performs better, is more agile and more comfortable, it’s more cramped than the Kia and offers less flexibility from its seating layout. Quality is good, but the margin over the Sorento in this respect isn’t enough to secure victory.