Renault Kadjar 1.2 TCe 130 Signature Nav
List price £23,920
Target Price £21,388
Kadjar has been around the block a few times, but you get loads of kit for your money.
Skoda Karoq 1.0 TSI 115 SE L
List price £23,170
Target Price £22,052
One of our favourite family SUVs, with lots of strengths and few weaknesses. The one to beat.
Vauxhall Grandland X 1.2 Turbo 130 Tech Line Nav
List price £22,515
Target Price £20,949
Vauxhall’s take on the Peugeot 3008 is the newest of our contenders. Is it the best?
Let’s get straight to the point. You’ve got around £300 a month to spend on a new car and fancy something a bit taller and chunkier than your common or garden hatchback. It needs to be roomy enough for everyday domestic duties and the annual family holiday to the Lake District, but whatever the pros and cons, you just don’t want a diesel.
Well, if this trio of family SUVs aren’t on your shortlist, they jolly well should be. We’ll begin the introductions with the newest of our contenders, the Vauxhall Grandland X, which is essentially the British brand’s take on the Peugeot 3008. It shares a chassis and engine with its more extravagantly styled French cousin but promises better value for money and a more user-friendly dashboard.
Next up is the Renault Kadjar. It, too, has a very close relative in the family SUV arena – this time the Nissan Qashqai – and if you prefer swooping curves to sharp angles and oblongs, the Kadjar stands a good chance of seducing you with its looks. It’s no spring chicken (it’s been around since 2015), but you get loads of kit for a not-unreasonable price.
Finally, there’s our reigning champion in this price bracket, the Skoda Karoq. Its combination of general roominess, clever seating tricks and tempting finance deals has made it one heck of a compelling proposition ever since its arrival last year. But is its time at the top about to come to an end?
All three cars are lined up in their least powerful petrol forms but in (relatively) posh trim levels, so you won’t need to worry about forking out extra for things such as sat-nav, smartphone mirroring, climate control, parking sensors or keyless entry.
Performance, ride, handling, refinement
We know what you’re thinking: is a dinky 1.0-litre or 1.2-litre engine really going to pull me, my other half, our two kids and Freddie the cocker spaniel up and over the Hardknott Pass?
Well, the short answer is ‘yes’. Granted, if you live in a really hilly area or regularly pound up and down the M6, you’d do well to get over any preconceptions and think seriously about a diesel. But, for the majority of scenarios, these small turbocharged petrol engines are more than up to the task.
Curiously, it’s the car with the smallest and supposedly weakest engine that did best in our performance tests. The Karoq’s 1.0-litre unit makes a mockery of the ‘bigger is better’ philosophy by taking the shortest time to sprint to 60mph from a standstill and accelerate from 30-70mph.
The 1.2-litre-engined cars are close behind, though, to the point where you really wouldn’t be able to guess which took gold, silver and bronze without a stopwatch. The Grandland X also deserves credit for its ability to build speed quickest from low revs in fifth and sixth gears.
There are bigger differences in how easy these SUVs are to drive smoothly. You don’t need any practice in the Karoq; its positive clutch pedal, slick gearbox and the predictable way in which the engine reacts to you squeezing the accelerator mean you don’t really need to think about driving at all; it all just happens instinctively.
Despite having a longer-throw gearshift and a fairly heavy clutch pedal, the Kadjar isn’t too tricky to drive smoothly, particularly when you’re out on the open road. Sadly, the Grandland X is more fractious; its clutch engages abruptly, so you need to make a conscious effort to keep things smooth, and it doesn’t help that the engine responds to accelerator inputs in a rather lethargic fashion.
The Grandland X also has the grabbiest brakes, again forcing you to actively think about slowing gently to stop your passengers from doing passable impressions of a nodding dog.
Big wheels often do bad things for ride comfort, and the Kadjar, with its standard 19in rims, loses its composure a bit over potholes and big road scars. However, it’s actually very comfortable along A-roads and motorways, staying settled and composed as it wafts you along.
The Karoq is less prone to tripping over potholes and broken patches of asphalt around town, but neither does it cosset you quite as well along faster roads; it’s always that little bit firmer. The Grandland X fidgets the most at all speeds, gently tossing your head from side to side as its wheels roll over small lumps and bumps. Mind you, it never becomes too jarring, even over potholes, and our test car probably wasn’t helped by its 19in wheels (18in rims come as standard on Tech Line Nav trim).
SUVs have a number of advantages over hatchbacks, but handling isn’t one of them. The Kadjar sways about the most through bends and feels the least willing to change direction. Its steering is light and accurate enough at moderate speeds, but the wheel starts to kick back in your hands quite violently as you approach the limits of grip.
The Grandland X grips harder and its body stays more upright through tight turns. While its steering could build weight in a more natural manner, there’s enough precision to allow you to place the car where you want it, even when you’re driving quite quickly. Still, both cars are rather wallowy compared with the Karoq, which handles like something altogether squatter. It resists body roll remarkably well, making it the most agile, whether you’re darting around town or barrelling down your favourite B-road.
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