Someday, I really must find out the psyche behind the ever-growing love affair with SUVs. It’s not that I have an inherent dislike for the genre but rather that my inquisitive mind wants to know why it’s hard to keep buyers out of SUV showrooms right across the price spectrum. I’ve just had two very close SUV competitors gracing my driveway and happily it’s been easier to make direct comparisons given they were driven just days apart. The Hyundai was first on the block and with its resurrected Tucson badging, it reaffirmed my impressions from the launch event that this model has grown up and could easily be mistaken for a Santa Fe. Truth be known, it was the iX35 that did so much to cement Hyundai’s standing in RSA so it’s not surprising that the return of the Tucson badge didn’t exactly trigger an outburst of celebrations from the local importers.
The Renault Kadjar – what an oddity of a name – fills out the growing ranks of Renaults powered by small-displacement modern engines but truth be known, it’s actually a Nissan Qashqai in French camo gear. That’s no bad thing as the Jap machine is Nissan’s best offering.
In terms of dimensions, the Tucson is definitely a mid-size contender while the Renault sits at the smaller end of mid-size. The flowing panels of the Tucson, once a stand-out feature of the original iX35, are now rather familiar if still pleasing, but in terms of eye candy it’s the French challenger that garners more glances. Part of the reason may lie in the flashing scarlet paintwork of the Renault which positively gleamed in the sun and even shone in the shade. I have no idea what Renault has done with its paint process but I’m not complaining as the surface finish of the clear coat is superb, being smooth and mostly free of orange peel too. Hyundais exhibit variable surface finish according to where they are made but this one was really rather good with a decent gloss and less orange peel than I recently choked on when viewing the flanks of my son’s i40 Estate which was used to travel to Le Mans. Both makes do a good job of keeping panel gaps under control and ensuring they are even so let’s rank this a tie even if my inclination is to state that the Renault manages to look the more expensive.
Open a door and France scores immediately. There’s a fresh approach to the Renault that’s evident in the choice of materials which are nicer to touch and visually plusher. To an extent, I might have been influenced by the wonderfully supportive, thickly-padded, leather-swathed sports seats that are in truth an expensive extra, but it’s the ambience of the Renault that holds sway thanks to neat detailing and a sense of quality that extends even to the excellent finish in the rather shallow load area. The Hyundai is not really wanting for anything, even if the electrically-adjustable leather-faced seats look and feel very plain by comparison, but there are very few soft-touch surfaces on hand such that on close inspection, it’s not unreasonable to describe the Korean as a tad utilitarian even if the detailing is neat enough. The carpet for example is plain tatty next to the Renault, but in my book, the Korean scores with a set of more conventional, clearly-marked instruments that make the digital speedo and fussy markings of the Renault look too ornate. France hits back with a massively superior central infotainment screen where in this particular Hyundai, Seoul makes do with an excuse of a screen decked-out in old school turquoise graphics. (A larger, satnav screen is optional.)
Both cars are very well equipped with all the usual niceties so that means air con, electric everything, Bluetooth, rear camera, cruise control and infotainment are all present and correct in both, together with steering wheels festooned with switches. Nav is a plus in the Renault together with park distance control but the Korean counters with powered front seats as standard. On the space front, the Tucson wins easily, especially in the rear where the flat 60:40 rear seat is commodious enough to squeeze in three adults. The Kadjar in truth is a four seater but those four will feel more at home in their plusher box and the driver will be able to see over their shoulders a little more easily as rear three quarter visibility in the Hyundai is dreadful.
If the Korean is more commodious, it stands to reason that it needs more ponies to cope with the extra weight of occupants and that’s just what it’s got. The Tucson features a petrol turbo four displacing 1.6 litres to produce max outputs of 130kw@5500 and 265Nm@4500 rpm. If you think that’s a small motor to propel a biggish vehicle, worry not as it does a good job of hauling everything along at a very good clip provided the revs are kept over 2 000. Indeed, the motor seems more meaty in this application than in the Veloster Turbo and it keeps its voice acceptably in check up to around 5 000 rpm. Thereafter, it gets quite vocal and offers little more thrust anyway. All out figures suggest a max of 203km/h and 0-100 in 9.2s.
The Renault with its diminutive 1.2 litre four (96kw@5500 and 205Nm@2000) may seem to be at a disadvantage here and so it is, but not to the extent you might imagine. Indeed, in give and take traffic conditions, it’s this mill that feels and sounds the more refined but don’t let the revs drop below 2 000 as a creeping torpor smothers all the torque and progress is very slow. Out on the open road though, this motor punches above its weight and thanks to superior sound deadening, it seems a tad more remote from the cabin than the Hyundai’s more powerful four. The Kadjar will top out at 189km/h and reach 100 in 10.4s.
Overall, there’s no question the Hyundai is the more alert performer and has more beans on hand more of the time so if you carry loads, take note and this one factor could tip the scales towards Seoul.
In terms of fuel consumption, both cars recorded an identical overall figure of 9.5l/100km over a week of varied running punctuated by a fair bit of short distance work. This figure is a little disappointing and tells you the Renault motor in particular probably has to work a little harder than its smooth demeanour would indicate. With less stop/start stuff thrown in, I guess it will eke a bit more out of a litre than the Hyundai. Both cars sport beautifully smooth clutches and delectably slick gearshifts that make smooth progress so easy. Both also ride acceptably comfortably with decent control when traversing undulations but I give the edge to the Renault here as its opponent, when lightly laden, can feel a touch jittery on sharp broken surfaces and telegraphs too much vertical movement at low speeds. At higher speeds, the ride settles nicely. Brakes are rarely an issue these days and so it proved but the Renault’s brakes felt a little too sharp at low speeds. Isolation of wind noise in both is good but as with most two box designs, roar generated by coarse tar can become intrusive in both.
At the end of the day, my heart says the Renault is the nicer car to own as it’s endowed with a really charming feel-good factor and a new-found quality of execution that really does deserve recognition. Yes, the French can do it and with flair too. But, if you need the extra space and the extra horses, the Tucson remains a thoroughly convincing contender that’s also very well equipped even if its interior feels a little low rent next to the Gallic interloper. In the simplest terms, it’s a case of charm and style versus greater practicality and performance.