So you want a new family car. You like the idea of a new SUV – but your eco-evangelist and car enthusiast friends seem united in their disapproval of this modern craze, saying a sensible estate car is both better for the environment and better to drive. Are they right? Or is there a reason so many modern families are choosing to buy SUVs instead?
To find out, we’re comparing two alternatives that are about as similar as it’s possible to get – an SUV and a family estate, both from the same manufacturer, with the same engine and very similar specifications.
To heighten the competition, it just so happens that our choices, both Skodas – the freshly facelifted Karoq SUV and the Octavia in popular estate form – are our favourite options in their respective classes.
So which of these two really is our favourite family car of all – and can either convince us that its way is the best?
Skoda Karoq 1.5 TSI SE L 150
Price: from £29,140
Performance: 131mph, 0-62mph in 8.9sec
Fuel economy/emissions: 43.7mpg, 147g/km
Boot space: 588/1,605 litres (seats up/down)
Skoda Octavia 1.5 TSI SE L 150 Estate
Performance: 139mph, 0-62mph in 8.4sec
Fuel economy/emissions: 51.4mpg, 124g/km
Boot space: 640/1,700 litres (seats up/down)
Space & practicality
Both of these cars score very well on this front. On first glance, you might think the Octavia might win here; it offers a vast amount of passenger space, and with its rear seats upright, the boot is bigger than the Karoq’s.
But the Karoq offers just as much space for its passengers, and also gives you the benefit of Skoda’s Varioflex seating system, which offers three rear seats that all slide, fold and tumble individually.
You can even take them out completely to leave a van-like boot, and that means if you really need to carry huge loads in two-seat mode, the Karoq is the more useful of the two. Combined with its extra flexibility, that means it just pips the Octavia.
SUVs are generally costlier than their estate rivals. That’s the case here, with the Karoq costing more than £2,000 above the price of the Octavia.
That said, starting price is not the be-all-and-end-all, because the Karoq is also predicted to hold its value better than the Octavia – and that means by the time you come to sell it, you’ll actually be no worse off with the SUV, and may indeed find you’ve lost less cash.
Servicing costs at dealers will be identical on both cars, with Skoda charging a flat fee across its whole range, meanwhile.
However, the estate does eke out an advantage, purely thanks to its fuel consumption, which should be considerably better than the SUV’s. In fact, at the average fuel price current at the time of writing, the Karoq will prove £227 dearer to run over the course of 10,000 miles.
It’s worth pointing out, too, that the estate will emit 23g/km less CO2, making it the more environmentally friendly choice by some margin.
Equipment & safety
This SE L specification is our favourite of both these cars’ ranges, simply because it comes so well equipped. Both the Karoq and the Octavia get heated front seats, cruise control, LED headlights, front and rear parking sensors, satellite navigation and suede-effect upholstery.
The Octavia adds to this generous equipment list with a bigger touchscreen entertainment system (10in to the Karoq’s 8in); what’s more, the cruise control is adaptive. However, the Karoq fights back with larger alloy wheels, a rear-view camera, and adaptive headlights that swivel and dip automatically.
Both of these cars are very safe, with five stars in their respective Euro NCAP tests and impressive scores for occupant protection in crash tests. However, it’s the Octavia that noses ahead here, with a better score for child occupant protection, as well as a higher rating for its on-board assistance equipment.
The Octavia also comes with three Isofix points as standard; the Karoq only has Isofix points on the outer rear seats, but the Octavia adds one in the front seat, too, making it a touch safer when you’re carrying three children at once.
Style & quality
Style is a subjective quality, of course, so it’s fair to assume you’ll have your own views on which car looks better. But few can disagree that this latest Skoda Octavia is the most handsome ever, and even in estate form, it’s a good-looking thing. Having said that, it’s still an estate, and as such, some buyers will be put off by its overt utilitarianism.
Even if it’s arguably a touch less sleek, then, the Karoq will probably appeal to more buyers because of its rough, tough, outdoorsy image. The worst that can be said about its styling is that it’s blandly inoffensive from some angles, though from others it’s still a good-looking car with all the right proportions and the sorts of SUV styling cues that will win it fans.
Inside, neither car is disappointing to behold, but of the two it’s the Octavia that feels the classier. Thank the more modern-looking dashboard with its swathe of fabric that lends it a more upmarket feel than the Karoq’s marginally more dour interior.
Ease of use
The Octavia isn’t exactly a difficult car to use – wide-opening doors make access easy, and the low boot lip means it’s easy to load heavy items. Indeed, you’ll have further to lift them in the Karoq, and your pet dog have to jump up higher to get in, too.
In all other areas, though, the Karoq has the Octavia’s number. Firstly its higher seating position makes it easier to install child seats, and then to install children into them.
It also makes access easier for adults, too, and once on board, it results in a better view of the world outside and the road ahead. That, together with the standard rear-view camera, makes parking less hassle; what’s more, the fact the Karoq is considerably shorter and barely any wider than the Octavia means it’s more wieldy around town.
This is before we get to the interior, where the Karoq’s greater age actually lends it an advantage. You see, the newer Octavia has Volkswagen’s latest entertainment system, which incorporates the climate controls, so you have to adjust them on-screen – and that’s harder to do while you’re on the move.
The Karoq uses an older system, with distinct, physical climate control dials and switches. That makes it much less distracting to use, and the software on the screen is easier to find your way around too.
Given how like-minded they are, you might expect both of these cars to feel fairly similar to drive, and indeed they do. Both prioritise comfort over excitement, delivering smooth rides that take the sting out of the vast majority of bumps in the road.
That doesn’t mean either falls apart when pressed on a twisty road – both are safe, stable, secure and precise. It’s just they lack the last level of involvement and agility to really call them fun.
Of the two, though, the Octavia is marginally better. That’s largely because of the laws of physics; it sits lower, so the suspension has to do less work to stop the body lean over, and Skoda has been able to get away with a softer suspension set-up as a result.
That, combined with its smaller diameter wheels, means it’s even more comfortable than the Karoq. You get a little less road noise, too, though both of these cars are still admirably quiet.
You might expect that, as the larger, heavier car, the Karoq suffers a performance deficit. Indeed it does, but the margins are so small that you won’t really notice. In the real world, in fact, both the Karoq and Octavia are quiet and smooth under normal circumstances, and satisfyingly gutsy when you need a bit of extra grunt for overtakes or quick getaways.
One thing is for sure: both of these cars are brilliant. Whether your preference is for an SUV or an estate, they head their respective classes and ooze capability, quality and comfort as they do so.
But which is best? Well, if you tot up our category scores, they come out at an absolute dead heat. The SUV is more versatile, easier to use and drive, and perhaps a little better equipped; the estate, meanwhile, is cheaper to run, more comfortable and just a little smarter inside.
So really, it’s horses for courses. If we had to pick a winner, we’d choose – by the slimmest of margins – the estate, its wholesome combination of fractionally better safety and greater environmental friendliness nosing it ahead.
One thing this comparison has proven, however, is that choosing between a good SUV and a good estate really isn’t as straightforward as you might think; neither of these cars is a bad option – and in terms of their overall ability as family haulers, it’s difficult to choose between them.