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Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-5, Subaru XV, VW Tiguan compared

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    The Kia has the biggest cabin and the most equipment, which makes driving nice.

Paul Gover reviews and compares the Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-5, Subaru XV, VW Tiguan compact SUVs.

There anyone left in Australia who is not in love with some sort of SUV?

Macho looking wagons are the family cars of the 21st century and nothing proves it more than the continuing boom in compact SUV sales. 

Every month the numbers go up, not just deliveries from dealerships but also the selection of showroom starters. When we decided to rate the runners, as we did last month with small cars, there were far more hopefuls than heroes.

The Hyundai ix35 is under-done on styling and suspension, the Mitsubishi ASX is too much like a truck, the Suzuki Grand Vitara is best for the bush, and theToyota RAV4 is flat-out too old. They might be nice, but nice is not enough.

So we came down to a four finalists as usual and they tick all the boxes. The Mazda CX-5 and Subaru XV are new and funky, the Kia Sportage still rules for value and local tweaking, and the Volkswagen Tiguan has the right badge for brand snobs.

I have driven them all before so the comparison run is more like revision than starting from scratch, although there are still some surprises and lots to consider before final judgement.


This time we left the final four to you. We want to consider what customers are choosing,, not a set of dream machines, even if that means a disparate group that is something of a mis-match on price and equipment.

Surprisingly, the Mazda is the cheapest in our field at $33,540 for the front-drive Maxx Sport, then comes the Subaru at $34,490 for the  2.0i-L, followed by the Tiguan 132 TSI Pacific at $35,990 and then Sportage Titanium at $39,720.

But it's not just about price, as the Kia ticks all the equipment boxes and also gets a diesel engine, while the Volkswagen runs up short on some stuff - including a rear-view camera - that should be standard in 2012. As always - at least until the BRZ sports car - the Subaru only comes with all-wheel drive and the CX-5 choices reflect its place as Mazda's new SUV hero and the replacement for the larger CX-7.

To put things into sharper focus, the CX-5 range runs from $27,800 right up to $48,190, you can buy an XV priced from $28,490 to $34,490, Tiguan stickers span from $24,490 to $42,990 and the cheapest Sportage is the front-drive petrol car at $26,730.

Of course, the Kia scores with its five-year warranty , but running costs also favour the CX-5 with Skyactiv technology that gives it fuel economy of 6.4 litres/100km.


The latest Sportage Platinum finally picks up the satnav promised from day one in Australia, complete with traffic warnings. But there are now two clocks and no temperature display, while the Bluetooth audio streaming as not as good as it was. Hmmm.

It's diesel engine means top torque, but surprisingly - perhaps it's down to size and weight - it trails the leaders on fuel efficiency. Dig deeper than the trinkets and it's all about the Skyactiv stuff in the CX-5, which brings a very efficient 2-litre petrol engine and six-speed auto complete with stop-start. That's good because the Mazda is a little drab compared with the Hyundai, and some of the costlier cars in the range.

The Subaru looks newest and is well equipped, but its engine - despite stop-start - is lacklustre. It is missing any real verve and the manual gearbox can be a little difficult. It's a good thing it has cushy, lovely suspension.

The Volkswagen has a great reputation but there is no reversing camera and no satnav, not even a big display screen in the dash. People who expect to be impressed when they first slide into a Tiguan will be disappointed. They will also be disappointed by the worst economy in the group, although this is partly offset by maximum power.


The Tiguan looks old and boxy. There is not getting away from it. And, inside, it's black and drab and proof that the substance-over-style approach of the original Beetle still lurks in Germany. 

The Volkswagen might do the job, and the boot is easy to load, but efficiency comes well ahead of kerb appeal.

The CX-5 is a modern update of the Tiguan look, still built around a basic box but with some nice tweaking and trimming.

It's the car the women in the Carsguide crew rated tops, although they could have been influenced by the badge and a classy cabin that is nicely styled and well finished.

The Kia has a different shape and that's both good and bad. It steps it away from its Hyundai clone and helps it make an impact in traffic. The cabin reflects some smart thinking but the finishing is not as good as the Mazda, despite all the nice bells and baubles.

Which brings us to the Subaru. It's a genuinely youthful shape, looks great in the XV's Subaru orange, and turns more heads than the other three combines. But the XV is a bit plain inside and the design work leaves it short of back-seat room and luggage space, especially compared with the Kia and Mazda. The boot is more like a Mini and nowhere good enough for pram people.


Five-star safety is what you expect and what you get here. Ok, we're still waiting for the official ANCAP rating on the CX-5 but the Mazda has been chosen as a top safety pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in the USA. There are three child seat anchors in all four, they each have ABS brakes and stability control, with six airbags on three and the Subaru going to seven with knee protection in the XV.

Mazda adds a tyre-pressure warning for the CX-5, and has lane departure warning available on some models, while Kia shows an off-road bias with downhill brake control in addition to hill-start assist. The VW has a rollover protection system but the lack of a rear camera is a glaring shortcoming in this field. The Subaru and Kia also score with full-sized spares, not space savers, although this decision really hurts boot space in the XV.


It's hard to make direct comparisons, but here I go. The Kia has the biggest cabin and the most equipment, which makes driving nice. It also rides well, is relatively quiet, and has a really punchy engine.

The Volkswagen is nothing special, and that's a surprise with some many impressive models in the family. It just feels old, from the drab cabin to the response from the DSG gearbox, although it does everything I ask without complaining.

The Subaru wins me with its looks and supportive seats, but the cabin is too small against these rivals and the engine and gearbox are less than impressive. Fair but not good. Then again, I love the suspension, with the plush ride and quietness it brings.

The Mazda? Very nice, but. It gets along pretty well, the driving position is good, and I just know that it's making the most of every litre in the tank. But I remember the arrival of the CX-7, and how it felt as more like a sports car than an SUV. And this time the CX-5 has not moved forward enough when everything new is expected to bounce out ahead of the pack.

When we head out for some gravel road and dirt-track kilometres, just to check if the SUVs will survive out of the city, we quickly discover a lack of front-end clearance in the Mazda. The torque of the Sportage is great for hills and the Subaru has wonderful suspension that reflects quality engineering.

But then we get to loading, and the boot is the XV is a fail. The Tiguan is good, the Mazda is really good, and the Sportage does all we ask despite a full-sized spare beneath the floor. When it comes to parking, the Tiguan suffers without a camera and the rear corners of the Sportage create nasty blind spots.
The Mazda is noisier than I expect on coarse bitumen roads, I worry about the economy in the Kia, and the Volkswagen leaves me cold.

But driving is not everything, and I also have to consider the badge appeal of the Tiguan, the rock-solid quality and dealer support of the CX-5, the all-wheel drive security and long-term Subaru reputation of the XV, and the equipment and warranty of the Sportage.


The winner? It has to be the Kia. The Sportage is still as impressive as when it finished runner-up in our 2010 Car of the Year contest and comes fully loaded, just the way Aussies like it. It has a huge cabin, drives nicely, gets lots of kilometres between stops with that diesel engine, and has that five-year warranty to provide security for shoppers.

The cabin quality trails the newer Japanese SUVs, and the steering still feels a bit wonky for the first 10 minutes, but it is truly the one you would be happiest driving home to the family. The CX-5 is a very close second and would probably have been first with more equipment and an engine swap. I drove an all-wheel drive CX-5 diesel auto straight after the comparison closed and it got me thinking.

But you cannot judge what you do not have and, just as a CX-5 with the lot would have been punchier and more appealing, the Sportage would still finish on top if we slapped the badge on a Porsche Cayenne for the same money.

I like the quietness and comfort of the CX-5, as well as the cabin quality, but it's not the great leap forward I expected from Mazda. It's doing a lot with Skyactiv but, just like BMW with its overdone emphasis on EfficientDynamics, the mechanical stuff only counts at the pumps and for dinner party bragging.

The XV is a coulda, woulda, shoulda sort of car. And third. It's more youthful and has a lovely ride, but it falls short on space and performance. Some people also find the cabin is too drab and underdone, particularly compared with the Sportage.
And the Tiguan? I expected more, but wasn't really surprised.

Fourth place is a reflection of its ageing design, and the focus on SUVs that has made Japanese and Korean cars so popular, and on reflection perhaps we would have done better with a RAV4 in the field. But you cannot judge what you don't have. So the Sportage gets across the line by a short-half-head in what is really only a three-SUV contest, proving that the Korean carmaker is more than just a dollar dealer in 2012.

imageKia Sportage Platinum - compare this car
SCORE: 8/10
Price: $39,720
Warranty: 5 years/unlimited km
Resale:  52 per cent
Service interval: 12 month/15,000km
Safety rating: 5 star
Spare: full size
Engine: 2-litre 4-cyl turbo-diesel, 135kW/392Nm
Transmission: 6-speed auto; AWD
Body: 4.4m (L); 1.8m (w); 1.6m (h)
Weight: 1588kg
Thirst: 7.5/100km; 221g/km CO2

imageMazda CX-5 Maxx Sport - compare this car
SCORE: 7.5/10
Price: $33,540
Warranty: 3 years/unlimited km
Resale:  55 per cent
Service interval: 10,000km/6 months
Safety rating: N/A
Spare: full size
Engine: 2-litre 4-cyl, 114kW/200Nm
Transmission: 6-speed auto; FWD
Body: 4.5m (L); 1.8m (w); 1.7m (h)
Weight: 1475kg
Thirst: 6.4/100km; 148g/km CO2

imageSubaru XV 2.0i-L - compare this car
SCORE: 7/10
Price: $34,490
Warranty: 3 years/unlimited km
Resale: 54 per cent
Service interval: 12,500km/12 months
Safety rating: 5 star
Spare: space saver
Engine: 2-litre 4-cyl petrol, 110kW/196Nm
Transmission: CVT; AWD
Body: 4.4m (L); 1.7m (w); 1615m (h)
Weight: 1435kg
Thirst: 7/100km; 162g/km CO2

imageVW Tiguan 132 TSI Pacific - compare this car
STARS: 3.5
Price: $35,990
Warranty: 3 years/unlimited km
Resale: 54 per cent
Service interval: 15,000km/12 months
Safety rating: 5 star
Spare: space saver
Engine: 2-litre 4-cyl turbo-petrol, 132kW/280Nm
Transmission: 6-speed auto; AWD
Body: 4.4m (L); 1.8m (w); 1.6m (h)
Weight: 1611kg
Thirst: 8.9/100km; 209g/km CO2


Comments on this story

Displaying 3 of 18 comments

  • You was payied by KIA for this article.I think you must change your job.Cheers!

    MAX Posted on 26 September 2013 8:02pm
  • The CX-5 engineering is a significant leap forward against the CX-7. But I understand the comment here. When comparing the CX-7’s turbo 2.3L petrol with a CX-5 Petrol, the massive advances in transmission, chassis and overall manufacture are hard to spot when the CX-7 will launch and leave the new CX-5 petrol in its dust.

    Do what Wheels did… Compare the best engine.

    The Diesel is a whole new world of brillance. It *almost* matches the CX-7 0-100, but with fuel economy and far more torque.

    It’s the engine to have.

    Glenn Posted on 11 July 2012 2:49pm
  • Thanks Patrick for pointing out the article’s innacuracy regarding the Pacific’s non-existent DSG.  On another point, I question the author’s comment “...When it comes to parking, the Tiguan suffers without a camera…” as my understanding is that the Pacific comes standard with Park Assist. With all these inaccuracies, I wonder if the author properly explored the features of the vehicles.

    Diane of Hervey Bay Posted on 18 May 2012 11:20am
  • Whilst, understanding that the RACV was comparing more expensive versions of these vehicles, They still rate Tiguan as a better vehicle versus, Kia and CX-5.

    Paul, you rating the Tiguan last is simply not credible. Well as credible as rating the Toyota Corolla the best small car available.

    Atticus Finch Posted on 14 May 2012 8:43pm
  • Alex, since when is describing an interior as “cave like” indicating that aren’t bad. Don’t know about you, but my ancestors moved out of the cave like 5000 years ago.

    I don’t need to twist Paul’s words. He does a great job all by himself.

    Patrick-Bateman! Posted on 14 May 2012 8:39pm
  • Patrick Bateman - I do agree somewhat about VW’s interiors. Plus, I don’t recall Gover ever stating the interiors are ‘bad’. There’s a difference between drab & bad - don’t be twisting people words now.

    alex Posted on 07 May 2012 1:47pm
  • Gee Paul, I can understand why you were disappointed with the response of the DSG gearbox in the Tiguan. I would be too. You know why ? Because it isn’t fitted with one.

    132 Tiguan is fitted with a conventional 6 speed auto sourced from Aisin.

    Patrick Bateman! Posted on 05 May 2012 8:51pm
  • Paul Gover lacks credibility. He is the only journalist in the world who thinks VW does bad interiors. First he described Golf as Cave like, now he describes Tiguan as ” black and drab and proof that the substance-over-style approach of the original Beetle still lurks in Germany”.

    Gee I hate to see how your home is decorated Paul given your taste.

    Patrick Bateman! Posted on 05 May 2012 8:28pm
  • Alex, take a CVT equipped XV for a spin and you’ll find out, like me, it has ample performance.  The linear delivery of the power is amazing.  I’m not sure what these reviewers are going on about and there are a few other XV owners who are also wondering the same thing… And yes, where is the Dualis?  And other cars more the size the XV?  That would make for a more informative comparison. Parked in front of a CX5 and you can tell my XV is a size smaller…

    OverParadise of Sydney Posted on 03 May 2012 12:36am
  • This is not apple-to-apple comparison. You compare diesel engine on KIA against petrol engine on others. Obviously diesel engine is the winner for fuel consumption. I guess you must love KIA so much, that’s why you want it to be a winner in this comparison?

    T Harada of Melbourne Posted on 03 May 2012 12:12am
  • Wolly the Ford Kuga was omitted because it’s auto/2.5T-only, as well as being ridiculously expensive. Carsguide I question where the Skoda Yeti was (I think it would’ve done very well) and there are a few errors to correct, like the naming of the top-spec Kia as a Titanium. Otherwise, it’s a good article, keep up the good work!

    Able Posted on 02 May 2012 7:58pm
  • No reason for me to argue. I simply love our Sportage.  When did the KIA become a “Titanium”?

    Neal of Cairns Posted on 02 May 2012 6:54pm
  • I would pick the XV - from what I’ve read it has the best off-road credentials. It’s underwhelming power would probably annoy me, but then again I’m sure there is a way to upgrade the performance without voiding the warranty, even if it costs a few grand with Subaru themselves. On a side note, how can the VW use soo much fuel and no-one ridicule VW? I mean, the Falcadores are ridiculed as gas-guzzlers/dinosaurs as they consume about 1 litre more per 100ks (I know, what an ice cap melter) but with that litre generate about 70 kWs and 100Nms more and all in a much larger car. If the Falcadores are dinosaurs then this VW is pretty much a single celled organism.

    alex Posted on 02 May 2012 3:27pm
  • Nissan Dualis +2 has been omitted as well!!

    Fiona John of Hampton, VIC Posted on 02 May 2012 1:22pm
  • Any reason why the Ford Kuga was excluded? That must be one of the latest releases in this field.

    wolly Posted on 02 May 2012 9:43am
  • The yeti is a real contender in this category.

    steve jones of Frankston Posted on 01 May 2012 7:34pm
  • VW is too expensive to service, Mazda is underpowered unless you go for diesel which is overpriced as well as Kia diesel (both 40K). Subaru is also underpowered so the best choice really is Honda CRV. Also I wish to point out that you compared Mazda Maxx Sport FWD model with Subaru, Kia and VW AWD models. It would make more sense to compare Mazda AWD model with other AWD models in which case Mazda is not cheapest. On top of that Mazda has the shortest service interval comparing to competitors. You also used Subaru XV-L which is top of the range model as well as Kia Platinum but not Mazda and VW.

    Daniel of Burswood, WA Posted on 01 May 2012 3:11pm
  • Its a pity you left out the market selling leader, the MIGHTY Nissan X Trail and sister Dualis.

    DAVIDZ of AUS Posted on 01 May 2012 1:46pm
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