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Kia Sportage, Toyota RAV4 and Mazda CX-5 AWD 2016 review


SUVs are on track to overtake passenger car sales for the first time in Australian automotive history.

Sales for SUVs grew by a staggering 19.5 per cent in January, while passenger car deliveries dropped by 11.5 per cent.

The appeal? Taller driving positions, better comfort, more cargo room -- and being easier to simply get in and out -- are all factors in the SUV fad.

The majority of sales are of the more affordable front-wheel-drive versions, which are indistinguishable apart from the badges. They are used mostly as high-riding hatchbacks.

But we thought it was time to get reacquainted with the all-wheel-drive versions of the two latest arrivals -- the all-new Kia Sportage and the recently facelifted Toyota RAV4 -- and line them up against the benchmark and class leader, the Mazda CX-5.

We selected the petrol variants, because in this class and with the new levels of petrol engine efficiency, diesel doesn't make as much sense as it does in the bigger SUV categories.

Kia Sportage

  • 2016 Kia Sportage 2016 Kia Sportage
  • 2016 Kia Sportage 2016 Kia Sportage
  • 2016 Kia Sportage 2016 Kia Sportage

The starting price for a petrol-powered all-wheel-drive Kia Sportage has climbed by $9000 with the arrival of the just-released new model.

The top-of-the-line Kia Sportage Platinum petrol starts at $43,490 plus on-road costs. Metallic paint adds $520.

Kia has chosen to rationalise its all-wheel-drive range and add front-drive petrol models at the more affordable end of the scale (see breakout).

Which is why the Kia is $8200 dearer than the Mazda CX-5 and $6500 dearer than the Toyota RAV4 tested.

For that, though, you get the works. The Kia Sportage Platinum comes loaded with a satellite navigation, panoramic glass sunroof, leather seats with electric adjustment for driver and front passenger, sports steering wheel, wireless phone charging, larger alloy wheels, a full size spare, HID headlights and LED foglights and rear privacy glass.

The Platinum also gains the full suite of Kia safety technology, including blind spot warning, lane departure warning, automated parking, and automatic emergency braking.

Then there is Kia's formidable and industry-leading seven-year, unlimited kilometre warranty.

Downsides? The price of capped price servicing climbs dramatically after three years (the fourth year service alone is $747), and the safety tech is not available on lesser grades, as it is on the Toyota and Mazda.

The quality of the materials is excellent, the instrument display (with a digital speedo in the middle, the only one here with this convenience) is bright and clear, and comfort in general is excellent.

As with all these SUVs, the Kia has ample oddment storage in the doors, centre console and glovebox. But it has the smallest cargo area among this trio, in part due to its sloping roofline.

The Kia felt slightly more sure-footed than the others on the dirt, but around town and on freeways was on a par.

Overall, the Kia Sportage Platinum is another step forward for the brand, even if it is slightly less of a revelation than the reigning CarsGuide Car of the Year, the Kia Sorento seven-seater.

Toyota RAV4

  • 2016 Toyota RAV4 2016 Toyota RAV4
  • 2016 Toyota RAV4 2016 Toyota RAV4
  • 2016 Toyota RAV4 2016 Toyota RAV4

This is Australia's top-selling SUV of all time, even if it currently ranks third on the sales charts.

There are more than 250,000 RAV4s on Australian roads; the facelifted model with sharp new looks arrived in late 2015.

Toyota, the king of off-road, has dramatically increased the number of models and options within the RAV4 range.

If this particular one's not for you, there is bound to be another to suit.

We have the $36,990 RAV4 GXL, the second model up in the AWD petrol range, distinguished by fancy-looking 18-inch alloy wheels that we thought were optional at first.

While the RAV4 gained a new nose, the changes to the interior are more subtle.

Standard equipment is fairly basic, including dual zone air-conditioning, rear privacy glass, a sensor key, rain sensing wipers and fog lights.

A rear view camera is standard but navigation is optional on the GXL.

At least Toyota spent some time and money fettling the suspension to make it handle bumps and bends a little better. It's a shame more wasn't able to be done to block tyre noise from entering the cabin.

On the plus side the RAV4 is by far the roomiest here and has the biggest cargo area, the cheapest capped price servicing (although visits are 6 months/10,000km, whichever comes first), and has the highest ground clearance of this trio, should you venture beyond a fire trail.

The lack of a full-size spare wheel is the only significant downside to the RAV4. But it's not alone in this regard.

Mazda CX-5

  • 2016 Mazda CX-5 2016 Mazda CX-5
  • 2016 Mazda CX-5 2016 Mazda CX-5
  • 2016 Mazda CX-5 2016 Mazda CX-5

This is Australia's favourite compact SUV for the past three years in a row. Mazda gave the CX-5 a minor makeover in January 2015, with a nip and tuck on the nose and a slightly revised interior.

As the saying goes, if it aint broke don't fix it. The Mazda needed little to keep it ahead of the pack.

But 12 months on and the Mazda's rivals have started to close the gap. The CX-5 is still an excellent proposition, but it doesn't have the lead it once had.

Standard fare on the $35,790 CX-5 Maxx Sport tested includes the same equipment as the Toyota RAV4 GXL but gains navigation as standard. An optional safety pack that includes blind spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, and automatic emergency braking, adds $1230.

The Mazda was the perkiest of the three SUVs in our uphill 0 to 100km/h test (ahead of the Toyota RAV4 and then the Kia Sportage) but the others are now close to having the measure of the Mazda in twists and turns.

The steering in the Mazda feels marginally better and the car feels slightly more planted on the road, but it's a fair bet few will pick the difference between the three in a test drive around the block.

On the open road, the Mazda was a little firmer over bumps than the Toyota and Kia, and tyre noise was slightly louder than the others on coarse surfaces.

But the Mazda CX-5 is still a class act, with a roomy cargo area and user-friendly interior with ample oddment storage.

Downsides? Capped price servicing is done at 10,000km intervals (on average that works out to be every nine months) and there is only a space saver spare in the boot.

Verdict

The Kia Sportage Platinum was the car the judges would have preferred to drive away. It's another step forward for the brand; the seven-year warranty sweetens the deal.

But once price is taken into consideration, it's a different result. If Kia had an all-wheel-drive offering at the price of the others, it may have been a different outcome.

That leaves the two titans of the compact SUV class: the Mazda CX-5 and Toyota RAV4.

Toyota has made marked improvements to the facelifted RAV4, and it's the roomiest here and the cheapest to run.

But the Mazda has more equipment for less money and has the edge when it comes to driving enjoyment.

Or perhaps a two-wheel-drive option?

Don't want to get off the beaten track, but fancy the looks and comfort of one these three SUVs? Save up to $10,000 by not opting for all-wheel-drive and settle for a slightly smaller petrol engine.

The front-drive version of the Kia Sportage (powered by a 2.0-litre petrol rather than the 2.4 AWD) is available in the lower grade SLi trim from $33,990 plus on-road costs.

The Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport front-wheel-drive (with a 2.0-litre instead of a 2.5 AWD) is available from $32,790 plus on-road costs, while the Toyota RAV4 GXL front-wheel-drive (with a 2.0-litre instead of a 2.5 AWD) is from $33,990 plus on-road costs.

Kia Sportage Platinum

Price: $43,490 plus on-road costs
Warranty: 7 years/unlimited km
Capped servicing: $1152 over 3 years (fourth year is $747)
Service interval: 12 months/15,000km
Safety: 5 stars, 6 airbags 
Engine: 2.4-litre 4-cyl, 135kW/237Nm 
Transmission: 6-speed auto; AWD
Thirst: 8.5L/100km 
Dimensions: 4480mm (L), 1855mm (W), 1655mm (H), 2670mm (WB)
Weight: 1716kg 
Spare: Full-size
Towing: 1500kg

Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport

Price: $35,790 plus on-road costs
Warranty: 3 years/unlimited km
Capped servicing: $1362 over 3 years
Service interval: 9 months/10,000km
Safety: 5 stars, 6 airbags 
Engine: 2.5-litre 4-cyl, 138kW/250Nm 
Transmission: 6-speed auto; AWD
Thirst: 7.4L/100km 
Dimensions: 4540mm (L), 1840mm (W), 1710mm (H), 2700mm (WB)
Weight: 1572kg 
Spare: Space-saver
Towing: 1800kg

Toyota RAV4 GXL

Price: $36,990 plus on-road costs
Warranty: 3 years/100,000 km
Capped Servicing: $1080 over 3 years
Service interval: 6 months/10,000km
Safety: 5 stars, 7 airbags 
Engine: 2.5-litre 4-cyl, 132kW/233Nm 
Transmission: 6-speed auto; AWD
Thirst: 8.5L/100km 
Dimensions: 4605mm (L), 1845mm (W), 1715mm (H), 2660mm (WB)
Weight: 1600kg 
Spare: Space-saver
Towing: 1500kg

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