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Matt Campbell
Reviewed & driven by
CarsGuide

11 Oct 2019

You’re in the market for an SUV, and you’re overwhelmed by the options available to you. We get it! This is a huge segment, and models like these offer a lot for the money.

But hopefully we will help make your decision a little easier with this test, in which we will test the mettle of the CarsGuide Car of the Year for 2019, the Toyota RAV4 against a Korean combo - the Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage.

We've assembled three of the most important players in the midsize SUV segment. We've assembled three of the most important players in the midsize SUV segment.

It’s the first time we’ve been able to put these three particular SUVs up against each other, and here’s what you need to know first: all three are petrol powered and automatic, and all are two wheel drive because a lot of the time you’ll be driving around the suburbs. 

For this test we’ve got the Toyota RAV4 GXL front wheel drive model - this time around we’ve foregone the fancy (and excellent) hybrid RAV4 to see if the regular petrol version still cuts it.

Up against it is the Kia Sportage SX Plus, which is a new nameplate for the range. It hasn’t seen much in the way of changes in recent times, but it’s still a compelling option in the segment.

The Hyundai Tucson has continued to forge ahead in the segment, appealing to customers based on its size and price. We’ve got the Active X spec, which undercuts its rivals on price but has impressive standard kit.

Which will win? Read on to find out!

Design

You can make your own mind up about which one of these SUVs you most like the look of, but the general consensus of the testing team was that each has its own personality and appeal. 

The Toyota is the most adventurous looking, with angular styling and boxy edges to the body. Its LED headlights definitely help it look like a modern-day car, while its cabin design is the most rugged and activity-focused of the three. Some people have commented that it looks a bit try-hard - tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

  • The RAV4 is the most adventurous looking of the bunch. The RAV4 is the most adventurous looking of the bunch.
  • The RAV4 has angular styling and boxy edges to the body. The RAV4 has angular styling and boxy edges to the body.
  • Some people have commented that the RAV4 it looks a bit try-hard. Some people have commented that the RAV4 it looks a bit try-hard.
  • The LED headlights help it look like a modern-day car. The LED headlights help it look like a modern-day car.
  • The cabin design of the RAV4 is the most rugged and activity-focused of the three. The cabin design of the RAV4 is the most rugged and activity-focused of the three.

The Kia almost appears semi-premium, with a sleek design that looks good no matter which grade you choose. The one we’ve got is nicely set off by its aggressive looking 18-inch wheels, and the design has really stood the test of time (it launched here in 2016)… though some people don’t love the grille treatment and insectoid headlights. 

  • The Sportage almost appears semi-premium. The Sportage almost appears semi-premium.
  • The design of the Kia has really stood the test of time. The design of the Kia has really stood the test of time.
  • The Kia is nicely set off by its aggressive looking 18-inch wheels. The Kia is nicely set off by its aggressive looking 18-inch wheels.
  • Some people don’t love the grille treatment and insectoid headlights. Some people don’t love the grille treatment and insectoid headlights.
  • The sleek design looks good no matter the grade. The sleek design looks good no matter the grade.

The Hyundai looked great when it launched back in 2015, and its subtle styling update in 2019 certainly aided its ageing design, but it does look a little more dated than its rivals in this test, as you’d expect. It’s still smart looking and while the interior remains a neat and tidy place, the Tucson is looking a little old in the company of these competitors. 

Take a look at the interior pictures below to see what you think of the cabin presentation. 

  • The Hyundai has had a subtle styling update. The Hyundai has had a subtle styling update.
  • The Tucson is looking a little old in the company of its competitors. The Tucson is looking a little old in the company of its competitors.
  • The Tucson was launched back in 2015. The Tucson was launched back in 2015.
  • The interior is a neat and tidy place. The interior is a neat and tidy place.
Toyota RAV4 GXL8
Kia Sportage SX Plus8
Hyundai Tucson Active X 7

Practicality

The RAV4 is the longest of these three models by a decent margin, and that could be worth considering especially if you live in the city and find yourself negotiating tight parking spaces often.

But when it comes to width and height, all three are pretty close. And in truth, it’s the boot capacity that helps justify the extra length of the RAV4. Here are the specs:

 

Toyota RAV4 GXL

Kia Sportage SX Plus

Hyundai Tucson ActiveX

Length

4600mm

4485mm

4480mm

Wheelbase

2690mm

2670mm

2670mm

Width

1855mm

1855mm

1850mm

Height

1690mm

1655mm

1660mm

Boot capacity (litres)

580L (VDA)

466L (VDA)

488L (VDA)

That’s right, the RAV4 has 20 per cent more boot room than the Sportage, and 16 per cent more than the Tucson. But the Toyota is also the only one without a full-size spare, if that matters to you. It makes do with a space-saver, where the other two have matching alloy spares under their boot floors.

The Toyota is also the only one without a full-size spare. The Toyota is also the only one without a full-size spare.

Now, the usability of the cargo area is clearly Advantage Toyota, with a more copious cargo zone allowing for easier loading. It’s not just the space on offer, but also the size of the boot opening - it’s wider and taller than its competitors, which is great when you’re loading in prams or luggage, as you can see from the images.

  • The Toyota RAV4 boot space is 580L (VDA). The Toyota RAV4 boot space is 580L (VDA).
  • The Toyota has a copious cargo zone which allows for easier loading. The Toyota has a copious cargo zone which allows for easier loading.
  • The RAV4 makes loading up the boot an easy task. The RAV4 makes loading up the boot an easy task.
  • The size of the RAV4's boot opening is wider and taller than its competitors. The size of the RAV4's boot opening is wider and taller than its competitors.
  • The Hyundai Tucson has 488L (VDA) of boot space. The Hyundai Tucson has 488L (VDA) of boot space.
  • With the seats down, the Hyundai Tucson offers a bit more boot space when needed. With the seats down, the Hyundai Tucson offers a bit more boot space when needed.
  • Hyundai Tucson boot space with luggage. Hyundai Tucson boot space with luggage.
  • Hyundai Tucson boot space with pram. Hyundai Tucson boot space with pram.
  • The Kia Sportage has 466L (VDA) of boot space. The Kia Sportage has 466L (VDA) of boot space.
  • With the back seats folded down, the Kia Sportage offers a bit of extra boot space. With the back seats folded down, the Kia Sportage offers a bit of extra boot space.
  • Kia Sportage boot with luggage. Kia Sportage boot with luggage.
  • Kia Sportage boot with pram. Kia Sportage boot with pram.

As for back seat space, the Toyota again trumps its rivals.

There is more leg room, more head room and more shoulder room in the RAV4 than in the other two, not to mention better back seat airiness thanks to its larger windows. It offers near-as-much space as a large SUV in the back.

  • Hyundai Tucson back seat. Hyundai Tucson back seat.
  • Kia Sportage back seat. Kia Sportage back seat.
  • Toyota RAV4 back seat. Toyota RAV4 back seat.

The Kia and Hyundai are still roomy enough for a young family, though they might fall short when it comes to the Taller Teens Test. There is almost identical knee room, head room and shoulder room in the two Korean twins-under-the-skin, but the glasshouse design of the Kia does make it feel a little freer in the back, even if the tinted windows make it feel a bit dark.

Storage in all three is good, with cup holders between the front seats and in a flip-down armrest in the rear seat of each, plus bottle holders in all four doors, too. Each has a covered centre console and a decent glovebox… but again, it’s the Toyota that takes the storage smarts to the next level, with a shelf across the dashboard for loose item storage, and a big bin section in front of the shifter which also happens to house a Qi wireless phone charger.

Up front, these models all get media systems with decent tech, but here’s a rundown on what each has.

 

Toyota RAV4 GXL

Kia Sportage SX Plus

Hyundai Tucson ActiveX

Sound system (standard equipment)

6 speakers

8 speakers

8 speakers

USB count

3 front, 2 rear

1 front, 1 rear

1 front, 1 rear 

Bluetooth phone and audio streaming

Yes

Yes

Yes

DAB radio

Yes

Yes

Yes

Touch screen size

8.0-inch

8.0-inch

8.0-inch

Apple CarPlay

Coming late 2019

Yes

Yes

Android Auto

Coming late 2019

Yes

Yes

Sat nav

Yes

Yes

Yes

Wireless phone charing (Qi)

Yes

No

No

On test, we found the Kia’s flush-fit media screen to be a neater aesthetic, but it was a little harder to reach when driving, and also not as easy to get that ‘at a glance’ info that the tablet-style screens offer. Though we did find that the ‘old-school’ array of buttons below the screen was actually really handy, and nicely laid out, too.

The Hyundai’s screen looks modern and tidy, with a more user-friendly button layout than the Kia. It is simple to operate, with an almost identical menu system to the Kia, too.

The Toyota’s screen is one of its least impressive elements. Sure, it’s easy enough to use and the menus are easy to find your way around because there are hard buttons either side of the screen to assist, but - at the time of writing - there’s still no smartphone mirroring available. It’s due late in 2019, and we reckon the addition of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto will lift the game of the RAV4 even further.

The Tucson screen looks modern and tidy, with more user-friendly button layout. The Tucson screen looks modern and tidy, with more user-friendly button layout.

All of our judges felt the presentation of the RAV4’s cabin was the most modern and sporty, while the Tucson was found to be simple but maybe a touch too basic, and the Sportage was a bit more flash thanks to splashes of silver throughout, despite an abundance of black plastics.

All told, the extra boot space and bigger back seat of the Toyota put it as the clear winner for practicality, and it also won for presentation - so it outscores its competitors here.

Toyota RAV4 GXL9
Kia Sportage SX Plus8
Hyundai Tucson Active X 8

Value

The cost of each of these models varies. We aimed to get them as close to one another as we could, to give you the best information and to keep the test as equal as possible.

Note - these aren’t driveaway prices. Below you’ll see list pricing, which is the quoted cost offered by the manufacturer (also known as MLP, RRP, MSRP) and you will need to shop around for a driveaway deal. However, for argument’s sake, we’ve put the current drive-away pricing (at the time of writing) below for you. There are deals to be done!

The most affordable model here is the Hyundai Tucson Active X, which has a list price of $34,790 plus on-road costs for the 2.0-litre automatic FWD model. It’s the only one of these models that comes with the choice of a cheaper manual if you want it, and there’s a diesel-auto-AWD version of the Active X, too. Happy with the petrol-auto-FWD? The manufacturer’s current drive-away deal is $33,990 on the road, which is excellent.

The next most expensive is the Toyota RAV4 GXL, which has a list price of $35,640 plus on-road costs for the 2.0-litre FWD model. The GXL grade is available available with a 2.5-litre hybrid in front- or all-wheel drive. The RAV4 drive-away price, according to Toyota’s site at the time of writing, is $39,760.

The most expensive car here is the Kia Sportage SX Plus, which has a list price of $37,490 plus on-road costs. The SX Plus grade is available with diesel-auto-AWD, too. Drive-away on this spec is listed on the Kia Australia site at $39,490. That’s not a bad deal, eating into the Toyota’s differential a tad. 

Does the Kia justify its higher price in the equipment stakes? Here’s a breakdown for you to see for yourself.

Toyota RAV4 GXL

Kia Sportage SX Plus

Hyundai Tucson ActiveX

Wheels

18-inch steel

18-inch alloy

18-inch alloy

Spare wheel

Space saver

Full size alloy

Full size alloy

Tyre pressure monitoring

No

No

No

Headlights

LED

Projector halogen

Projector halogen

Daytime running lights

LED

LED

LED

Auto headlights

Yes

Yes

Yes

Auto high-beam

Yes

Yes

No

Auto wipers

Yes

Yes

No

Electric folding side mirrors

Yes

Yes

Yes

Seat trim

Cloth

Leather

Leather

Steering wheel trim

Leather

Leather

Leather

Front seat adjustment

Manual

Driver’s electric, passenger manual

Manual

Air conditioning

Dual-zone climate control

Dual-zone climate control

Manual

Rear seat vents

Yes

Yes

No

Keyless entry

Yes

Yes

No

Push-button start

Yes

Yes

No

Electric tailgate

No

Yes

No

This is pretty close. The lack of leather for the RAV4 could penalise it in your mind, but the LED headlights are a big advantage over the dull halogens of the other two. 

None of them are perfect, but both the RAV4 and Sportage offer better equipment than the Tucson for the money, all things considered. The scores you see here reflect the list pricing (not the drive-away deals, as they vary over time and location). 

Toyota RAV4 GXL8
Kia Sportage SX Plus8
Hyundai Tucson Active X 7

Engine and transmission

It’s a tried and tested formula for hatchbacks, but SUVs…? Well, these three all run a 2.0-litre petrol engine, an automatic transmission, and front wheel drive.

  • The 2.0-litre four-cylinder multi-point injection engine. The 2.0-litre four-cylinder multi-point injection engine.
  • The Tucson has a 2.0-litre four-cylinder direct injection. The Tucson has a 2.0-litre four-cylinder direct injection.
  • The RAV4 has a 2.0-litre four-cylinder direct injection engine. The RAV4 has a 2.0-litre four-cylinder direct injection engine.

There are some differences here, namely outputs and how the fuel is fed to the engine - the Kia employs and old-world multi-point injection system, where its rivals both have direct injection. The Toyota hits hardest for power, while the Hyundai has the top torque figure.

Plus both the Kia and Hyundai have a regular torque-converter automatic transmission, but the Toyota hits bucks the trend with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) automatic that has an innovative launch gear for smoother take-offs and ten ‘ratios’ to use.

 

Toyota RAV4 GXL

Kia Sportage SX Plus

Hyundai Tucson ActiveX

Engine

2.0-litre four-cylinder direct injection

2.0-litre four-cylinder multi-point injection

2.0-litre four-cylinder direct injection

Power

127kW at 6600rpm

114kW at 6200rpm

122kW at 6200rpm

Torque

203Nm at 4400-4900rpm

192Nm at 4000rpm

205Nm at 4000rpm

Transmission

10-speed CVT automatic

Six-speed automatic

Six-speed automatic

Kerb weight

1585kg

1532kg

1490kg

Towing capacity - unbraked trailer

750kg

750kg

750kg

Towing capacity - braked trailer

800kg

1600kg

1600kg

Take note of that towing figure if you’re actually planning to embrace Toyota’s tagline of “Return of Recreation” by towing a caravan somewhere.

By class standards, and even considering what other drivetrains you can get in the model line-ups of these cars, none of them are amazing engines. 

We’ll discuss the performance of the powertrains in the driving section below.

Toyota RAV4 GXL7
Kia Sportage SX Plus6
Hyundai Tucson Active X 7

Fuel Consumption

Fuel is one of the biggest constant costs you need to consider when buying a new car, and there’s a chance that a petrol engine mightn’t be you’re first choice.

If that’s the case, you can get an impressive turbo-diesel engine in both the Kia and Hyundai, but the Toyota doesn’t have a diesel option - instead there are petrol-electric hybrids you can choose if you want to be a miser.

Our aim was to replicate what an average owner might see when they’re driving their car over a seven-day week: urban driving, running around, a possible stint on the highway, and maybe even a nice day trip on the weekend. So the figures you see below reflect that.

 

Toyota RAV4 GXL

Kia Sportage SX Plus

Hyundai Tucson ActiveX

Combined cycle fuel consumption

6.5L/100km

7.9L/100km

7.9L/100km

Displayed fuel consumption on test

8.4L/100km

10.2L/100km

10.3L/100km

Actual fuel use on test, at the pump

8.0L/100km

12.0L/100km

11.4L/100km

Percentage over claim

23 per cent

52 per cent

44 per cent

Fuel tank size

55 litres

62 litres

62 litres

Note - all three can run on 91RON regular unleaded.

It’s clear which is the winner here - both on paper, and in reality. This proves even if you don’t buy the hybrid version of the RAV4, you’ll be getting an impressively efficient SUV.

Toyota RAV4 GXL9
Kia Sportage SX Plus6
Hyundai Tucson Active X 7

Driving

These three SUVs are all impressive offerings when it comes to road manners - none of them are ‘bad’ to drive, but there are some elements we picked up on that you might want to consider when choosing your new SUV.

These three SUVs are all impressive offerings when it comes to road manners. These three SUVs are all impressive offerings when it comes to road manners.

The Hyundai was perhaps the most perplexing of these three, because it feels like it doesn’t quite know what it’s trying to be.

It has overly heavy steering that lacks feel and makes for some uncertainty about how much you actually need to turn the wheel, particularly at lower speeds. You might get used to it, but we know Hyundai can do better - we’ve seen so in their other cars.

The Tucson’s firmer suspension tune also has an element of rolliness to it, as though the brand’s Aussie tuning team was trying to find the right balance between comfort and control. It errs more towards the latter, with the suspension often being bouncier than its rivals in this test.

The Hyundai feels like it doesn’t quite know what it’s trying to be. The Hyundai feels like it doesn’t quite know what it’s trying to be.

Its engine offers enough spirit and the transmission is mostly fine, shifting smoothly and choosing the correct gear in most situations. The drivetrain can be thrashy under hard acceleration, however.

The Kia’s biggest letdown was its engine, because you can feel that it lacks the power and torque of its rivals, and that also means that the transmission can be overly active as it doesn’t quite have as much pulling power as it should. This was particularly noticeable up a steep hill climb we included as part of our testing loop.

The steering of the Sportage is better balanced than the Hyundai, though still errs towards heavy weighting as though it’s trying to be a sportier thing than it actually is.

The steering of the Sportage is better balanced than the Hyundai. The steering of the Sportage is better balanced than the Hyundai.

The Kia’s suspension tune - also engineered for Australian conditions - is a nice balance between control and comfort - it doesn’t spring back as violently over sharp bumps as the Hyundai, and deals better than the other two when it comes to rippled, rougher surfaces. 

The steering in the RAV4 is the best of this bunch. The steering in the RAV4 is the best of this bunch.

The Toyota’s suspension is softer, tuned more for the occupants as a whole rather than just the driver. It doesn’t have an Australia-specific tune, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t good. It’s not as firm, and therefore doesn’t quite offer as much control or tightness over bumpier sections of road - but it really is more comfortable in 90 per cent of everyday situations.

The steering in the RAV4 is the best of this bunch, with a nicer weighting and response at high and low speeds, though it does feel like it has a bigger turning circle than its rivals despite all of them officially stating an 11.0m radius.

The powertrain benefits from the CVT’s launch gear, which helps get things underway without fuss. There is some CVT drone to contend with and a little bit of engine whine, but the fact is that it was more eager when you mashed the throttle, and that’s going to be a benefit whether you’re overtaking or just in a hurry.

This section of the test was close. The scores reflect that.

Toyota RAV4 GXL8
Kia Sportage SX Plus8
Hyundai Tucson Active X 7

Safety

These are family-focused SUVs, so safety is vital. And there’s a bit of a difference in terms of what you get in each of these models. Here’s a breakdown for you.

 

Toyota RAV4 GXL

Kia Sportage SX Plus

Hyundai Tucson ActiveX

Autonomous emergency braking

Yes - high and low speed

Yes - low speed

Yes - low speed

Pedestrian and cyclist detection

Yes

No

No

Lane departure warning

Yes

Yes

Yes

Lane keeping assist

Yes

Yes

Yes

Blind spot monitoring

Yes

No

No

Rear cross traffic alert

Yes

No

No

Adaptive cruise control

Yes

No

No

Reversing camera

Yes

Yes

Yes

Rear parking sensors

Yes

Yes

Yes

Front parking sensors

Yes

Yes

Yes

Road sign recognition/warning

Yes

No

No

Driver fatigue monitoring

No

Yes

Yes

Airbag count

7

6

6

ANCAP score

5 stars - 2019

5 stars - 2016

5 stars - 2015

The Toyota clearly has the advantage when it comes to safety equipment. It’s streets ahead of the Koreans for included equipment, because if you want all the advanced stuff you’ll need to opt for higher-spec, more expensive versions.

Plus it’s worth considering that the RAV4 got its five-star ANCAP crash test rating under the strictest 2019 criteria. The others were tested a while ago, and were they tested today, they mightn’t achieve the maximum ratings.

Toyota RAV4 GXL99
Kia Sportage SX Plus7
Hyundai Tucson Active X 7

Ownership

Your ideal ownership plan could just be cheap servicing. Or it could be a long warranty. Or complementary roadside assist. Or even the possibility to pre-pay your servicing costs as part of your finance payments.

We’ve got all the info you need to know in the table below. You’ll note there’s an asterisk alongside the warranty period of the Toyota - that’s because it has a five-year warranty that can be extended to seven years for the powertrain if you have logbook service history (and it doesn’t need to be through Toyota dealers, either). 

 

Toyota RAV4 GXL

Kia Sportage SX Plus

Hyundai Tucson ActiveX

Warranty

Five years/unlimited kilometres*

Seven years/unlimited kilometres

Five years/unlimited kilometres

Servicing intervals

12 months/15,000km

12 months/15,000km

12 months/15,000km

Average service cost (over five years/75,000km)

$210

$375.80

$306

Pre-purchase servicing available?

No

Yes

Yes

Roadside assistance included?

Additional cost

Seven years complimentary

Up to 10 years complimentary

While Kia’s seven-year ownership plan is impressive, there’s no doubt about that. But the Sportage is easily the most expensive to maintain, especially for a simple multi-point engine.

Hyundai’s roadside assist is appealing - service your car with the brand, you get ten years of cover. It splits the difference on maintenance costs, too. 

The Toyota doesn’t come with roadside assist included, but the service costs are phenomenally low in the first five years. 

This is too close to call. They all score well (and identically) here.

Toyota RAV4 GXL9
Kia Sportage SX Plus9
Hyundai Tucson Active X 9

Verdict

All three of these models have a level of appeal, and all are impressive in their own ways. But against our review criteria - which you can read on the site - here’s what we found.

The Hyundai Tucson Active X offers great value and is comfortable and practical, but it’s feeling a little dated against these two rivals.

All three of these models have a level of appeal, and all are impressive in their own ways. All three of these models have a level of appeal, and all are impressive in their own ways.

The Kia Sportage SX Plus looks a bit more premium than its rivals, but it also has a higher price tag. It’s impressive, but not good enough to win this test.

But in this it was the Toyota RAV4 GXL that stood out as the best all-rounder in this test, offering a nice drive experience, impressive fuel consumption and better safety gear than its rivals. Add to that its more practical cabin and bigger boot, and it’s clear this is a terrific family SUV, and the best of this trio by some margin.

Toyota RAV4 GXL8.4
Kia Sportage SX Plus7.5
Hyundai Tucson Active X 7.4


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