Kia Sportage VS Fiat 500X
- Great ride
- Good standard safety
- Great standard features
- Rivals offer AWD cheaper
- Full safety suite on GT-Line only
- Petrol engine thirsty
- Fun looks
- Good interior
- Great safety package
- Iffy transmission
- Oddball ride
If you take a snapshot of the Australian mid-size SUV market, it becomes apparent that the Kia Sportage is an oft-overlooked option in a sea of storied Japanese nameplates.
Perhaps it’s because the Sportage is a bit more controversially styled than its Tucson cousin, or perhaps it’s a victim of its own success, having been an attractive option for populating car-share fleets like GoGet.
But I’d argue that the Sportage is special in more ways than it gets credit for, and shouldn’t be overlooked by Australians on the hunt for a new mid-sizer, even this far into its lifecycle.
Read on to find out why, and which variant in the Sportage’s just updated 2020 lineup is our pick of the bunch.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
Fiat's indomitable 500 is one of the great survivors - not even VW's recently deceased New Beetle could keep riding the nostalgia wave, partly because it made itself just that little bit out-of-touch by not being a car anyone can buy. The 500 avoided that, particularly in its home market, and is still going strong.
Fiat added the 500X compact SUV a few years ago and at first I thought it was a daft idea. It's a polarising car, partly because some people complain it's capitalising on the 500's history. Well, duh. It's worked out well for Mini, so why not?
I've driven one every year for the last couple so I was keen to see what's up and whether it's still one of the weirdest cars on the road.
|Engine Type||1.4L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
The Sportage continues to age gracefully, now offering an increasingly finely tuned range of variants to suit most price brackets.
While its engine and transmission choices leave a little to be desired, it continues to offer impressive ride, handing, and technology when compared to many (but not all) Japanese segment rivals.
Our pick of the range is the SX in either engine, as it offers the lion’s share of Sportage spec items at the right price.
The 500X is a fun-looking alternative to the various options available from everyone else and is - overall - better to drive than its Renegade twin.
It packs a very good safety package which you can't ignore but does lose points on the warranty and servicing regime. But it's also built to take four adults in comfort, which not every car in the segment can boast.
Would you choose the Fiat 500X over one its better-known competitors? Tell us in the comments section below.
The Sportage isn’t as conservatively styled as its sensible spec would suggest. Clearly influenced by the likes of the Porsche Cayenne, with the bonnet-mounted light fittings, curvaceous edges and strip-light across the tailgate, the overall look aims to put the “sport” in “Sportage”.
It has enough of its almost insectoid personality to be criticised as a straight rip-off though, for better or worse, and its most recent facelift in 2018 accentuated its best features. At least one criticism that can’t be leveled at the Sportage is that it looks boring.
The more aggressive look certainly sets it apart from the conservatively styled Hyundai Tucson with which it shares a chassis, and that’s even more evident on the inside where there’s a sportier asymmetrical dash with a raised centre-console and slick, three-spoke steering wheel.
While everything is ergonomic in here – with an added bonus of dials and shortcut buttons for the climate controls - the screen-in-dash look is getting a bit dated. The same could be said for the interior plastics, which are finished largely in the same drab grey colour, no matter which grade you pick. The design of them is nice, but anything under the soft dash-topper is hard to the touch.
Thankfully, everything is superbly put together with not a squeak or rattle to be heard on any of the test cars I sampled, and the pared-back application of silver highlights in the dash is tasteful. The quad-dial instrument cluster is a classic layout. There’s no option for a digital dash in the Sportage range.
The two-tone alloys look great, no matter which grade you pick, and aside from the flared bits and LED light fittings on the GT-Line, it’s genuinely hard to tell the grades apart from each other, which is good for low-spec buyers.
Overall, the Sportage presents a design which has aged well, thanks to a more risqué approach being taken when this generation first launched in 2016.
Look, I like the 500X, but I know why people don't. It's clearly a 500X in the way a Mini Countryman is a Mini. It looks like a 500, but get closer and you see the difference. It's chubby like a $10 weekend market Bhudda statue and has great big googly eyes like Mr Magoo. I find this endearing, my wife does not. The looks aren't the only thing she doesn't like.
The cabin is a bit more restrained and I quite like the band of colour stretching across the dash. The 500X is meant to be a bit more grown up than the 500, so there's a proper dash, more sensible design choices but it still has the big buttons, perfect for the meaty fingers of people who won't be buying this car.
Like most Korean SUVs, the Sportage has the idea of practicality cooked-in throughout its cabin. It starts in the front row, where the driver and passenger have access to some large cupholders in the doors and centre console (suitable for 500ml containers), a decently sized top-box and glovebox, as well as a very large trench in front of the shift-lever, which also hosts the USB and aux inputs, as well as dual 12V power outlets.
In the back seat, there are plenty of amenities, with decently sized cupholders in each door, pockets on the back of the seats, air-conditioning vents on the back of the console as well as dual power outlets. Another neat trick is that the Sportage has reclining rear seats, allowing extra comfort for rear-seat passengers, or extra boot space where required.
To its credit, the boot space is easy to use and comes with an adjustable rolling cover. Part of the reduction in sheer capacity is due to a full-size alloy spare living under the boot floor – a big bonus for regional buyers, who may need one as a matter of safety.
Leg and headroom are simply great, no matter which seat you’re sitting in, and the big rear doors on the Sportage open nice and wide – good for low-mobility passengers or those needing to fit a child-seat.
At just 4.25 metres, the 500X isn't big, but makes the most of what it's got. The boot impresses at 350 litres and with the seats down, I think you could reasonably expect to triple that figure, though Fiat doesn't have an official number that I can find. For added Italian feel, you can tip the passenger seat forward to get really long things in, like a Billy bookshelf flat pack from Ikea.
Rear seat passengers sit high and upright meaning leg and kneeroom are maximised and with that tall roof, you won't scrape your head.
The doors each have a small bottle holder for a total of four and Fiat has got serious about cupholders - the 500X now has four.
Price and features
You did read that right, the Sportage range – despite looking exactly the same as last year’s iteration – has received a mild nip and tuck, which includes new variants and pricing. As before, the Sportage range is offered with a choice of three engines, two petrols and a diesel, with either front- or all-wheel drive across four trim levels. All prices on the Sportage range are drive-away.
Kicking off the range is the S, which is available as a 2.0-litre petrol front-wheel drive in either a re-introduced six-speed manual ($28,990), six-speed auto ($29,990) or as an eight-speed auto diesel AWD ($36,990).
Standard spec, even on the entry-level car, is impressive. Included are 17-inch alloy wheels (no steelies here), LED DRLs (but halogen headlights), leather-trimmed wheel and shift-lever, hard-wearing cloth seat trim, a 3.5-inch dot-matrix info screen in the dash, a 7.0-inch multimedia touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android auto support, dual-zone climate control, as well as rear parking sensors and camera. Another nice touch is that the base S model also scores auto rain-sensing wipers as standard.
Considering the standard active-safety suite explored in the safety section of this review, the S could easily be the pick of the range of any other SUV lineup, but our pick is still the mid-grade SX (previously known as the Si).
Available in the same three drivetrain choices at a $2500 premium, the SX adds larger 18-inch alloy wheels, front-facing parking sensors, a more impressive-looking 8.0-inch touchscreen with DAB+ digital radio and built-in sat-nav, backed by an eight-speaker JBL audio system. We’d say the extra spice is well worth it, making the SX our pick.
Jumping up to the SX Plus (previously the SLi) adds leather seat trim (which is hard-wearing, but isn’t the most luxurious-feeling fake leather on the market), an upgrade to the visual treatment with chrome and gloss black highlights, a larger colour TFT screen embedded in the dash, and, for the first time in a mid-grade Sportage, a powered tailgate. The SX Plus is well equipped, but if you can do without leather seat trim, it's not really worth the $7000 like-for-like switch up from the SX…
Available as an all-wheel-drive only, the penultimate Sportage is the GT-Line. Finally gaining a full suite of LED front lights and, frustratingly, the only way to specify a Sportage with blind-spot monitoring, active cruise control and rear cross traffic alert, the GT-Line is relatively expensive, even for the segment, at $46,490 for the 2.4-litre six-speed auto petrol or $49,490 for the eight-speed auto turbo diesel.
Other fruit for the extra money includes a sports bodykit, aggressive 19-inch alloy wheels, a panoramic sunroof, flat-bottomed sports steering wheel, a wireless phone-charging bay, and an automatic-parking suite.
I drove the Pop Star, which is the second of the now-two model "regular" range, the other being the, er, Pop. I drove a Special Edition in 2018 and it's not clear if it is Special as there's also an Amalfi Special edition. Anyway.
The $30,990 (plus on-road costs) Pop Star has 17-inch alloys, six-speaker Beats-branded stereo, dual-zone climate control, reversing camera, keyless entry and start, active cruise control, sat nav, auto headlights and wipers, leather shifter and steering wheel and a space-saver spare.
The Beats-branded stereo speakers are supplied with noise from FCA's UConnect on a 7.0-inch touchscreen. The same system is in a Maserati, don't you know. Offering Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, UConnect loses points by shrinking the Apple interface into a lurid red frame. Android Auto properly fills the screen, for some reason which is ironic given Apple owns the Beats brand.
Engine & trans
The Sportage is offered with a choice of three engines, all of which are unremarkable.
These engines are also starting to show their age, but the fact that you can choose either petrol or diesel across the range will be a win for some consumers.
The 2.0-litre petrol offered as the front-wheel drive option on the S, SX, and SX Plus grades produces 114kW/192Nm and can be chosen with either a six-speed auto, or a six-speed manual on the bottom two grades.
The 2.0-litre turbo diesel engine offered across the range with only an eight-speed automatic in all-wheel drive produces a better-sounding 136kW/400Nm (hence the price hike).
The GT-Line is the only grade that can be had as a petrol in all-wheel drive, it benefits from a larger 2.4-litre petrol engine with outputs set at 135kW/237Nm, paired only to a six-speed automatic.
It would be nice to see higher tech turbocharged petrol engines make it to the Sportage range for the sake of both power and fuel efficiency, but these kinds of dated petrol powertrains are par-for-the course in the Australian mid-size SUV landscape.
A benefit to many drivers will be the torque-converter automatic transmissions, rather than their lacklustre CVT counterparts, which appear in most of this car’s Japanese rivals.
Fiat's rather excellent 1.4-litre turbo MultiAir does duty under the stubby bonnet, making 103kW and 230Nm. Rather less excellent is the six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, which sends power through the front wheels only.
A downside to old engines with rigid transmission ratios pulling heavy SUV bodies is a notable cost in the fuel-consumption department.
The 2.0-litre front-drive variants carry claimed combined fuel-consumption figures of 7.9L/100km, but the figure most people will experience is in the rather more honest official “urban” figure of 10.9L/100km.
In my back-to-back tests of the 2.0-litre petrol versions of the SX and SX Plus I produced figures on either side of that number, scoring 10.5L/100km and 11L/100km in the real world, over about 350km of testing respectively.
Not great, then, and those figures are easily bested by CVT rivals – even the 2.5-litre all-wheel-drive Forester – according to real-world figures put on the board in recent CarsGuide reviews.
Mercifully, the Sportage is capable of drinking base-grade 91RON petrol to fill its 62-litre tank.
Fiat rather optimistically suggest you'll get a combined cycle figure of 5.7L/100km but try as I might, I couldn't do better than 11.2L/100km. What's worse, it demands 98RON fuel, so it's not the cheapest car to run. This figure us consistent with past weeks in the 500X and no, I wasn't thrashing it.
The Sportage’s engine choices don’t offer the most modern drive experience on the mid-size SUV market, but its locally tuned suspension really makes it stand apart from the pack. This means it’s at its best in most driving scenarios you’ll experience in Australia. I’ve driven Sportage variants on long-distance freeway drives, across the worst, most potholed streets Sydney’s CBD has to offer, as well as rutted gravel tracks on the other side of NSW’s Blue Mountains, and all of them behaved admirably, everywhere.
On the axis of sport-to-comfort I’d say the Sportage’s ride sits slightly to the sportier end of the equation. It’s a stiffer ride than the Honda CR-V, Nissan X-Trail, or the new Toyota RAV4, for example. Yet it seems to strike a more comfortable balance than the sporty CX-5.
The handling is really nice for an SUV this size, as I’ve said in previous reviews – it’s nimble and feels almost like you’re piloting a giant hatchback. For reasons I can’t seem to pin down, I vastly prefer the Sportage’s ride and handling to that of the Tucson. It just feels more balanced all round than its Hyundai cousin.
The engines are a bit of a letdown, however. While all are adequate for city-commuting duty, on the open road and up hills the petrol drivetrains get thrashy and noisy quickly – and at higher revs the limitations of these engines' outputs become apparent.
That having been said, both automatic transmissions are slick and predictable. When power is needed they also lock into gear nicely, unlike their CVT competition. We are yet to sample the re-introduced manual variants.
Again, I shouldn't like the 500X but I really don't mind it. It's flawed, which might be why.
The dual-clutch transmission is dumber than a box of loose cogs, lurching from start and looking the other way when you expect it to shift. We know the engine is a good one and I think part of the reason it's so thirsty is the confused way the transmission goes about its business. I'd love to drive a manual to see what it's like.
The 500X initially feels worse than its Jeep Renegade sibling-under-the-skin, which is quite an achievement. Part of that is to do with the ride, which is very choppy below 60km/h. The first 500X I drove wallowed about but this one is a bit tauter, which would be good if you weren't punished with this bounciness.
The seats themselves comfortable and the interior is a good place to hang out. It's reasonably quiet, too, which is at odds with the old-school silliness of its conduct. It feels like Labrador let out of after day kept inside.
And that's where the car I shouldn't like is a car I do like - I really like that it feels like you're on Roman cobblestones, the type that make your knees hurt when you walk on them for a day. The steering wheel is too fat and is at a weird angle, but you kind of square up to it and drive the car like your life depends on it. You have to take it by the scruff, correct the shifts with the paddles and show it who's boss.
Obviously, that's not for everyone. If you drive it really gently, it's a very different experience, but that means going slowly everywhere, which is no fun at all and not at all Italian.
Even just last year, the Sportage’s standard active-safety equipment would have been considered pretty good, even a whole point better than what I’ve given it here. The thing is, though, thanks largely to ANCAP and EuroNCAP’s far more stringent analysis of active technology in the last year, the game has been raised by many of the Sportage’s competitors.
It would be nice, for example, to see active cruise control and blind-spot monitoring available on the SX Plus grade, or, better still, available as an option pack across the range, a-la-Hyundai’s approach.
And now, with the introduction of high-tier active-safety suites on low-spec variants of the Toyota RAV4, Mazda CX-5 and Subaru Forester, it’s hard to give the Sportage flying colours in this department.
Still, the fact that auto emergency braking (AEB), lane-keep assist (LKAS) and driver-attention alert (DAA) ship on the base-model S is reasonably impressive.
Outside of that, all Sportage grades get six airbags, the expected stability and brake controls, as well as three top-tether and two ISOFIX child-seat mounting points.
The Sportage carries a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating as of this-generation’s launch in 2016.
Out of the box, you get seven airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, forward collision warning, high and low speed AEB, active cruise control, rollover stability, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, blind spot sensor and rear cross traffic alert. That's not bad for a $30,000 car full stop, let alone a Fiat.
There are two ISOFIX points and three top-tether anchors for baby seats.
The 500X scored a five-star ANCAP rating in December 2016.
Kia continues to lead the pack with a seven-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, which is two years more than the acceptable segment standard. That’s also backed by eight years of roadside assist if you service at an authorised dealer.
There’s also a comprehensive capped-price-servicing program for the life of the warranty, averaging out to a not-particularly-cheap $391.71 per year for the 2.0L petrol, $408.14 for the 2.4L petrol, or $511.43 for the diesel.
The Sportage will have a battle on its hands in the coming years, with fellow Korean competitor, Ssangyong, looking to launch its new-generation Korando with a highly competitive seven-year ownership program.
Service intervals arrive once a year or 15,000km. There is no fixed or capped-price servicing program for the 500X.