Kia Sportage VS Ford EcoSport
- Great ride
- Good standard safety
- Great standard features
- Rivals offer AWD cheaper
- Full safety suite on GT-Line only
- Petrol engine thirsty
- Great media system
- Bigger interior than most
- Strong value
- No AEB, even as an option
- Poorly designed tailgate
- Base model hard to like
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.
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
One of the original entrants in the now-booming small SUV segment has never attracted the attention it probably should have. I’m talking about the Ford EcoSport.
The smallest SUV from the blue oval brand is built in India, and perhaps that’s part of the reason it hasn’t been that well received. I went on the international launch of the EcoSport way back in mid 2013, and some of the fit and finish left a lot to be desired.
That didn’t change when the car launched in Australia, and while the pricing it launched with was attractive, there were other elements that perhaps weren’t… like the tailgate-mounted spare wheel.
That spare wheel remains a feature for the time being (a further model change for the MY18.5 version will see the deletion of it in favour of a repair kit, and thus no spare) - but there have been some other styling changes for the Ford EcoSport 2018 range, and perhaps even more importantly, new drivetrains and big interior revisions.
It is undoubtedly an improvement, but just how much has it improved? Read on to find out.
|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.
If you’re going to buy a Ford EcoSport, it seems to me that the best one you can get is the Titanium - and that’s mainly because of Ford’s aggressive pricing strategy. The equipment on offer is compelling, especially looking at what else you get in competitor compact SUVs at that price point.
Again, I’m disappointed by the lack of AEB - but if that’s not a deal-breaker for you, the EcoSport may well prove a surprisingly adept option as a small high-rider. Just watch that tailgate in tight parking spots…
Would you prefer a spare wheel on the tailgate, or none at all? Let us know 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.
According to Ford, the new look “fits in the contemporary Ford SUV showroom”, and its design certainly looks more fitting when parked alongside the next-size-up Escape. It has a new bonnet, new headlights (halogen on the entry grades and HID on the flagship), a new grille shape with different colour trims based on variant (entry - grey, mid-spec - gloss black and top-spec - chrome) a revised front bumper and revised rear-end styling, too. There's a dinky little rear spoiler, but no body kit or side steps.
While the spare wheel will be removed from the tailgate in the coming months, the one fitted to this version has been redesigned. And if you’re worried about hitting that cover when reversing, the reversing camera should alleviate your concerns, and the rear parking sensors are tuned with it in mind.
Just keep in mind that if you park on the street and someone parks close to the back of you, you may struggle to open the boot - along with swinging open the wrong direction (the opening side should be closest to the kerb, but it’s on the traffic side!), the rearmost door is quite big.
Still, the interior has seen perhaps the most important changes, both in terms of aesthetics and usability. Its interior dimensions are impressive, as you'll see in the interior images below.
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.
There is no denying the Ford EcoSport is one of the most practical small SUVs you can buy. After all, it can fit a washing machine in the boot - that was one of the big selling points for Indian buyers, apparently - so storage space, size, luggage capacity and dimensions are all important.
The boot space is even more practical now, with a variable shelf system offering the option of a deeper cargo hold, a small hidden area in the mid-range position, and a flat (but sloping?) cargo area with the back seats folded - you do that by lifting up the rear seat bases, then lowering the backrests down. In that configuration there is 1178 litres of cargo capacity (SAE - the more generous of the formulae to measure space) to the roof, while seats up the figure stands at 743L (SAE). If that's not enough, you get roof rails on the top two models, so you can add a roof rack if you need to.
The storage has been improved for occupants, too, with a new centre console bin between the front seats, while rear-seat occupants get a fold-down centre armrest in the mid- and top-spec models. In those versions there are two cupholders in the back as well as two up front, while all four doors feature bottle holders. The front passenger seat lacks height adjustment, and taller occupants may feel like they’re looming large in that position.
Space is good for the class, especially for rear legroom and headroom. If you try and fit three across the back it’ll be tight, but for those younger buyers with children there are dual ISOFIX child-seat anchor points, and three top-tether hooks.
The centre console area has been reworked with a new storage area in front of the gear selector that is almost deep enough for a smartphone to sit, but it’ll inevitably fall over. There are two USB ports in all EcoSports, and they’re illuminated, which is a bonus, but the air conditioner controls are cheap feeling.
Above that area is a new media screen - a 6.5-inch version in the base model Ambiente, and an 8.0-inch infotainment unit in the Trend and Titanium. It’s touch-capacitive, and the Sync 3 media interface is simple to use, and no matter which model you go for, there’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto phone mirroring tech.
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.
The Ford EcoSport has one of the most compact model ranges in the segment, with three variants that aren’t priced too far from one another. In fact, from the bottom of the range to the top, there’s only a $6200 gap.
However, it is a simple line-up, which means there’s not as much choice for buyers. All three versions are petrol powered, automatic, and front-wheel drive - which is exactly what the vast majority of customers in the small SUV segment demand. But in order to compare the models in the range, keep reading for our model comparison.
How much is the cost of Ford EcoSport? At the bottom of the price list is the entry-grade Ambiente is $22,790 plus on-road costs (rrp), which is good vs most of its rivals. It kicks off proceedings with a 6.5-inch touchscreen media system running Ford’s 'Sync 3' media console, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth connectivity with phone and audio streaming, two USB ports, CD player DAB radio, voice control, central locking, cruise control, a sound system with six speakers (no subwoofer, no DVD player) and cloth seat trim.
It rides on ugly 16-inch steel wheels with plastic covers (rip them off and roll on steelies - own it!) and has silver exterior trim elements that delineate it as a base car. All members of the EcoSport range now include a 4.2-inch digital driver information screen between the dials, which includes a digital speedo, and the Ambiente is fitted with a reversing camera and rear parking sensors as standard.
The mid-range model in the EcoSport line-up is the Trend, which sits midway up the price range at $24,490.
The Trend adds black roof-rails, black exterior trim elements, 16-inch alloy wheels, a leather-lined steering wheel, and it moves the media game along with an 8.0-inch touch screen with Sync 3, inbuilt sat nav / GPS with free map updates for the navigation system for life, and a seven-speaker sound system.
The Titanium is $28,990, which is relatively affordable considering some other competitors are well into the low-to-mid $30k zone with their front-drive petrol high-riders.
It comes with all the stuff the Trend has but adds keyless entry / smart key, push button start, climate control air-conditioning, automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, power sunroof, leather seats, HID projector headlights and LED daytime running lights (not LED headlight), bigger 17-inch alloys, powered side mirrors with puddle lamps, and silver roof rails.
And it takes the safety game a step further as well, with blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, not to mention front parking sensors.
But, and it’s a big but, the Ford lacks some of the great safety technology features you’ll find in some its competitors. See the safety section below for more on that.
If you're in the market for a used EcoSport, you might be happy with the second hand price that most early versions fetch - they are quite affordable. And while the number of Ford EcoSport colours isn't as extensive as it once was, you can still get black, white, blue, silver, grey, and a new brown hue. There is no red, nor is there that eye-catching yellow anymore. There is no 'black pack' yet, but Ford did have a Shadow edition back in 2016, so it could happen.
While avoiding cows may be an everyday consideration in India, there are no special features like a bull bar, nor a nudge bar. You can't get a snorkel for it (you wouldn't need one!), but there is a tyre change tool kit in the boot. You can get accessories like floor mats and a boot scuff guard.
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.
It's a tale of the specifications here.
There is more than one engine to choose from (and for this reviewer, the engine you choose will determine the rating the car scores, too), but there is no diesel available (so you'll have to reserve that good old 'petrol vs diesel' debate for the Escape - still you get a fuel tank capacity of 52 litres, a good size so you'll be able to do plenty of distance). And the EcoSport isn't available in Australia with 4x4 / AWD / or rear wheel drive - every EcoSport is 4x2, or front wheel drive.
The entry-grade Ambiente model is powered by a new three-cylinder non-turbocharged 1.5-litre motor, and is mated with a six-speed conventional automatic transmission. The horsepower outputs for the Ambiente are pretty good, with 90kW of power and 150Nm of torque.
The existing Ambiente had a 1.5-litre non-turbo engine with a five-speed manual transmission or one of Ford’s now-infamous six-speed dual-clutch auto transmissions. But manual vs automatic demand, and the apparent automatic transmission problems with the dual-clutch auto, saw the switch to a conventional torque-converter auto.
Engine size for the Trend and Titanium models drops to a 1.0-litre three-cylinder with a turbocharger, which has a touch more punch to it despite its smaller capacity. The outputs are 92kW and 170Nm, which is easily enough to push the little high-rider along with ease.
Previously, buyers of the higher-spec models had the choice of a 1.5-litre non-turbo four-cylinder which had 10kW and 30Nm less, and was teamed to a six-speed dual-clutch auto, or the 1.0-litre turbo with a five-speed manual gearbox… which no-one bought.
Now, though, the 1.0-litre 'EcoBoost' engine is available with a conventional six-speed auto, and in the Titanium you get paddle-shifters, too. There haven't been any major reports of engine issues with the tiny EcoBoost engine, which runs a timing belt - not a chain - presumably to save weight. The gross vehicle weight for the EcoSport is between 1705kg (Ambiente) and 1755kg (Trend and Titanium), with kerb weight pegged at 1319kg (Ambiente) and 1368kg (Trend and Titanium).
This ain’t no tow truck: it's towinc capacity is 750kg for an un-braked trailer, or 900kg for a braked trailer.
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.
Claimed fuel consumption for the Ambiente model is rated at a pretty thirsty 6.9 litres per 100km, while the Trend and Titanium are said to use a touch less: 6.7L/100km. For those who prefer the measurement of fuel consumption km/L, the Ambiente will do 14.5km/L and the Trend/Titanium models will be capacble of 14.9km/L. Not quite diesel fuel economy, but enough to ensure pretty good mileage per tank.
The readout on the Trend I drove displayed 7.6L/100km after a mix of urban and highway driving, while the Ambiente showed 8.2L/100km in some horrific Melbourne traffic.
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.
Ford has a knack when it comes to making its SUVs drive like smaller cars than they actually are - and the steering is the key.
In the EcoSport that’s definitely the case. Sure, it is actually small, but it feels decidedly more nimble than some of its rivals, with great steering feel, weighting and response that allows the driver plenty of confidence, whether piloting it along a highway or parking it kerbside.
The front and rear suspension is well sorted, if a little firm over sharp bumps - but it sits well on the road, and is easily comfortable enough to deal with tram tracks, potholes and cracked pavement.
The obvious star engine is the turbocharged 1.0-litre, which is rewardingly punchy and nicely refined while retaining the trademark three-cylinder rumble. The six-speed auto is inherently eager to go for the highest gear it can to save fuel, and that means it will hunt a bit when you’re on and off the throttle. That might make your 0 100 acceleration timing a bit difficult, but it gathers speed decently.
Thankfully, though, the throttle is easy to modulate - which isn’t the case in the 1.5-litre. There’s a little too much travel at the top of the pedal to make for smooth take-offs, and when you get moving the engine has a tendency to allow the throttle to hang before it changes gears.
In both models the brake pedal took some getting used to, again with a dull spot at the top of the pedal then big grabbiness mid-way. It stopped reasonably well though, especially considering it still uses drum brakes at the back.
In case we didn't make it clear, there will be no off road review for the EcoSport. It may have good potential capability and performance if you look at the numbers: 209 (ground clearance mm); 10.7 (turning circle radius in metres, kerb to kerb); 24.7 (approach angle degrees); 29.0 (departure angle degrees) - but there is no wading depth figure, and hey, it's front-wheel drive!
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.
It may seem harsh to give the Ford EcoSport a 7/10 for a safety rating, especially considering it has features such as a reverse camera, park assist with rear parking sensors, stability control with hill descent control and hill start assist, ESP, and it retains a five-star ANCAP crash-test rating from 2013. Where is the Ford EcoSport built? You can leave your preconceptions at the door, because it's made in India.
But the fact of the matter is that the EcoSport doesn’t have the latest advanced safety tech - there is no auto emergency braking (AEB) and “there won’t for in the foreseeable future”, either, according to the company. You can put a line through things like lane keeping assist and forward collision warning, too.
But the EcoSport hits back in other ways. It has a system where it can call the emergency services using a connected phone in the event of an accident. And it has a dual key system that allows worried (interfering?) parents to adjust key parameters of the car, including how fast it can go and how loud the music can go. And if you need to fit a baby seat, it has ISOFIX points.
It has seven airbags (dual front, front side, full-length curtain and driver’s knee).
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.
Ford backs its new cars with the bare minimum three-year/100,000km warranty plan. Well behind the best in class, and it could be enough for you to reconsider if you've read about the issues, common problems, faults, complaints and defects that could have possibly afflicted some earlier versions with the dual-clutch auto. And if you're really concerned you can lengthen the standard warranty with an extended warranty for up to six years or 200,000km: there's no doubt that having a piece of paper with that alongside your owners manual in the glovebox will increase the resale value of your EcoSport (you can transfer the extended warranty). But with the new transmissions we have no reason to expect reliability issues.
Buyers do, however, have access to a capped-price servicing plan for the life of the car, with maintenance due every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever occurs first. The service cost is reasonably well considered, too - over five years/75,000km, the average cost per visit is $281. So, along with a low purchase price, a low maintenance cost gives it an edge over some competitors.
And Ford has that free loan car program, too, where you get to borrow a set of wheels when your car is in the shop.
While the waiting time for Ford EcoSport models is expected to be short, there are plenty of pre-facelift versions still in stock.