Kia Sportage VS Holden Trailblazer
- Great ride
- Good standard safety
- Great standard features
- Rivals offer AWD cheaper
- Full safety suite on GT-Line only
- Petrol engine thirsty
- Solid all-rounder
- Plenty of torque at low revs
- Off-road ability
- Engine can be noisy
- Suspension too firm
- No rear diff lock
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|
SUV wagons based on their ute stablemates are by no means a new thing – just look to Toyota Fortuner (based on HiLux), Ford Everest (based on the Ranger) and Isuzu’s MU-X (based on the D-Max) for evidence of that.
But the strategy is not always a successful one and these ute-based wagons have already gone through a stage or two of tweaking and refining in an attempt by car makers to shed some of the lingering ute-related niggles (such as work-focused suspension tunes) and improve the final products so they're better suited to a life of work and play.
The 2018 Trailblazer (formerly known as Colorado7, and based on the Colorado ute) is another clear sign that these wagons are indeed getting better, but are those improvements good enough to attract the cash of an otherwise ute-fixated public?
|Engine Type||2.8L turbo|
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 Trailblazer is a solid all-rounder and deserves the consideration of those in the market for a decent seven-seater 4WD. It does everything well without ever really excelling at any one thing.
Is it fantastic? No. Is it a game-changer? No. Does it represent pretty good value for money in the grand scheme of things? Yep.
The pick of the bunch for me is the LTZ – solid, off-road capable, and suburbs-friendly with just a hint of leather-appointed class. In the LTZ, you get everything worthwhile in the Trailblazer mob and if you’re a family man you won’t feel the need to fork out an extra $1000 for the Z71’s try-hard window dressing.
The Trailblazer is a mostly comfortable SUV wagon, stacked with features and is well worth your consideration if the Isuzu MU-X, Pajero Sport and Toyota Fortuner don’t float your boat.
What do you reckon? Get a new one of these, or spend your money on a second-hand LandCruiser?
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.
The Trailblazer is a solid-looking wagon – all clean, tight lines from front to back – and overall it has a real squat and substantial presence. If we’re going to get all ‘fancy Dan’ with our hyperbole: chrome-accented daytime running headlights swoop back along the chunky body to slick LED tail-lights. If we’re sticking to basics: the Trailblazer looks good.
Inside, the tweaked interior has a tidy if rather basic feel to it – but that’s not a bad thing in a wagon that will have to cop dirt and dropped ice creams amid the general chaos of day-to-day life.
The leather-trim seats add a touch of class to otherwise family friendly dimensions and environment.
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.
Climbing in is easy enough with a sturdy "overhead assist handle" for all comers and goers.
All of the Trailblazer’s seats are mostly comfortable except they are quite flat and hard, which may prove a hindrance over longer trips. The driver’s seat is six-way electrically-adjustable and there is little in the way of lumbar support.
The second row will better suit two passengers than three for long-distance comfort but there is enough room all round – head, shoulders and legs – to avoid most complaints, for a little while anyway.
Third-row passengers will need to be children or those of a shorter stature to cope with the ‘back of the bus’ squeeze – and even then trips should be kept to shorter distances to avoid an in-car riot. It’s not a terrible place to be, in the third row of this thing, but it’s not ideal either – pretty much in keeping with the rear-row offerings of its rivals.
Back up the front again and the dash design is clear, user-friendly and easy to get used to with day-in, day-out use.
There is a fair bit of storage space in the cabin but some of it is awkward to access and actually use. The glove box is big enough to cope with one or two handfuls of bits and pieces. There is a sunglass holder up near the rear-view mirror.
There are two cup holders in front of the small centre console housing the USB port which, when used, eats into that available space.
All doors have a moulded bottle bulge, which wouldn’t cop our CarsGuide water bottle without forceful encouragement.
The second-row passengers get a fold-down centre arm-rest/cup holder when there’s no one sitting in the middle. Passengers in the back also get air vents and manual aircon control.
With all seats up, if you pack to the roof, there is 235 litres of cargo space at the very rear; with the 50/50 split-folding third-row seats folded down, there is 878 litres; with the second-row (60/40 split-fold and tumble) and the third-row seats down, there is 1830 litres of cargo space. There is a retractable cargo blind stowed away under the floor at the rear.
With the second-row seats folded forward, it is easy enough to get into the third-row seats; no contortionist moves required.
There are two 12-volt outlets in the centre dash; one at the back of the centre console (for second-row passengers); and one in the rear cargo area.
Up top, the roof rails are rated to carry 100kg.
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 Trailblazer is available in three spec levels, each with a market-competitive price: base-spec LT (from $47,990, excluding on-road costs), LTZ (which we tested; from $52,490) and the limited-edition Z71 (from $53,490).
But those prices soon start to climb when you add in accessories such as all-weather floor mats ($130 for a pair), boot lip protector ($80) and a rigid cargo barrier ($960). Our test vehicle had a Power Blue (prestige paint) colour on the exterior, at a cost of $550.
The LT’s standard features include cloth seat covers, 17-inch alloy wheels, a seven-inch touchscreen to go with its Holden MyLink infotainment system, Apple Car Play and Android Auto, Bluetooth connectivity, front fog lamps, signature daytime running lights, side steps, limited slip diff, rear parking sensors and a rear-view camera.
The LTZ gets all of that (although its touchscreen is eight inches) and more: integrated satnav, blind spot alert, forward collision alert and heated front seats and leather-appointed seat trim. It has 18-inch alloy wheels.
The Z71 has all of that gear as well as a distinctive sports look, replete with black bonnet, black mirrors, black exterior door handles, Z71 leather-appointed trim and 18-inch black alloy wheels.
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.
The 2.8-litre turbo-diesel engine punches out 147kW at 3600rpm and its big-gun 500Nm at 2000rpm and is well-matched to a six-speed automatic transmission. This Trailblazer is, on paper, a very good tow vehicle with so much torque available and from down so low.
Its towing capacity is 3000kg (braked), but I’d prefer to see how it fared in a real-world tow test before I pass judgement.
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.
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.
Its turning circle is 12m but it feels like more of a cumbersome beast when trying to manoeuvre in the bush or in the city, though not enough so for that characteristic to be any sort of deal-breaker.
The tilt-adjustable, electrically assisted steering lacks any reach-adjustment, which is annoying, but it can still be counted on to deliver a precise feel – light at low speeds, heavier at high speeds – when pushing the Trailblazer along at a fair clip on open roads or in and out of corners.
Acceleration seems livelier now; there is more off-the-mark oomph for take-offs and safe, smooth overtaking, even on long gradual climbs, than before. The torquey engine and six-speed auto – with its smooth changes and gear-holding when appropriate – make for a high-achieving combo.
Ride and handling seem better than in Colorado7 guise although the tweaked suspension – Aussie-tuned coil-spring front and coil-spring live-axle rear – and Bridgestone Dueler H/Ts tyres* may account for some of that. However, we did feel some body-roll while driving along back roads, unlike the last time we were in a Trailblazer LTZ. (*The Trailblazer has a full-sized 18-inch spare.)
The locally tuned suspension is, at times, a bit too firm; when we hit heavy bumps and deep potholes on rough gravel tracks several times, we were unsettled because the Trailblazer’s suspension bashed its way over and through.
We completed a series of emergency braking scenarios – on bitumen and dirt – and the Trailblazer’s disc brakes – 300mm at the front and 318mm at the rear – helped rip us into a controlled stop.
Our drive loop included a decent bit of four-wheel driving – coastal sand, bush tracks peppered with rocks of all shapes and sizes, and shallow mud in a dried-out dam. Drive modes can be switched via the centre console dial between 2H, 4H and 4L; high range modes are actually represented by an ‘up’ arrow on the dial; low range is a ‘down’ arrow. Bonus: the Trailblazer’s 500Nm of torque is readily available from way down low.
The Trailblazer has a limited slip diff, 218mm of ground clearance and a wading depth of 600mm, which was never tested as our usual creek crossings were so bone-dry they were more like puddles. Approach, departure and ramp-over angles are 28, 25, 22 respectively.
Its armoury of off-road tech – auto hill-start assist, hill-descent control and more – make it almost unstoppable, straight out of the showroom, for anything demanded of it on a light- to medium-difficulty adventure weekend.
Its 76-litre fuel tank, however, hinders any claim it has to off-road touring potential.
The Trailblazer has 3000kg towing capacity (braked); 750kg unbraked.
Note: Holden has persisted with a system which, when you open a door, the front windows automatically slide down a bit, an action aimed at reducing air pressure when you close the doors. It remains annoying but we still weren’t annoyed enough to actually bother to check the owner’s manual for a possible hack to switch it off.
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.
The Trailblazer range has a five-star ANCAP rating. The LTZ has seven airbags, and electronic stability control (ABS, EBD etc), rear view camera, front park assist, rear parking sensors, forward collision alert, blind-spot alert, lane-departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert, a tyre-pressure monitoring system and trailer sway control.
The second row has three child restraint anchor points and one ISOFIX child restraint anchor point.
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.
The Trailblazer comes with a three-year/100,000km warranty. Lifetime capped price servicing includes a free inspection at one month, then $299 (at nine months/15,000km), $399 (18 months/30,000km), $479 (27 months/45,000km), $479 (36 months/60,000km) and so on.
(At time of writing, the LT was being offered for $45,990 driveway with a seven-year/175,000 warranty.)
Potential problems might include cumulative driveline wear and tear from people towing heavy loads (horse floats, boats etc).