Kia Sportage VS Holden Trax
- Great ride
- Good standard safety
- Great standard features
- Rivals offer AWD cheaper
- Full safety suite on GT-Line only
- Petrol engine thirsty
- Good spec in each model
- Reasonable packaging
- 1.4 turbo is better than the 1.8
- LTZ is pricey
- Missing AEB
- Driving position
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|
Holden's plucky little Trax was a bit of a trailblazer (ahem). Not only was it Holden's first compact SUV, it beat most of the manufacturers to the segment by almost 12 months.
Those manufacturers includes Mazda, Nissan, Toyota and Hyundai. Volkswagen is still months away. The Trax range had a small refresh for the 2018 model year, following a pretty big facelift in 2017. It isn't exactly an earth-shattering update but it gave the Trax a more Holden look while sorting out some of the issues of the launch car.
|Engine Type||1.4L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular 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.
It's a close-run thing, but the best of the Trax range is the LS auto. There is little in the way of genuine improvement as you climb the range, with just the LTZ's rear cross traffic alert and blind spot monitoring as genuinely useful. The rest is mostly cosmetic.
As a contender in the segment, the Trax struggles when it comes to pricing - a Mazda CX-3 of comparable price is better-equipped and better to drive, with just a tighter rear seat to contend with. Other cars in the segment are newer and (generally) better-packaged for similar or little more money.
The Trax is an individual and Australians seem to like them - we're still buying them at a reasonable rate. In a segment that is grabbing yet more sales and is filling with yet more manufacturers, the Trax is the little engine that could.
Is it the Holden badge, individual looks or price that aTrax (I'm so sorry) you? Tell us what you think in the comments 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.
The MY17 styling update is carried forward unchanged into the MY18 model year. The Trax is a global car, built in a few locations, but ours come from South Korea. That means we get the Chevy version of the styling (there is also an Opel, which is known as the Mokka).
The newer face is much more contemporary than the old one, with finer detailing and a less chunky look. The deeper front bumper means a fairly bluff front end but with the less blocky headlights, doesn't look as heavy. The overall profile hasn't changed, but the rear has also been cleaned up. A black pack would certainly make the car look even tougher, but it's not on the options list. Some customers have found a nudge bar accessory, but that's not on the official Holden list.
Inside also receieved some attention, with the old bitsy but individual layout turfed out in favour of a more traditional look. The instrument pack used to live in a motorbike-style pad it shared with the Barina. It was kind of cool but looked really cheap, so the pod made way for standard dials-under-a-hood. It's bit more mature but certainly not as cool. Perhaps as consolation, a number of the materials have improved, the awful glove box door is now more substantial-feeling (and it will still fit the owners manual).
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.
The Trax's small dimensions don't promise much but there's a decent amount of room inside. Front seat passengers are well accommodated and luxuriate with no less than four cupholders, while the rear passengers score two in the rear armrest.
Those rear passengers will feel the pinch if they're approaching 180cm, with marginal knee room but plenty of headroom. The upright seating position does help taller folks and you can get your feet under the front seats.
Boot space is a reasonable if not startling 356 litres. Flip up the seat bases, fold the backs forward and you'll see a useful increase in boot dimenions, the volume almost doubling to 785 litres.
LT and LTZ owners also score an underseat storage tray.
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.
How much is a Holden Trax? Where is the Holden Trax built? What features and accessories are available? This review will provide you with a price list, all quoted as RRP, or MSRP as the manufacturers prefer to say.
Its main rival, the Mazda CX-3, has a bewildering number of models whereas the number of Holden Trax models is comparatively skinny, with just three on offer - the LS, LT and LTZ.
Standard on every Trax is Holden's 'MyLink' media system with Apple CarPlay an Android Auto. As a result, you won't see a GPS sat nav in the specs. MyLink powers a six speaker stereo with USB or Bluetooth for smartphone integration and a 7.0-inch touchscreen. A CD player is a thing of the past, so it's missing from Trax.
The LS manual starts the bidding at $23,990. It rolls on 16-inch alloy wheels, has air-conditioning, reversing camera, remote central locking, rear parking sensors, cruise control, automatic headlights, powered heated mirrors, electric windows, cloth trim and a tyre repair kit. Twist your dealer's arm and you might get floor mats thrown in.
The $26,490 LS auto not only picks up a six-speed automatic but also the 1.4-litre turbo engine with the same power but improved torque. You also get four-wheel disc brakes as opposed to the manual's rear drum brakes.
The middle child is the $28,890 LT. Added to the LS specification are 17-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry and start, leather steering wheel, colour instrument screen, fake leather seats, DAB+ digital radio, driver's middle armrest and a sunroof.
The price range is capped with the top of the range LTZ, starting at $30,490. Sharing the turbo engine and automatic transmission with the LT and LS auto, the LTZ's additions include 18-inch alloy wheels, auto wipers, blind spot monitoring and reverse cross traffic alert.
The Trax is available in eight colours. 'Mineral Black', 'Boracay Blue', 'Son of a Gun Grey', 'Burning Hot' (a vivid orange), 'Absolute Red', 'Nitrate' (silver) and 'Abalone White' which all come at a cost of $550. Only 'Summit White' is a freebie.
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 Trax's engine size depends on the specification you choose. The entry-level LS is the lone contender to persist with the 1.8-litre naturally-aspirated engine that launched the Trax four years ago. Developing 103kW/175Nm at 3800rpm. The 1.8 is paired with a six-speed manual transmission.
The LS auto, LT and LTZ all run the 1.4-litre turbo four cylinder paired with a six-speed automatic. The turbo engine develops an identical-to-the-1.8 103kW but brings another 25Nm to the party for a total of 200Nm developed at a more city-friendly 1850rpm.
The Trax's weight isn't particularly low, hovering around 1400kg tare, a bit of a heavyweight in the segment.
Towing capacity is rated at 500kg unbraked and 1200kg braked and a towbar is optional.
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.
According to the official figures, the 1.8 manual will consume 91RON at the rate of 7.1L/100km while emitting 165g/km of CO2.
Step up to the 1.4-litre turbo also means switching to premium unleaded, which it will drink at the rate of 6.7L/100km and emit 155g/km.
Real world fuel economy is somewhat different. We've measure fuel consumption in the 1.4-litre turbo well over 10.0L/100km. The fuel tank size is 53 litres. With that kind of fuel capacity, you'll cover just 500km in normal driving in either the 1.8 or 1.4.
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.
The view out of the Trax is impressive for such a small car. It feels high even though it isn't - pop the bonnet and you'll notice it's a long reach down to the engine, even the battery is kept low. The driving position is high and commanding but boy, is it awkward. The pedals are very close to the seat and despite a tilt and reach adjustable steering column, the taller you are, the harder it is to get away from a weird man-spreading arrangemnt for your legs.
The limited ground clearance of 158mm - a leftover from its Barina underpinnings - means the Trax isn't much of an off-roader despite its hill descent control inclusion and very camper-like addition of a 230V power supply in the rear seat. The front bumper is a scraper as it extends much lower than you would expect in an SUV, mostly to protect its low-riding underbits.
The sole 1.8 in the range is best avoided. The engine is a buzzing, vocal unit that needs to be worked hard to keep up with traffic. While the power and torque figures are fairly standard for the market segment, the power band is not easy to reach.
Step up to the LS auto and the change to the 1.4-litre turbo is stark. While there are the same number of kilowatts and torque is up by about 15 percent, it's a far smoother, quieter unit. It will never be a quiet car, it just doesn't have the engineering for that (the Barina platform is cheap and old). The turbo does reduce the din but also exposes the Trax's taste for road and suspension noise.
Overall, the Trax is comfortable and a bit of fun to drive if you don't mind the body roll or you're on a bumpy country road where it all gets a bit lumpy messy. As a city car it's quite a good proposition but long trips will be tiring.
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 Trax has six airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, reversing camera, three top-tether anchorages and brake assist.
The little Holden scored a five star ANCAP safety rating in August 2013.
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.
In the latter half of 2017, the Trax came with a seven-year/175,000km warranty, a big jump from the usual three-year/100,000km. The standard offer returns on January 1, 2018 unless Holden changes its mind.
Roadside assist is offered for an initial twelve months and then extended at every service performed at a Holden dealer.
Servicing intervals for the Trax are nine months/15,000km. Lifetime capped price servicing applies, starting at $249 for the first two, jumping to $429 for the third service and then bouncing around between $249 and $399 until the seventh service.