Kia Sportage VS Jeep Cherokee
- Great ride
- Good standard safety
- Great standard features
- Rivals offer AWD cheaper
- Full safety suite on GT-Line only
- Petrol engine thirsty
- Standard safety now on point
- True off-road ability
- Much improved visually
- Cramped rear quarters
- Styling still a bit 'Murican
- Thirsty V6
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|
The presence of a strong medium-sized SUV is of vital importance to any mainstream automotive brand at the moment. And if you do have one, to get bums on seats it needs to be absolutely on point across the spectrum.
Jeep is, according to its masters, in the midst of a renewal, with all new vehicles expected across its line by the end of 2020. The next cab off the rank is the Cherokee – codenamed KL – which launched in Australia in 2015 to a less than enthusiastic reception.
|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.
The latest Cherokee hasn’t resonated with buyers of mid-sized SUVs yet, but this facelift may bring some more potential buyers out of the woodwork – especially those looking for something with a bit of off-road ability.
Jeep is working hard to turn its reputation for poor service around as well, and its warranty and service plans are longer than those of the biggest Japanese players.
Would you prefer your SUV to have more of an off-road focus? Tell us 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.
Thank the Lord, the ugliness is no more. There’s a difference between unusual and terrible, and the previous Cherokee - in my eyes at least - had fallen out of the ugly tree and hit every single branch on the way down. Hard.
Jeep was all too aware that the challengingly styled Cherokee had a perception problem; in fact, Fiat Chrysler Australia chief Steve Zanlunghi told us that the number one reason people chose not to buy it was because of the way it looked.
So gone is the divisive split and inverted headlight design, replaced with something that is much more closely related to the Grand Cherokee. Narrow LED headlights and a classic seven-slot grille are complemented by a new lower bumper bar and LED daytime lamps, while there’s also a new composite bonnet.
New LED tail-lights and a composite tailgate join a new bumper skin on the rear, while roof rails are now standard, along with a push-open fuel door and capless filler. It now looks much more resolved, although the excess of chrome trim on the nose does age the car prematurely.
While the interior basics are still the same, Jeep claims it’s worked hard on the ‘touch and feel’ stuff; better quality plastics, bigger oddments trays and nicer trims.
Vinyl replaces cloth on the door cards, and the electronic park brake surround has been rejigged to increase the size of the phone tray, but other than that, the interior remains largely as it was.
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.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t extend to more room inside the cabin. The second row of seats can be a cramped place to sit, especially if the occupants are even slightly taller than average.
Throw in a small rear door aperture and – if you have one fitted – a crazily low sunroof headliner, and the back can soon becomes cramped for teens and grown-ups. The seat backs can be reclined to help out here, though.
Bottles can also be added to the four doors, and there’s a decently sized centre console bin behind two front cupholders.
Front seat occupants fare well enough, with decently bolstered and supportive seats. However, the driver’s position is more than a little compromised, thanks to a huge, bulbous protrusion on the transmission tunnel that gets in the way of your left leg, and there’s nowhere to rest your left foot. Surely a plastic footrest for RHD markets wouldn’t be a big expense.
The wheel is comfortable enough, but could extend towards the driver another 15 or 20mm, and I inadvertently opened the powered tailgate a couple of times when trying to start the car; both buttons are round and located in places where such buttons should be.
Boot capacity has been increased by 84 litres to 784 litres by way of a two-level boot floor, though bear in mind this is measured via the SAE standard, and not the VDA standard used by virtually everyone else.
A full-size steel wheel serves as a spare for all variants.
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.
Jeep claims it’s in a space called ‘access premium’ – think premium economy – that offers extra kit on its cars at a more affordable price. It sees itself rivalling the likes of the Honda HR-V and Hyundai Santa Fe, rather than the CX-5.
The updated Cherokee will maintain the status quo when it comes to the model mix, with the entry level Sport keeping its $35,950 (plus ORCs) price tag.
As well, you’ll also score LED headlights and tail-lights, a 7.0-inch 'Uconnect' multimedia system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, leather-wrapped wheel and gear knob, roof rails and a comprehensive suite of driver aids over and above the outgoing model.
It only has cloth trim, regular lights and wipers and single-zone air, though, so you’ll need to look at the Longitude ($41,950 plus ORCs) for more of the good stuff.
It adds AWD to the 2.4-litre four-cylinder powertrain, as well as auto lights and wipers, a multi-mode traction management set-up, powered front seats, parking sensors, a powered tailgate with foot activation (only if the wind is blowing the right way and Jupiter is in crescent moon ascending, if our brief and fruitless testing is anything to go by) and push-button start with keyless entry.
Add $5000 to get into the Limited, and you’ll get a proper low-range 4x4 drivetrain hooked up to a 3.2-litre V6 petrol engine, leather upholstery with heated and vented front seats, 18-inch rims, a larger 8.4-inch multimedia system with sat nav and a colour screen between the dash dials, along with adaptive cruise control and auto parking.
Topping the tree is the $48,450 Trailhawk, Jeep’s self-rated offroad-ready version of the Cherokee that complements the Wrangler and Grand Cherokee Trailhawks.
It’s the more rugged version of the Limited, and its triple-diff 4x4 drivetrain also includes a low-range transfer case, the ability to lock all three diffs, hill ascent and descent control, taller suspension, unique bumpers and underbody skid plates, offroad-spec rims and leather/cloth seats.
The Trailhawk makes up about 10 per cent of the model sales at present – given there’s only been 324 sold all year so far (as opposed to 16,000 for the CX-5), it’s still not a big number.
On balance, the Cherokee starts further up the ladder price-wise than its rivals, but there’s value to be found in the additional off-road performance – and the new additions have come at zero cost over the old car.
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 2.4-litre 'Tigershark' engine makes 130kW and just 229Nm of torque, while the heavier 3.2-litre 'Pentastar' V6 offers up 200kW/315Nm.
All variants use the Chrysler-designed ZF-sourced nine-speeder, which has seen its transmission maps updated for this facelift.
There are effectively three drivetrain types; front- and all-wheel drive for the four-cylinder Sport and Longitude, and 4x4 for the Limited and Trailhawk, both of which use the V6.
The 4x4 system is 8.0kg lighter than previously, too.
Hill descent and ascent is standard on the V6-powered cars, while 'Select Terrain' offers up Auto, Snow, Sport and Sand/Mud settings. Trailhawk adds extra elements including a rock crawling mode, as well as a mechanical locking rear diff, and electronic locks for the centre and front diffs.
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 figure for the smallest engine is 8.5 litres per 100km on the combined fuel economy cycle, 9.8L/100km on the V6 Limited and 10.2L/100km for the Trailhawk.
A 90km highway stint in the latter saw a dash figure of 12.1L/100km, while a similar distance in the Limited yielded 11.8L/100km.
All variants use a 60-litre fuel tank, and will accept regular unleaded fuel. The lightest Cherokee weighs 1590kg and the heaviest is 1889kg.
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.
Over a 200km-odd drive route in the Limited and Trailhawk V6s, the Cherokee reinforces its position as a more rugged and ready SUV. It lacks the absolute precision and poise of more road-oriented rigs, but – and particularly in the case of the Trailhawk – shows its chops when the going gets a bit steep and slippery.
The V6 I sampled is adequate rather than enthusiastic, and it doesn’t make soul-stirring noises, but it’s linear and reasonably responsive underfoot. I found the throttle to be a bit sticky underfoot, which made smooth pull-aways a pain at times, but its relationship with the nine-speed auto is a good one.
The Cherokee’s electrically assisted steering verges on being too light and vague, but body roll suppression is really impressive, especially across the front axle, while ride quality is excellent.
A quick – or slow, in this case – lap of a genuinely rugged off-road course shows that the Trailhawk is more than a rebadging exercise. With bespoke bumpers, underbody protection and proper off-road tyres, the smaller form factor of the Cherokee Trailhawk would make for a very handy full time off-roader for a couple, if ultra-long range touring wasn’t a consideration.
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.
Active forward collision warning and AEB, advanced lane departure wanring and rear cross traffic alert are now standard across the four-model line-up. Adaptive cruise is optional on the Longitude and standard on the Limited and Trailhawk.
LED headlights are also standard across the line, as well as six airbags, rear view camera with guidelines and parking sensors (from the Longitude up).
Jeep is currently in a wait-and-see situation with its ANCAP rating, which currently sits at a maximum five-star rating under last year’s rankings, but it expects to be issued a similar score from the safety body.
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.