Kia Sportage VS Mazda CX-5
- Great ride
- Good standard safety
- Great standard features
- Rivals offer AWD cheaper
- Full safety suite on GT-Line only
- Petrol engine thirsty
- Sleek styling
- Great value
- Enjoyable to drive
- No Apple CarPlay or Android Auto
- Boot is on the smaller side
- Space saver spare
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|
You know when toothpaste makers slightly tweak ingredients and then plaster 'New and Improved!' on the box, but you can’t really tell because it still just tastes like toothpaste?
That’s sort of the same with the new Mazda CX-5, which is almost identical to the old one. But there are some important changes you may not notice, and one you really will.
To be clear, this isn’t a new-generation of the CX-5 – that only came out last year. This is a minor facelift – which isn’t a good term, because the face has been left untouched.
You’ll find out what I’m talking about later, but here’s a hint: when we tried to pick the difference between the new and old model at the Australian launch of the new CX-5, turns out we felt and heard, rather than saw, what had changed.
|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 CX-5 has been a best-seller for years and when the new car launched in 2017 it cemented that position even more. This 2018 update sees Mazda addressing or fine-tuning parts which could be improved, such as the diesel engine's turbo lag and noise, as well as the economy of the larger petrol engine, while making the car even better value for money with the price drop.
Did Mazda need to make any more changes than they did to this latest CX-5 or is this a case of: if it ain't broke don't fix it? 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 CX-5 is one of the best-looking mid-sized SUVs on the market. Take a look at the photos: there’s that sharp-edged and gaping grille, and that sleek profile. Sure, the back looks a bit ‘empty’ because of the tiny tail-lights, but while small they accentuate the athletic haunches of the CX-5.
The CX-5’s interior is also just as stylish and refined as its outsides with an excellent fit and finish, quality-feel materials and a design which isn’t just pleasing to the eye but pleasing to the arms, legs, bottom, and any other part of your body which will come in contact with the comfortable cabin.
There have been no changes to the exterior in this update, and the interior, too, mirrors the previous CX-5, but in a way it’s fine that nothing has been tweaked here as it was darned good already.
The CX-5’s dimensions haven’t changed (well it’d be weird if they had) and at 4550mm end-to-end, it’s shorter than a Toyota RAV4 but longer than a Volkswagen Tiguan. Other figures to jot down to make sure it fits in your garage are these: 1840mm across and 1675mm tall.
From the outside it’s tricky to tell the higher grades of CX-5 apart, that’s how similar looking the exteriors are – the steel wheels of the Maxx are a dead giveaway, they look a bit ridiculous, and it’s a shame this new update hasn’t brought alloys.
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.
If you have kids, maybe steer clear of the white leather. That sounds like a comment that should be in the design section above but to parents its just as much a practicality point. I’ve lived with a white-leathered CX-5 and a toddler and I can tell you the marks don’t come off easily. Then again, neither does toothpaste spat on black cloth seats by adults – don’t ask.
The CX-5’s boot has stayed the same size at 442 litres. That’s not enormous like the 615-litre cargo space in the Tiguan, or even as big as the RAV 4’s 577 litres of boot space, but it was just enough for two adults and a toddler who always over pack for a week away.
Legroom in the back seat is good – I’m at the freakish end of the height spectrum at 191cm, and I can sit behind my driving position with about a finger’s width of space between my knees and the seatback.
Like the previous CX-5 that sloping roofline can be a small practicality fail for entry and exits, especially if you’re putting kids into car seats, but that’s the price you pay for looking good.
Cabin storage is great with two cupholders in the back and two up front, there’s a large centre console storage bin with a USB port and pockets in all doors. Grades from the Maxx Sport up come with centre armrest storage in the rear with a USB port.
The CX-5 has five seats, if you're looking for a sevn seater SUV then the larger CX-9 could be for you.
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.
As with the previous CX-5 there are five grades: Maxx, Maxx Sport, Touring, GT and Akera. The most obvious change, and the one most will really notice, is the price drop. The Maxx Sport and Touring have had $400 lopped off, and the GT and Akera now cost $800 less.
Missing out on the price cut is the entry-grade Maxx. This is also the only grade you can have with a manual gearbox and is matched to a 2.0-litre petrol engine making it the most affordable in the range with a list price of $28,690 (add $2000 for the auto). The Maxx with the more powerful 2.5-litre engine lists for $33,690 and is offered only with an auto.
The Maxx Sport gives you a choice of three engines: the 2.0-litre petrol lists for $33,990, the 2.5-litre petrol is $36,990 and the 2.2-litre diesel is $39,990.
The Touring is halfway up the range and lists for $38,590 if you have it with the 2.5-litre petrol engine or $41,590 for the 2.2-litre diesel.
Getting close to the top now, the GT lists for $43,590 with the 2.5-litre petrol and $46,590 for the diesel.
The Akera lists at $46,190, and like grades below it, the diesel is $3000 more.
The standard features list has changed so little since the car launched in 2017 I can sum it up in a sentence: The Touring now gets a cool head-up display like the top two grades and the Akera now has a 360-view camera. There, that’s it.
But the standard features were already extensive on all grades, with the Maxx coming with a 7.0-inch screen with a reversing camera, digital radio and Bluetooth connectivity, a six-speaker stereo, push-button ignition, cloth seats, air-conditioning, rear parking sensors, LED headlights and 17-inch steel wheels.
The Maxx Sport adds sat nav, dual-zone climate control, auto headlights, LED fog lights and 17-inch alloy rims.
The Touring gets all the Maxx Sport's features plus the head-up display we talked about, and front parking sensors, proximity key, and black synthetic leather (which feels quite nice).
The GT adds real leather in black or white, a 10-speaker Bose stereo, power front seats and 19-inch alloys.
At the top, the Akera has all the GT bits plus the 360-degree view camera and a stack of advanced safety equipment.
Talking of safety, read on further to find out what’s protecting you on each grade.
Sounds like nothing is missing? Well, it would have been good for this update to add the excellent Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, especially considering the Maxx doesn’t come with sat nav.
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.
This is where this latest CX-5 differs most from the previous one – the engines. The offerings stay the same: two petrols – a 2.0-litre four cylinder and a 2.5-litre four cylinder – and a single 2.2-litre four-cylinder diesel. The 2.0-litre cars are front-wheel drive (FWD) and everything else is all-wheel drive (AWD).
The 2.5-litre petrol engine now comes with cylinder deactivation, allowing it to run on just two cylinders when cruising and at low speeds while the other two will join them under more load. Less fuel is being burnt, so there’s a fuel saving there.
For those mechanics out there shaking their heads and muttering into their instant coffees about potential vibrations in two-cylinder mode, well, Mazda has compensated for this issue with a counterforce to iron out the bumps.
Demonstrating Mazda’s determination to hone the combustion process further are the newly shaped intake ports which tumble the air harder and faster during the intake stroke. The height of the piston crowns has also been shortened and this strengthens that tumble flow, too. All this extra ‘tumbly’ air causes the flame to spread faster when the spark ignites.
The nozzles on the fuel injectors have been redesigned and fuel pressure increased to spray faster, too, and even the piston oil rings have been re-shaped to optimise the thickness of the oil film on the cylinder wall.
All of these advances apart from the cylinder deactivation have been adopted by the 2.0-litre petrol engine, too.
While the refinements have increased efficiency, the petrol engines also have a little more grunt. I really mean little too: the 2.5-litre’s torque has increased 1Nm for a total of 252Nm and power stays the same at 140kW, while the 2.0-litre has been given 1kW more for a total of 114kW and torque remains at 200Nm.
The 2.2-litre diesel has been overhauled. The engine now has a higher compresion ratio; there's the redesigned combustion chamber to minimise energy loss and ultra-high response injectors are designed to improve fuel economy.
A new turbocharger fitted to the diesel has led to a decent increase in output with power jumping from 129kW to 140kW and torque from 420Nm to 450Nm.
The extra grunt isn't the only benefit – Mazda says the new turbo has been designed to reduce lag in acceleration response at low revs. This turbo lag was an issue I had with the previous diesel found in the CX-5. Now that's been addressed using a two-stage turbocharger with the larger of the turbines now adopting variable geometry which will supply boost more rapidly at lower engines speeds. We’ll tell you if we reckon it’s worked in the driving section below. We’ll also let you know if the new refined method of combustion has made the diesel engine quieter, too. Those were two of the issues I had with the diesel engine in the previous CX-5.
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.
Mazda has delayed going headfirst into electric vehicle and hybrid production, preferring to refine combustion engines further, and the changes to the engines have been primarily about improving efficiency.
The figures don’t really reflect massive gains in economy, with the 2.5-litre petrol improving from a claimed 7.5L/100km to 7.4L/100km over a combination of urban and open roads. After 100km of mainly country roads our trip computer was telling us the engine was using 8.1L/100km. Don’t forget this engine is only available with AWD CX-5s.
The 2.0-litre petrol engine’s fuel economy stays the same at 6.9L/100km – again, remember this engine is only found on FWD CX-5s.
The 2.2-litre diesel benefits the most in terms of efficiency with old car’s 6.0L/100km dropping to 5.7L/100km in this new CX-5. After 150km of dirt and tarmac the tripmeter in our diesel Akera was reporting an average of 6.4L/100km.
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.
In my review of the diesel Akera last year I whinged about how noisy the engine was and then complained a bit more about the turbo lag. Well, it looks as though my views found their way back to the Mazda Motor Corporation HQ in Hiroshima because the new turbo has fixed the lag and the refinement to the combustion process seems to have reduced engine noise.
Sure, the diesel engine is still not as quiet as the 2.5-litre petrol we also tested at the launch (in Akera grade), but the increase in torque made the diesel more fun to drive with decent shove off the line.
Jumping back into the petrol made the grunt difference very apparent with the petrol having to work and rev hard to get up to speed.
Suspension, steering and brakes remain unchanged from those in the CX-5 which launched last year – but that’s no bad thing as the ride, handling and braking response is excellent for this segment.
A low seating position makes you feel part of the car rather than sitting on top of it, while good pedal feel and great communication through the steering wheel deliver confidence.
As for the CX-5's off-road capability, I suggest you don't go much further than placid dirt and gravel roads because while your CX-5 may be all-wheel drive its low ground clearnance, lack of ladder frame chassis and no high or low range four wheel drive restrict it to less adventurous activities.
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 CX-5 scored the maximum five-star ANCAP rating when it was tested in 2017, and if you look into the safety credentials you’ll see it comes with an impressive armory of technology you won’t find on some more expensive prestige cars.
Lower grades aren’t covered by as much safety tech, but all come with AEB (which works at up to 30km/h), and stepping up to the Touring adds traffic sign recognition.
For baby seats you'll find two ISOFIX mounts and three top tether anchor points across the rear row. A space saver spare wheel is under the boot floor on all grades.
There's front airbags for the passenger and driver, along with side ones, while curtain airbags extend to cover the second row.
The CX-5 that's in Australian showrooms is made in Japan at Mazda's Ujima and Hofo plants.
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 CX-5 is covered by Mazda's three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, which isn’t outstanding, but the service costs are low.
Servicing the diesel is recommended every 12 months/10,000km and is capped at $316 for the first, $386 for the second, $316 for the third, then $358 and $316 for the fifth service. The 2.5-litre petrol costs about $115 less over five years