Kia Sportage VS Mazda CX-8
- Great ride
- Good standard safety
- Great standard features
- Rivals offer AWD cheaper
- Full safety suite on GT-Line only
- Petrol engine thirsty
- Easier to park than a CX-9, with almost as much space inside
- Much more useful boot than CX-5
- Very comfortable to drive
- Big price jump between Sport and Asaki
- No CarPlay until late 2018
- No petrol option
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|
Remember Mr McGreg from The Simpsons who copped the brunt of Dr Nick Riviera? "With a leg for an arm and an arm for a leg."
It may have the long wheelbase and seven-seat layout of a CX-9 but the narrower width of a CX-5, and the headlights from the latter and tail-lights from the former, but it's all for good reasons, and plonks the new model right between the two in Mazda's very appealing SUV line-up.
This is indeed a foot in both the mid-size and large SUV camps, but also gives Mazda an answer to the emerging range of seven-seat mid-sizers like the CR-V, Kodiaq, 5008, X-Trail, Outlander, and upcoming Tiguan Allspace.
Its journey to Australia has not been an easy one, being classified as a Japan-only model when it was revealed late last year and arriving with a relatively limited model line-up and no petrol drivetrain option.
With the coat-tails of CX-5's five-year run as Australia's favourite SUV to ride on, combined with the CX-9's credentials forming the other half of its gene pool, there's a very good chance a lot of Australians will be glad it made the trip.
We were among the first to drive the CX-8 at its Australian launch this week.
|Engine Type||2.2L 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.
Mazda has taken a little of Column A and a little of Column B to bridge the gap between CX-5 and CX-9 quite nicely. It could only be better with the CX-9s petrol engine and perhaps a few more trim levels, but it's a good thing. Having said that, the sweet spot is definitely the two-wheel drive Sport, because it comes with what I consider to be all the important features, and represents the best value.
Will the CX-8 tempt you up from a CX-5 or down from a CX-9? 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.
Rather than a smaller CX-9, it's fairest to describe the CX-8 as a long-wheelbase CX-5 given it shares all panelwork from the B-pillar forward with the latter. Everything rearward is unique aside from its tail-lights, however.
CX-8 development boss Hideki Matsuoka explains his team started with the CX-9 though, with the seven seat layout a core element of the project. Rear legroom was another key criteria, which is why it uses the CX-9's 2930mm wheelbase to match the large SUV.
The rear doors have been extended accordingly to optimise rear seat access, following a formula only used by the Kodiaq, 5008 and Tiguan Allspace to date.
Retaining the CX-5's 1840mm width was also important for easier manoeuvrability, but it's worth noting that the CX-8's 11.6m turning circle is closer to the CX-9's 11.8 than the CX-5's 11.0.
The 129mm narrower body, shorter front and rear overhangs and 175mm shorter overall length than the CX-9 are certain to be beneficial when parking though.
The net result can look like an elongated CX-5 from the front three-quarter view – surprise, surprise – but in isolation it's yet another fine Kodo-era SUV design.
The interior is a similar package, with the dash and door trims from the CX-5 blending with the split-lidded centre console from the CX-9. Everything rearward is also unique, and the top-spec Asaki's presentation nudges premium brands with actual wood trim on the dash and nappa leather on the seats, particularly in the optional and CX-8-specific 'Dark Russet' colour.
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.
Mazda defines the life stage of a typical CX-8 owner as having two kids under their belt and considering a third, with the need to often bring their friends along for the ride.
This sits above the CX-3's 'young people or young couple' profile and the CX-5's 'couple thinking about kids or have a kid', but beneath the CX-9 as the go-to for large families.
The key element of the CX-8's remit is clearly the third row of seats, which has been designed to suit heights up to 170cm, which essentially means taller kids. This 172cm tester found it quite cosy, but possible, so you wouldn't want to push it much further. Legroom is officially within 5mm of the CX-9, but the limiting factor is headroom.
Access to the third row is as easy as you could hope for thanks to those long doors opening 80 degrees, with the second row sliding forward from either side with a single action. The third row also folds flat with a simple single action for either pew.
The second row is really just a narrower version of the CX-9's with the same legroom and ample headroom for this tester. It won't swallow three adults or child seats as comfortably as a CX-9, and you'd need to choose your child seat carefully if attempting the latter.
The sliding second row seat is likely to make for much more comfortable front seating with a rearward facing child seat fitted, too.
On that note, the CX-8 has the same child seat anchorage layout as the CX-9, with ISOFIX mounts for the outward second row seats, and top tether points for all five rear seats.
Despite having a shorter rear overhang than the CX-9, the CX-8 still manages to have a useful 209 litres (VDA) of space in the boot (loaded to the roof) with the third row upright, which expands to 742 litres VDA (loaded to the roof), or a much bigger space than the CX-5 with the third row folded.
Both rear rows fold flat to reveal 1727 litres (VDA) in total, and there's a further 33 litres of underfloor storage.
The CX-8 retains all the other important practicality elements, including bottle holders and cupholders for all three rows, 12-volt and USB points, and there's tri-zone climate control that gives second row passengers an extra zone, but like the CX-9 there's no individual ventilation for the third row.
If you're looking to tow with the CX-8, it carries the same 2000kg braked tow rating as the CX-9, which is 200kg ahead of the figure applied to all CX-5s.
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.
Unlike the broad variant spectrum available with other Mazdas, the CX-8 is limited to just two trim levels; Sport and Asaki.
The Sport is available in two- and all-wheel drive configurations, which carry list prices of $42,490 and $46,490 respectively and sit a significant margin beneath the $61,490 Asaki.
The CX-8 Sport slightly undercuts the petrol-only CX-9 Sport by $1400 in either two- or all-wheel drive (AWD) forms.
The nearest diesel CX-5 would be the GT diesel at $46,590, but remember that every diesel CX-5 comes with AWD.
The CX-8 Asaki is only available with AWD, and priced $12,300 more than the top-spec CX-5 Akera, but $3300 less than the top-spec CX-9 Azami. In a nutshell, it's a bit cheaper than the CX-9 at either end of the range.
The Sport's standard feature list includes all the important safety gear, which you can read about in detail below, plus cloth seat trim but leather steering wheel, three-zone climate control, 7.0-inch multimedia screen with sat nav and digital radio, but no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto until it becomes optional later this year.
Sports also come with a head-up display, active cruise control, LED auto headlights, auto wipers, heated and power folding door mirrors, plus auto-dimming rear-view mirror, and can be best identified on the outside by their 17-inch alloys.
Over the Sport, the Asaki adds things like nappa leather seat trim with power adjustable front seats, seat heaters for the first two rows, a heated steering wheel, Bose stereo, real wood trim, rear window blinds, a power tailgate, proximity keys, a 360 degree camera system, front parking sensors, adaptive headlights, plus LED daytime running lights and fog lights.
Does that sound like an extra $15,000 worth? I'm not sure, particularly given the best way to pick the Asaki on the outside is by its bigger 19-inch alloys.
Mazda expects the two-wheel drive (2WD) Sport to represent 60 per cent of CX-8 sales, with the AWD version just 10 per cent, and the top Asaki making up the remaining 30 per cent.
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.
Yes, the CX-8 is diesel only, in a similar way to the CX-9's petrol-only status. The CX-8 was designed exclusively for diesel-loving Japan, which doesn't get the bigger CX-9 which was largely developed to suit petrol-loving US tastes.
Australia's proven love for Mazdas – currently the number two brand in our market - got the local business case across the line, which also included New Zealand. Fun fact: This leaves the Antipodean markets as the only two in the world to retail both CX-8 and CX-9.
The CX-5's relative breadth of drivetrain options comes down to the mid-size SUV's global appeal.
The 2.2-litre twin-turbo-diesel is the same revised 140kW/450Nm unit fitted recently to the CX-5 and Mazda6. Maximum torque is available from just 2000rpm, which helps mask the six-speed torque converter auto's relatively low ratio count.
AWD versions come with the clever 'i-ACTIV' drive system, which embraces numerous sensors to predict surface changes before the tyre encounters them and react accordingly.
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 2WD CX-8 Sport carries an impressive 5.7L/100km official combined fuel consumption figure, and the two AWD variants are only 0.3L behind at 6.0L/100km.
The 2WD CX-8 figure matches diesel CX-5s, which are AWD, and compares with the 8.4 and 8.8 figures applied to 2WD and AWD versions of the CX-9 respectively.
With the 72 litre fuel tank from the 2WD CX-9, this suggests a very impressive theoretical range of 1263km for the 2WD CX-8, or 1200km from the AWDs.
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.
My first impression behind the wheel is very diesel CX-5, which is of course a good thing.
If you've been following Mazda's recent efforts with refinement in the updated 6 and CX-5, you'll be pleased to know the same formula has been applied to the CX-8. These cars are achieving their goal of troubling the established premium brands for comfort.
You can certainly feel the extra length over the CX-5, and for the most part this means better ride comfort over bumps as there's less pitching forward and backwards.
It also feels longer when chucking a U-turn or parking – don't forget that extra 60cm of turning circle.
As always, the 2.2-litre turbo-diesel makes for relaxed cruising, but you can feel the effect of the extra 200 kilos of weight over the CX-5. It's not quite as spritely, but still more than enough for highway overtaking, and it's still more nimble around corners than a proper large SUV.
The CX-8 would probably be a better package with the CX-9's turbo-petrol, but the diesel's economy will probably win over a lot of buyers, particularly with that huge theoretical range between fills.
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-8 is yet to be tested by ANCAP to see if it's worthy of the maximum five star ratings applied to the CX-5 and CX-9, but an announcement is expected in the near future.
Mazda expects it will get top marks, so our safety score is a tentative on that basis. Do check before signing on the dotted line.
Both trim levels come with airbags covering all three rows, front and rear AEB, reversing camera, rear parking sensors with cross traffic alerts, traffic sign recognition, auto high beams, blind-spot monitoring, lane guidance and lane departure warning.
The Asaki adds rear parking sensors, proximity keys and active headlights.
One feature Japanese CX-8s miss out on, which Australian versions don't, is 'Intelligent Speed Assistance'.
This coordinates the active cruise control with the traffic sign recognition to automatically adjust your speed as you pass through different speed zones. This is likely to be particularly popular with Victorian CX-8 owners...
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-8 is covered by Mazda's regular three year/unlimited kilometre warranty, which is starting to look a bit brief among the many five year and beyond periods on offer from other manufacturers.
The 'Mazda Service Select' capped price servicing plan applies, if 12 month/10,000km intervals are adhered to. Base scheduled maintenance for the first three services will set you back $318, $458 and $318 respectively.