Kia Sportage VS Mini Countryman
- Great ride
- Good standard safety
- Great standard features
- Rivals offer AWD cheaper
- Full safety suite on GT-Line only
- Petrol engine thirsty
- More mature looks
- Safety overhaul
- Still fun to drive
- Ride can feel overly firm on standard suspension
- No Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
- Inevitable price hikes
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|
Andrew Chesterton road tests and reviews the new Mini Countryman Cooper, Cooper D, Cooper S and Cooper SD All4 with specs, fuel consumption and verdict at its Australian launch in Canberra.
Mini's new Countryman is officially the least mini Mini ever made. So un-Mini, in fact, it now stretches over 4 metres in length for the first time ever. It's also taller and wider than the car it replaces, making it the biggest Mini ever produced by the brand.
But there's method to Mini's super-sizing madness, with the brand desperate to make sure its new Countryman isn't just big, but is also a big deal for the first time in its brief history.
The outgoing model makes up about 15 per cent of Mini's sales in Australia - despite playing in the most popular segment - and the brand's bosses reckon they know the problem. Internal surveys reveal more than 30 per cent of people who were considering a Countryman, but ended up buying something else, did so because it was too small and impractical to be used as a family car.
And so it's grown in every direction. Its now 20cm longer, 1.5cm taller and 3.3cm wider, and it sits on a 7.5cm longer wheelbase. And while those numbers might not sound massive, it makes a difference in the cabin, and adds an extra 100 litres of boot space.
So is a maximised Mini a good thing?
|Engine Type||2.0L 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.
Bigger is better for Mini's Countryman. More space, more technology and with a more mature styling treatment, the Countryman finally offers the right ingredients to appear on family shopping lists.
2017 Mini Countryman range specifications
Price: From $39,900
Fuel consumption: 6.0L/100km (Cooper), 4.8L/100km (Cooper D) 6.5L/100km (Cooper S), 5.2L/100km (Cooper SD)
Tank: 51 litres
Warranty: 3 years/unlimited
Service Interval: Condition based
Engine: 1.5-litre petrol, 100kW/220Nm, 2.0-litre diesel, 110kW/330Nm, 2.0-litre petrol, 141kW/280Nm, 2.0-litre diesel, 140kW/400Nm.
Transmission: 6-sp auto/8-spd auto
Spare: Run flats
Turning circle: 11.4m diameter
Dimensions: 4,299mm (L), 1,822mm (W), 1,557mm (H)
Would you prefer a Countryman to an X1 or a Q2? 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.
Like an old-school Mini that's been stung by something flying and horrible, the Countryman has swollen in every direction, with Mini also smoothing out some of the design quirks of the outgoing model.
A redesigned grille and bonnet give the front end a calmer, more mature look, while the higher roof line and the fact the 18-inch alloy wheels have been positioned at the furthest corners of the car make the Countryman seem bigger but more well-proportioned than the car it replaces.
Inside, there's a half-premium, half-techy air to the cabin. All models get well-bolstered, leather-trim seats, a meaty steering wheel and some genuinely cool touchpoints including the bright-red switch that fires up the engine. The dash is still dominated by a huge and light-ringed (part of a more extensive illumination set up that also shines ambient lighting in the footwell) circular display that houses the multimedia screen, while the air-vents have now been placed vertically.
There's a new-found maturity to the cabin. Nicer materials, less in-your-face dials and a genuine sense of premium. The cabin lighting is hit and miss though, but the little Mini dial that lights up on the sidewalk as you approach and unlock the car will surely put a smile on some owner's faces.
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.
Growth is good for Countryman buyers, with more room for passengers and luggage. Shoulder room and leg room have both grown (albeit by about 5cm), and the interior never feels cramped no matter whether you're sitting in the front or the back.
Boot space has increased, too, growing from 350 litres to 450 litres with the 40:20:40 rear seat in place, and from 1,170 to 1,390 when it is folded flat.
Standard fit includes two cup holders for front seat passengers, plus room in the doors for bottles, but both the S and SD models also get a pull-down divider in the rear seat that houses another two. There's two ISOFIX attachment points, one in each window seat in the back.
Price and features
You did read that right, the Sportage range – despite looking exactly the same as last year’s iteration – has received a mild nip and tuck, which includes new variants and pricing. As before, the Sportage range is offered with a choice of three engines, two petrols and a diesel, with either front- or all-wheel drive across four trim levels. All prices on the Sportage range are drive-away.
Kicking off the range is the S, which is available as a 2.0-litre petrol front-wheel drive in either a re-introduced six-speed manual ($28,990), six-speed auto ($29,990) or as an eight-speed auto diesel AWD ($36,990).
Standard spec, even on the entry-level car, is impressive. Included are 17-inch alloy wheels (no steelies here), LED DRLs (but halogen headlights), leather-trimmed wheel and shift-lever, hard-wearing cloth seat trim, a 3.5-inch dot-matrix info screen in the dash, a 7.0-inch multimedia touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android auto support, dual-zone climate control, as well as rear parking sensors and camera. Another nice touch is that the base S model also scores auto rain-sensing wipers as standard.
Considering the standard active-safety suite explored in the safety section of this review, the S could easily be the pick of the range of any other SUV lineup, but our pick is still the mid-grade SX (previously known as the Si).
Available in the same three drivetrain choices at a $2500 premium, the SX adds larger 18-inch alloy wheels, front-facing parking sensors, a more impressive-looking 8.0-inch touchscreen with DAB+ digital radio and built-in sat-nav, backed by an eight-speaker JBL audio system. We’d say the extra spice is well worth it, making the SX our pick.
Jumping up to the SX Plus (previously the SLi) adds leather seat trim (which is hard-wearing, but isn’t the most luxurious-feeling fake leather on the market), an upgrade to the visual treatment with chrome and gloss black highlights, a larger colour TFT screen embedded in the dash, and, for the first time in a mid-grade Sportage, a powered tailgate. The SX Plus is well equipped, but if you can do without leather seat trim, it's not really worth the $7000 like-for-like switch up from the SX…
Available as an all-wheel-drive only, the penultimate Sportage is the GT-Line. Finally gaining a full suite of LED front lights and, frustratingly, the only way to specify a Sportage with blind-spot monitoring, active cruise control and rear cross traffic alert, the GT-Line is relatively expensive, even for the segment, at $46,490 for the 2.4-litre six-speed auto petrol or $49,490 for the eight-speed auto turbo diesel.
Other fruit for the extra money includes a sports bodykit, aggressive 19-inch alloy wheels, a panoramic sunroof, flat-bottomed sports steering wheel, a wireless phone-charging bay, and an automatic-parking suite.
The bad news first: there's pricing pain right across the streamlined Countryman line-up, with the like-for-like cost of entry into an automatic model climbing by $3,400, and the cheaper still manual option banished from the line up altogether.
The range now kicks off with the entry-level Cooper, now starting from $39,900, sitting below the Cooper D at $43,900. The first of the fun-flavoured variants arrives next, the $46,500 Cooper S, with the 2017 line-up topping out with the $51,500 Cooper SD (Sport Diesel) All4 - the only model to get all-wheel drive.
You do get a heap more kit for your money, though, even if some of the items really should have been included on the outgoing model, too. You get a reversing camera for the first time, for example, but you'll also find front and rear parking sensors, an auto-parking system, cruise control, 18-inch alloys and a powered boot you can open by waving your foot under the rear bumper.
Elsewhere, expect leather-trimmed seats, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry, a 6.5-inch screen (still not a touchscreen, but you can option one) paired with a six-speaker stereo and an admittedly cool light system that illuminates the Mini logo on the footpath when you unlock the car.
But the big news is the standard safety equipment that makes an appearance even on the entry-level Cooper. But more on that under our Safety heading.
Spring for the Cooper D and you'll find the same kit, but add two gears to your automatic gearbox, now an eight-speed. The Cooper S adds a sports transmission, a rear centre armrest, LED headlights and the steering wheel from the John Cooper Works models. You also get a drive-mode selector, but adjustable dampers are a cost option. The SD model gets the same as the S, only with all-wheel drive.
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.
Things kick off with a less-than-exciting three-cylinder engine housed within the entry-level Cooper. The 1.5-litre power plant produces 100kW at 4,400rpm and 220Nm from 1,400rpm, fed through a six-speed automatic before being sent to the front wheels. It'll squeeze a 9.6sec zero-to-100km/h sprint out of the cheapest Countryman.
Step up to the Cooper D and you'll find a 2.0-litre diesel under the bonnet producing 110kW at 4,000Nm and 330Nm from 1,750rpm. It will reduce the sprint time to 8.8secs, using the first of the eight-speed automatics in the Countryman line up.
The sporty Cooper S squeezes 141kW at 5,000rpm and 280Nm from 1,350rpm from its 2.0-litre petrol engine, channeled to the front wheels via an eight-speed sports automatic, which is enough to produce a 7.4sec sprint to 100km/h.
Finally, the Cooper SD All4 gets a 2.0-litre diesel donk producing 140kW at 4,000rpm and an impressive 400Nm from 1,750rpm, fed to all four wheels through an eight-speed sports automatic. The 100km/h sprint takes an identical 7.4 seconds, however.
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 entry-level Cooper will sip a claimed/combined 6.0 litres per hundred kilometres and produce 138g per kilometre of C02. The Cooper D is the most miserly of the Countryman family, returning 4.8 litres per hundred kilometres on the claimed/combined cycle, and will produce a 126g per kilometre of CO2.
The sportier models will predictably cost you more at the pump, with the Cooper S drinking 6.5 litres per hundred kilometres (claimed/combined) and emitting 149 grams of CO2 per kilometre, while the Cooper SD need 5.2 litres on the same cycle, while emitting 138 grams of C02 per kilometres.
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.
There's s reason F1 cars don't offer much boot space, and that's because bigger is rarely better in the slippery world of aerodynamics and performance. So the model we were most excited about driving - the overgrown Cooper S - was also the one we approached with the most trepidation.
Happily, it still feels the most urgent of the current crop (a JCW version is still en route) with a zero-to-100km/h time that doesn't set the world on fire, but equally doesn't feel anything resembling slow. The optional variable dampers ($700) make a different on rougher road surfaces, with the harsh and jarring ride of old banished in favour of something a little more smooth, but no less connected.
Equally important, though, is that its weight gain hasn't hurt it in backroad hillclimbs. While the tired old "like a go-kart" description can't be applied to something now the the genuine size of a small SUV, it still feels constantly planted to the road, with direct steering and plenty of feedback fed through the meaty steering wheel.
Step up to the range topper, the diesel-powered SD All4 and things take a turn for the weirder. On paper, the all-wheel-drive model should kill it. A mere kilowatt less power than the Cooper S, but a bucketload more torque, along with the ability to channel that power though a clever all-wheel-drive system should see it devour the sprint. But with that extra kit comes extra kilos (1530kg versus 1460kg), and so the offical time is bang-on that of the petrol-powered S.
But it never feels as quick in the real world. It lacks some of the free-revving fun of the petrol, instead choosing the next gear early in the rev range in automatic mode, and flat-out refusing to shift down a gear as you approach a corner should you take over the shifting via the manual paddles. It feel no less planted than the Cooper S, and it grips and sits beautifully on the twister stuff, but the fun factor just isn't the same.
While we didn't sample the Cooper D, we spent some time in the fun and frugal Cooper. Its three-cylinder engine offers enough power to keep you entertained in the city, but things get a little less fun out on the open road where the climb from 80km/h to 100km/h can feel eternal. The ride, too, feels rougher, with the suspension set to a sportier ride which allows harsher bumps into the cabin.
But all of that stuff will fade into obscurity when you're off the twisting roads and back in the city - and let's face it, that's where the Countryman will spend the bulk of its time. And it's here where Mini's changes make the most sense. The cabin feels light and airy, you can fit more stuff in the boot, the interior treatment is first-class and the addition of crucial driving aids will make day-to-day driving so much easier.
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 Countryman has gone from one of the worst in show (no reversing camera?) to one of the strongest standard safety performers. The now-standard reversing camera joins front and rear parking sensors and an automatic parking system that will take over the steering for you when manoeuvring into a tight spot.
But you'll now also find Mini's Driver Assistant Package, which includes forward collision warning with pedestrian detection and AEB, and street-sign recognition that reads the signs as you pass them and displays that info on the in-car screen. You can add to that active cruise that will come to a complete stop with traffic before accelerating to speed again, and five airbags (dual front airbags, a side airbag for the driver and two curtain airbags covering both rows of seats).
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 Mini Countryman is covered by a three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty and requires what BMW calls "condition-based servicing", meaning your car is serviced when it needs to be, rather than after a predetermined amount of kilometres. Owners can prepay their maintenance costs for five years or 80,000km for $1,240.