Kia Sportage VS Nissan Pathfinder
- Great ride
- Good standard safety
- Great standard features
- Rivals offer AWD cheaper
- Full safety suite on GT-Line only
- Petrol engine thirsty
- Tough looks the N-Trek brings
- Spacious interior
- Big boot
- Interior starting to date
- No Apple CarPlay or Android Auto
- Thirsty engine
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|
Do you like Nissan's Pathfinder yet find it lacking a certain something? Masculinity perhaps, musculature, or just a sense of menace, rather than middle-of-the-road nice-ness? If you've always hankered after a seven-seat family hauler with a mean streak, or at least a mean look, then you’re going to love the Pathfinder N-Trek special edition.
So, what makes this Pathfinder an N-Trek and how much does it cost to look this tough?
We tested the new Pathfinder N-Trek to find out.
|Fuel Type||Premium 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 Pathfinder is a comfortable, practical seven-seat SUV and the N-Trek special edition adds a tough and stylish look. Research has shown that special editions generally don’t fetch more money when it comes time to sell, so keep this in mind and enjoy the unique look of the N-Trek rather than thinking you’ve bought a collector’s car.
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 N-Trek pack adds a menacing look to the Pathfinder, making it look more mafia family than just family. As mentioned above, the N-Trek edition adds the black grille, black roof rails, black door handles, black mirror caps, plus front and rear lower bumper trim in black. I’m a fan of the sinister look the accessories bring and it suits the Gun Metallic grey paint my test car wore (see the photos I took) perfectly. The Pathfinder N-Trek special edition comes in four colours, so along with the grey there’s Ivory Pearl, Diamond Black and Caspian Blue.
What do you think of those wheels? They’re unique to the Pathfinder N-Trek, too, but I’m not the biggest fan of the design.
The cabin doesn’t get anything in the way of N-Trek equipment – it’s the same cabin as you’ll find in the ST+ and ST-L, which is beginning to age in terms of its design and equipment, with the small screen being the most obvious example. Still, it’s a comfortable and premium-feeling cabin, especially in the ST-L with its leather seats.
Measuring 5042mm end to end, 1963mm wide and 1793mm tall, the Pathfinder isn't petite.
Like most Korean SUVs, the Sportage has the idea of practicality cooked-in throughout its cabin. It starts in the front row, where the driver and passenger have access to some large cupholders in the doors and centre console (suitable for 500ml containers), a decently sized top-box and glovebox, as well as a very large trench in front of the shift-lever, which also hosts the USB and aux inputs, as well as dual 12V power outlets.
In the back seat, there are plenty of amenities, with decently sized cupholders in each door, pockets on the back of the seats, air-conditioning vents on the back of the console as well as dual power outlets. Another neat trick is that the Sportage has reclining rear seats, allowing extra comfort for rear-seat passengers, or extra boot space where required.
To its credit, the boot space is easy to use and comes with an adjustable rolling cover. Part of the reduction in sheer capacity is due to a full-size alloy spare living under the boot floor – a big bonus for regional buyers, who may need one as a matter of safety.
Leg and headroom are simply great, no matter which seat you’re sitting in, and the big rear doors on the Sportage open nice and wide – good for low-mobility passengers or those needing to fit a child-seat.
The Pathfinder is a seven-seater SUV and practicality is its main strength.
Space up front is excellent, with good head, shoulder and elbow room, even for somebody with my two-metre wingspan and 191cm height. I can sit behind my driving position and behind that in the third row without my knees touching any of the seat backs.
Directional air vents in all three rows, plus large windows make life more comfortable for everybody. So does the raised second row, which offers a view over the top of the driver and co-pilot.
The floor does seem overly elevated in the Pathfinder, which places the knees of second and third-row passengers higher. For a model comparison see the Pathfinder ST+ vs Holden Acadia LT video.
Boot space with the third-row seats up is 453 litres, opening up to 1354 litres with them folded flat and the second row in place. You’ll find extra storage space under the boot floor.
Cabin storage is excellent with 10 cupholders (yes, 10) on board (two up front, four in the second row and another four in the back row); large door pockets, a tray in front of the shifter and a deep centre-console storage bin.
For charging and media there are three 12-volt and two USB outlets up front and two USB charging points and a media USB port in the second row.
Room for improvement? Well, the Pathfinder could do with wireless charging and it’s also lacking USB ports in the third row.
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.
Available on the ST + and ST-L grades, the N-Trek editions come with a $1500 price increase over the grades they’re based on.
The front-wheel-drive Pathfinder ST+ N-Trek lists for $46,840, while the front-wheel-drive ST-L N-Trek is $57,140. As for the four-wheel-drive versions: the ST+ N-Trek is $50,340 and the ST-L N-Trek is $60,640.
The N-Trek edition brings a body kit with black elements for a stealthy look. There’s the black grille, black roof rails, black door handles, black mirror caps, plus front and rear lower bumper trim in… you guessed it – black.
Standard features on the ST+ N-Trek include an eight-inch touchscreen, sat nav, a reversing camera with all-round-view monitor, a six-speaker stereo, DVD player, privacy glass, rear parking sensors and three-zone climate control.
Stepping up to the ST-L N-Trek adds a 13-speaker Bose stereo, LED headlights, sunroof, leather seats, front fog lights, heated side mirrors and power adjustable driver and front passenger seats.
Is the special edition worth the extra $1500 over the regular model? That depends how you look at the extra costs – some would see it as just different coloured paint but others would see it as paying for uniqueness, and there won’t be many Pathfinders that look like yours. Yes, you could have similar enhancements done yourself, but it’ll cost you more, if done properly. Nissan has done it for you with genuine accessories.
A better question to ask is: does the Pathfinder’s price in general represents good value? Well the current Pathfinder is getting old now and it’s not loaded with the latest equipment, such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, such as you’ll find in the Holden Acadia or Mazda CX-9. In those terms it’s not great value any more, but Nissan will fix this when the new-generation Pathfinder arrives next year.
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 N-Trek special edition comes with the same 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine found in the regular Pathfinder, with the same 202kW and 340Nm outputs. The continuously variable transmission (CVT) is smooth, although it produces lacklustre acceleration, accompanied by a droning sound that you might find annoying.
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 Pathfinder N-Trek ST+ and ST-L both have a 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine and Nissan says after a combination of open and urban roads the four-wheel-drive version should use 10.1L/100km, while the front-wheel-drive only uses a coffee mug less at 9.9L/100km. In my own testing of the four-wheel-drive Pathfinder I’ve measured the combined consumption to be 14.9L/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.
The Pathfinder N-Trek was tested on about 130km of winding country roads, which at times turned from bitumen into loose gravel. My test car was the ST+ grade with four-wheel drive, although there should be no difference in the way it drives over the ST-L version.
I’ve said it before in reviews of the Pathfinder – this is an easy and comfortable large SUV to drive, with light steering, good visibility and plenty of grunt.
That said, the Pathfinder felt a bit challenged when pushed on the twisty, tight roads, with plenty of body roll to remind me that it was a two-tonne, five-metre-long metal box. If anything, it’s a compliment to how insulated from the world you are in the cabin.
The loose gravel roads we took also seemed to unsettle the Pathfinder at times. I pulled over, selected four-wheel drive and watched the display screen show drive split 50-50 between the front and back axles. The problem was that our as speed was increased the system switched to Auto, which decides on the fly how to distribute the drive, but tends to choose a heavy bias towards the front.
The Pathfinder’s 180mm ground clearance rules out anything more challenging than dirt and gravel roads, but a 2700kg braked towing capacity makes this SUV a great choice for hauling trailers and caravans – although you should know it likes to drink petrol.
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 Pathfinder was given the maximum five-star ANCAP rating when it was tested in 2013. Coming standard is advanced safety technology such as AEB, blind-spot warning, rear cross traffic alert and adaptive cruise control.
There are rear parking sensors, but not front ones, which is odd.
The rear-view camera is good, and these grades come with a 360-degree moving-object-detection system – which is great for when kids are running around the car.
For child seats you’ll find two ISOFIX mounts and three top-tether points in the second row, and a third top-tether point in the right-hand-side seat in the third row.
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 Pathfinder ST+ is covered by Nissan’s five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.
Servicing is recommended every 10,000km or 12 months. As a guide you can expect to pay $290 for the first service, $309 for the next, $458 for the third, $367 for the fourth, $314 for the fifth and $502 for the sixth.