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Kia Sportage


Subaru Outback

Summary

Kia Sportage

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.

Safety rating
Engine Type
Fuel TypeRegular Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency7.9L/100km
Seating5 seats

Subaru Outback

It’s hard to think how Subaru could improve the popularity of the Outback. The current-generation model is easily the most successful version ever - but, as sure as dessert follows dinner, it’s time for a mid-life update for the high-riding wagon.

And this is it: the Subaru Outback 2018 model, a facelifted and tweaked version of the Japanese SUV that has just launched in Australia.

While at first glance the changes appear to be fairly minor, let's go through it in detail and take a good look at what’s changed. 

Safety rating
Engine Type2.5L
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency7.3L/100km
Seating5 seats

Verdict

Kia Sportage7.6/10

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.


Subaru Outback7.9/10

Subaru may not have really needed to make all these changes to its popular Outback model, but they sure have been worthwhile. 

In particular, in 2.5i Premium guise, this is a much improved model. It’ll be sure to attract plenty of SUV shoppers.

Do you like what the Subaru Outback offers in a segment full of mid-size SUV competitors? Let us know in the comments below.

Design

Kia Sportage8/10

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.


Subaru Outback9/10

It was already pretty attractive, and the minor changes made to the 2018 Subaru Outback - in my view - make it even more so.

There have been plenty of subtle adjustments to the exterior styling, including a new grille, new bumpers, new headlights - including adaptive LEDs and auto high-beam on high-spec models like this one - and there are redesigned wing mirrors that help cut wind noise.

There are new alloy wheel designs for all models - the base model 2.0D retains its bump-friendly 17-inch wheels, while the rest of the trim levels have 18-inch rims. All models have those signature roof rails which will allow for a roof rack set-up, and of course the accessories catalogue includes things like bike racks, too. 

The high-spec models in Australia keep the wheel-arch cladding, while the lower-spec models miss out. An interesting tidbit - all US models miss out on the cladding.

Because the Outback isn’t a sporty model, there is no conventional body kit or chrome exhaust tips, but I guess you could consider the underbody protection, lower sill side skirts and hatch-mounted rear spoiler to be a bit sporty…?

Plus there are new colours (or colors, depending on where you’re reading this) available - 'Crimson Red Pearl' and 'Wilderness Green Metallic' - which join the existing 'Crystal Black', 'Tungsten' (which almost looks gold in some lights), 'Ice Silver', 'Dark Blue', 'Dark Grey', 'Crystal White', 'Lapis Blue', 'Platinum Grey', and 'Oak Brown'. There’s no bright orange like the XV, though. A nice bonus for buyers is that none of the paint finishes cost extra. 

Helping differentiate the higher-spec models are redesigned LED headlights in the Outback 2.5i Premium, 3.6R and 2.0D Premium, and they are integrated with 'Steering Responsive Headlights' (SRH) and the 'Adaptive Driving Beam' (ADB) functions. So, the beam will move with the steering wheel, and they’ll dip for oncoming traffic, too.

Nothing has changed in terms of interior dimensions or size, and you can see from our interior photos there have been some changes - the top-spec models still get leather, but the range now sees a few material changes here and there. Read on for more detail.

Practicality

Kia Sportage8/10

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.

On the topic of boot space, the Sportage is decent but not stellar. Its 466-litre (VDA) capacity is easily eclipsed by the Nissan X-Trail (565L), Toyota RAV4 (580L), and five-seat Honda CR-V (522L).

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.


Subaru Outback9/10

Across the Outback line-up there are some changes to materials used, including some piano black finishes here and there, and extra stitching as well. I’m a big fan of the new climate control knobs, which have little digital displays in them, a bit like an Audi. 

There’s a new, brighter, and more impressive looking media system, which measures 8.0 inches in the top variants, while the entry-grade models have a 6.5-inch screen. 

The high-spec versions with the 8.0-inch screen get built-in sat nav, but all models now come with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto - and the media unit is a really impressive system to use, even though the old one wasn’t all that bad.

There is Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, plus two USB ports for connecting/charging devices. 

The back seat has been improved, too, with a pair of USB ports added there as well. And the essentials are all covered - you will find a cup holder or two in the front (between the front seats) and the back (in a fold-down armrest), and bottle holders in all four doors.

  

As for space, there’s enough toe, leg and headroom for 183cm (six-foot) adults like me, and if you have small children the dual ISOFIX points and three top tether points will be handy. If you’re a shorter driver, if your seat is a long way forward, you may wish for a seat belt extender - but there isn’t one.

A lot of buyers choose the Outback because its wagon body offers a more family-friendly storage size than some of its rival SUVs, which cost as much (or more) but have smaller boots. The Outback’s boot dimensions allow for 512 litres of boot space (VDA) with the seats up and 1801L of luggage capacity with the seats down - is a super practical option for mums and dads. 

 

Plus, if you actually plan to venture to the outback you will appreciate the full-size alloy spare wheel under the boot floor. Sales reps might like to invest in a cargo barrier (there are two types available from Subaru) or boot liner, and there’s a cargo / tonneau cover included.  

So the cabin is very family-friendly - but on the whole, the Outback is pretty friendly on the wallet, too.

Price and features

Kia Sportage8/10

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.


Subaru Outback7/10

How much does a Subaru Outback cost? Well, that depends on the variant and the drivetrain. But here’s a guide, a sort of price list because the range spans quite a large bracket. The prices below are all before on-road costs (rrp), not drive away - you might find deals on the company’s site, or at your friendly Subaru dealer. 

There are five variants in the range, so let’s compare models from the bottom to the top.

Opening the line-up is the 2.5i, which is priced from $36,240, and the list of included equipment is extensive. There’s Subaru’s 'EyeSight' driver assist system with adaptive cruise control and auto emergency braking (AEB) (plus a lot more - see the safety section below), a reversing camera, the brand’s 'X-Mode' traction control system, and dual-zone climate control air conditioning with rear vents.

There are rain-sensing wipers, auto headlights (halogen - not even projector beam, HID or xenon - not great if you do a lot of night driving) with daytime running lights, front fog-lights, rear window tint and an electric park brake.

The exterior has a small spoiler on the tailgate, roof rails in black, silver underbody protection and 18-inch wheels. 

If you want a bit more kit for your money, then you might want to opt for the 2.5i Premium, which starts at $42,640, and aside from wheelarch cladding, most of the changes are inside.

You get inclusions such as electric front seat adjustment, heated front seats (but no heated steering wheel, unlike our friends in the US), a sunroof (not a panoramic sunroof, just a regular front-seat-benefit-only one), powered and heated side mirrors, keyless entry with push button start, and leather seats.

You also step up to LED headlights (including auto high-beam and steering responsive light) in this spec, and you get a powered tailgate.

As with the four-cylinder boxer petrol models, there are two derivatives of the four-cylinder diesel to pick from.

The more affordable version is the 2.0D available with a CVT auto at $38,740. You used to be able to buy an Outback diesel with a manual transmission, but that version has been dropped due to low demand. 

The Outback 2.0D is the only variant that rides on 17-inch wheels (an inch smaller than the rest), but otherwise it almost mirrors the spec of the 2.5i.

Then there’s the 2.0D Premium, which is automatic only, and has a list price of $45,640. It largely mirrors the 2.5i Premium spec.

The flagship model is 3.6R, which has a list price of $49,140.

It is definitely the most premium package of this bunch. Its sound system is upgraded with 12 harman/kardon speakers plus a subwoofer and amp, as well as model-distinct styling elements such as a chrome side-sill garnish and silver roof rails. The 3.6R also gets a three-mode 'SI-Drive' drive mode selector, where other petrol variants get a two-mode set-up.

In terms of infotainment, there is a 6.5-inch multimedia screen in the lower grades (2.0D and 2.5i), while the 8.0-inch touch screen in the Premium versions and the 3.6R includes a built in GPS / navigation system.

But buyers of the base models shouldn’t fear - every Outback comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, meaning you can use your iPhone or other smartphone as a sat nav system. 

There’s Bluetooth phone and audio streaming for MP3 playback, a CD player (not a CD changer, though), and the new media system has NFC connection, so you don't even need to go through the pairing process with a suitable phone. 

Of course there is AM/FM radio, but DAB radio (digital) isn’t fitted and there is no DVD player. And as advanced as the media unit is, there’s no Homelink app to open your garage smart door. 

There’s a detailed trip computer with digital speed read-out in all models, and every version comes with a sunglass holder in the headlining. And because there are dual USB ports in the back of every model, there’s no need for a rear seat entertainment system - the kids can BYO.

In addition to the standard features, there are plenty of options on Subaru’s Outback accessories list, including a range of luggage pods, protective film for the paint, and bike and kayak holders.

If you were hoping for a nudge bar, bull bar or snorkel, you’ll have to shop around elsewhere: just make sure those items don’t void your warranty, and are airbag compliant. 

Surprisingly, you only get floor mats from the accessories catalogue - they’re not standard in any model - and we recommend the boot-lip and bumper protector if you use the boot a lot.

How many seats in the Outback? Simple - five! There is no third row, which could rule out this model for some buyers - maybe take a look at the similarly-sized Nissan X-Trail or Mitsubishi Outlander.

Engine & trans

Kia Sportage7/10

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.


Subaru Outback7/10

As mentioned above, there are three options to choose from in the Outback range - two petrols, and a diesel. Horsepower outputs of all three engines remain the same as they were before - but there’s still no turbo petrol motor. 

The entry-level 2.5-litre four-cylinder ‘boxer’ horizontally-opposed engine produces 129kW of power and 235Nm of torque. It can only be had with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) automatic transmission, which has a seven-speed manual mode.

The 2.5-litre drivetrain have been tweaked for better response and economy, and the CVT auto has seen some changes, too. 

At the top of the range (and with the biggest engine size) is the single 3.6R model, with - you guessed it - a 3.6-litre horizontally-opposed six-cylinder as in the Liberty, which still has 191kW of power and 350Nm of torque. It only comes with a CVT.

Models bearing the 2.0D suffix are powered by a 2.0-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder boxer engine with 110kW of power and 350Nm of torque. There used to be a six-speed manual transmission, but not anymore - so if you’re still going through the manual vs automatic argument in your head, you might have to seek out a pre-facelift manual version. 

The 2.0D models have a diesel particulate filter, and anecdotally I’ve read a few things about diesel engine problems as a result - but nothing to lose sleep over. 

You may have heard about older Subarus and some expensive major services and thought to yourself, “I wonder if the 2018 Outback has a timing belt or chain?” Then you’ll be happy to learn it has a chain, which never needs to be replaced … but items like the battery will still need the occasional replacement. If you’re quite a hands-on owner, you’ll be able to find out the oil type and capacity in the owner’s manual.  

Every Outback is all-wheel drive, where some other SUVs against which it will compete have cheaper front-wheel drive options. But, obviously, the AWD system of the Outback is an advantage - it mightn’t be as hardcore as a proper 4x4 or 4WD, but it can handle more than you’d think. 

At this point in time, there is no LPG, plug-in hybrid or EV version of the Outback, so it’ll boil down to diesel vs petrol. 

When it comes to towing capacity, the load hauling ability of each of the Outback models is relatively low.

Fit a tow bar to your Outback 2.5i model and you will be limited to pulling a 1500kg trailer with brakes, while the carrying limit for the 2.0D model is 1700kg, leaving the 3.6R as the best bet, with 1800kg of capacity.  All models have a 750kg limit for un-braked trailers. 

The gross vehicle weight / tare mass depends on the variant: the 2.5i is 1557kg, the 2.5i Premium is 1588kg, where the 3.6R tips the scales at 1662kg. The 2.0D weighs 1645kg, where the better-equipped 2.0D Premium is 1684kg.

Fuel consumption

Kia Sportage6/10

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.


Subaru Outback8/10

Fuel economy, fuel consumption figures - no matter which way you want to address it, there’s one Outback that’s better than the others for mileage - it’s the diesel. 

The Outback 2.0D is claimed to use 6.3L/100km. If you do a lot of highway distance, this is the one for you - it isn’t unusual to sit below the 6.0L/100km mark in such situations.

The 2.5i petrol model uses 7.3 litres per 100 kilometres. The changes made to the engine and transmission haven’t affected its claimed consumption, and during our time in this spec model we saw 8.0L/100km. 

The 3.6R six-cylinder version has a claimed consumption figure of 9.9L/100km, and you can expect to see around that 10.0L/100km mark in most situations.

And if you’re concerned about long-distance driving, every Outback has a fuel tank capacity of 60 litres. A decent size, but you’ll need to go for the diesel if you want the most out of it. 

Driving

Kia Sportage8/10

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.


Subaru Outback8/10

As is the case with the 2018 Liberty, the 2018 Outback has seen quite a few changes made to the way the car drives, too, and the most noticeable is the transmission in the petrol four-cylinder model. 

The 2.5i variants are the biggest-selling versions, accounting for three-quarters of sales, and as such it’s no surprise that this drivetrain has seen the most attention from the company - in fact, the diesel and six-cylinder versions are unchanged in terms of their powertrains.

The 2.5i’s engine has been tweaked for better response and economy, and the CVT auto has been adjusted for quicker response. And in regular driving, the powertrain is much improved.

There is better response when you put your foot down suddenly, and it also feels more like a ‘regular’ transmission than a CVT, with the ‘steps’ as you gather speed a little more noticeable.

That said, it isn’t a powerhouse engine - you won’t struggle up hills or anything, but there is no denying the gruntier six-cylinder is more rewarding to drive, and more effortless. 

Still, if 0-100km/h times, speed and acceleration really matter to you, the 2.5i is claimed at 9.9 seconds, and so is the 2.0D. The 3.6R can do the jump to highway speed in 7.6sec, according to Subaru. Told you it was rapid!

It is slightly quieter than we remember the existing version of the Outback 2.5i to be, so when you do call on the drivetrain (namely the CVT) to rev out a bit, you’re not deafened by it. There is little to complain about in terms of road noise or cabin noise, too. 

Subaru says the brakes have also been improved with better pedal feel, and they do offer better confidence to the driver than before.

The car has a lot of great safety equipment which can assist with the drive experience, including the adaptive cruise control system that uses cameras rather than a radar. 

But it includes a few things that might frustrate you, such as the fact the system beeps whenever a car is detected in front of you - that’s unnecessary - and also the cruise control can exhibit quite a bit of variance: so, say you set the cruise at 100km/h, you might find the car doing as little as 91km/h, or as much as 110km/h. I’m not making that up - I experienced those exact speeds when set on 100km/h - it could be a real concern if you live in a state like Victoria where speeding tolerance is quite low.  

All that said, the  pedestrian and collision warnings work well (I had a dumb pedestrian run in front of me on a busy road, and the car warned me and cautiously braked, too), as does lane watching system, which will tell you if you’re zig-zagging.

In fact, the electric power steering has been tweaked for more linear response and it is generally a little better at higher speeds, though the difference around town is hardly noticeable. The turning radius is 5.5m, meaning the minimum turning circle is 11.0m.

Furthermore, the suspension in all Outbacks has been tweaked a little as well, with the aim of reducing the ‘push-up’ from the road - that should help it ride better and handle better, according to Subaru. And it does, but the Outback was already impressive in its road manners, and the changes don’t seem to have meddled with that too much because it still copes with pockmarks and potholes very well at high speeds and in urban areas.

Now, to the Outback’s off road capabilities. And while this review isn’t specifically focused on the rough stuff, I can assure you the Outback offers better ability than many competitor SUVs.

For you hardcore off-road readers, here are some numbers to digest: 213 (ground clearance mm); 18.4 (approach angle degrees); 22.7 (departure angle degrees). And it manages that without air suspension - it has MacPherson-type front suspension and double-wishbone rear suspension. 

Subaru doesn’t boast a particular wading depth ability, but I wouldn’t go fording the Murrumbidgee after a storm in it.

Being all-wheel drive - not 4x4 or 4WD, but a symmetrical AWD system with X-Mode, which encompasses hill descent control and hill holder assist, and an electronically-controlled limited slip differential lock (no manual diff lock) - the Outback ensures good traction when you’re hitting the ol’ dusty trail. 

It’ll climb further than you expect, and with a better set of tyres I get the feeling it could be surprisingly capable.

The suspension performance is good, too, dealing with dirt-road bumps commendably, and the torque-vectoring system ensures there’s power where it needs to be.

Safety

Kia Sportage7/10

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.


Subaru Outback9/10

The Outback is a great choice for mums and dads - it’s packed with safety features. The facelifted model carries over the 2015 ANCAP crash test safety rating - maximum five stars for all models. 

Of course there is electronic stability program (ESP) on everything, and the entire range has Subaru’s 'EyeSight' safety kit, which uses a pair of cameras mounted on the windscreen to monitor the road ahead, and can warn the driver of pedestrians or cars, braking the car if it needs to - now up to a 50km/h speed differential, where it used to be 30km/h.

On top of that, there is, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control with brake light recognition and a system that’ll tell you when the car in front has moved away from you (great for parents who have their eyes on the kids).

Blind spot monitor / lane change assist and rear cross traffic alert is fitted to the top models (2.5i Premium, 2.0D Premium and 3.6R), while there’s also a forward-view camera and side-view camera, as well as auto high-beam lights. 

While there is a reverse camera, there are a couple of notable omissions - no model comes with parking sensors or automated park assist, and while the smaller Impreza and XV models have been updated with a reverse auto-braking system with obstacle detection, the Outback didn’t get that as part of the update.

The Outback has dual ISOFIX child seat anchor points if you need to fit a baby car seat, and three top-tether hooks as well. Plus there are seven airbags (dual front, front side, curtain and driver’s knee). 

Where are Subaru Outbacks built? For the Australian market, they’re made in Ōta, Japan. For North America, they come out of Lafayette, Indiana.

Ownership

Kia Sportage9/10

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.


Subaru Outback6/10

The Subaru warranty program doesn’t set any benchmarks, spanning three years/unlimited kilometres. There is the option of an extended warranty for five years/unlimited kilometres, and the terms of that plan are set out in the owner’s manual. 

Service costs and maintenance for the Outback depend on the drivetrain you choose. 

The 3.6R model requires a check-up at 5000km that will cost you just over $250, where the 2.5i and 2.0D variants don’t need that. After that, servicing is due every six months or 12,500km, which is quite frequent by modern-day standards - especially for cars that don’t have turbochargers. 

The capped price servicing costs aren’t overly tempting, either, with the brand’s capped-price coverage - three years/75,000km - costing you $2281.66 if you buy the 2.5i, $2519.84 for the 2.0D, and $2711.42 for the 3.6R. Some luxury European cars cost less. Like, a lot less.

Resale value for Outback models is typically quite good, with key advantages over competitor mid-size SUVs like more rear legroom and a full size spare tyre adding to the used-car value equation. 

We don’t issue a reliability rating, but if you’re curious about complaints, common problems, issues and faults with Subaru Outback models or specific components (automatic transmission problems, gearbox and clutch problems for the existing model, or CVT transmission issues), check out our problems page.