Kia Sportage VS Subaru XV
- Great ride
- Good standard safety
- Great standard features
- Rivals offer AWD cheaper
- Full safety suite on GT-Line only
- Petrol engine thirsty
- Great ride and handling
- High-quality feeling cabin
- Good advanced safety on most grades
- No AEB on base-spec car
- Small boot
- CVT auto
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.
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
Subaru’s XV is weird. It’s classed as small but is much bigger than the others in its segment; it’s a city SUV but promises impressive off-road skills, and then there are those, um, unique looks.
Now the second-generation MY18 XV has arrived, looking just like the previous one, but so much has changed that you can’t see. But is it for the better?
We were among the first to drive the top-of-the-range 2.0i-S grade at its Australian launch.
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
The Sportage continues to age gracefully, now offering an increasingly finely tuned range of variants to suit most price brackets.
While its engine and transmission choices leave a little to be desired, it continues to offer impressive ride, handing, and technology when compared to many (but not all) Japanese segment rivals.
Our pick of the range is the SX in either engine, as it offers the lion’s share of Sportage spec items at the right price.
Yes, Subaru’s XV is weird, but it’s good weird. The new generation has improved the ride and handling, the cabin is refined and quiet, while the off-road capability is impressive for a city SUV. If only the transmission wasn’t a CVT, and if only there was a bit more oomph from the engine. Still, these are really the only drawbacks of an excellent package.
The sweet spot in the XV range would have to be the 2.0i-L. This grade comes with the EyeSight safety system, the larger 8.0-inch screen and dual zone climate control for about $2000 more than the base car's price.
Would you pick a Subaru XV over a Forester and why? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
Check out Tim Robson's video from the XV's international launch here:
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.
Despite sharing no visible elements with the old model, the new XV looks a lot like the old one. To tell them apart, look for the rear tail-lights because the latest gen’s now extend into the tailgate. At the front, the new car has a darker grille and sleeker headlights.
Unless you pull the XV apart you’re not going to see the biggest change, but you’ll feel it when you drive it. Like the new Impreza it's based on, the SUV is built on a brand new platform. The new XV’s dimensions reveal a 30mm increase in wheelbase to 2635mm, and a 20mm increase in width to 1800mm. It’s the same height at 1615mm, and it’s 15mm longer at 4465mm. Ground clearance stays the same at a high-for-the-class 220mm.
The XV is a small SUV but not as small as a Mazda CX-3 which is tiny at 4275mm end-to-end. The Honda HR-V is also smaller at 4294mm long, and the ASX is 1mm longer. The XV is pushing into the segment above it to compete with SUVs such as the Kia Sportage which is 4480mm in length.
So the XV lives in the nether region between the small and mid-sized SUV segments. Its closest size rivals would be the Nissan Qashqai at 4377mm in length, and the Jeep Compass which is the same length. You could even throw its Subaru Forester sibling in there, at 4595mm long.
The XV is ugly, in a rugged, cute way, from the gaping-grilled snout to the rear spoiler. Then there's that tough, body kit with its black plastic protection under the front and rear bumpers and over wheel arches. The 2.0i-S we drove on the launch looked like a Halloween pumpkin with its 'Sunshine Orange' paint. We half expected a purple, or bright yellow example to jump out of the shadows.
But you don't have to have your XV in blazing orange, or boring beige for that matter. Other colours include 'Crystal Black Silica', 'Dark Grey Metallic', 'Pure Red', 'Ice Silver Metallic' and 'Quartz Blue Pearl'.
The exterior may not have changed much but the cabin has been seriously revamped, bringing more accommodating seats, a different centre console, a smaller steering wheel, more air vents, a new electric handbrake, and lots of stitching. This is a refined and high quality feeling cockpit.
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.
Smallish boot, biggish cabin. That sums it up really. The luggage capacity of the XV hasn’t changed, at 310 litres, but the opening is 9mm wider at 1039mm (at its widest point) and 100mm wider at the lower edge, at 1039mm, while the space between the wheelarches is 20mm wider at 1090mm. Measure your pram to see if it fits or better still take it to the dealership and try to put it in to be sure.
The increase in wheelbase means more legroom in the back row. I’m 191cm and can sit behind my driving position with about 40mm to spare between my knees and the seat back. Headroom is also good throughout the cabin.
Apart from the smallish boot dimensions, storage space through the cabin is great with two cupholders in the second row and two up front, while the doors have room for two small bottles each.
The centre console storage bin is now bigger thanks to the manual handbrake being given the flick for an electronic one, which takes up almost no space.
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.
If you're wondering how much an XV costs, it depends on which XV you mean, because there are four different types. The new Australian XV is no longer available with a manual gearbox, and so the range now kicks off at $27,990 for the 2.0i (with an auto). While that means the entry price is $1250 higher, the 2.0i auto’s list price (RRP) has been reduced by $1200. No drive away price quoted at this stage.
The 2.0i comes with smart key-style keyless entry, a 6.5-inch touchscreen (the upper specs get an 8.0-inch display) with Apple CarPlay for iPhones and Android Auto, a 6.3-inch multi function display, Bluetooth connectivity, a six-speaker sound system with AM/FM (but not digital DAB) radio, CD player, cruise control, climate control, engine stop-start system, 'X-Mode' traction system, tinted rear glass, rear spoiler, 17-inch alloy wheels, two 12-volt power jacks, hill start assist, two USB ports, push-button ignition, cloth seats, black carpet trim and halogen headlights (not HID xenon headlights). This base-spec car doesn't come with parking sensors.
Stepping up to the $30,340 2.0i-L will get you all of the 2.0i’s features, plus an 8.0-inch touchscreen, dual-zone climate control, and premium cloth trim. All models, including the 2.0i-L up, come with Subaru’s 'EyeSight' safety system which brings AEB. You can read more about this in the safety section below.
The next grade up is the 2.0i Premium that costs $32,140 which adds an electric sunroof and GPS sat nav.
Above that is the top-of-range 2.0i-S which lists for $35,240 and has all of the Premium’s features, but adds the 'Vision Assist' package (read more about this in the safety section), leather seats, alloy pedals, auto LED headlights and daytime running lights, auto wipers, power driver’s seat, and 18-inch alloy wheels. You won't find a DVD player though, as the more high end brands sport these days.
I have to stay the new touchscreen is so much better than the previous version. This is a much more intuitive multimedia unit.
Subaru doesn't factory fit a nudge bar or bull bar to the XV as an accessory. Did you know though, that Subaru will fit STI Enkei alloy wheels to the XV? They cost a mimimum of $3000 but look much better than the standard rims.
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.
All XVs have the same engine size – it’s a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol which is an overhauled version of the previous model's, which makes 5kW more, for a total of 115kW, and the same 196Nm of torque. Not a major increase in horsepower here.
The manual gearbox has now been dropped from the XV line-up which means all now have a continuously variable transmission (CVT) automatic. I wasn’t a big fan of the previous XV's CVT, it just seemed to struggle to get the drive to the wheels with the same hard shift of a traditional torque converter. The good news is Subaru has improved the design and it seems to have far more prominent ‘shifting steps’ built-in for more of a kick as you accelerate. The bad news is it’s still a CVT, and the characteristic drone is still there, along with underwhelming acceleration.
All XVs are all-wheel drive (AWD) and now come with X-Mode – an off-road focused traction control mode which works to keep you from slipping on ice and mud at speed below 40km/h.
Braked towing capacity for all XVs is 1400kg. The Explorer tow bar kit costs $1591.20, including fitment.
The weight of the XV ranges from 1462kg for the 2.0i to 1484 for the 2.0i-S.
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 same petrol engine and same transmission across the XV range means all variants consume fuel at the same combined rate of 7.0L/100km, according to Subaru.
The 2.0i-S I drove wasn’t far off, with the trip computer reporting an average fuel consumption of 8.1L/100km after 200km of country roads, about a quarter of which were dirt and gravel. That's not bad milage.
The XV's fuel tank capacity is 63 litres and you can feed it the cheaper 91RON petrol, too. There is no diesel or LPG XV alternative.
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.
We drove the top-of-the-range 2.0i-S at the new XV’s Australian launch which covered 220km of sealed and dirt roads from the Australian Alps to the NSW South Coast, with a quick off-road course somewhere in between.
I need to confess straight away that I wasn’t a major fan of the previous XV’s engine and transmission – well mainly the CVT transmission to be fair. CVTs all seem to have the same issue – underwhelming acceleration. Not all are bad – the Subaru Levorg’s is good… and so is the new XV’s CVT which has been given more prominent steps which add a feeling of gear changes a zippier speed.
Carmakers design launch test drives to show off the strengths of their new baby and the downhill run towards the coast could disguise any CVT weaknesses. So, I turned around and drove up it in the opposite direction. The result – the CVT still drones and the XV’s acceleration under load isn’t great, but it performed much better than the previous version. Going downhill the CVT now can now ‘hold a gear’ to brake the car, which impressed me too.
The new XV looks the same as the previous one, but it feels different to drive – good different. The new global platform this XV is built on has improved the ride and handling noticeably. The body of the car is up to twice as strong making it more rigid and that improves handling, too. Body roll in the corners has been reduced and the ride is comfortable and composed.
Better insulation thanks in part to thicker windows and door panels means the cabin is so much quieter, even on gravel roads where the sound of stones flicking up into the wheel arches was minimal.
The off-road component was a short loose-dirt course of steep ascents, descents and tight turns. The XV handled it easily making use of its 220mm of ground clearance and all-wheel drive system. X-Mode and hill decent were engage at all times and both systems worked well to ease the car downhill steadily without losing traction.
Top marks for the driving experience were brought down by the CVT, even if it is better than the previous one.
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.
This new-generation XV scored the maximum five-star ANCAP rating, and all the 'expected' passive safety features are there (ABS, ESP, etc, etc). What separates the XV from many others is the advanced safety equipment on board. All grades, apart from the entry-spec 2.0i come with Subaru’s 'Eyesight' camera system which among other skills can recognise brake lights, and will brake to avoid an accident, or spot you drifting out of your lane and steer you back between the lines.
Subaru says AEB will be activated at up to 145km/h, but will work best to bring to car to a halt at speeds under 45km/h.
The top-of-the-range 2.0i-S also comes standard with the 'Vision Assist' package which adds blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert with AEB (that works when you’re reversing), adaptive high beams and lane changing assistance.
For child seats you’ll find two ISOFIX mounts and three top tether points across the back row.
All XVs come with dual front and dual front side airbags, a driver's knee airbag and curtain airbags.
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 new Subaru XV doesn’t have to be serviced as frequently as the old one with servicing now extended from six months/12,500km to 12 months/12,500km. Subaru told us this was due to the new CVT auto.
The XV is covered by Subaru’s three-year/37,500km servicing plan which caps prices at $348.30 for the first visit, $601.59 for the second, $348.30 for the third, $757.81 for the next and for the 60 month 62,500km service it’s back to $348.30.
The XV is covered by Subaru’s three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty.