Kia Sportage VS Volvo XC40
- Great ride
- Good standard safety
- Great standard features
- Rivals offer AWD cheaper
- Full safety suite on GT-Line only
- Petrol engine thirsty
- Great styling
- Good standard equipment
- Charming and smart interior
- Very pricey servicing
- Launch Editions limited to small numbers
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|
The small SUV segment harbours innovation, eye-catching style and bigger-than-you'd-think cabin space.
The Volvo XC40 delivers on all of those fronts, plus more - this has been widely regarded as a game-changer for the Scandinavian brand: but does it live up to the hype?
|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.
So, there you go. My socks haven't literally been blown off, but there is no denying this is a very competent entry into the small SUV segment. The Momentum in particular offers a promising, but pleasantly packed, small SUV for the money - though most will likely opt for the sportier R-Design model.
Across the range it is arguably a bit too expensive, particularly the ownership aspect - but unlike some rivals it actually feels like you're getting your money's worth with the Volvo XC40.
Would you choose the Volvo XC40 over its small SUV competitors? Let us know in the comments section 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.
I think it's perfect. The more I look at it, the more I struggle to see what I would want to change, because Volvo's designers have absolutely, positively nailed the styling of the XC40.
As the Volvo Cars senior vice president of design, Robin Page, said at the launch of the XC40 this week, the Swedish brand's smallest real SUV offering (we're not counting the V40 Cross Country, here) is like a stylish Prada sneaker, where the XC60 is like a suede shoe that would look okay with jeans or slacks, and the XC90 is the luxury black leather brogue.
It has detailed lines, a bluff and tough front end with the signature Hammer of Thor LED daytime running light inlays, and a bold grille treatment that flows to a square-jawed front bumper.
The scalloped sections in the front and rear doors help ground it, reflecting the ground and the sky to make it appear light on its feet. The two-tone roof finish on the cars at launch - white roof and mint-ish coloured paint for the Momentum; black roof and white paint for the R-Design - make it seem almost like a piece of high-end household furniture.
Mr Page described some elements of the design as "robot-like", and I can see more than a bit of WallE in this vehicle. The tail-lights maintain the same shape we've come to expect of the XC range, but with a scooped bootlid that works to hunker it down. Plus it's 40mm wider at the rear, which is said to help plant it visually.
The boxy exterior is broken up by cheeky touches like the Swedish flag on the front flank. It's playful, and definitely has that youthful appeal that Volvo undoubtedly wants for its entry-level SUV.
If I wasn't sold on the outside, the inside basically did its best impersonation of Bender from Futurama and yelled "shut up and take my money".
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.
It may be the smallest 'proper' Volvo SUV to date, but the XC40 is pretty substantial - in fact, it is bigger than most of its rivals: it measures 4425mm long (with a 2702mm wheelbase), 1863mm wide and 1652mm tall.
That's bigger than many of its direct competitors, including the BMW X2, the Audi Q2 and Audi Q3, the Mercedes-Benz GLA and the Jaguar E-Pace. Only the BMW X1 is a touch longer, and we know that model is a beacon of interior pragmatism.
But the XC40 is not just big on the outside - the space inside is very good. In fact, it could be the best in its class... it's hard to tell without sitting in the competitors back to back, but with my 183cm (six-foot) frame sat behind my own driving position, I had ample space in the second row.
Kneeroom, toeroom and headroom were all exceptional, and the latter is even largely unaffected by the panoramic sunroof fitted to the Launch Edition cars we were driving.
Yep, this doesn't really feel like a small SUV, and it has all the usual must-have items like top tether points, ISOFIX child seat attachments rear air vents, bottle holders in the doors and a flip down armrest with cup holders. The map pockets are mesh numbers, backed by a hard plastic protector so the kids don't damage the fabric on the seat when they're attempting a shiatsu massage with their anxious little feet.
Now, those door pockets are great in the back, and astounding in the front (yes, it is possible to be astounded by door pockets). There are no speakers in the doors - so you get huge door pockets as a result - and the entirety of the pocket is lined with the same carpet that spans the floor of the vehicle, both up front and in the back.
That carpet isn't just any carpet... and no, I'm not referencing the orange colour, which is either ghastly or great, depending on who you ask. The carpet itself consists of 97 per cent recycled plastic, made from repurposed bottles. The other three per cent is dye.
Volvo has thought of some really good loose item storage, enough to make you think they've taken a leaf out of Skoda's book. There are good sized cupholders, there's a 'Qi' wireless phone charger in a cubby that's big enough for a few large smartphones, and there are two USB ports up front and a USB-C port in the back. The centre console bin has an actual bin at the front as well, and it's removable so you can take it out and wash it when you need to.
There are other nice touches such as a big portrait layout media screen with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and sat nav, plus it doubles as a display for the reversing camera. You can get a 360-degree surround view camera set-up (standard on Launch Edition models), and every XC40 has a 12.3-inch digital driver info display that helps if feel pretty upmarket inside.
The boot is bigger than many of its competitors, too, with 460 litres of cargo room - and that expands to 1336L with the back seats folded down. And the smart arts continue in the back, with electric seat release buttons for the 60/40 split-fold back seats, and a really smart folding boot floor system that allows you to hook shopping bags on to stop them from flying around. Plus, you get a space-saver spare under the floor.
The top-spec models get a power tailgate, and you can option that on a more affordable version.
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 Volvo XC40 range comes in two different model grades - the entry-level Momentum and the top spec R-Design. You can get petrol or diesel in both trim lines and like most Euro manufacturers, the standard spec is better than it once was - but there are still plenty of options available.
The T5 petrol Momentum opens the range at $47,990 (all prices plus on-road costs), while the D4 diesel Momentum attracts a bit of a premium, listing at $50,990.
The Momentum grade has standard equipment including push-button start, dual-zone climate control, 18-inch alloy wheels, LED 'Thor's Hammer' headlights with automatic high-beam, auto-dimming mirrors (inside and out), a 12.3-inch digital driver information display, 9.0-inch touchscreen media system with sat nav, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, eight speakers, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and Qi wireless phone charging.
The Momentum models have part-cloth/part-faux leather seat upholstery, along with an electronically-adjustable driver's seat and four-way lumbar support.
The safety story is strong for all models - check out the safety section below for all the details.
The sportier R-Design in T5 petrol guise is listed at $54,990, while the D4 diesel R-Design model is the flagship offering for now, listing at $57,990.
Over the Momentum, the R-Design models add some extra kit for your extra cash.
The most obvious change is the more aggressive R-Design exterior styling including a blacked out gloss grille, black contrasting roof and dual black tailpipes, 20-inch 'diamond-cut' black alloy wheels, plus it rides on the 'sport chassis' with stiffer suspension, and adaptive headlights with cornering beams.
Inside it gets R-Design perforated leather trim on the seats, steering wheel (which also gets paddleshifters), and gear selector, plus it has a black headliner. In addition to electric driver's seat adjustment, R-Design models get electric passenger seat adjust, plus there's full keyless entry, an electric tailgate with gesture function, and ambient mood lighting.
Volvo is celebrating the arrival of the XC40 with a pair of value-packed Launch Edition models - and as nice as they are, they're sold out already.
The T5 Momentum Launch Edition model lists at $52,990, while the D4 version is $55,990. Volvo claims $10,120 of extra value for a $5000 additional cost to consumers.
The Launch Edition version of the Momentum adds LED headlights with active bending beam, 19-inch five-spoke alloy wheels, a panoramic sunroof, tinted windows, an alarm, leather trim, heated front seats, electric front passenger seat adjustment, seat cushion extension, power folding backrest and headrest, keyless entry with electric tailgate, adaptive cruise control with semi-automated 'Pilot Assist', semi-automated parking assist, a 360-degree camera, and a 13-speaker harman/kardon premium stereo.
The T5 R-Design Launch Edition model is listed at $56,740, while the D4 R-Design Launch Edition comes in at $59,740. The value-add according to Volvo is $6670, but it costs buyers just $1750.
The Launch Edition version adds (over the regular R-Design) a panoramic sunroof, tinted windows, an alarm, heated front seats, power folding backrest and headrest, adaptive cruise control with semi-automated Pilot Assist, semi-automated parking assist, a 360-degree camera, and a 13-speaker harman/kardon premium stereo.
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.
There's no real 'entry-level' engine as yet, but a base model three-cylinder version with front-wheel drive is expected at the end of 2019. That's a long while to wait, but in in the meantime, there are petrol and diesel models to choose from.
The petrol is known as the T5, and it's a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder unit with a punchy 185kW of power at 5500rpm and 350Nm of torque from 1800-4800rpm. Those figures put it on par with a Ford Focus ST, and Volvo claims a sprightly 0-100 sprint time of just 6.5 seconds.
The diesel is called the D4, and it's a twin-turbo unit, again with high outputs: 140kW of power at 4000rpm, and 400Nm of torque from 1750-2500rpm. If you're interested, the 0-100km/h time for the diesel is claimed at 7.9sec.
Both engines are teamed with eight-speed automatic transmissions as standard, and both are all-wheel drive, giving these little tykes a point of difference against competitors like the Audi Q2, BMW X2 and Mercedes GLA, all of which have front-wheel drive entry level models.
Unlike some of those other models, though, the XC40 is a bit of a porker - the petrol model weighs in at 1710 kilograms, with the diesel around the 1743kg mark... so it needs the power to get it moving.
The towing capacity across all models is identical, at 2100kg for a braked trailer and 750kg un-braked.
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.
These engines don't prioritise frugality over usability, but they still offer respectable claimed fuel consumption for the class in which they compete.
The petrol is claimed to use 7.1 litres per 100 kilometres, which is fine, but you'll need to use 95RON premium unleaded when you fill up.
The diesel's claimed fuel consumption is rated at 5.1L/100km - again, not setting any benchmarks, but a respectable figure nonetheless.
On test, we saw around 10.0L/100km for the T5 over a mix of some urban driving, a big stint of country driving on twisty and straight roads, and some freeway work, too.
The fuel tank capacity is just 54 litres, so you might find yourself refuelling fairly often as the range isn't exceptionally good.
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.
That's a good start. I mean, the Polestars were fast, but they weren't the last word in dynamism. The XC40 - like I said before - is designed to be a bit more fun, and that translates to the way it drives.
I only had a chance to get behind the wheel of the R-Design T5 model, and I couldn't help but associate this new model as some sort of high-riding hot hatch.
The engine's outputs suggest it could be, and the performance on offer pretty much backs up that notion. In Dynamic mode it offers willing performance, though the eight-speed automatic can be caught out in its quest to lower fuel consumption rather than offer outright edge-of-your-seat performance. But, fear not - there are paddle-shifters that allow you to take matters into your own hands, quite literally.
The steering is pretty quick, which helps separate it from the slowly, slowly approach of the more sedate larger SUVs in the brand's line-up. It is light and accurate, without much feel (it's an electric system, after all), and makes for easy parking, decent high speed direction changes, and good assuredness in the bends.
That comes down to the all-wheel drive system, which helps apportion torque where it's needed because it's an on-demand system. Grip from the Pirelli P-Zero tyres was excellent, too.
Because I was in the R-Design, I had the 'sports chassis' firm suspension - by way of stiffer springs, dampers and anti-roll bars as part of the MacPherson strut front and independent rear end (coil-sprung, unlike the inverted leaf se-tups of the bigger Volvo SUVs). And the result was a ride that wasn't necessarily plush, but nor was it too sharp or abrupt over bumps.
Admittedly, I could feel the lumps and bumps in the road surface as a driver and as a passenger, but I thought it kept in good stead with the persona of this little SUV - something a little bit more sporty than you might expect from Volvo. Especially a Volvo SUV.
That said, I'd give anything to drive the front-wheel drive XC40 three-cylinder on 18-inch wheels and the standard chassis set-up, because it has the potential to be an absolute peach.
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 Volvo XC40 is yet to be tested by EuroNCAP or ANCAP, so there's no crash test score to talk about.
But there is plenty of safety equipment fitted as standard - and we're referencing the regular models, not the sold-out Launch Edition versions.
Let's start with seven airbags (dual front, front side, full-length curtain and driver's knee cover), a reversing camera and front and rear parking sensors. You can option a 360-degree camera if you like, and there's a 'Park Assist Pilot' semi-autonomous parking system available, too.
Auto emergency braking (AEB) is standard, and not only for the front - the XC40 has rear collision warning and braking, too. Plus there's blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning, lane keeping assistance, and a system called "run-off road protection and mitigation" that can detect if you veer off the tarmac unintentionally.
All models have cruise control, but you can option an adaptive cruise control system with Pilot Assist semi-autonomous driving.
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.
Volvo really needs to address its ownership costs... these numbers are either the most honest in the premium maintenance world, or the most expensive in the luxury car class.
There's a capped-price service plan available in two different levels - 'SmartCare' and 'SmartCare Plus' - the latter of which includes consumables like wiper blades, brakes (pads and discs) and pollen filters, plus the occasional wheel alignment.
As with the other Volvo models, buyers can choose to opt for a three-year/45,000km plan, a four-year/60,000km plan, or a five-year/75,000km plan. All of them are expensive. Very expensive.
The prices are as follows. SmartCare: three years - $2165; four years - $3320; five years - $4030.
Then there's the SmartCare Plus: three years - $2980; four years - $5160; five years - $6345.
This downside is compounded by the fact there's no special treatment in terms of warranty cover, either. The brand backs its cars with a three-year/unlimited kilometre plan, which is on par for its competitive set.
At least you can get up to six years of roadside assist included at no cost, provided you service your car with Volvo authorised workshops.