Toyota C-HR VS Kia Sportage
- Fantastic looks
- Beautifully built
- Lovely to drive
- Slow CVT
- Silly rear doorhandles
- Dodgy touchscreen
- Great ride
- Good standard safety
- Great standard features
- Rivals offer AWD cheaper
- Full safety suite on GT-Line only
- Petrol engine thirsty
You can almost trace Toyota's renaissance back to a single day – the day the C-HR was revealed to the world as a production car. The company could have gotten away with jacking up a Yaris and calling it a compact SUV, but instead they went all out with a bolt-from-the-blue looker with some really interesting styling ideas inside and out.
I mean, yes, they have now jacked-up a Yaris and called it an SUV, but the C-HR was first and it's cooler, even despite the name meaning Coupe – High Rider. Absolute cringe-fest that, but one of the very few missteps in this changing of the guard for the Japanese giant.
Rolling on Toyota's excellent TNGA platform, the C-HR has settled nicely into its role as one of the bravest Toyotas in years (sold here in Australia, anyway). But with the arrival of the Yaris and Yaris Cross, it was time for a little tweak to the range.
|Engine Type||1.2L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
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 two-tier C-HR range doesn't have a duffer in it and the great thing about it is that the base model is so good the temptation to spend up on the Koba is limited to cosmetic things (with one exception...). The GXL has lots of good safety gear and the only tangible missing thing is the Koba's reverse AEB and hybrid option. The hybrid uses half the petrol, so is worth considering as well as for the extra punch.
I find myself suggesting the C-HR without reservation to people I would never have recommended a Toyota to in the past – it's good value, beautifully-built and designed, great to drive and remarkably cheap to own and run.
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 C-HR still looks box-fresh three years after its launch. I still have to remind people that it's a Toyota, it's so much more interesting than anything the brand has built for a long time. Show them a Supra and they have to be helped back to their feet. The big bluff front end with the huge headlights still cuts through the visual noise on the road. I still don't like the weird, clunky doorhandles on the rear doors which are ungainly and impractical, sited quite high for small children. The rear view is as polarising as ever, but I fall on the "yes, well done," side of the ledger.
The cabin is also virtually unchanged, which is the right thing to do because it really is very cool. It's a tad colourless like so many cabins these days, but with a consistent, coherent design philosophy, right down to the neat imprint in the headlining of the ovoid shape that dominates the interior design theme. The C-HR was one of the first cars to go without those big clunky rocker switches so beloved of Toyota for so long and it all feels really good.
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.
Up front, a long, narrow bin is a good place for your bits and pieces while the two separate cupholders and bottle holders in the doors will free up your hands and knees from holding the beverages. The rear cupholders are in the doors because there isn't an armrest but also means there are no bottle holders.
The C-HR is surprisingly roomy in the back but it's also gloomy as the glass sweeps up to meet the roof. Legroom is not bad for me at 180cm when seated behind where I drive and the seat itself is comfortable. The front seats are excellent and look good even in the base model.
You can store 377 litres in the boot with the seats up and 1112 litres with them down, which is competitive if not outstanding in the segment.
You also have three top-tether anchors and two ISOFIX points for the very young folk.
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.
Price and features
For some reason, Toyota thought the model designation "GXL" would fit the C-HR despite being far more at home on a Land Cruiser, which is a car with a very 1980s vibe versus the C-HR's 21st century zeitgeist feel. The main changes for the 2021 model year are added to the safety column, but GXL buyers pick up keyless entry and start.
Apart from that, things are more or less as they were before – you can still choose from 2WD ($30,915 plus on-roads) or AWD ($32,915). Remembering, of course, that this is the entry-level machine that used to be known as plain old C-HR and is now about $750 more than the MY20. The manual version is long gone, if you're wondering.
You get 17-inch alloys, a six-speaker stereo, dual-zone climate control, reversing camera, active cruise control, sat nav, auto LED headlights, auto wipers, front and rear parking sensors, auto high beam, folding heated electric mirrors, power windows and a space-saver spare.
Toyota hasn't taken the opportunity to again improve the touchscreen, which went up to 8.0-inches last year along with a big improvement in the media system software. It still looks washed-out and stretched but does have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The hardware really needs to be higher-resolution and the system itself really doesn't reflect Toyota's might in the industry. Better than it used to be, though and, with smartphone integration, less of a problem.
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.
Engine & trans
The GXL is powered by the a 1.2-litre turbo four-cylinder petrol engine with just 85kW and 185Nm available to drag the 1440kg 2WD GXL around (heavier if it's AWD). Power goes through either the front or all four wheels via continuously variable transmission (CVT).
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.
Toyota claims a 5.7L/100km official combined cycle figure of 6.6L/100km and requires premium unleaded to run at its best. In my week with the car which was mostly suburban running with a little freeway dalliance returned an indicated 8.3L/100km. That's not a terrible distance away from the combined cycle and given I work C-HRs hard when I have them, that's not bad.
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 only real complaint I have about the C-HR is the drivetrain. There's not anything wrong with it – far from it – it's just that everything else in the class has more power and torque and which helps haul their weight along – the C-HR's is considerable at more than 1400kg. My long-term loan Suzuki Vitara Turbo weighs 300kg less and has a stack more power and torque for about the same money.
Added to that, the C-HR's economy-focussed continuously variable transmission (my second least favourite transmission after "community") means progress is fairly leisurely and can get a bit loud when you put your foot down.
Which I do a fair bit. While the 1.2-litre engine is a really nice piece of technology and still unusual for a Toyota – it just doesn't have the horses and twist to pull the C-HR along as quickly as even Hyundai's 2.0-litre naturally-aspirated engine in the Kona, or the CVT-equipped Seltos. But that's okay – it's not a criticism, it's not like it's dangerously slow, it's just slower than most of its rivals and feels it. The Hybrid, which can only be specced with front-wheel drive and the Koba spec, is a little more peppy and the electric motor covers up some of the CVT's lax approach to acceleration.
It's also mildly frustrating because, hot damn, the chassis under the C-HR is really good. I'm going to mention TNGA again because it's such a good platform and I haven't driven a TNGA-based car that I didn't like. It's more than that, obviously – Toyota's engineers have built a driving experience around it that encourages yobbos like me to enjoy the way it corners while your passenger will enjoy the ride, which is excellent on all but the worst surfaces.
The C-HR is also pretty keen when it comes to cornering, with a nice progressive steering feel and weight. It's not particularly chatty, but again, it's a lot of fun and more fun than a few of its rivals. The roundabout raceway is a good laugh in this car.
The lack of go does come back to you on single carriageways when you want to overtake. While the C-HR cruises quietly and comfortably, a floored throttle for an overtake produces rather more bark than bite, so you'll find yourself settling comfortably behind whatever is slowing you down until you've got a long line of sight. Given the C-HR's likely citybound life, this is probably not going to be a big problem. If it is, again, the hybrid has a bit more go.
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 extra $700 or so over the MY19 C-HR has mostly gone into safety.
On board the GXL are seven airbags (including a driver's knee airbag), ABS, stability and traction controls, blind spot monitoring, high- and low-speed AEB with pedestrian detection (day and night) and cyclists (day only), forward collision warning, trailer sway control, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, lane trace assist (this keeps the car in the centre of the lane with gentle steering help), speed sign recognition (which can also change the cruise control speed if you want it to) and reverse cross traffic alert.
Added to that impressive lot is the intersection assist function, which warns you something is coming from the left or right at an intersection that you may not otherwise have clocked. That might seems a bit silly for the C-HR's stubby bonnet, but when your street is parked out and you can't see either way, it's extremely useful.
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.
Toyota offers a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty along with a further two years on the drivetrain if you service with Toyota.
Servicing with Toyota seems eminently sensible because for the first four years or four services (intervals are set at 12 months/15,000km) you won't pay more than $200 per service, which is a dead-set bargain.
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.