Trunk routes

Com­pared: High-rid­ing, spa­cious wag­ons for school runs and get­aways

Herald Sun - Motoring - - FRONT PAGE - JOSHUA DOWL­ING NA­TIONAL MO­TOR­ING EDITOR joshua.dowl­ing@news.com.au

SUVs are on track to over­take sales of pas­sen­ger cars for the first time in Aus­tralian au­to­mo­tive his­tory.

Sales for SUVs grew by an as­ton­ish­ing 19.5 per cent in Jan­uary, while pas­sen­ger ve­hi­cle de­liv­er­ies dropped by 11.5 per cent.

Taller driv­ing po­si­tions, greater com­fort, more cargo room and eas­ier ac­cess are all fac­tors in the SUV fad.

The ma­jor­ity of sales are of the more af­ford­able fron­twheel-drive ver­sions — in­dis­tin­guish­able apart from the badges, they are used mostly as high-rid­ing hatch­backs.

But we’ve cho­sen the more ex­pen­sive all-wheel-drive ver­sions of the all-new Kia Sportage and the re­cently facelifted Toy­ota RAV4 , lin­ing them up against the bench­mark and class leader, Mazda’s CX-5.

We se­lected the petrol vari­ants, be­cause in this class and with the new lev­els of petrol en­gine ef­fi­ciency, the diesel op­tion doesn’t make as much sense as it does in the big­ger SUV cat­e­gories.

KIA SPORTAGE

The start­ing price for an AWD Kia Sportage has climbed by $9000 on the just-re­leased new model. The top-of-the-line Plat­inum petrol starts at $43,490 plus on-road costs. Metal­lic paint adds $520.

Kia has ra­tio­nalised its range, adding more af­ford­able front-drive petrol mod­els (see break­out), which is why the Kia is $8200 dearer than the CX-5 and $6500 dearer than the RAV4 tested.

For that out­lay, you get the works. The Plat­inum spec brings sat­nav, panoramic glass sun­roof, leather seats with elec­tric ad­just­ment for driver and front pas­sen­ger, sports steer­ing wheel, wire­less phone charg­ing, larger al­loy wheels, full-size spare, brighter headlights, LED fog lights and rear pri­vacy glass.

The Plat­inum also gains the full suite of Kia safety tech­nol­ogy, in­clud­ing blind spot warn­ing, lane de­par­ture warn­ing, au­to­mated park­ing and au­to­matic emer­gency brak­ing.

Then there is Kia’s for­mi­da­ble and in­dus­trylead­ing seven-year, un­lim­ited kilo­me­tre war­ranty.

Down­sides? The price of capped price ser­vic­ing climbs dra­mat­i­cally af­ter three years (the fourth year ser­vice alone is $747), and the safety tech is not avail­able on lesser grades, as it is on the Toy­ota and Mazda.

The qual­ity of the ma­te­ri­als is ex­cel­lent, the in­stru­ment dis­play (with a dig­i­tal speedo in the middle, the only one here with such a driver aid) is bright and clear, and com­fort in gen­eral is ex­cel­lent.

As with all th­ese SUVs, the Kia has am­ple odd­ment stor­age in the doors, cen­tre con­sole and glove­box. But it has the small­est cargo area of this trio, in part due to its slop­ing roofline.

The Kia felt slightly more sure-footed than the oth­ers on the dirt but around town and on free­ways was on par.

Over­all, the Plat­inum is an­other step for­ward for the brand, even if it is slightly less of a rev­e­la­tion than the sta­ble­mate Sorento sev­enseater, the reign­ing Carsguide Car of the Year.

TOY­OTA RAV4

It’s Aus­tralia’s top-sell­ing SUV of all time — there are more than 250,000 RAV4s on Aus­tralian roads. The facelifted model with sharp new looks ar­rived in late 2015 and it cur­rently ranks third on the sales charts.

Toy­ota, the king of off-road, has dra­mat­i­cally in­creased the num­ber of mod­els and op­tions within the RAV4 range. If this par­tic­u­lar one is not for you, then there is bound to be an­other to suit.

We have the $36,990 GXL, the se­cond model up in the AWD petrol range, dis­tin­guished by fancy-look­ing 18-inch al­loy wheels that we thought were op­tional at first.

Th RAV4’s new nose is a con­spic­u­ous part of the facelift but the changes to the in­te­rior are more sub­tle.

Stan­dard equip­ment is fairly ba­sic, in­clud­ing dual zone air­con, rear pri­vacy glass, sen­sor key, rain sens­ing wipers and fog lights. A rear-view cam­era is stan­dard but nav­i­ga­tion is op­tional on the GXL.

Toy­ota spent some time and money fet­tling the sus­pen­sion to make it han­dle bumps and bends a lit­tle bet­ter. It’s a shame more wasn’t done to keep tyre noise out of the cabin.

On the plus side the RAV4 is by far the roomi­est here and has the big­gest cargo area, the cheap­est capped price ser­vic­ing (al­though vis­its are 6 months/10,000km, whichever comes first), and has the high­est ground clear­ance of this trio, should you ven­ture be­yond a fire trail.

The lack of a full-size spare wheel is the only sig­nif­i­cant down­side to the RAV4. But it’s not alone in this re­gard.

MAZDA CX-5

This has been Aus­tralia’s favourite compact SUV for the past three years in a row. Mazda gave the CX-5 a mi­nor makeover in Jan­uary last year, with a nip and tuck on the nose and a slightly re­vised in­te­rior.

As the say­ing goes, if it ain't broke don’t fix it. The Mazda needed lit­tle to keep it ahead of the pack. But 12 months on and the Mazda’s ri­vals have started to close the gap. The CX-5 is still an ex­cel­lent propo­si­tion but it doesn’t have the lead it once did.

Stan­dard fare on the $35,790 CX-5 Maxx Sport tested in­cludes the same equip­ment as the RAV4 GXL but nav­i­ga­tion is stan­dard. A $1230 op­tional safety pack in­cludes blind spot warn­ing, rear cross-traf­fic alert and au­to­matic emer­gency brak­ing.

The Mazda was the perki­est of the three SUVs in our up­hill 0-100km/h test (ahead of the RAV4, then the Sportage) but the oth­ers are now close to hav­ing the mea­sure of the Mazda in twists and turns.

The steer­ing in the Mazda feels marginally bet­ter and the car feels slightly more planted on the road, but it’s a fair bet few will pick the dif­fer­ence be­tween the three in a test drive around the block.

On the open road, the Mazda was a lit­tle firmer over bumps than the Toy­ota and Kia, and tyre noise was slightly louder than the oth­ers on coarse sur­faces.

But the CX-5 is still a class act, with a roomy cargo area and user-friendly in­te­rior with am­ple odd­ment stor­age.

Down­sides? Capped price ser­vic­ing is done at 10,000km in­ter­vals (on av­er­age that works out to be ev­ery nine months) and there is only a space-saver spare in the boot.

VER­DICT

The Kia Sportage Plat­inum was the car the judges would have pre­ferred to drive away. It’s an­other step for­ward for the brand and the pi­o­neer­ing seven-year war­ranty sweet­ens the deal.

But once price is taken into con­sid­er­a­tion, it’s a dif­fer­ent re­sult. If Kia had an all-wheeldrive of­fer­ing at the price of the oth­ers, it may have been a dif­fer­ent out­come.

That leaves the two ti­tans of the compact SUV class: the Mazda CX-5 and Toy­ota RAV4.

Toy­ota has made marked im­prove­ments to the facelifted RAV4, and it’s the roomi­est here and the cheap­est to run.

But the Mazda has more equip­ment for less money and has the edge when it comes to driv­ing en­joy­ment.

Pic­tures: Thomas Wi­elecki

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