Head to head

KIA SPORTAGE SLi DIESEL

WORDS JAMES WHITBOURN

A FAST ’N’ FURIOUS FACE-OFF

KIA SPORTAGE SLi DIESEL

The $38,990 Sportage SLi turbo-diesel gets front parking sensors, leather rather than cloth seats, a crisp colour TFT-LCD instrument cluster, and LED tail-lights. However, you don’t get a smart key or start button, nor a powered tailgate, and the infotainment system’s 7.0-inch colour touchscreen is an inch smaller than its rival’s. 17/20 Kia’s diesel is thriftier (6.8L/100km versus a respectable 7.7 for the Hyundai) and torquier (some 400Nm) but not as smooth, and without the techno appeal of a downsized petrol turbo and dual-clutch ’box, or the green credentials.

You’ll have to deal with greasy bowser nozzles, but won’t have to see them as often, despite identical 62L tanks. 15/20 In keeping with its sportier slant, the Kia is the more obedient steer that offers a bit more precision and feel from the wheel, while dispatching corners with a little more verve. The Sportage sits flatter, responds more faithfully to control inputs and maintains its composure when the going gets lumpy. Test-drive and you will be surprised. 14/20 Dash design is appealing and the cabin is finished nicely.

Seat comfort and ergonomics are excellent, and it’s nice to have leather (even if some of it is synthetic). You get a roomy, comfortable back seat in both, with rear air-con vents. The Sportage cargo bay holds 466 litres, expanding to 1455 litres with the seatbacks folded flat. 17/20 The Sportage strikes a sportier ride/handling compromise.

These are ‘Sports’ Utility Vehicles, but they’re usually used as family cars so comfort is a priority. Despite seemingly firmer spring and damper calibrations, the Kia still rides with both comfort and control, which might make it a better country tourer, as well as the enthusiast’s pick. 15/20 78/100

HYUNDAI TUCSON ELITE TURBO

These mid-spec, mid-sized Korean SUVs represent the value sweet spot and share many features (cruise control, dual-zone air-con, rear parking sensors and reversing camera, auto headlights and wipers, 10-way power adjustable driver’s seat and six airbags). But the $38,240 Tucson is unique in offering a 1.6 turbo-petrol and seven-speed dual-clutch ’box. 17/20 Drivetrains are the great differentiators with this pair. Yes, you can have a 2.0-litre atmo petrol or turbo-diesel in either, but only the Tucson offers a smaller 1.6-litre turbo-petrol and a dual-clutch transmission. Torquier than the atmo 2.0 but not as grunty as the oiler, the 130kW/265Nm 1.6T does its best work at middling revs. 15/20 Yes, you lose some agility – and outright handling ability – in an SUV compared with a regular sedan or hatch, but the modern soft-roader drives well, and our Korean duo are among the best. The Hyundai’s steering isn’t quite as crisp (though there’s not much in it), but it handles bends with palpable balance while gripping the road surely. 13/20 Hyundai cabin is plainer than the Kia’s; it’s all laid out neatly and intuitively, but it doesn’t look as classy. Cloth seats offer terrific comfort and grip occupants well, though lack the wipe-down convenience of leather. Both SUVs have Isofix attachment points in the outer rear-seat positions. The Tucson offers 488/1478 litres of cargo capacity. 16/20 The Hyundai has a more absorbent ride than the Kia, which makes it better at ironing out sharp-edged urban intrusions and joins in the road, as well as country-road lumps and bumps. It’s more difficult to separate them for quietness and NVH suppression as they’re both quite adept at shutting out tyre, suspension and wind noise. 16/20 77/100

VERDICT

The aesthetic pick will be a matter of taste. Kia’s industry-best warranty, on the other hand, is no grey area – seven years beats Hyundai’s five hands down. They both offer a lot of standard equipment, but what do you want more – leather (Sportage) or keyless entry and start (Tucson)? And you have to go for the flagship in either showroom to get all the advanced safety gear, such as AEB. The Tucson is a slightly smoother proposition, with a less rich-looking cabin, while the slightly tauter Sportage feels both sportier and classier. If you want a keen little turbopetrol engine with a dual-clutch gearbox, your choice comes down to the Hyundai. If you’d prefer a turbo-diesel, you could have either one of them, but we’d pick the Kia. Just.

POINTS SCORE

V PRICE & EQUIPMENT

20 POINTS

INTERIOR & VERSATILITY

20 POINTS

PERFORMANCE & ECONOMY

20 POINTS

RIDE & REFINEMENT

20 POINTS

STEERING & HANDLING

20 POINTS