Crossovers are big business and this is nowhere more apparent than in the compact realm. Automakers are either introducing new or redesigned models to make their mark and try to a take a nice slice of the growing demand by consumers. Recently, we spent some time with the redesigned 2017 Kia Sportage SX and refreshed Toyota RAV4 SE to see how they would stack up.
Toyota did a refresh to the RAV4’s exterior for 2016 to make it look a bit sleeker. A lot of the changes are up front with a new inset grille similar to the Corolla and reshaped headlights. The back features new taillights. The big news for 2016 is the introduction of the SE trim. This brings a unique bumper and lower grille; LED headlights and taillights, and a set of 18-inch wheels. Finished in a bright blue, I had to admit Toyota has done a pretty decent job with the refresh.
Meanwhile, Kia’s redesign of the Sportage is well, um, polarizing. The front end is where the Sportage’s design will make you love or hate it. A large version of Kia’s ’tiger nose’ is flanked by headlights that protrude upward. Personally, I really don’t like the front and it spoils the rest of the Sportage’s design. The rear comes with a new tailgate design, taillights that extend into the rear fenders, and a set of dual exhaust tips. Our SX tester also featured 19-inch alloy wheels and bi-xenon headlights.
One of the biggest issues I had with the previous-generation Kia Sportage was the materials used. There were a lot of hard and cheap plastics throughout and it made the work Kia had done for the exterior all for naught. Thankfully, Kia has learned its lesson and has improved the materials. Most of the dash and door panels feature soft-touch plastics. There are still some hard plastics, but in areas where it makes sense such as panels near the floor. A new design for the center stack is angled towards the driver and features large buttons for the climate control and infotainment system.
Seats in our SX tester came wrapped in leather and provided the right amount of support and comfort for a long drive. Those sitting in the back will have nothing to complain about in terms of head and legroom. Even those who are slightly above 6-feet will find more than enough headroom. The Sportage does falter when it comes to cargo space. With 30.7 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats, the Sportage trails competitors by a few cubic feet. It only gets worse when you fold the rear seats and you’re provided 60.1 cubic feet, again trailing competitors.
Toyota hasn’t changed the RAV4’s interior in terms of design which may disappoint some. It still has a very utilitarian look compared to many of its competitors. But Toyota has changed various trim pieces and removed the awful faux carbon-fiber inlays on the dash. The look is more coherent. Material quality has also seen an improvement with more soft-touch materials and thicker hard plastics.
The SE comes with Toyota’s faux leather (Softex) as standard along with power adjustments for the driver. The RAV4’s front seats aren’t quite as comfortable as the Sportage’s due to the lack of thigh support. On a long drive, I found my leg was beginning to fall asleep. The backseat is quite spacious with a large amount of head and legroom. The low placement of the seat may bug some folks. Cargo space is towards the top of the class with 38.4 cubic feet the rear seats up and 73.3 cubic feet with them folded.
All RAV4 trims get Toyota’s Entune infotainment system as standard. Our SE tester featured the larger 7-inch system through an option package that also brought forth a JBL audio system. Entune’s interface may look somewhat dated and the screen could be a bit brighter, but Toyota has nailed ease of use and performance with this system. Large touch points, simple layout, and redundant buttons around the screen make Entune a breeze to use. Disappointingly, Entune doesn’t offer Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
Kia’s UVO infotainment system leaves Entune in the dust. The Sportage SX comes with an 8-inch touchscreen system with navigation as standard equipment. Like Entune, UVO offers a simple interface with quick performance. However, the Sportage offers a more vibrant screen and comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. Using CarPlay with the Sportage was very easy as the system was able to recognize my iPhone and bring up the CarPlay interface within seconds. We didn’t experience any issues of slowdown or apps crashing like in other models we have tested.
There are two engines on offer for the 2017 Kia Sportage. The LX and EX models feature a 2.4L four-cylinder with 181 horsepower and 174 pound-feet of torque. The SX comes with a turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder with 240 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. Both engines come paired with a six-speed automatic and the choice of front or all-wheel drive. The power figures may make you believe the Sportage will fly, but this isn’t true. The engine takes a few moments to wake up when leaving a stop due to a hint of turbo lag and a lazy throttle - something we have been noticing in recent Hyundai and Kia turbo models. The engine also doesn’t feel as powerful as you might think due to an increase in overall curb weight. At least the six-speed automatic is excellent, delivering smart and quick shifts
Toyota also offers two engines for the RAV4. A 2.5L four-cylinder comes standard and a hybrid powertrain is optional on the XLE and Limited models. The 2.5 produces 176 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque. Like the Sportage, the RAV4 features a six-speed automatic and either front or all-wheel drive. For most drivers, the 2.5 does an adequate job of moving the vehicle at a reasonable clip. It does feel slightly slower than other compact crossovers thanks in part to the torque arriving at a high 4,100 rpm. The transmission provides smooth shifts when driven normally. But when you need to make a pass, it does take its sweet time to downshift.
The RAV4 AWD is rated by the EPA at 22 City/29 Highway/25 Combined. These numbers put the RAV4 in the middle of the pack the compact crossover class. Our average for the week landed around 24 mpg in mixed driving
The Kia Sorento equipped with the turbo and front-wheel drive is towards the bottom with EPA figures of 21 City/26 Highway/23 Combined. We could only get 21 mpg during our week of mixed driving. Add all-wheel drive and numbers drop even further to 20/23/21.
Ride & Handling:
We had a number of complaints with the last-generation Sportage’s suspension and steering tuning. The ride was too stiff and the suspension would transmit most bumps into the cabin. The steering felt disconnected and very light. Kia has addressed these complaints in the 2017 and it has made the Sportage more well-rounded. Most bumps are now absorbed by the suspension, making for a more comfortable ride. Some bumps do make their way inside, but that is more of a case of the 19-inch wheels fitted to the SX. Road and wind noise are kept to very acceptable levels. Handling is still one of the strongest parts of the Sorento. There is little body roll when cornering. The steering feels heavy and directly connected to the road.
The SE trim is new for the 2016 RAV4 and it features a retuned suspension that is said to make the model fun to drive. Sadly, the changes made to the RAV4’s suspension doesn’t make a dent in improving the overall handling. Yes, the changes do reduce body motion when cornering. But the steering still feels somewhat rubbery and the set of Bridgestone Ecopia low-rolling resistance tires will make you think twice about pushing the RAV4 in a corner. What the SE does well is giving the RAV4 a harsh ride. Compared to the last RAV4 we drove back in 2014, the SE let more bumps and imperfections inside the cabin. The RAV4 also could use a bit more time in finishing school as there is a fair amount of road and wind noise coming inside.
Pricing & Value:
Out of the two models, the 2017 Kia Sportage SX is possibly the better value. With an as-tested price of $33,395, the Sportage SX comes very well equipped with an 8-inch color touchscreen, navigation, Harman/Kardon audio system, heated and ventilated front seats, panoramic sunroof, blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert, and autonomous emergency braking. This, by the way, is all standard. There are no options available on the SX.
The RAV4 SE is cheaper than the Sportage SX in terms of base price ($30,665 vs. $32,500). But it does feature a higher as-tested price of $34,595. This is due to our tester featuring the $3,030 Advanced Technology Package that adds the 7-inch screen with navigation, the JBL audio system, parking sensors, and the Toyota Safety Sense Package (adds Pre-Collision system with pedestrian detection, steering assist, radar cruise control, and automatic high beams).
This was a tough decision to make since for every positive point both models have, there are two negatives to go with them. Out of these two, the 2017 Kia Sportage narrowly takes the win here. The styling will divide folks and turbo engine isn’t worth the extra cost in terms of performance and fuel economy. But Kia has fixed a number of issues with previous Sportage such as poor interior materials and overall ride quality. It doesn’t hurt the Kia is the slightly better value, although we would go with the EX and the regular four-cylinder.
If the RAV4 was the XLE or Limited, it might have taken the win as it would have provided a smoother ride and cost a fair amount less. But the SE comprises a decent crossover with a harsher ride and negating the improvements in handling with a set of eco tires. Still, the RAV4 does offer more cargo space and some safety features not seen on the Sportage.
Both of these crossovers are in the middle of the road, but the Sportage is closer to reaching the top.
Disclaimer: Kia and Toyota Provided the vehicles, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas
2016 Toyota RAV4 SE
Cheers: Cargo Space, Improved Interior, Interesting design
Jeers: Engine could use some more oomph, SE trim compromises ride, Expensive
Engine: 2.5L DOHC Dual VVT-i Four-Cylinder
Driveline: Six-Speed Automatic, All-Wheel Drive
Horsepower @ RPM: 176 @ 6,000
Torque @ RPM: 172 @ 4,100
Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 22/29/25
Curb Weight: 3,630 lbs
Location of Manufacture: Woodstock, Ontario
Base Price: $30,665
As Tested Price: $34,595 (Includes $900.00 Destination Charge)
Advanced Technology Package - $3,030.00
2017 Kia Sportage SX
Cheers: Better ride quality, Noticeable interior improvements, Value
Jeers: Turbo engine isn't worth the extra cost, Exterior design may turn some people off, Fuel Economy
Engine: Turbocharged 2.0L GDI Four-Cylinder
Driveline: Six-Speed Automatic, Front-Wheel Drive
Horsepower @ RPM: 240 @ 6,000
Torque @ RPM: 260 @ 1,450-3,500
Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 21/26/23
Curb Weight: 3,666 lbs
Location of Manufacture: Gwangju, South Korea
Base Price: $32,500
As Tested Price: $33,395 (Includes $895.00 Destination Charge)